Friday, June 17, 2011

Other Spaces

For each way we divide ourselves, our humanity, into segments, in terms of race, gender, ethnicity, language, region, etc., we can use these divisions for strength, and indeed, we really should, no, must do that, so that when we are enfolded back into our general ‘humanness’, we can bring something of that strength to contribute to the whole.
We have spaces that we fit into. That we need to go to to find out how fit into humanity.
I know, as an African American, there are so many things that Blackness means and can be reaffirmed when I am in the company of people who are dark like me, who share the history of being black, African American, of African decent, (these are NOT all the same, by the way), and the many other ways that brown/black/dark skin has defined us. Along with the negative history of slavery and colonization, there is also the shared acknowledgment of beauty in us– in our skin, our hair, our clothing, our music, our bodies, our dance, our being.
I am sure that other ethnic groups share this, and I will admit to being a cultural voyeur. I have snuck among the peoples of South Asian communities, worn fine saris, danced bangla, been decorated with mendhi and have even learned to speak Tamil to enjoy these cultural phenomena.
Just as guiltily, my sister teases me that I converted to Islam for the fabric. I like to dress up in pretty attire from various nations. Of course, al hamdulillah, it was my imaan, my sincere belief in One God and the line of prophet, from Adam to Abraham to Jesus, to Muhammed and all between (peace and blessings of Allah be upon them), but the fabric of Muslim society stretches across so many cultures that as a Muslim, and particularly a convert, I can enjoy the foods, dress, languages and other contributions easily, while keeping my identity/identities– with all the complicated stories and histories therein. All this to say, I have (or had before the great flood) clothing from India, Pakistan, West Africa, North Africa, and other places.

IzZy blah blah blahLast night I went to a book discussion about Muslim American women. I suggest that anyone who hasn’t read it take some time to do so:
It was amazingly refreshing to sit with women, Muslim women, and talk about being Muslim and being women and being American, and all the ways that those fit together. I was such a pleasure. I walked in knowing three of the women there, and I left friends with all, al hamdulillah. Just like when we get together with our individual ethnic groups, there’s something that strengthens us when we women come together and find out what we have in common and what we would like to understand about our differences. Sharing, exchanging, is so valuable.
A long time ago, when I was going through a sad divorce from by best friend, I threw myself into belly dancing career. I had some friends who stepped away from me during that part of my life, accusing me of becoming more obsessed with dancing than with trying to save my marriage. What I now know that I was doing was connecting with the woman me. I was studying dance with women– who understood breakups and wouldn’t judge me. I was enjoying having a woman’s body, since the fact that my body was not allowed to bear children in that relationship, so just being acknowledged as a woman, fecund, fertile, beautiful, was important for my ego then. In classes with women, stretching, moving together, was fun and wonderful and relaxing during that time of stress. And as far as my pre-Islamic belly dance career, yes, having money thrown on me on the nights that I used my body as an instrument of dance, when the break up of my marriage signaled the end of my “woman-body” in the marital bed, was ego-boosting. But more than that, it was the classes and the gal-pal tag-alongs to Middle Eastern night clubs, the women dancer-friends I made, each of us waiting our turn on stage or just there as moral support. I found the women’s support greater than any therapy that I had been through.
I have a wonderful network of women friends now. Friends from high school, and especially college and graduate school. I have made more great friends through my past jobs, and educational experiences, through travel and especially through coming to Islam. And last night, I added to that list, wal hamdulillah.
Oh, and did I mention that I have four sisters and a mom. And a daughter!!! That’s a lot of women.
Al hamduilillah, al Rahmaan al Raheem.

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