Monday, June 1, 2020

The Best Thing A Girl Can Be In This World, Is A Beautiful Fool

I read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald sometime in 2013. I loved the book and I loved the movie. It was a beautiful story and at the time, I was still a naive little girl with fire in her veins. I was just discovering what kind of person I wanted to be and at the time, I had recently found a word for the kind of woman I was and it was feminist. For me, feminism is an obvious choice for every woman. I couldn't be anyone or anything else, coming from where I was coming from.

The Hausa society, like most societies out there (including the supposed deplorable "western" societies), is not an egalitarian society. The intellectual Hausa man (and woman) would like to make you believe the society is one that is not misogynistic. That in fact, is an Islamic society that gives women their rights as stipulated within the boundaries of shari'a. Unfortunately, that is not true. The Hausa society is one of the worst societies to be a woman in. It is bubbling with toxic patriarchy that is not hard to see, even when peeping from outside. There are so many unjust gender roles that guide who a woman should be and what she can and can't do (most times, unislamic biases) which do not in any way or form apply to men. If there is any more inegalitarian, misogynistic, and unaccommodating of feminist intellectual thought society, I do not know about it (or rather, do not know enough to comment about it) as I am only familiar with my own reality.

In Chapter 1 of The Great Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan says to her friends, Nick and Jordan what she hopes for her daughter.
"I hope she'll be a fool—that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool. "

At the time, I thought of Daisy herself to be a fool. The character, beautifully played by Carrie Mulligan embodied Fitzgerald's idea of a woman with foolish aspirations. It was a weakness for me, to wish such an unfair aspiration for one's daughter.  The older I got, the more I saw life through the eyes of Daisy. If you have read the book, you will know Daisy is a woman whose entire story revolves around a man (or two men...or one man...depending on how you read the book). The naive feminist in me couldn't bring myself to not read Daisy's character without admonition and judgment. A lot has happened and a lot has changed and most of all, I have grown up and Daisy might have been onto something.

It will be dishonest of us to talk about our realities without acknowledging how our personal stories affect and shape who we are and how the thoughts that fester in our brains got there. Ideas are seeds that grow. To separate my experiences from my story would be a dishonest starting point.
I was raised in a family of women. I have 3 fierce sisters (one older and two younger) and one brother. I was not raised in a community of women who asserted themselves and chased big goals. I did not have around me, any woman who lived the life I wanted to have for myself. If anything, I wanted to be far away from all the women I knew. I did not know any woman who worked in a big office or held a big position outside of the home (and even within the home they are often second class officers). It all seemed a weakness to me. 
Little did I know the patriarchy does not make sense and what seemed to me like weakness was in fact, something else, something that runs deeper than I could ever understand in one lifetime. Oppression is systematic and it is ingrained deep into our society. It is easier to surrender at the beginning of a battle that you know is already lost. I always thought, because I went to University and had the freedom to choose my career path as a teenager, that I could separate myself from toxic patriarchy. As I like to think my father a self-made intellectual, I believed I could be separated from his own primal upbringing which includes an ideology of male ownership (or guardianship) over women. Now I wonder if my circumstance would be different if I have had 3 brothers and one sister instead. 

Today I see Daisy for a compassionate mother. How could she not wish for her daughter to be a beautiful fool? A beautiful silent fool. A disappearing fool. A fool who would marry a rich man and silently accept the role society has carved out for her (errmmm sign me up). An easy life. How could she not want to protect her daughter from the curse of wanting more for herself? That I think is mercy. For those of us unfortunate enough to want freedom and a voice, I will be honest with myself and all of us, we are in for a life of misery.

The Patriarchy is nothing but a system of control. Everywhere, within the boundaries of the Hausa community, there is someone telling a woman to be silent, attempting to control her, hide her, make her less of a person. If it is not the father, then it is the father figure or the male scholar or the husband. The moment a female gets married, the major advice she is given is to obey and honor her husband who is the head and she well...the anus. Marriage has become an institution of oppression and toxic patriarchy. Too many women are in unhappy marriages today because they are afraid to leave. Mathematically, a woman's strength is directly proportional to how much disrespect she can accept, silently. Polygyny has become a tool used to punish and subdue women. A man's self-worth on the other equation is directly proportional to how many women he can control at home. Young girls and old women are being raped and murdered daily while simultaneously getting shamed and bullied into silence. Yet, the Hausa community has the audacity to feign surprise at the seemingly climbing rate of divorce. Young women are growing up to know they want a better bargain than their mothers and grandmothers, young women are rescinding the silence of their mothers. Young women are understanding that financial freedom is the key to mental liberation. Women have been robbed of their confidence for years, so much so that where does one go from there? What happened to marriage as a partnership where both spouses honor and respect one another? Women have been made to believe that they are incapable of knowing who they are and what they want without the guidance of egotistical men. I paraphrase Dr. Shehnaz Zindebad here where she says, in her youtube vlog on Islam and gender: The idea that women are emotional and to be emotional is believed, in the case of women, to be a bad thing, is what makes women illogical and inferior to men. This is used as a basis for a lot of society's oppression towards women. The patriarchy accuses women of being so inherently jealous (whilst ignoring the fact that male jealousy is often a very violent and threatening thing) whereas, male jealousy is very much validated within the patriarchy that laws are written to honor and protect male jealousy. In all societies everywhere, men are allowed to control women exclusively to protect their jealousy. How could one wish to not be a fool when knowing all of this and demanding the freedom to choose, to break free from the shackles of a system of control, and to have a voice is an endless fight? A lifelong fight.

I would like to say this is a situation that is only prevalent within the less educated echelons of the community but it is not. The educated intellectuals are only so evolved and in tune with the egalitarian ethos until their egos flair and they are faced with a powerful and assertive woman. Then they begin to ask where her male guardian is. Or begin to spew words like "I have one like you at home" meaning they have a wife whom they oppress at home or who does not even know she is being oppressed. Women like Amina J Mohammed are looked upon with a questioning gaze that asks where her male guardian is and how she was "allowed" to get to where she is. Words like "allow" and "permit" are the primary language that surrounds the institution of marriage ala patriarchy. It may seem like it is protection for women but really it is not. It is simply oppression.
Even within our institutionalized religions, women are said to be inferior and "lesser people" although, within the Islamic context, the Qur'an says to choose the mother three times before the father. It is suffocating and overwhelming when you know your rights and demand them but keep getting robbed and punished for demanding and asserting it. There doesn't seem to be a way out. Only fools do not know their rights and so do not know to demand them.

The Egyptian feminist writer, Mona Eltahawy said: 'To the girls of the middle east, Be immodest, rebel, disobey, and know you deserve to be free' and I agree with her to an extent. Women cannot politely demand to be heard as it does not work. The only way a woman's voice would be heard is if she vehemently refuses to shut up. If you cannot be the fool that Daisy hopes her daughter to be, then one could choose to rebel like Mona advises. Regardless, the patriarchy would still have no respect for the fool or the rebel. In its eyes, both are secondary humans who have to fight for their right to exist as full humans with the capacity for independent thought. Both are subject to being treated as children who are incapable of making rational choices. Isn't it infuriating and sickening that the patriarchy gives the male child authority over the mother? Isn't it unjust that female children's confidence is always kicked down while male children's confidence is nurtured and encouraged?
Realistic feelings of confidence and positive self-esteem affect how you think and act, how you feel about others, and how successful you are in life. Parents' attitudes are crucial to children's feelings about themselves, particularly in children's early years. When parents provide acceptance, children (girls) receive a solid foundation for good feelings about themselves. If one or both parents are excessively critical or demanding, or if they are overprotective and discourage moves toward independence, children (girls) may come to believe they are incapable, inadequate, or inferior. I use girls in bracket because male children do not face the stifling of independence at the level that females do. Lack of confidence prevents women from being assertive and reaching great heights and that is the primary ingredient for raising a fool.

I wish foolishness could set women free but to be very honest with you, that is simply burying one's head in the sand. Was Daisy successful in raising her daughter, Pamela to be a fool? Did Pamela end up having an easier life (doubtful)? I have no clue.  I'll have to wake F. Scott Fitzgerald from his eternal slumber to ask him for the second part of the book.

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Saturday, May 23, 2020

A Race For The Sunset

Context: In January, I and my best friend in the world decided to take an uncertain trip to a place far away from home. We chose the Maldives because it was the only seemingly magical location where we didn't need a visa. We had previously tried to travel to Europe but visa issues and limited time so we quickly made a choice. We could not have made a better decision. This was one of the many magical experiences I had and I tried to recapture the moment in the language in which I felt it. 
We had taken an evening trip to Guraidhoo, which is one of the many magical islands of the Maldives.
I have gone back in my head several times to this moment. To the profound euphoria and ecstasy that I felt. If only words could do a moment justice. I try. 


Guraidhoo bid us adieu when we made the niyya to search for the sunset. She hoped to see us again and if not in this life, she asked for a visit from another. My bowed head buried this promise in my heart. In the middle of God’s Indian ocean, we believed the sunset would welcome us home. The water set its pace and we set our sail, on our mark as we began the speed boat journey, to the middle of the world, where the sky meets the sea. We picked up speed and Guraidhoo became smaller and smaller until the mighty wind joined us on our race. We had 20 minutes to catch the artistic wonder of the sunset. Our driver and his sidekick braced their feet against the floor of the boat looking ready to take on the world. The captains of the sunny waters. Silky hair and kinky curls flew with the gust of the ocean breeze while we made our journey to the sun. There was nothing but God in the sky. The clouds were boastful as they took their form and became massive structures above our heads. I could hear them daring man to attempt to construct as beautifully as they can. They laugh at the weight of our brick walls and glass towers. While we sink, they rise high above the ground, weightless and exhilarated, boastful, and proud. What wonder, I was captivated. 

Our drivers still, defying the wind raced through the sea. They were a young and intimidating army of two, ready for conquest, with no shield or armor. This was no ordinary battle. Which of our wars has been against the mother universe? Who would win in a war that has already been won, humanity seemed so insignificant and small in the vast ocean as we chased the sun. My aching arms clutched the railing of the boat for dear life as the wind carried it’s ocean and asked us to make our peace with it. The pain was meaningless, the wind was stronger and I knew it. I closed my eyes and imagined the depth of the ocean, not even nothingness could scare me while in front of me, our war raged against the fierce current of the water and was being won by young island boys who have grown up fighting this fight. There was no CGI theatrics I still couldn’t believe my eyes. The wind took up its challenge up a notch and I held on for my life. My companions asked if I am okay. There were no words left on my tongue to answer their question. So I smile, comforting myself with the gift of sunnah as the limitations of my language suddenly dawned on me. I received the punishment for this curse of the English language, I accepted the saltwater as it slashed my face and dried my tongue. Aristotle could not have possibly documented in any language, this work of God that is the sky, the sea, the majestic drivers, and the looming sunset. So I forgive myself quickly for my linguistic shortcoming.  I send out a promise of a poem, a verse, or an ode. Immortalising the moment seemed like a life or death ordeal. As we begin to sight the boat on to whose deck we have received parley to view the sunset, I marvel at an irony. The menacing high walls of the Maafushi prison complex stood angrily and bitterly on reclaimed land. To deny one the beauty of the Southeast Asian sunset must be the cruelest punishment of all. How did we all fall for the lie of a system that kept people in cages? The walls stood tall, reaching for the sky, towering over every other building that has been sunk into the sand to keep a person in darkness. An unholy embrace. I could see no rehabilitation, only a sin. I close my eyes and give gratitude for my freedom. I am reminded of how quickly humans can become cruel and so this beauty must be praised. I prayed to the mother to exonerate us of the wickedness of the heart. Time was ticking but God was calling. 

We reached the Princess and alighted onto its wooden floor. Wound our way up to its belly and onto its deck. The sun had set. We had reached the end of our journey. God of the universe, whichever soothes your heart was reaching for me, calling my name. The pink sunset reflected the pink of my shirt and the pink twinkling Christmas lights that snaked around the neck of the deck. It was the most beautiful burst of color. The sun was large and soothing above our faces. The clouds, wanting to keep this beauty to themselves did their best to hide the descending sunlight. Is this a sign? I cry my eyes out at this magnificence. My tears seemed so small against the vastness of the sea and the ravishing sunset. I could feel it all, the love, the disappearing sun, the darkening water, the relentless wind. I answered the call and the muezzin sang through the heavens almost to say, Shaheedah, calm yourself. Believe in a God of wonders.

Allahu Akbar he bellowed but of course, this is greatness. Sunset at Maghrib is as inseparable as life and death. I answered the call for I have borne witness to the greatness and wonder of the God of wonders. Hayya alal Salah! Hayya alal Falah and with hurry, I wiped my tears and received salvation. The darkness had taken over the sky as the sun went on to have its rest.

Arabic words used: 

niyya - Intention
Allahu Akbar - God is great
Sunnah - Habitual Practice (also defined as the body of literature which discusses and prescribes the traditional customs and practices of the Islamic community, both social and legal.)
Hayyah alal salah - Rush to pray
Hayyah alal falah - Rush to success

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