Hello Turkey, Bye bye rights

Well well well, it happened again.

When I entered this private school system, I was told I was free to wear my scarf.  Lo and behold, that wasn’t the case!  Two weeks into working and I’ve been hit with new restrictions:

  1. No black scarf, ever.
  2. Nothing but turban style is accepted.

Well, when did this happen I wonder?  And why? After filtering down the chain of command, the information arrived to my fellow English teacher.  The school principal told the English Dept chair, and they told my coworker, and she told me.  I mean, it was better coming from her mouth because we’ve already formed a relationship (and bless the English chairs heart, she did NOT want to broach this subject.  She knew right away how ridiculous it was).

So after four or five instances of wearing a black turban, I was told I can’t do that anymore because it’s seen as “political”.  I’m not sure how, but ok.  Turkey is pretty crazy so it’s probably true. And I wore a more traditional style (around the neck and down the back, not covering the shoulders) once because the turban looked bad with my outfit.  Apparently that was also unacceptable.  Um…?

While I am partially mad that this is an issue at all (after having a discussion before I even started that this wouldn’t be), I’m mostly mad because this wasn’t laid out at the very beginning. This is stuff I need to know from day 1.  Maybe this info was passed on from down high, I have no idea, but I can tell you now I don’t blame the English department crew.  They had nothing to do with it.  I just don’t like changes being thrown at me like this.

The Chair even called me to make sure I wasn’t upset or thought that anyone had complained or said bad things about me. She encouraged my right to make my own choice regarding covering vs not covering, but that she had to convey this information to me.

Like I said, I’m not mad at her.  Hell, I’m grateful for being able to wear my scarf at all in a school.  And I have no intention of quitting (even though some people live in a world where they don’t need to work, and assume I live there too), because there’s not much better that I can do right now. Most other schools (hell, even most industries) won’t let me wear a scarf at all.

Because when you’re in Turkey…it’s bye bye rights.

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Hijabi problem #99: I am oppressed

I am a hijabi (wearer of the hijab)

And I am oppressed.

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For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term hijab, let me clarify (but most of the world probably is by now). The term hijab technically refers to a scarf, but the way it is understood by Muslimahs (female practitioners of Islam) is a little more inclusive.  When we (muslimahs) refer to hijab, or call ourselves hijabis, we are referring to a style of dress which includes a scarf on the head in some fashion, and a certain etiquette by which we live our lives.  Different cultures will define proper hijab in different ways…some more “conservative “, some more “liberal”.  While I feel comfortable in the way I physically wear my hijab and socially practice it, I don’t feel the need to judge others on theirs. Is mine perfect? Hardly. But I consider myself a hijabi none the less.

And like the media loves to trumpet, I certainly am oppressed.

My attire doesnt stop me from physical activity (hiking, swimming, riding bikes, etc).  My dress doesn’t keep me from being fashionable/feeling beautiful (quite the contrary, I’ve never felt so good looking in my life!).  My social etiquette doesn’t keep me out of the work place or secluded at home (I’ve worked with both men and women with no awkwardness, and I’ve gone on outings on my own).  I’m not oppressed by my hijab.  But as a hijabi,  I am oppressed.

I’m oppressed by you.

Not you, specifically, dear friends.  You support me and my right to practice my faith, my way.  I love you all! By “you”, I mean the traditionally “western” concept of hijabi oppression.

Being glared at on the street and whispered about; constantly fearing a violent outburst from a stranger keeps me at home.  The current fashion of see-through blouses and crop tops makes it hard to dress myself.  Requiring I remove my hijab before I can work keeps me out of the workforce and dependent on a man to care for me.  You consistently, relentlessly telling me I am not a strong woman because of the choices I made for myself makes me feel secluded and weak.

I did not oppress myself.  I would not choose a way of life that makes me feel poorly about myself.  The only thing about being a hijabi Muslimah that is oppressive is other people’s attitude towards me and the difficulty of living in a society that doesn’t want me in it.

So when you see us on the street, don’t cluck your tongue and shake your head.  Smile.  Nod.  Maybe a little wave of “hello”.  Make us feel included.  Makes us feel welcome.  If you are so concerned about the oppression of hijabis, maybe you should stop doing it.

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I got 99 problems but my scarf ain’t one.

#hijabiproblems

*light-hearted notes below
1. Like I said before, not everyone does this. If you are reading this and are a hijabi supporter,  hey girl/dude! You’re the best!
2. The new style of “shirt dresses” is great for hijabis and am all about that fashion trend right now! Yes!
3. No, I don’t expect everyone to bow down to hijabi style and not wear sheer shirts and crop tops.  You do you, boo. We just want some fashion options that aren’t boring black Abayas*.
4.*if you like boring black Abayas that’s OK too. 🙂

Hijabi problems: Do It For The Money, Honey

Is there no end to the amount of ridiculous a hijabi has to go through?

 I went with Anne to welcome akraba (distant relatives) back from ummrah yesterday (they went at the same time as Teyze), and we did a lot of catching up.  One of the topics that came around was the potential job position I’ve been anguishing over for a week.  Eventually the conversation made its way to the issues I’d had with another school because I wear a scarf.

That school was closer.

The pay was better.

 It really does suck that it didn’t work out…

 but no use crying over spilled milk,  right?

 Well, this led the akraba to ask if I wear my scarf for my husband.

Uh… What?

 I would expect this question from an American.  Hell,  I’ll even graciously smile when a neighbor asks.  But when our own relatives ask this question?  People who should know him and that he isn’t the kind of person to coerce someone into making a big life change for him?  Well.  I was pretty miffed.  But after saying that I did it myself and it was something I continue to do for my own benefit, the statements got even more crazy.

Why don’t you take it off for work then.  They pay well.

Welcome to the Twilight Zone.

 Apparently this is something women in Turkey used to do when the hijab ban was in full swing.  While I totally understand looking at that option when you have hungry children to feed and no other options… we aren’t there yet.

I have another job opportunity lined up.

 While everything may not be ideal right now, it is far from needing drastic action.  We are fed. We have a bed.

 Taking off my scarf for more money… Ugh. I just… Ugh.

I put it on for me (and God of course), and if I will ever take it off (İnşallah not), that will be for me too. It won’t be for money. It won’t be because someone else thinks they know my religion.  It’ll be for me.

Hijabi problems: “you don’t meet our dress code”

So, I had originally prepared a draft stating I would soon be gainfully employed.

But then, I forgot discrimination is legal in Turkey.

I applied for a job as an English conversation teacher at doğa koleji, and all of the phone interviews went well.  It was basically a sure thing.  But then I went in for the face to face interview and I could feel the eyes boring holes into my head. Still, I didn’t let it get to me. The principal seemed nice and the kids loved me, but I made sure to ask if it was a problem to wear hijab (because I’ve heard stories, you know.) and they said “no of course not.”

No,  of course not.  Because discrimination is messed up. Why was I worried?

But then they didn’t call me back. I called them in a week and got an email saying that I “unfortunately didn’t meet their dress code. ” uh… Huh.

It doesn’t take a genius to know what it was about my outfit that didn’t meet their dress code.  What makes me livid is that the secretary was wearing a miniskirt that exposed her butt, but somehow my dress is not up to code?

Don’t make me laugh.

This is one of the problems I didn’t forsee in Turkey.  In a predominantly Muslim country  with at least half of the female population wearing the headscarf, I thought things would be easier for me than in the US.  Oh my, seems I was wrong. I should have listened to my husband when he warned me the first time.

I looked up the legality of this discrimination, and apparently it is all above board. Even cell phone companies and banks can ban headscarves on their employees. In case you were wondering,  those companies are garanti bank, iş bank, turkcell, and Vodafone.

I’m sure you can guess who isn’t getting my patronage.

I kind of laugh about it now, sitting in my bed sick as a dog (I’ve been throwing up all night from food poisoning, so this headache has made me worse).  “Progressives” whine about “conservatives” being all kinds of bad things,  including dumb and trying to ban the progressive way of life (demanding headscarves, banning alcohol, birth control,  etc ).

But here’s the thing, progressives.  Take a good long hard look in the mirror.  Who is obstructing who from living their lives how they want?

Well,  it’s back to the drawing board for me.  Maybe I should focus on food science jobs,  where covering your hair means a lesser chance of contaminating your samples rather than a reason to hate me.

“Maybe you should change it up”

When I lived in the US as a hijabi (roughly a year), I didn’t go through any particularly difficult trials due to my scarf.  Sure, people would give me weird looks (that I never noticed), and maybe thought something strange…but it never truly impacted my interaction with other people.  Honestly, I expected a bit of trouble- but nothing bad happened.  Allah sukur.

Maybe I’m particularly lucky/blessed, or my white privilege over-rode the hijab.  Either way, I breathed a huge sigh of relief when we started packing our bags to move to a predominantly Muslim country.  Surely my outward display of faith won’t cause problems there.

flags

Ha. Ha. Ha.

As I described previously, Turkish people are not actually people- but walking, talking, political opinions (something I particularly loathe about Turkey).  While I was constantly surrounded by people of many different opinions and backgrounds, I never felt that their ideologies should impact how we treat each other.  For instance, I have no problem being friends and hanging out with atheists, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, even wiccans/witches (as one of my friends calls it- a game of friend bingo).  As long as we have respect for each other and don’t cross boundaries- it’s all good here.  I don’t expect everyone else to abide by the rules I guide my own life by.

But oh no, not in Turkey.

 This became painfully obvious as we prepared for a rather political trip.  We would potentially be visiting with politicians/gov’t officials, and therefore we made special preparations.  Nice clothes, a splash of perfume, everything actually matched…

And then, Anne suggested I wear my headscarf differently, in a less obvious/more Turkish-culture turban style.  At first I thought I misunderstood, my Turkish only being mediocre.  I asked hubby what it is she said…and he felt that the statement needed no translation, because it was silly.

 Oh, so I heard right.

  While I know she was saying this from a place of love, it still made my blood boil.  Who are these people, these people who think they can judge me based on how I wrap my scarf around my neck.  What do they think they know about me because I chose to cover?  It almost makes me laugh.  But only almost.  Many people think that the current government is particularly religious, making things easier for religious conservatives and harder for liberals.  Most of this chatter comes from the latter.

 As a moderate conservative (religiously, but don’t assume you know my politics), let me tell you…that’s not true.  Particularly when it comes to the gov’t, it’s hard for everyone.  Turkey is going through a lot of growing pains, and everyone has to struggle through it.

But I have a suggestion.

Instead of drawing a line in the sand, lets all just be people.  Lets do our own things, in our own houses, and stop sticking our nose in everyone else’s business.  Because we aren’t politics. We are people.

Meh, fat chance.

Hijab burn line

You know that line you get on your forehead when you forget to apply sunscreen?

Yeah. Enough said

#hijabiproblems

Also- the St. augustine post will be up in the coming days…I have a lot to do in the laboratory this week, but it WILL be up (and include videos of cannon and musket demonstrations, inshallah!)

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I’m sorry you have to do that…

Lately I’ve noticed a new face around the building (a small building consisting of four laboratories and a few professors’ offices).  Maybe in her mid to late thirties, I had never met this woman nor been introduced, but heard she is working in one of the neighboring labs down the hall from ours.  Today she stopped me in the hall to compliment my henna/kina that I had done on my hand yesterday, just for fun.  I smiled and thanked her, and she also complimented my scarf and how I always look so nice. I smiled and thanked her again, and then she said-

I’m sorry you have to do that, but it really does look nice.

Uh, what? Hold on. What did you just say? The earnest smile dropped from my face and was replaced with an incredulous smirk. “What are you  sorry for?” I asked with a bit of cattiness in my voice.

You know, I’m sorry you have to cover your pretty hair.

At this moment a divine wave of patience washed over me and I paused.  If you know me, you know that this is incredible. I am the first person to shoot off my mouth when someone offends me or someone I care about. But this time, I waited a moment before responding with a smile, “I’m not sorry. I spent 23 years being a regular old American girl, and I am very happy with how I am now.”  This elicited a sympathetic (or perhaps embarrassed?) smile from the woman and she proceeded to ask me about my family, if they are religious, etc. She validated her point of view by telling me about a world philosophy class she took once, and that she isn’t trying to be rude but she has a lot of questions.  I encouraged her questions, saying it is better to get the facts from the source. She even asked me how I deal with people approaching me about terrorism in the name of my faith (at least she asked first if I was muslim) and that all religions have weird and disturbing parts (actually I’m very pleased with mine, thank you).  At this point my non-american, non-muslim friend who was going to eat lunch with me arrived and pointedly stated we had to go. Even she was offended for me. “She doesn’t even know you.” She exclaimed hotly after we left.

There are so many other ways it could have gone as soon as that unfortunately ignorant statement flew out of her mouth. First off, I know I’m fabulous, all day every day. Also,  I don’t have to do anything. I mean, religiously hijab is required (majority opinion), but no one is threatening my life if I don’t wear it (this is America, people.  I’m sure that it happens sometimes, in some places, but don’t assume you know all about my experiences based on my scarf.). To me, that statement is as ridiculous as “I’m sorry you have to put on clothes and not walk around butt naked in the street.” Maybe I don’t want to show my hair and skin? Is it not possible that this is a choice I made all by myself- between me and Allah?  It is my privilege and honor to don the hijab and be recognized as a Muslimah, even with the current climate of Islamophobia.  And asking about how I deal with other people’s questions about terrorism? Well- no one else really asks me, because they have enough sense in their head to know that 0.0019% of “Muslims” being terrorists (I quote Muslims because Islam is a peaceful religion, despite the many battles at its onset due to people trying to KILL THEM [Muslims] and CHASE THEM FROM THEIR HOMES) doesn’t mean the rest of us use our faith as a way to mask our political aspirations.  And the “not trying to be offensive” boat already left the harbor when you apologized for my life decision for me.

And here I was thinking that ignorance about Islam and Muslims was a thing of the past, despite all of the stories I’ve read, and that it wasn’t so bad everywhere. I have never been approached in a judgmental or apologetic way about how I dress or what I believe. I mean, colleagues have asked me politely about why I wear what I wear, and other Muslims have asked about my experiences that brought me to Islam since I was raised Christian in America… but I have never been approached by a perfect stranger.  I’m not sure if I should be flattered that I seem welcoming enough to speak to, or angry that someone tried to force their ideals on me.

Either way, I hope my responses and patience have given this woman some insight about Muslims and Islam.

#hijabiproblems

One year hijab anniversary!

Today is my one year hijab anniversary (give or take) and also World Hijab Day 2015!  While one year is a short time in comparison to the 24 years I’ve been on this earth, I must admit that I have learned a lot in that small amount of time. Not only have I learned more about myself, but also a LOT about other people and their perceptions of the world and me, in hijab.  I thought I’d hash out a few of the things that I have come to find out in these last 365 days.  I hope this helps others as they embark on this journey of hijab as well.

1.  You can’t (and shouldn’t try!) to please everyone.

Even when wearing hijab, if not because of it,  people will love to judge you.  The worst part is that most of the judgement will come from other muslims! One person will think you are too conservative because you wear hijab, but the next person thinks you are too liberal because you wear jeans.  But you know what?  Their opinion doesn’t matter!  You didn’t put on hijab for people, you put it on for Allah, because you feel it’s important for your growth spiritually. As long as you feel good about how you wear your hijab, no one else’s opinion matters.

2.  You are a strong and independent woman! Skin doesn’t determine your strength!

Don’t be fooled by cultural feminists, you don’t need to show some skin to show your strength and independence as a woman.  While some women feel that showing cleavage and leg empowers them as women, I feel like my hijab empowers me.  While this is a topic for its own post…in a nutshell, hijab doesn’t mean you can’t speak out or have an opinion.

3.  Fabrics matter.

Check out my previous post on fabric choices for keeping cool despite the weather.  Yes, it makes all the difference!

4.  You will be treated differently

No matter what people tell you, you will be treated differently.  Your friends will need to adjust to you as a hijabi (if they knew you before covering), especially if you partook in activities that are unbecoming of a muslima.  For instance, now that clubbing and drinking are a no-no, some friends may not find you as interesting or fun to hang out with.  You know what? That’s ok.  For every person that thinks you are boring, another person finds you inspiring! I have a friend who loves to discuss my (and her) spiritual journies, including coming to hijab. Once on the city bus I saw a girl wearing a scarf loosely over her ponytail, and when she saw me she straightened the scarf to cover her head completely, and then smiled at me. I smiled back.  You are making a difference, whether or not you see it.

Also, sometimes you get the stink-eye, but other times you are treated with the utmost respect.  I was flabbergasted when a young man (maybe a bit younger than me) stood up on a crowded bus to give me a seat.  That never happened to me before I covered.  Could it be that maybe there was just one gentleman on the bus that day? Maybe, but when it happened a few more times I started to think it wasn’t coincidence.

5.  People are going to assume

People are going to assume that you think a certain way or believe a certain thing because you wear hijab.  They think they know why you started to wear it (ESPECIALLY if you just got married to a muslim). Don’t let that get to you!  If you weren’t being stereotyped for wearing hijab, you’d be stereotyped by your race, or your style, or having tattoos, or your hair cut, or your accent… people always want to fit others in a little box, and you don’t need to worry about that.  Just keep on keeping on, sister. Their assumptions don’t define you.

6. Everyone’s journey is different

Some people struggle with their hijab, but others find it easy.  Just because you are having a hard time and those around you take it easily doesn’t mean that you are a lesser person or your iman (faith) isn’t strong.  Similarly, if you find hijab easy while others are struggling, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are doing it wrong.  Everyone’s journeys with hijab and iman (faith) are different, and you can’t always compare your experience with someone you know.  However, there is someone out there who feels the same as you do, so don’t feel alone!  Some days I find hijab easy, while other days I get so frustrated with it I don’t leave the house!  We will even fluctuate in our feelings sometimes, and that’s normal.

I hope these insights help you, and I still have much to learn.  If anyone out there is reading this, I would love to hear your own lessons you’ve learned in the comments!

Buying scarves

A problem that I sometimes have, and I know ya’ll have had before, is finding the right scarf.  Personally, I stay far, far away from polyester and other synthetic fibers because they don’t breathe well for me.  Limiting myself to rayon, viscose, and cotton can sometimes make scarf shopping difficult.  If you are in the US, here are a few shops that you MUST visit when looking for a scarf.

1. Charming Charlie

Don’t be fooled by the website, this store has a great selection of scarves! At my local store (just opened) they have a full palette of slightly shiny solid color scarves made of viscose with tassels.  I love these scarves, althought I’ve only limited myself to purchasing one at the moment (ice blue, fantastic!).  They also carry an assortment of patterns in other materials, but these soft and light viscose scarves have me hooked.  I will certainly be back for more!  When I visited Charming Charlie it was during the Thanksgiving Weekend, so I’m not sure if the scarves were on markdown, but they were 10$ a piece, very fair price.

2. Burlington Coat Factory

The downside of resale stores is that the inventory is always changing. But isn’t that also a plus?  For cheaper than department and specialty stores (Around 7.99$ or less), you can find a plethora of scarves depending on the season, all in different colors, patterns, and materials.  This can vary by store, so if you are willing to make a day of it, you may find it worth your while to visit more than one!

3. Ross

Similar to Burlington Coat Factory, Ross is a resale store with ever-changing merchandise and competitively low prices.  I usually come across polyester scarves here, but on some occasions I have run across a lovely piece! I purchased one of my favorite scarves, a french vanilla rectangular scarf with tassels, from Ross.

4. Platos Closet

If you don’t have a Platos Closet in your area…it is definitely worth the drive.  Platos Closet is a brand-name thrift store with gently used clothes, shoes, and accessories.  If you have a problem wearing hand-me-downs, this is not the store for you…But when I began to wear hijab I bought half of my scarves from Platos Closet with bargain basement prices ($3.99-$5.99).  Again, the merchandise changes, but the prices of this store cannot be beat.  When it comes to purchasing clothes such as jeans, dresses, tops, jackets… this is where almost everything I own comes from.  You seriously need to make the trip to a Platos Closet when you are on a shopping frenzy- you can stock your entire wardrobe on under 100$ if you hunt for bargains.

#hijabiproblems

“I’m sure your husband doesn’t mind if you don’t wear hijab…”

This statement (even if not in these exact words) was told to me by a colleague while working on a field research project (literally-  a field).  The intense summer sun was beating down on us and the men that were present before to aid in the physical labor had left.

“Finally!” I exclaimed, beginning to roll up my long sleeves and loosening the scarf around my head, “Now that it’s just us ladies…”

My colleague looked at me with a mixture of sympathy and exasperation.

“I’m sure your husband doesn’t mind if you don’t completely cover yourself all of the time. It’s hot out here after all.”

While her intentions were pure, the statement was like a slap in the face.  Your busband doesn’t mind…  For any married women out there that have decided to don the hijab after marriage, for any reason, ya’ll have probably heard this before.  This was not the first time I heard this either.  There seems to be some misunderstanding in our (US and other non-islamic) cultures that hijab is something donned and practiced for men.  This thought is the seed from which grows the idea that Islam is mysogynistic.

Let me be clear.  While I can’t speak for others- I will speak for myself.  Wearing the hijab was my idea.  I put it on in my own time, when was ready to experience it.  Neither my husband nor his family ever forced the idea on me, or even planted it in my subconscious through actions.  I began studying Islam because wanted to know about it.  My husband was simply the sounding board from which I bounced my ideas of studying Islam and looking into it further via reading or action (he was even a little nervous about my wearing hijab- thinking that others would suspect it was his idea).  I’d known that hijab was obligatory for muslimahs for approximately two years prior to my wearing it, and was, in all honesty,  one of the biggest obstacles for me to overcome  and embrace Islam (which, technically, I haven’t taken my shahada yet but I am almost there, inshallah).  Being from a non-islamic country and background, I too began my journey into Islam with the jaded notion that women were completely subservient and slaves to men, that hijab was for men and was forced upon women by their elder male relatives.

Oh, was I wrong.

The more I read and listened, the more I saw hijab for what it was;  a feminist (and Islamic, ofcourse) act of controlling how others see you,  and commanding dignity and respect with a modest appearance and behavior,  all while identifying yourself as a muslimah.  Hijab is for WOMEN, not men.  I fell in love with the concept. (note: there is a hijab for men too, but I’m talking about the one prescribed to women in the Quran.)

In understanding more about hijab and what it is,  I began to wonder where the idea of wearing hijab for men came from, this idea that prevails in non-islamic societies.  I then began to consider womens actions and dress in my own culture.  Do not women often choose their clothes, hairstyles, and makeup, to attract attention from men (and women)? While we may not be doing it knowingly,  our appearance is greatly determined by the thoughts of those around us.  In this way it seems clear that society would view hijab as an act for others (men specifically) because this is the only way that society knows how to think.  I’m not saying every woman is like this, but look between the lines of our cultural norms.

If you are behind your computer screen berating me for my thoughts, I challenge you to wear hijab for a day, or a week, or, hey, try the 30 day ramadan hijab challenge from June 28 to July 28 and show the world that you don’t care what they think of your look.  Put on the hijab for yourself and feel the liberation.  You may be surprised how much you love it.

#hijabiproblems