Wednesday, August 8, 2007

In the Name of Religion


The Hijab has always been a symbol of religion for me. I admire my friends who wear it and wish that I had the determination to wear it as they do.

I have never felt the "need" to wear it. I believe that I can be modest without it. I believe that religion is inward. And outward..but a lot more inward for me.

When entering a mosque, tombs of Prophets and holy places in Islam, one is required to wear a scarf on one's head as it signifies respect and modesty.

And in the House of God and the resting places of Prophets, I believe, as others do, that the hijab is a necessity.

Now, I'm sure there are some who agree with my opinion on the hijab and some who don't.

But this is not a blog about the hijab or its place in Islam.

Its about the hijab and its place in my life.
And in Israel.

It was Sarah and I that got to taste the difference that religion can make in one's life in Israel. Especially in a place like Hebron.

Hebron is the final resting place of Abraham or Ibrahim and his wife Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca and Joseph.

Sarah, Sam and I decided to visit their tomb after we spent the day in Ramallah.

We got to Hebron at 6 p.m. and the tomb was closed to everyone except Muslims and Jews.

After convincing the guard at the gate for the Muslim side of the tomb of my "Muslim-ness" I was allowed into the Muslim side.

I walked up to the door leading to the tomb and was stopped by two young Israeli guards. I fixed my green hijab on my head and stared at them for a second.

“Where are you from?” they asked.


Without a word I was let into the tomb.

It wasn't peaceful in there.

I didn't feel peace in resting place of Abraham, the father of Judaism and the Prophet that built the Ka'aba in Mecca, the holiest place in Islam.

There was an eerie kind of solitude. I peered into the tomb of Sarah and said a prayer. Walking towards the grave of Abraham, I was stopped by a man who took it upon himself to explain to me who and where each Prophet was.

He pointed to a closed door and told me that the grave of Joseph lay behind it.
“Is it not open to Muslims?” I asked, since Joseph is an important Prophet in Islam as well.

No, he said. It was part of the Jewish side of the tomb. There was a time when it was open. When Muslims and Jews mingled and prayed separately but in unison. That was before a man from the Jewish side came to the Muslim side and killed 29 Muslims.

While they were praying.

Ask a Muslim: Who is Abraham?
He is a Muslim. Obviously

Ask a Jew: Who is Abraham?
He is a Jew. Obviously

It wasn't that obvious in the tomb.

I reached up and grabbed the railings of the window that looked into the grave of Abraham. It is a large oval and rectangular shaped coffin with a green, rich cloth covering it.

It was sprinkled with words in Arabic. I read the name of Muhammad and the verses from the Quran.
I said a prayer and looked up to see my friend Sarah's face peering into the room from the other side. I yelled her name.

She didn't hear me.

I yelled out to her again.

And our eyes met.

and I felt the divide.

There stood one of my favorite people in the world. And I couldn't share this moment with her.

We silently looked at each other.

The Muslim and the Jew with a Prophet in the middle.

Is he mine? Or is he hers?

Does it even matter?

I walked out of the Muslim side to meet Sarah and Sam. I didn't take off my hijab as I walked down to the Palestinian shops where Sarah and Sam stood.

We met a Palestinian man, Jamal who said he would show us a birds eye view of Hebron from the roof of his apartment building. We agreed to go with him and as we walked towards his house, Sarah and I went on the main road.

Jamal and Sam walked off to the side road which was cut off by road blocks.

"She's Muslim, she's Muslim, she's Muslim," said an Israeli soldier to another as he poked him with the butt of his gun.

"Yes I am," I said.

"You can't go in there," he said pointing to the Jewish part of town.

Why not, I asked.

You're not Jewish.

Okay but I'm American.

Doesn't matter. You're not Jewish.

There was a fork in the road. I stood in the middle of it as these two guards told me where I could go and where I couldn't.

One side led to the Jewish part of town. One to the Muslim. and all that separated them was a couple of meters and two guards.

Sarah was allowed into the Muslim side but I was not allowed into the Jewish side. We walked over to the Muslim side.

After talking with our Palestinian friend, we headed back to the streets and to a bus stop. My hijab was still glued onto my head.

Two buses went by and didn't stop.

Our Palestinian friend didn't know why.

There was a group of soldiers that stood across from us, from what seemed to be a checkpoint into the Muslim side of town.

We saw boys, old men, women enter the checkpoint and stared as they were searched.

The first bus went by. And then another.

I wondered: Is this because of my hijab?

We asked Jamal and he said it might be.

I refused to take it off.

No way.

The hijab isn't and wasn't a part of my identity. So why did I feel the need to wear it here? I refused to take it off. And I don't exactly know why. All I know is that I refused to be discriminated against based on my religion.


It wasn't right and I wasn't going to give in.

I was not going to take the hijab off.

We waited and soon a group of 4 to 5 Israeli soldiers walked towards us.

I held my head high. My head covered with a green hijab.

I didn't smile.

But they did.

What's the matter, they asked. We told them we were trying to get a bus but it wouldn't stop.

They offered to stop one for us.

And they did. As soon as a bus went by, they stopped it and said something to the driver in Hebrew. We got on the bus and were on our way back to Jerusalem.

I'm not going to talk about the Israeli bus ride or the Jewish settlements we passed by.
The little green towns, people walking dogs, old women sitting on benches and children playing in parks.
I won't talk about the big train/bus station we were dropped off at or the woman who stared at me for at least half an hour on the bus.

This post is about identity as most of my posts are.

It's hard to deal with, the problem with identity and where it fits into our lives. And it gets harder everyday.

It bites at me as I leave the mosque, hide in a dark alley and take off my hijab.

It awakens when someone asks me what religion I am, what nationality.

Wearing a hijab is proclaiming that your identity is what you look like. You look Muslim, therefore it seems to be a big part of who you state you are.

Without a hijab, you merge into a crowd, faceless and unimportant.

You do not wear your identity.

And that in itself is a blessing. Especially in a country like Israel that is divided by nationalist and religious lines.

But in Hebron, it is not about nationality. It is just about religion.

I can now understand why some women would decide to wear the hijab for political reasons. It is a theory that has floated around the world as more women started wearing the hijab after 9/11. Some analysts have argued that more women started wearing the hijab after 9/11 to support their religion as they felt it was a religion that was under attack.

As Amin Maalouf explains in his book, “In the Name of Identity,” we as humans tend to cling to the identity that we feel is under attack.

Islam was/is under “attack,” so wearing the hijab signifies support for it.

I understand that.

Because if you are going to be prejudiced based on my religion. So be it.

I wear my religion and I wear it proud.

As I write this, I am sitting in an Israeli coffee shop in the New city in West Jerusalem.

I came here right after I went for the afternoon prayer to the mosque. I left the mosque with my hijab on my head and entered the coffee shop with my hair in a bun and my hijab in my bag.

I've heard stories about girls not being let into Israeli shops because they wear the hijab.

And I wanted to try and see whether the same thing would happen to me.

Would they stop me at the door if I was wearing a hijab?

Would I take it off if they told me I couldn't go in?

Or would they surprise me with a smile. And help me get to where I have to go?

Israel is a country of contradictions. A country where you expect interrogation and are given a smile in return.

Its a place where I see guns, a separation wall, inequality and discrimination. But it is also a place where an Israeli rabbi says to me that God is one; Muslims and Jews are one.

If we are one, why do we need walls?

I look around this new city and see children in baby carriages, soldiers with guns talking on cell phones, iced lattes and Mercedes'.

Life doesn't seem so bad. Until you remember that the coffee shop you are sitting in was probably once the home of a Palestinian. A Palestinian who probably still has the keys to his house. A house that no longer exists.

In its place is a coffee shop where I sit sipping an iced latte, my head uncovered and no one questions my right to be here.


Mike said...

Marium…this post was incredible. I envy your ability to find all the right words that capture all the right images and transcend all the emotions you were experiencing at the time. I had a really good time seeing you in Amman. Insha’allah we can cross a border together one day!

Lauren Jill Hatshepsut said...

Marium, I'm not sure what to say. What a confused world we live in.

Yesterday course information was loaded in Blackboard, as I once again take Arabic I at Carolina. In it once again is the Arabic Map, phrases. The very first phrase is "bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem : 'in the name of God the Compassionate the Merciful,' said upon beginning something." I was struck by the "sameness" of the 1st thing said at a service in my Christian denomination (Episcopalian), 'in the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.'

I write this because of the similarity of phrases, words, ritual use, meanings (not because of the difference). We have so much in common. We have the same Allah, God. How sad the confusion so many people seem to feel (I'm not referring to the "wearers" but the viewers).

On a tone not as profound as your or Maryam's postings, when I see a female on campus, someone wearing a hijab, I look at her thinking "Is this someone I know?" Because I miss people I know from Middle Eastern Studies. And very soon my close friend (& family) from Cairo will be here, she doing a Fulbright. To me, I accept people wearing a hijab--but that says nothing about the experiences of the people who actually are wearing them. Carl Ernst's book, "Following Mohammad" sure puts things in perspective, in my opinion. Anyway, I send you my love, and support from my heart.

Sarah said...

Good work. I'll be writing my version of it here in London waiting for my flight back to the states. Love