“Violent” verses in the Qur’an don’t bother me anymore.

There was a time when I used to read the Qur’an daily for about 30 minutes. When I did this, I noticed myself changing and was forced to reduce the reading to twice a week. When I read “too often,” I became calmer, more at peace, and I cared very little about troublesome events or material loss. It was as though I were turning to water. Unfortunately, this all also meant that I was too tranquil when any kind of injustice befell me. I can not afford to be so forgiving. I need to be a fighter.

I was thinking recently, with all of the Islamophobia I’ve seen, with Muslim women harassed, with men showing up at masjids with guns, that the “violent” verses of the Qur’an that used to bother me–don’t anymore. I’ve written an entire series about verses taken out of context, about how they are actually defensive, but even when I knew that, they’d still bothered me a little, because who really wants to see any unashamed advocation of violence anywhere, even if it is in self-defense, especially in their religious texts of Love? And now they don’t. I have always been unapologetic, but I have never been as unapologetic as now. The non-Muslims who present these verses out of context to prove how violent I am have literally driven me to not caring, to thinking “Good. I hope you learn not to oppress those who are coming to worship.” It made me realize that what I thought was a virtue of my character, the sense that these verses were too harsh, was an unkindness to those whose situations I could not understand. What seems like God’s vengeance towards one group of people is in truth God’s mercy toward another.

Anime Characters Don’t “Look White” and the Ridiculousness of White-as-Default

I’m actually not an incredible fan of anime, in that I’ve never really immersed myself in it, other than–of course–the obligatory elementary school obsession with Sailor Moon. But I’ve had friends who very much were, from elementary into high school. I went to a predominantly Asian and Latinx (thank God) high school rather than a predominantly White one. In fact, my high school was 5% White. Demographically speaking, it was the best. High school speaking, it was the worst, as is expected of any high school experience. Ever.

I’d never seen anime characters as White, and it wasn’t until I happened to walk past a woman I overheard complaining, “Why don’t they”—referring to the Japanese—”draw themselves the way they really look?” For some reason, she sounded annoyed, like she didn’t think a people ought to see themselves with wide eyes or multicolored hair when that’s clearly not how they look to her White gaze. I walked away thinking it was truly bizarre. To me, Japanese characters have looked nothing but Japanese.

The answer to this has everything to do with our default perceptions. After all, on American television, we have a variety of cartoon characters with humanly impossible features, but unless they have specific “markers” defining them as Other, we read them as White. Look at Charlie Brown, for instance. He’s got beady eyes and thin lips. What makes us think he’s whi—actually, never mind, bad example.

It works the same way with sex and gender. If I draw a bunny, it wouldn’t read to a large American audience as a girl unless I made it pink, or added a ribbon. (This is getting incredibly boring, and I’m glad more “modern” cartoons are evolving past it.) Even stick figures are read as male unless they have triangular dresses. The woman asserting the Japanese should draw themselves “how they really look” believes the characters should have (racist) racial markers that read “Asian.” Anime was not, however, made for her. The characters don’t need to be “read” by her, or drawn in a way she would understand. I’m guessing Japanese people in Japan don’t see their anime characters as White. They don’t need racial markers to tell them the characters they draw are Japanese.

sailor moon
Seriously, these women still all look Japanese.

After all, why do we have any reason to believe American cartoons are white? Why do we read characters on The Simpsons as white when their skin is yellow and when Marge has a blue afro? If anything, shouldn’t this read as Black hair? But she isn’t Black to the American audience, who learns quickly (as they have known all their lives) that “Others” are defined on the The Simpsons with brown skin, not yellow. Since White is default, there must be an additional marker that acts as an indicator. And unfortunately, the afro has been appropriated and won’t cut it for an American audience. Marge’s hair might not even register as an afro.

It was clear (from this and a few other sentiments) that the woman believed the Japanese had an inflated self-image, to have the audacity to imagine themselves with blue hair and wide eyes. That’s only for Americans like Marge Simpson! It’s shocking, no doubt, to come to the realization that non-white cultures don’t see themselves the same way white supremacists see them. It’s shocking to discover that the white supremacist lens is unnatural, imposing, and entitled.

It’s a great exercise, I think, to realize that non-white characters with traits we perceive to be white, don’t, in fact, look white, and those traits are not white. They do not belong to white people or white culture.

I’ve been flattered by those of you who’ve contacted me to insist that I return to writing as frequently as I used to–unfortunately, I can’t promise that, but I have decided to post at least once a week. I wish I could tell you which day, but that would too closely resemble a schedule, and I am notoriously terrible with schedules.

Raise the wage for Jesus.

I have a lot of hair. Piles and piles of hair. It’s gorgeous when I can muster up the energy between work and class and guest lectures and conferences and writing and playing piano and dancing in my bedroom and non-alcoholic pina coladas to take care of it. And there’s so much of it; I’m convinced that I must have the strongest most elegant neck in the world to be able to still lift up my head. My neck must be the envy of gazelles to haul hair this heavy. If I stood on a boat I would surely sink it. It’s exhausting to take care of so much hair. I like to pass the responsibility to someone else. In this case, it’s my hairdresser, Jesus.

Jesus lives around Brentwood, over an hour’s drive from where he works in Palo Alto. I don’t actually know how much Jesus makes, but it could not possibly be enough. When Jesus washed my hair I was amazed at the strength in his hands. He actually asked me if he was scrubbing too hard and I was like, “Oh my God. Harder.” It was as though until this point every strand of my hair had been on fire at the roots, a raging flame fueled by the angry thoughts of patriarchal injustice, smothered with Jesus’s magical tension-releasing hands.

No, my hair has never literally been on fire. Although, I do have enough of it to fuel a fire for centuries. If the sun ever goes out, ask for my hair. I also have enough to bury objects in it, but please don’t tell the TSA.

Not only is it expensive to be a woman, it’s so incredibly dull, in the sense that one must sit for an hour or more in one place just to get her hair done, particularly if she possesses extraordinary amounts of it. As a woman I associate getting ready with necessary discomfort. Waxing legs is painful. Dressing hair is mind-numbing. Sometimes, if either goes on long enough, it’s either painfully mind-numbing or mind-numbingly painful. I’m sure someone will make the claim that these measures don’t need to be taken—but they do. Women don’t do these things because they’re luxuries; we do them to survive.

When I saw Jesus, for the first time a necessary measure was a pleasurable experience. The long round-brush strokes against my head were like a massage. Even the part that is typically the most annoying—which is the hairdresser trying to clip the remaining hair out of the way, because this usually requires at least two attempts due to the thickness and massive amounts—was satisfying, as Jesus would tug, twist, and place like it were meant to be a spa treatment. Jesus tugging at my hair was the best thing that’d happened to me all week. Certainly, Jesus was named after Prophet Isa, who could perform miracles. I’m assuming, of course; maybe he was named after his great grandfather. Either way, someone please give this man a million dollars.

By the way, as a result my hair looked the best it’s ever looked. I looked like a million dollars. I actually never use that phrase, but it was convenient to use in this context, because of the literary connections.

California recently raised the minimum wage to $15/hr, which frankly isn’t enough to live in the Bay. It especially won’t be enough in 2022, which is when the raise actually goes into effect. We should raise the wage for Jesus, who should receive an annual income of exactly one million dollars.

To be clear, I’m not saying the minimum wage should be raised to a living wage because Jesus is awesome (it’s likely he does make a little bit more than that); we should raise the wage because an hour of someone’s time should be valued enough to recognize that they need to be able to live. We should raise the wage for Jesus, my hairdresser, and for the Prophet Isa, who would be opposed to paying people close to nothing for their services—spectacular, or ordinary.

You’re actually not even obligated to do housework.

During the time of the Prophet, women were encouraged to engage in housework, but it was seen as a charity, not as an obligation. The woman who cooked and cleaned was viewed as being generous with her labor. I’m not even kidding; you can look this up. Women who didn’t know how to cook (those who were originally upper class but may have married men in a class lower than theirs) were not expected to learn. Their husbands were expected to hire someone to cook and clean for them.

That’s terrific for upper class women–I’m sure you’re all thinking–but the same is true for women who were ill, or otherwise somehow disabled from cooking. A number of jurists came to this conclusion (including Shaykh Mufti Taqi Usmani and Imam al-Mawsili, if you must know which). This is because traditionally a man is expected to provide provisions; for longer than they haven’t been, those provisions were considered prepared/cooked provisions. In other words, you can’t just drop raw meat in front of your wife like, “I HAVE PROVIDED!” and expect her to make a meal out of it. It has to come that way. From you. (Yes, I heard it, no jokes please.)

Fatwas like this are typically followed by a sentiment along the lines of, “But she is encouraged to partake in her religious duty,” or “There are blessings for women who are generous and kind to their husbands, otherwise she is obstinate.” This is because jurists think women are cold-hearted assholes like men, who wouldn’t consider expending themselves a little for sake of mutual understanding in a marriage, and that we would just sit around all day doing nothing at any opportunity. Let’s face it, no woman is going to read this and stop vacuuming. A man might, were it in his favor.

Before you think Jesus Christ, Nahida, who hurt you?!, men actually HAVE stopped vacuuming. Doesn’t, “Sorry, I’m only encouraged to help with housework,” sound familiar? I’m not exaggerating what opportunists men are.

So I don’t need to tell any woman that it would be nice if she picked up some chores anyway; women largely are–and tirelessly. Look, I would be the first to roll my eyes at an upper class woman and think, “Learn to cook, Your Highness.” Okay maybe not the first, I don’t really care, but if she were obnoxious enough I’d do it eventually. Obviously, God has been far more generous. And not just to her. What I’m saying is, working class women, stop exhausting yourselves.

My friend Vanessa (hi Vanessa) said to me once, “In Islam, a woman has the right to work. If her husband discourages her from practicing this right, because he requires full-time maintenance of the household, then she must be compensated for her forfeiture of this right. He must pay her for the money she has lost from not working, out of consideration of him.” She reportedly told this to her female (potential) in-laws, who looked at her as though they’d been conned.

Stay-at-home mothers with children should be contractually employed by their husbands for cooking, cleaning, and childcare services provided and contributed to the household. They should show this salary on their taxes, and, if it is too low, should receive additional compensation/benefits from the government for raising a generation of workers to contribute to the economy. Realistically, most of this is life management; most husbands couldn’t afford all of the work their wives do. The economy would need to change, drastically, to implement something like this. Traditionally “women’s work” would need to be seen as actual work.

Racists Targeting Refugees Pretend to Care about Assaults in Germany and Sweden

Update: Most of the attackers in Cologne were white. “On Friday, the Cologne prosecutor Ulrich Bremer in fact told me that, of the 59 suspects pinpointed so far, just four are from war-torn countries (Syria and Iraq), only 14 are in custody, and nobody has yet been charged. Nearly 600 hours of CCTV reveals very little, and there is no evidence whatsoever that the alleged attacks were planned in advance.”

I’ve got to hand it to racists, they don’t just “care” about saving Muslim women from oppressive Muslim men; they also care very much about saving white women from barbaric men of color.

sofia capel tweet
You can just FEEL how much he cares.

During a New Year’s celebration in Cologne, Germany, women reported around 22 (estimated) orchestrated assaults by men of Arab or North African appearance. The horrific incidents were, of course, at once hijacked by nationalist, right-wing racists, who were conveniently suddenly very invested in women’s rights and safety. Despite the fact that none of the actual victims nor a representative size of the women of nations who have opened borders to large numbers of refugees felt the need to politicize these attacks, knights in shining armor, who otherwise spend their time counting false rape accusations or denying the wage gap, came galloping in on their shiny white horses with their shiny white skin.

Amnesia is an incredible thing, and so is projection. The white man fears men of color because he knows what he has done. Organized rape is not unprecedented, and it’s still rape when it comes dressed in prettier terms. White men can literally travel to Colombia, the Philippines, Thailand, Kenya for the purpose of exploiting/raping women (or ‘sex tourism’) using systems in place to help them coerce women, and when white women are assaulted it’s considered ‘unprecedented.’ No, an article actually uses that word.

Organized rape has happened during every European invasion in history. It happened in the Americas–and still does–to indigenous women, it happened through the African continent–and still does–during the slave trade, it happened in every systematic genocide and it is anything but unprecedented. The only time we should fear “refugees” is when they’re white.

Propaganda by racists relying on the crimes, whether real or fictitious, of any person or people of color is nothing new either. The treatment of women in the Middle East was a popular justification for invading Afghanistan and Iraq and blasting those very women we care oh-so-much about to pieces. And sadly, that’s not even the most recent: historically, and even now, white women perceive of their attackers as dark-skinned. In her book, The Color of Crime, Katheryn Russell-Brown documented 67 racial hoax cases between 1987 and 1996, 70% of which were white-on-black. She says, because the most common type of hoax targeting black men is rape,  “it’s not surprising that so many White women have created Black male rapists as their fictional criminals.”

I am by no means suggesting that the women attacked in Cologne weren’t assaulted or didn’t see their attackers–let’s be clear that I believe every part of the story, and I’m deeply unhappy with the German authorities unsurprising response to advise the women to take careful measures. Rather, I’m pointing out that women like Bonnie Sweeten, who falsely accused two black men of kidnapping her daughter; like Amanda Knox, who falsely accused a black man of killing her roommate; like Bethany Storro, who threw acid in her own face and blamed a black woman, are able to operate on what we all know as truth: the hearts of racists are inflamed at the prospect of a man of color committing a crime against a white woman, absolutely inspired to fuel hatred against an entire people. Because they care. All of the sudden. As Laurie Penny writes:

This is not the first time a European city administration has responded to an outbreak of sexual violence by blaming the women. It is the first time in recent history that the right-wing press has not joined in the condemnation of these wanton strumpets who dare to think they might be able to have a good time without worrying what ‘invitation’ they’re sending to men. Instead, the right wing blames… liberals. Who apparently caused all this by daring to suggest that refugees should be able to come to Europe in safety.

It’d be great if we could take rape, sexual assault and structural misogyny as seriously every day as we do when migrants and Muslims are involved as perpetrators. The attacks in Cologne were horrific. The responses – both by officials and by the armies of Islamophobes and xenophobes who have jumped at the chance to condemn Muslim and migrant men as savages – have also been horrific. Cologne has already seen violent protests by the far-right anti-migrant organisation Pegida, a group not previously noted for its dedication to progressive feminism. Angela Merkel has responded by tightening the rules for asylum seekers, but for many commentators, it’s not enough.

It’s astounding truly, how rightwing bigots believe they can really fool women into thinking they suddenly care about women’s rights or safety. In Sweden, after gangs of masked men physically assaulted non-Swedes, Swedish women responded with the hashtag campaign #inteerkvinna (#notyourwoman) to protest the men, particularly after right-wingers violently attacked refugee youths claiming their motives were to “protect” Swedish women. (I don’t give white feminists cookies for their allyship, but I really want to do it just this once.)

As a friend of mine once said, men are like the Mafia–they offer you “protection” from themselves.

Rebels v.s. Revolutionaries

Patriarchy will always perceive the actions of two groups of people as “rebellious”–women, and teenagers. Take note that although “rebellious” is denotatively defined as resisting authority, the connotation is that women and teenagers are disobedient and insubordinate for the mere the sake of resisting authority, and not for the grander revolutionary cause of upholding the inherent value in their beliefs. Unlike rebellious men, who seek to overthrow an unjust system, the rebellious woman is perceived as one who seeks to destabilize the morals of society and needs to be “put back in place”–much like the rebellious child, whose opinions are “just a phase” and will come to end upon the adulthood realization that authority figures were correct all along.

I’m aware from your emails that some of you are teenagers. I was 19 when I started writing here. I’m now 24. When I was a teenager, I was a pedantic, quietly imaginative, overreaching kind of child. I was the kind of child adults enjoyed and other children disliked; I was a know-it-all or–worse?–a goody-two-shoes. Perhaps it is some kind of cosmic joke that I am fonder of children now. I didn’t like teenagers when I was one of them. But that was such an injustice! I hope you see that more clearly than I did. Teenagers are in fact quite wonderful. It’s a shame I disliked them—it’s a shame I disliked them while I was one of them, having accepted the myth that teenage problems don’t matter (“You won’t care about them when you’re older,”) that the only use for my intelligence was to prove my worth to adults, that I was immature if I refused to seek adult approval. I am amazed by teenagers routinely when I really shouldn’t be stunned–by Sarah Volz, who grew financially viable algae biofuels under her bed; by Paul Hyman, who invented a camera to aid firefighters seeing through smoke; by Adebola Duro-Aina who invented a urine-powered generator to address Nigeria’s energy problem. (And yes, it works.) The brilliance of teenagers is obvious, not astounding. After all, Louis Braille invented braille when he was 15.

Not that anyone should expect you to be a genius, or expect otherwise for that matter–that complaint about the pre-frontal cortex employed to discredit you every time gets pretty old doesn’t it?–no one should really expect anything at all for anyone. My point is that I was 19 when I began writing here, and despite the common side-smirk accusation about my beliefs and interpretations of Islam being transitory, they were not, in fact, a “phase.” They were the core of who I was, emerging from myself. I hypothesized that after I became an adult–I think I have yet to accomplish this–it would be accepted that I’m not “rebelling” for the sake of rebelling, that I’m just being who I actually am, living my life the way I saw it fit to be lived, but of course in anticipating this I had neglected to account for the fact that I’m a woman. Which means my “rebellion” will never be taken seriously. It is rebellion and not revolution. The Great Male Revolutionary may be revered, but the kindred spirit in a womanly form, eternally disparaged, is the true lone ranger.

Don’t let anyone claim your beliefs, your identity, anything about you is merely transitional. And if it is, don’t let anyone attribute it to your age. After all, transitional things are lovely, and their temporariness makes them no less valuable. Patriarchy will have you believe only men are allowed to change their minds whilst maintaining validity on any decision, on any assumed identity, as though this very human tendency to change is a privilege afforded to only those whose genders–and age–have been wrongfully associated with strength of character. I’d tell you it gets better as you get older–but why should it? You needn’t grow out of a certain age for people to begin respecting your perspectives. And you, 19-year-old reading this in your late teens on-the-brink-of-20–don’t you dare forget what it was like. I was 19 five years ago, and I still haven’t. Just because it stops mattering to you one day once you’ve passed a convenient threshold doesn’t mean it isn’t still important. The rule is suspended in the timelessness of morality. All it means when you think you “know better” now is that you’ve become oppressive as soon as you were given the opportunity to forget.

As Transformation Goes

“I didn’t ask to be here,” I used to declare to friends during light existential crises. Even then, I was unsure of the veracity of these words. I knew that I might very well have asked to be here, alive, on Earth, as a human being, and not remember. What I must have been thinking when I agreed to this is beyond me. There are times I fiercely anticipate the Return. The only thing I know for certain is that I’m human, and not an angel, because I ask irritating questions, and have this unrelenting need for a purpose.

Muslims (conventionally, anyway) don’t believe in reincarnation, which is a relief. The Qur’an, however, alludes to other forms a soul can assume besides those we recognize.

We have decreed Death among you,
and We are not to be outrun.

We will change your Forms
and create you (again) in (Forms)
that you do not know.

And you have already known
the first creation,
so you will not remember?

—Qur’an 56:60-62

Apart from an allusion to a “first” creation, the Qur’an speaks not only of new, different Forms when we wake from Death, but of the Universe collapsing into itself, and a new emergent creation that substitutes us.

The Day that we fold up the heavens
like the folding of a scroll,
even as We produced the first Creation,
so shall We produce a new one:
a promise We have undertaken.
Truly, shall We fulfill it.

—Qur’an 21:104

Do you not see that God created
the Heavens and the earth in Truth?

If She so will She can remove you
and (in your place) lay a new Creation?
For God, it is not any great matter.

—Qur’an 14:19-20

Sentiments of change are dispersed throughout the Qur’an, and so is the mention of various forms—after death, and even before life. When I am intent on finding a purpose for my existence, I think of the promise the Qur’an recounts; the promise I must have made before my arrival.

When your God drew forth from
the children of humankind
—from their loins—their descendants,
and made them testify concerning themselves:
“Am I not your Lord?”
The souls said: “We do testify! [It is true].”
This. Lest you should say
on the Day of Judgment:
“We were unaware.”

—Qur’an 7:172

In a life before birth, our souls testified recognition of God, a testimony we are asked to remember should we claim otherwise upon Resurrection. The Qur’an also refers to “covenant” and “oaths” (ex Q16: 91, Q13:19-20, etc.) and when I think of life before birth, the making of this is promise is what I attempt, in vain, to remember.

There is a different facet of loveliness to being Good if I promised so.

Indeed, we offered the Trust
to the heavens
and the earth and the mountains,
and they declined to bear it
and feared it;
but humankind undertook it.
Indeed, he was unjust and ignorant.

—Qur’an 33:72

The attribute of free will, which in fear of failure the heavens and the earth and the mountains refused to bear, is bestowed upon humankind with a great Trust. We are Trusted to decipher between right and wrong. We are Trusted to responsibly employ the faculty of reason. We are Trusted not to misuse our free will. We accepted the Trust that is offered to us, and Trust is the foundation of Love.

Some are so fearful, and they are the ones who will have you believe they only fear God. But they don’t. They fear social uprisings, they fear challenges to their power, they fear immigrants and languages that aren’t English. They fear cultural practices they can’t recognize and worst of all, they fear that others, from whom they have taken unjustly, will overthrow them. They fear Justice, and, in that way, they really do fear God—but only so much as they fear their own mortality. They know what they have done, and they fear the inevitable that will come from it.

I don’t fear my own mortality. It does not frighten me when suggested that heterosexuals might be a minority. It does not frighten me when suggested that the US government is an unlawful one built on the blood of the peoples of First Nations who should govern this land instead. It does not frighten me when suggested that gender is fluid and its fluidity be observed in natural phenomena outside of the constraints of human interpretation. I think, so what? So we will move. So we will expand to accommodate these truths. It is only in our making to evolve. Things weren’t meant to be this way forever. Transformation is enthralling, and falsehood, as the Quranic verse goes, by nature will perish. For those who truly fear God, will welcome God’s Judgment. I look forward to answering for all I’ve done wrong. I look forward to transforming.