Sunday, September 14, 2008

Day of the Muslim Women

Last Tuesday, as I mentioned here, was the first day of school and my daughter's first day of kindergarten. Because it was my daughter's first day of kindergarten, I wanted to be there at the bus stop to see her go on the bus.

My wife and son were already with her at the bus stop, which was in front of a neighbor's house that was about eight houses or so down the block from us. I was still wearing the same clothes I slept in, a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, when I started walking on the sidewalk towards bus stop, where my wife and kids were gathered along with several other moms and their kids. And one of those moms was a Jordanian woman whose family rents the upstairs of a house about halfway between our house and the bus stop. I spotted her easily because she wears a scarf wrapped tightly around her head so that only her face can be seen, and baggy clothing.

Normally, it would not be a problem, but it just so happened that the t-shirt I was wearing from the night before was the one I mentioned in my post here, which features a drawing of two Muslim women garbed in a niqab, along with the caption "THANK YOU FOR NOT PROVOKING MY UNCONTROLLABLE LUST." I stopped in my tracks and pondered for a moment, wondering what I should do. I thought to myself, "Do I go on dressed as is and let her see me as I am, or do I go back in the house and change my shirt?"

After a few seconds, I decided to go back in the house and put on another shirt. Yeah, I know, I'm a chicken shit. But it occurred to me, it was her child's first day of school too, and it would probably have been in poor taste for me to have spoiled the moment for her just so I could make a personal statement against her religion (CORRECTION: in retrospect, I should have written "personal statements against a particular aspect of fundamentalist Islam that I find abhorrent, namely that women should be forced or brainwashed into dressing a certain way). She is my neighbor after all, and I certainly don't want to go out of my way to generate any ill will against her. Don't get me wrong, if she happens to see me wearing that particular t-shirt on a given day, say if I'm doing work in the front yard or chasing after one of my kids riding their bike down the block, then tough shit for her. But I felt that particular moment, with her standing there with her children and in front of some of the other moms, was the wrong time for it.

But that was not to be my last Muslim woman moment of the day. Later that morning while I was riding on the train to Penn Station, I noticed a young woman sitting across the aisle from me, a row ahead, but with the seat facing towards the back of the train (my seat facing forward). I briefly made eye contact with her. She had big brown eyes and a rather average face. Then I started reading a book I had recently bought, The Canon by Natalie Angier.

A short while later, I looked up, mentally digesting what I had read, when I noticed again the woman sitting in the aisle across from me. Her eyes were closed and she appeared to be muttering. "What the fuck is wrong with her?" I thought to myself. I wondered for a moment if she was in some kind of distress. She raised her hands to her face and rubbed them over her face as if she was washing herself, and then she placed her hands back on her lap and held them palm side up and slightly cupped. She kept moving her lips, mouthing words silently, and then about a minute later she repeated the movement with her hands to her face. I realized then that she must be a Muslim woman saying her morning prayers. Otherwise, there was nothing obviously Muslim about her, as she could have passed for a woman from just about any Mediterranean country.

I went back to my reading, but raised an eye towards her here and there. At one point, when the train stopped at one of the stations along the way, she had to momentarily stop her prayers because an incoming passenger wanted to sit in the unoccupied seat next to her. Finally, about the time we reached Jamaica station, she stopped praying and took a book out of her purse. I, being the curious guy that I am, looked at the cover of the book. To my surprise, it was a book about self esteem by Nathaniel Branden, a noted author of a number of books on self esteem and a former lover and acolyte of Ayn Rand. For those interested, his website is here.

I was a bit baffled by this Muslim woman's choice of reading. Branden, to my knowledge, is an atheist with a Jewish background. One would hardly expect any of his works to be at the top of a Muslim's required reading list. And the smart ass in me couldn't help but ask in rhetorical silence, "What's the matter, doesn't Allah provide you with all the self esteem you need?" Then again, like many religious people, she is probably engaging in an act of mental compartmentalization. On further reflection, I suppose I should be glad that she at least does look for some inspiration for herself outside of the realm of Islamic religious doctrine.


karat said...

what a weird way/time/location to pray. heh, i don't want to preach here since i'm not even religious, but there's a belief that if something is good, we could adopt it regardless of its background. it's not practised much though 'cos too many Muslims believe that everything non-Muslim is not good. on another note, i'd befriend anyone who read good books, seeing that none of my real life Muslim friends actually read anything other than the required university textbooks or beauty magazines.

vjack said...

I think I probably would have returned home to change my t-shirt in that situation too. Making a political statement is one thing, but that would have made me feel like the sort of monster Christians think I am. I guess I'm a bit of a chickenshit too.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it was chickenshit at all. I commend you for having some consideration for the mother's (and her child's) feelings in the situation you described. And you set a good example of courtesy and tolerance for your child at the same time.

¡Revulo! said...

I also commend you for your acts in the bus stop situation. It's good to hear about someone being thoughtful (epecially when that sould have possibly been a very stressful day for them).

tina FCD said...

I would of expected nothing less from you Tommy. You are a very thoughtful person.

Harry Nads said...

I believe the Muslims face towards the direction on Mecca when they pray. When the bus turned a corner, did she reposition herself to face Mecca?

Just wondering...

Mani said...

I don't think it was a chicken shit at all. To establish true self-esteem she must concentrate on our successes and forget about the failures and the negatives in her lives.
To know more about self esteem visit my site