Sunday, October, 18, 09

my life without hijab

Filed under: a moment in my head,looking back — theradishpress @ 12:33 am
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by theradishpress

I recently finished reading Margot Badran’s collection of essays and lectures Feminism in Islam: Secular and Religious Convergences. As I read the book I could not help but reflect on my relationship with Islam and Muslims.

Badran talks extensively about feminism as not an exclusively Western phenomenon, but one that found roots in varying cultures and religions. Islam is typically thought, in Western culture, to be anti-woman and anti-feminist, but the fact is that Islam has several feminist ideals, and it could be argued has feminism at its roots. For example, the story of Adam and Eve is told differently in Islam: both Adam and Eve are responsible for the fall from grace. And Eve was not made from Adam’s ribs. In fact, according to the Qu’ran, all people are made from one single nafs, or soul. And the Arabic word has a feminine root.

One thing Badran stresses is the fact that feminism does not mean abandoning Islam or Islamic practices, including the head scarf. There were activists in Egypt who chose to remove their face veils and others who kept them on – either way, these were personal decisions based on the individuals’ relationship to Islam, not patriarchy. And again, this is the face veil specifically, not the head scarf.

So, as I read about these women I started to think about my decision to remove my head scarf. I wore my scarf in a style that encircled my face and covered my hair and neck. Though, the year before I removed it I also began to wear it in a style pulled back like a bun with my neck exposed. I knew women who covered all of their face save the eyes, some who covered their faces entirely, others who covered their chins, some who wore full-length chadors, and Muslim women who chose to not cover.

For as long as I can remember I have had the mindset that wearing a scarf is a personal choice. It is not something that is required, and I was also taught that by my parents. I loved wearing my scarf. Years before most girls began to cover I wore a scarf, at least to school. I felt comfortable in it, and despite torment from other children including one boy’s multiple attempts to remove my scarf, I did not take it off. I remember a lot of women began to remove their scarves after 11 September 2001. People were being harassed and threatened and attacked. It was suggested to me by a co-worker that I wear a US flag as a scarf, an idea I found insulting. Why should I prove myself to anyone? Those haters of Muslims and Middle Easterners should prove themselves to me! They should prove to me that my life was not at risk. That I had nothing to fear in a country so hell bent on sending anyone who even looked like a terrorist (you know Aye-rabs) to some far off prison camp.

The point is, I would not allow the words or actions of anyone else force me to take away a part of myself. Not wearing a scarf was not an option. I felt at home in my scarf.

And it was something I questioned constantly. I questioned my beliefs and my practices and this thing on my head. This small piece of fabric that caused some people to avoid me and other to gravitate towards me and others to tell me I needed to be liberated.

In July of 2006 I stopped wearing my scarf. I had gone out a few times before that without it. Tried the world from a new perspective. I had come to the conclusion, perhaps a year earlier that I no longer believed in Islam and the fundamentals I had been taught. It took me a year or more to actually remove my scarf because it was such a part of my identity. Coming to these conclusions about Islam was not easy, let alone changing my outward experience. I was afraid. I did not want to deal with people’s reactions. I did not want to see my parents’ reactions. I did not want to exclude myself from my Muslim community.

Nevertheless, I decided that I could not keep covering. Wearing a scarf without considering myself Muslim seemed like a betrayal, an insult to other Muslims, particularly those women who do cover.

The truth is, I still think of myself as wearing a scarf. I forget at times that it not on my head. I am sometimes taken aback by my scarf-less reflection. If and when I am mistreated by someone I automatically go to that record in my head: that I am being treated in such a way because I am Iranian and I am Muslim. I have grown accustomed to that specific discrimination. I also still navigate through my daily routines as if I am wearing a scarf. Yes, there are things I now do that I once thought were not appropriate as a women who covered, but for the most part, my actions remain the same. I see myself as set apart. And I catch myself getting excited when I notice other Muslim women. But then that is most often when I remember that I do not cover anymore.

One thing that kept coming up for me as I read Badran’s collection was the realization that after having removed my scarf I have in many ways grown more isolated and inward. I have always had social anxieties and awkwardness, but there was something about my scarf that made me more confident. I was more outspoken. I was more interested in engaging in conversations. I know part of it was that having this scarf on my head meant needing to be ready to defend myself at all times and to prove that I was not ignorant, rather a highly intelligent individual with strong opinions. I made sure my opinions were heard. Now, without the scarf, I blend in. And I think part of the discomfort is that I blend in most readily with the same people who have always mistreated me. There are other Middle Easterners and the occasional other person of colour who recognizes I am “different,” but for the most part, I pass for white. And yes, my discomfort with that, is my own issues.

Let’s be honest, I am half Irish-American, but I have also always been on the outside of that world. And the discomfort I feel is also based on those same records. I am now privy to some interestingly racist and prejudiced remarks. Until folks hear my name they assume I am “one of them.” Or they just don’t even bother to pay attention to the fact that my name is  “different.”  And when that goes unnoticed I hear some real choice things. I will admit that I have not always spoken up. When I am the only non-white person I feel cornered and alone and admittedly scared. But then I wonder how the hell I let myself end up in a space with only white folks to begin with! And at the same time I have to always remind myself that half of my biology is the same as theirs, which then also puts me in a place of similar if not equal privilege and a place to speak up. So what if all they hear or acknowledge is my Iranian identity. That’s their issue, not mine.

I have thought about putting my scarf back on, for that taste of separation. So that I know why I am getting stares, so that I can make myself stand out on my own terms. But I would be wearing it for the wrong reasons, or what I think are the wrong reasons. And besides, this is an opportunity for me to acknowledge what I have learned and to now learn how to be that same person in this new shell.

Monday, August, 18, 08

amu hossein

Filed under: a moment in my head,looking back — theradishpress @ 12:58 am

by theradishpress

I’m still very sorry. I was looking at the Qu’ran cover you designed and thinking about the drawing you did of us all in the Nahidian house. I was thinking of me begging you for that horse. You were sitting by the kitchen, on the floor, talking to Amu Naqi. I asked and I asked and finally you drew it. On that small torn out piece of notebook paper.

It was soon after we found out and sooner after that we sat in the kitchen eating Disney pops when Baba told us. I had a red Mickey Mouse. He melted on the table.

I know. I do know that you are not angry. I see you often in the city. I think of you often in the city. I miss you often in the city.

Thursday, August, 7, 08

your behavior during this whole vacating process…

Filed under: a moment in my head,looking back — theradishpress @ 1:39 am

by theradishpress

7/5/08 730pm Text: Hey, just a heads up. Im coming by the apt.@8 to show it.

7/5/08 731pm Text: Tonight?


7/5/08 734pm Text: I am at home in bed, cause I dont feel well.

7/5/08 735pm Text: Yea. Just for a few minutes.

7/5/08 737pm Text: Dude, that is short notice and i dont feel well. What happened to open house on sunday?

7/5/08 759pm Text: Sorry. I showed it this afternoon, but her husband worked til 7. We will only be a minute.

Needless to say I called him immediately and the phone conversation soon turned into yelling because he proceeded to tell me to get dressed and that I could wait in the hall or my own living room. So despite the fact that I had paid that month’s rent and that he was breaking the law in bringing someone in after I said no, did not really matter to him.

I ended up cursing him out in Farsi and didn’t realize it at first until he said he could not understand me. I was that angry.

What followed was a series of emails…well, first there was another phone call on the 7th which he could not handle because I was interrupting his “personal” time. Apparently my being sick the night before did not matter.

After that I called the NYC government and with the help of Rebecca, Teejay, Lisa, and Susin I wrote a very factual and well-thought out email calling him out on breaking the law on more than one count. He responded with an email about how I am childish and immature…he also told me we come from different backgrounds and upbringings, basically I do not know how to act etc etc.

I am considering copying the emails in here.

I was also considering providing his email and phone number for people to get in touch with him and let him know what a hypocritical piece of shit he is, but that may result in my getting into some serious trouble and really, he is not worth that.

Monday, June, 2, 08

little debbies worked out fine

The one thing that made me think we were not so bad off financially was Little Debbies. Baba bought everything in bulk. Baba did all the shopping once he quit his job because he was home all the time and patient enough to go around and find the cheapest things. Buying everything in bulk was important when it was on sale because it was cheaper and would last FOREVER. I swear some things were never eaten.

Anyway, one of the things we had lots of were Little Debbies. I don’t even know if they exist anymore. But we had the chocolate peanut butter waffle bars, whatever the hell they were called, brownies (which I loved), zebra cakes (also delicious), and my least two favourites which were always available because everyone knows they suck: oatmeal cream pies and star crunch. The cream in the former was way too sweet and not even creamy and the latter was a mass of rice krispies stuck together with some sort of caramel and then covered in chocolate. Much like Merry Munchers these desserts were purchased because Mommy and Baba knew we wanted sweets. Much like Merry Munchers, I ate these last two, but I also did not like them. I guess it’s hard to complain about something not tasting great when you are still shoving it down your face.

I do not hold it against Baba for quitting his job. He did it on principal. He stood up for what he believes in, and that took a lot, especially knowing how it would impact his family. I am actually glad he quit working for the IMF. I know that I would have seen the world so differently. I would have seen people so differently. And I am fairly certain that I would be a major privileged AHole.

As a result of my upbringing, particularly the lack of knowledge around our financial situation, I have a strange relationship with money. I think I always will. In college I took out student loans and I worked at least 2 jobs the entire length of my undergrad – except for the three months I did study abroad in England, which my same cousin Ahmad who helped our family out before, paid for…cause he is awesome and does not charge interest like thieving banks – sometimes 3. All of that money, stupidly, except for a small amount I saved, was spent on movies, eating out, books, music, etc. I thought to myself, money will come and money will go. There is no need to save it. Of course, then I graduated and had a hard time getting a full-time job and knew that I would need to start paying back all those loans that I took out.

I have only worked to pay off debt. I have not worked for enjoyment, for love, for knowledge. My jobs after graduation have had nothing to do with my interests. And part of me is okay with that. Once I managed to get a job that pays my rent in NY and has allowed me to put aside a little bit on rare occasions, I found myself slipping a little into that same mentality I had as an undergrad: money will come and go, you can spend it. And while it is true, I cannot operate like that. The funny thing is, that as anxious and nervous about being unemployed that I was, when I did not have a job in NY I was happiest. I was creative and productive and wandered around a lot. There is a lot to do without money. And I could not fall back on my parents. I could, yes, call Ahmad. But I would not. It was a little bit of a pride and a lot of not wanting to have my cousin, yet again, come rescue an Agah.

I keep learning and remembering and reminding that I do not need a lot. I do not need name brands of the little that I do need. I do not need the many pairs of pants I have, the endless supply of books and movies and music, all the shirts, all of it. It is an overload of things. I have told myself this for years and I go through purges and get rid and then get more as if I might lose what I already have.

My relationship with money is one of mistrust, broken promises, deceit, and abandonment. I just have to figure out how to navigate through that sort of relationship.

Tuesday, April, 15, 08

I went through this obsession…

Filed under: a doodle doodle doo,looking back — theradishpress @ 10:22 am

…with Kurt Cobain. (Frankly, I am still fairly obsessed. It was just really intense before). I think I may have mentioned it before. I know I did. Because I already posted a drawing I did of him that then transformed into some sort of zombie image.

Anyway, here is another. This is just a collage of sorts of Kurt Cobain related images, or what I considered at the time to be related to him. At this point in my life I was very much influenced by my religious upbringing and was concerned that Kurt Cobain was most likely in Hell for committing suicide.

Like BJ helped me with the previous image, Lauren Terrill helped me with this one. I no longer remember what exactly she did and what I did, she helped me, nevertheless.

I can’t help but laugh at my work. But then, I do still feel a great deal of compassion towards Kurt Cobain. Maybe that’s why I laugh, cause my compassion from before was mixed in with a lot of pity.


Note: After looking at the larger image, I realized I am an idiot. It says clearly, in Lauren’s handwriting which drawings are hers and which are mine.

Wednesday, April, 2, 08

Approval of Liz

Filed under: a doodle doodle doo,looking back — theradishpress @ 11:10 am

Approval of Liz

It is faint, I know, but if you look at the bottom it says “Aman Agah BJ Leiberman” then “Approval of Liz Collins.” That about sums it up. I am pretty sure, given the date of this drawing and the image, that it started out as Kurt Cobain, and then withe help of BJ – and this most likely occurred in Journalism class – the drawing turned into a bloody, mutilated body. I wish I could remember exactly what happened. Just reading the words “approval of Liz Collins” makes it hilarious. As if BJ and I were sitting at the table running each addition by her. Or maybe we finished the whole thing, keeping it secretive as we worked, then showed it to Liz.

I do recall a lot of shenanigans in Journalism. A lot of goofing around. That’s where Liz got the name Liiiz, which, 10 years later, still makes me laugh. That’s how she’s saved in my phone. This is where Judd came in half way through and when asked by me what song he was singing he said “I’ll give you a hint, it rhymes with Mublime.” I knew then that he was cool.

What I don’t recall, aside from two stories, was writing anything for the paper. I wrote two human interest pieces, one on David Retter and one on XaK Bausch. I don’t recall the details of either, though I bet they are somewhere amongst my things in Manassas. What I do remember is that I wrote about David being a hippie. The piece on XaK focused primarily on his playing baseball. I feel like I wrote about him eating trash too, though, that doesn’t sound right. Writing the XaK story lead Big Buck to calling me XaK’s girlfriend, something else that still makes me laugh, but mostly at myself, because part of me felt like I was cooler for it. As if I could get any cooler than I already was.

Tuesday, March, 25, 08


Filed under: a doodle doodle doo,looking back — theradishpress @ 9:11 am

IfansI definitely went through a phase where I drew angels because I thought I was good at it, and trees in this style. I may not be out of the tree phase, in fact. There is a giant one painted on our living room wall. This drawing stood out to me as a must not because of the images, but the words, well “ifans.” This has to be from high school and from the infamous Rhiannon spells Rhys Ifans phone call. I went through multiple spelling of his name, most memorably “Ifananas” before understanding that she was saying I-F-A-N-S.


Sunday, March, 23, 08


Filed under: looking back — theradishpress @ 9:24 am

GollumSo, apparently Gollum monches on people. Even at the age of 9 I was clever enough to be thinking of ways to combine the words “chomp” and “munch” to get an overall frightening result, which is the “monch.” Because to be both chomped and munched upon is far worse of an experience than one.

Also, Gollum is very felxible on the spelling of his name, and is in fact, neither a he nor a she, but an it. The reasoning there was that I was not only referring to the Gollum of JRR Tolkien, and clearly giving a shout out to Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin whose works influenced me heavily as a child, but also to the idea of gollums in general.

The Bass/Rankin inspired Gollum also suffers from a rare disease known more commonly as No Bones in the Body, which leaves the entire body looking, and again, this is a technical term, Wiggily.

Friday, March, 21, 08

Filed under: a moment in my head,looking back — theradishpress @ 11:12 am

Written 25 July 2007

I thought of you today
When eating a tomato.
You don’t like tomatoes,
So I thought of you.

So this is New York. Each block has a different smell. Some sting, some sweet, some dry, some damp, each one different. And there’s a slight shaking I only notice at night, in bed, from the subway below, as if my shelves will fall on my head. Death by books and DVDs, it can’t be that uncommon.

There is no bolt on the door.

YELLING. Laundromat. Development. Stores shut down. Whitewashing. YELLING.

I thought of you, no I think of you.
Every day.
I allow myself to be reminded of you
By the slightest thing I see, feel, taste, touch.
A slight dip in the pavement,
Kabob cooking on a cart,
Arabic spoken quickly,
Trips to the store, subway rides, school visits, bills unpaid, bills to be paid, rebates sent and resent, ID cards, peanut butter.
It’s mostly the peanut butter.

Inside my room it is as if I am anywhere I have been. McLean, Falls Church, Manassas, Arlington, Oxford, Elizabeth, it does not matter. It is only once I step outside I realize I am somewhere new, and I think it has yet to really set in. Maybe once I try to stop by to say hello for the 23rd time and realize they are over 100 miles away. Maybe then it will set in.

Right now someone is yelling outside. Again. It will become part of my everyday and when I return to Virginia or move somewhere else where there is no yelling I will wonder why it is so quiet.

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