I haven’t returned to writing here yet, but I just wanted to post about a Facebook group I’ve started. It’s called Wanderlust, and it’s for female travelers of color to share their experiences.

Although I didn’t imagine there would be more than 6 members, there were 125 within the first 24 hours. I suppose I’m not the only one who’s tired of Eat, Pray, Love and Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven.


If you identify, please feel free to join.


“A woman of color who travels ruptures the projected narrative of not only the male traveler who is depicted as the default observer, “discovering” the (already discovered) world through a “neutral” gaze credited to himself, but of the white female traveler, who is romanticized as discovering herself through appropriative behaviors and orientalist lenses yet is never made aware of her position in the world.

“A woman of color cannot deny her position in the world, because she is forced to confront it in the sheer act of becoming herself and interacting with those she sees as her equals–not as inferior accessories to her adventure. This group seeks to restore power to the solo female traveler of color, who defies the restraints of neocolonialist insistence that she cannot discover herself and must instead be the object discovered, that she cannot discover languages and cultures and narrate the gorgeousness of worlds that live beside her own and the fearfulness of venturing into them.

“This is a place for you to plan, advise, and chronicle your adventures with stories, photographs, and even trips-gone-wrong.”

I told you I’d bring presents. See you soon.


Thanks to a major life decision I’ve just made, TFF is going to be on hiatus for 3 months. When I return I’ll be a brand new lady. But you won’t care. Unless I bring you presents maybe? I promise I’ll bring presents. I’ll play the piano for you. I’ll read you a poem in Arabic, the language of poems. I’ll tell you a story about dust and the sea. I’ll leave the wind on your answering machine. I’ll write you love letters in the form of blog posts.

Expect my return in late August. Ramadan Kareem in advance, and in advance Eid Mubarak. Email correspondences will not be delayed any more than they are usually delayed, so please feel free to contact me. Those who have tried already are aware that unless you are detailing an alarming, distressing circumstance or otherwise emailing me to tell me you are suicidal (in which case I will respond immediately) responses will be delayed for weeks and sometimes months. I apologize for this in advance, and assure you it’s because I am an introverted and reserved person, and not because I have better things to do than speak to you, because you are the best of all things.

Known friends, however, can expect prompt replies. I might possibly be deactivating my Facebook (unsure), so use my email/phone number/the billion other ways to contact someone if that happens. Of course.

I’ll still be around this general area, so I will see reader comments. And I assure you, TFF will comparatively improve when I return. Because of the brand new lady thing and all.

Until then I will miss you and I mean it. I love hearing from you… even when I don’t respond the next day. Or the next month. I’m with you in spirit.


Misogyny in the Muslim Community as Islamophobia

The fabulous Orbala presented yesterday at a conference in UC Berkeley on the question of whether misogyny in the Muslim community towards Muslim women is a form of Islamophobia. Before she’d posed the question on Facebook to explore this construction, Orbala and I had a discussion about its implications. She asked, “How [meaning how is it possible] can [it be argued] that Muslim misogynists are Islamophobic?” to which I’d responded that misogynists “perpetuate Islamophobia by engaging the same prejudices towards Muslim women as Islamophobes and allowing [these prejudices] to masquerade as ‘real Islam’.”

We continued,

Orbala: You see, so much of misogyny in Muslim societies is a product of western colonialism, a response to coloninalists’ attempt tp “liberate” women.

TFF: Yes.

Orbala: But by definition, Islamophobia is a dislike of Islam and Muslims…

TFF: And Muslim women aren’t Muslim? And our interpretations aren’t Islam? It’s initially hard to see [misogyny as Islamophobic] because we think of men, and not women, as representative of the religion. But you need to change the way we think.

And because Orbala is so fabulous, you see, she is doing exactly that. We thought we’d bring the discussion to you and investigate the larger ramifications of construing misogyny as Islamophobia–because I, personally, am not interested in pointless discussions that serve only to reframe the dynamics of a religious or cultural hegemony as an end: this new construction of misogyny as Islamophobic needs to be a vehicle for something larger. So, I’m going to note here what, under the thread Orbala posted, I’ve relayed on Facebook:

TFF: [Islamophobes, by mere definition] despise Muslims. And Muslim men who despise Muslim women *and deny them the right to practice their religion as desired* are Islamophobes.

These men despise women because the women are an intolerable kind (specifically if we’re talking about Muslim feminists–they wish we wouldn’t exist) of Muslim; if we say that the structure of religious institutions are man-made [culturally] then it’s possible to shift the “making” power to women and still call it (as Muslim feminists would) “Islam” as practiced by these women, and the women themselves become the object of hatred because of this interpretation of Islam.

Muslim men who are sexist against Muslim women are not typical in their sexism–this is why I am making this argument. They don’t hate non-Muslim women who challenge their privilege; in fact, in classrooms, in the workplace, in public spaces, etc. I’ve seen Muslim men go out of their way to acknowledge the equality of these women. The hatred of Muslim women by Muslim men is a different, unique type. It’s is both misogynist and Islamophobic, it’s the hatred of women who practice a “wrong” kind of Islam and rob Muslim men of their “sacred” communal mancaves where they can behave however they like while presenting a facade of egalitarianism to the outside world.

I think to recognize hatred of Muslim women by Muslim men as Islamophobia has practical benefits. Islamophobia and racism are the only kinds of oppression that Muslim men (cis, hetero, abled) can understand. They can’t wrap their heads around sexism. I wonder if “progressive” Muslim men have ever been confronted by other men for their willingness to pray behind a female imam. It must have happened somewhere, but I can’t speak to that experience. I’m only familiar with being confronted myself for my religious practices. But I would venture to say it must happen very rarely in comparison. And I think that is because a Muslim man, at least around here, would at once recognize that confronting another man, denying him his agency, essentially dehumanizing him and his right to pray as he sees fit, is an almost unthinkable infringement. It’s laughable to lecture to an equal.

When we recognize misogyny as Islamophobic, we restore agency to the Muslim woman trademarked as an archetype by both non-Muslim and Muslim misogynists. When we say hatred towards her is Islamophobic, and that Muslim men are capable of committing this heinous prejudice against her, we are essentially saying that Islam isn’t a man’s religion that she merely follows–it is hers. Violence directed at this “different kind” of Islam and at the woman who practices it without the permission of any Muslim man then takes on a recognizable form: one of religious oppression.

And just like that, the same men who routinely rebuke racists who claim that Islamophobia isn’t racism–and is instead just a critique of Islam as a religion–are forced to confront their own argument when they attempt to defensively adopt that of their opponents. Muslim men are bound to claim that they can’t be Islamophobic toward these women because they’re merely critiquing the women’s practice of Islam–and that’s when their own previous arguments are reintroduced to them: it *is* Islamophobia, it is systematic religious oppression, you are deliberately excluding these women as citizens of your mosque and your society.

And it isn’t just useful for the purpose of practical application–like Islamophobia toward Muslim men is enveloped in racism, so is Islamophobia toward Muslim women enveloped in (racism and) sexism. It is impossible to say that a Muslim man oppressing a Muslim woman is “merely” being sexist–because she’s not only a woman, she’s a *Muslim* woman, and Islamophobia can both be internalized (which is what Orbala is saying) or–and this is what *I* think it is–Islamophobia can conveniently be converted to take on the guise of a “critique.” And that is a powerful tool for misogynists and racists alike, the former being Muslim men.

Orbala: There’s something really important to this discussion. Nahida discussed it above:
See, I believe that our hesitation or discomfort in seeing misogyny as Islamophobia speaks to our refusal to see *women* (Muslim women)* as full humans. Somehow our misogyny is not islamophobia because its not like Muslim men hate “Muslims”; they merely hate Muslim women. Yet, everyone agrees that Islamophobia is by definition the hatred and fear of “Muslims” – but it’s interesting that “Muslims” here doesn’t really seem to include Muslim women. The definitions I’m offering require that the hatred of *Muslim women* be declared Islamophobia – fear of Muslims in a way that includes women, too.

It’s, as Nahida put it: “When we recognize misogyny as Islamophobic, we restore agency to the Muslim woman trademarked as an archetype by both non-Muslim and Muslim misogynists. When we say hatred towards her is Islamophobic, and that Muslim men are capable of committing this heinous prejudice against her, we are essentially saying that Islam isn’t a man’s religion that she merely follows–it is hers. Violence directed at this “different kind” of Islam and at the woman who practices it without the permission of any Muslim man then takes on a recognizable form: one of religious oppression.”

[end of comments] There were other pertinent commenters in the thread whom I want to acknowledge, but I won’t post them here because it is a private thread and I wish to respect the privacy of other members of the conversation. I’d be interested in hearing any contributions to this, here on a more public forum, and I’m certain Orbala would find comments helpful. Please click the link to her post, where she has outlined definitions and explored the concept, before engaging.

Nahida is 24.

Tomorrow is International [Working] Women’s Day, and, less importantly, my 24th birthday. I think the last time I wrote a birthday post is when I turned 21.

The amount of time it takes Nahida to respond to your messages.
The amount of time it takes Nahida to respond to your messages.

In any case, I’m quite relieved with 24. It feels different, kind of fuller. I don’t think I’ve ever felt “different” about a birthday before. (Of course, that may be because it hasn’t passed yet and tomorrow at 10:10PM I’ll find I feel exactly the same after all.) One of my friends has suggested that since it’s been some time since I wrote a post listing things about me, I should do it here. So I will. Here are three things.

1. My favorite words (in this order) are jaan, habibi, and harlot. You’ve got to love the word harlot. Because it’s funny and ridiculous, and it sounds like a vegetable.

2. Speaking of words, I was once “advised” to italicize all foreign words in my writing, because it’s “proper format.” The next day, I turned in an essay with all the English words italicized. I was never asked again.

3. Sometimes I blame myself for things I shouldn’t because, if an unfortunate turn of events can be my fault, it must mean I have control over the outcome.

For those who remember my last birthday post three years ago, thanks for reading for all these years. As my friend Orbala says, I laaaaa you!

P.S. The best birthday gift to me would be if someone swiftly kicked Abu Eesa in the crotch. Khoda hafiz.

In (Feminist) Retrospect: A Prom Story

friendship corsages

When I was in high school, I had (and still have) a friend who is very dear to me. We’ll call her T, the first initial of my affectionate nickname for her. T and I attended the same middle school, where we excelled in physics as an undefeated dynamic duo. In high school we grew closer among other friends, but for now they are not the focus of the story. Because T was perceived as rather cynical and short-tempered, she was often the subject of baffled speculation, and her weight was the object of a few jokes. These characteristics only drew me closer to her side. T, who struggled to live under the shadow of her successful older sister, had diagnosed herself with depression, and to this day I believe she might have come very close. To balance T’s unrelenting pessimism, I exaggerated my inclination to outward idealism to the brink of fatigue. T found this greatly amusing, and she referred to us as quite a foil. I was rather unsettled with the popular misconception of my insufferable demonstration of happiness–I felt obligated to be this way so that, since I was frequently accompanied by her, T’s storm clouds didn’t drown the room, but while my emotional range was clipped in public, I knew our peers didn’t know T either.

They didn’t see the softer side of her, the lovely woman who was more than the cynic, who cared for the birds caught in her chimney and fought for all things that live, who tried to cheer me up when she caught glimpses of private moments of my distress. (Incidentally, while the widely held belief was that T was cynical and depressed, no one saw that I, a ray of unstoppable sunshine, was the one slowly sinking into indifference.) Neither T nor I were much for school spirit, and we never cared for parties or events unless they fit the agenda of our academic ambitions.

And then we were seniors, and there was prom. Anxious to see T enjoying herself outside of her quiet books and video games, I encouraged her to attend. And to emphasize that we would be unstoppable partners in crime, I made a proposition: that we would attend the senior prom together, and we would both attend in tuxedos. Even as I tailored the idea to our revolutionary sprits, I believed T would resist, but to my surprise, she agreed at once, with the same quiet happiness that lit her when she looked at birds or lent me books on Buddhism. She was rather fond of the idea, in her light sort of way, and for the first time I witnessed her looking forward to a social event. And, well, you can probably guess what happened next.

I was asked to the prom.

Admittedly, I should have seen this coming, but somehow then, I hadn’t. To this day I cringe at the decision I made. I told T that I’d been asked, mistakenly believing (again!) that she wouldn’t care and might have even been relieved. T didn’t say anything to me except that she understood, but I recall being shocked at the slight shadow of disappointment in her expression. Without me, T airily resigned to not attending the prom. I wore a burgundy dress. T said nothing else of the matter in the coming weeks, possibly out of a consideration for me that I evidently hadn’t had for her, until two days after the event, when she responded rather bitterly to what was, frankly, my abandonment of her. (It was in this moment that I realized how much this had really meant to her.) Still, it was the kindness in her character to bring it up only once, and for the past–how long ago was high school? five years?–she’s never mentioned it again, and our friendship resumed as usual.

I’m certain that she’d forgiven me, and quickly–but to this day when I remember this incident, it eats my heart alive.

When, five years later, I recounted this story to my coworker, she said, compassionately, “Well, no one can really blame you. I mean if you’d done it now it would be different. But you were young then. You were 18 and you’d just been asked out by a guy you had feelings for–,”

“Oh no,” I corrected her, “I didn’t have romantic feelings for him then. In fact, I’d made it clear to him we were going as friends.”

My coworker furrowed her eyebrows. “Wait, your date was just a friend?”


“So… if he was just a friend, why didn’t the three of you just go together?”

When she said this, it was as though something had collapsed in me and released an infinite (and obvious) flood of wisdom. Of course. Of course! Why hadn’t the three of us just gone together? I had, even at the age of 18, been a self-declared feminist–but I had been so instilled with the heterosexist archetype of two people of the opposite sex attending the prom together as the ideal vision that I’d crumbled at its calling. At the opportunity to present the archetype, I’d neglected about every other possibility, especially the one signifying a meaningful friendship. I’d been stripped of my identity and forgotten who I was. And because everyone referred to the man who’d asked me as my date even though it was widely known we were just friends, when they wouldn’t have referred to T as my date, my frame of reference was further dictated by the language to which I responded: I didn’t make the connection that this man wasn’t my “date” in a definitive sense of the word any more than T had been. With that schema, it hadn’t occurred to me that the three of us could have gone together.

If I could do this over, though, we wouldn’t have attended together. I would have turned down the “date.” There would be plenty of time for that. Instead I would have just gone with T, one of my best friends. Because I’d told her so. And that was the most important thing.

Be good to your friends, and keep them close. Because sometimes, it is more feminist than we even realize.