Monday, January 8, 2007

Converts creating an Identity

al-maraya at Bidayah wa Nihayah and PM at PM's World have written about a subject near and dear to my heart - the Universality of Islam and the culture of the convert wife. I have noticed a tendancy of my convert aquaintences to adopt completely the cultural trappings of their husband, or at least squash most of their previous "jahilyyah" culture in favor of becoming a pseudo arab or pakistani. Heck, sometimes this happens even without marriage. Around the time of my conversion, professor told me the story that still sticks in my mind today, of a single american woman who had converted to Islam and adopted the culture of Saudi Arabia. She wore the complete Saudi outfit, cooked only Saudi food and would only allow Saudi Arabic in her home (which was quite difficult for her and the kids at first, not knowing Saudi arabic). Islam is for all times and places, but all too often, we restrict it to a narrow subset of muslim cultures. In order to be muslim, one must be arab, or be pakistani, etc.

As a girl growing up in the small town midwest, my idea of diversity was lutherans and catholics with a side of chinese food once a month. But, alhamdulilah, my parents raised me to be very open minded. Sometimes, I bet they wish they didn't raise me quite so open minded to have embraced Islam, hehe. I have always loved to explore new culture and new ideas, and with islam came a bunch of new cultures and things to try. I enjoy wearing abayas and jelbab, but I look terribly silly in salwar kameez. I really dig afghan food, kabob, briyani and shwerma, but I can't stand moloqiya. However, even when exploring new cultures, I've always maintained my identity as an american muslim. Sure, I wear abayas on occasion, but I'm just as comfortable in a jeans, long tshirt and a scarf. I love going to the gym or out for a run with my husband.

Alhamdulilah, I'm married to a very sweet Egyptian man, but he has never expected me to be an Egyptian wife. He immigrated to the United States in 2005, and alhamdulilah, he's found america to be pleasantly suprising. He takes the good from this country and our culture, and leaves the bad. If anything, I think the american-ness dominates in our apartment, as opposed to egyptian-ness, and that's unfortunate. I've been to Egypt 3 times, and I love it more each time I'm there. We watched the Yacoubian Building a few months ago, and I felt homesick for Cairo. I need to learn arabic, inshaAllah, not only to read Qur'an but also to watch Egyptian movies with my husband. My Egyptian cooking needs help. I can make tamiyyah and muddle my way through fried cauliflower, but yet can't manage to make foul out of the can taste good. Oh, heck, to be honest, my cooking in general needs help, lol.

I have this dream of a raising bicultural children in a bicultural, bilingual house, children who are proud to be Egyptian/Italian/German/Norweigian Americans and American/Italian/German/Norweigan Egyptians. It's definately a balancing act, but it's a challenge I'm willing to take on. Viva the bicultural muslimeen!


PM said...

Oh man! I HATE molokhiya -- too slimy for me ;-))) But if I go more than 2 weeks without shawarma I start detox-ing. LOL!

I love what you said about the bi-cultural marriage and child-rearing. I often view the rejection of one's own culture for an Arab or Pak one as being about insecurity. It can be a way to assert your "muslim-nicity" when you feel it may be threatened.

Thanks for the shout-out, sis!

Salaam Alaikum,

al-maraya said...

I'm with you and PM on the green and slimy soup stuff -- YUCK! I love shawarma, but can't go too long without kishkh.

Talk about a small world, sister -- I, too, read Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series! I've never been a fan of the genre, but a couple of students convinced me to give them a try a few years ago, and now I'm hooked.

rahma said...

PM - thanks for coming over to read my blog. I've blurked over at yours for quite some time now. We need more liberal, like minded sisters out there ;)

al-maraya - thankfully, my husband makes it for himself and eats it all himself. No slimy stuff for me. WOT is eeeeevil. It's stolen years off my life. I think I read it through 10 times in high school. I put it away, but it sucked me in again earlier this year. I'm vowing to not read it again until he's done. But, Jordan has some fatal disease, so he might die before he finishes the series. Eek!

Aliya (UmmRaed) said...

salam sisters, I just want to say, you should try Molokhia with Green Salsa, it's the way I make it. I made, my Whole family in India love it, Especially with Salsa--(a simple one) with lots of fresh garlic, green chilly, salt and a lemon juice with its little zest--Grind it all to a coarse paste, and, I am sure, you will love the taste of the green slimy thing. warning(two days rest, you can have--I mean No Kissing)