Also, I've been trying to write this post for a couple of days. The universe does not want this post written apparently.
AS A RANDOM (or maybe not so random) ASIDE:
I am thoroughly convinced that there is some sort of magical/mystical download that happens into the brains of women who convert to Islam and become hijabis. It's the only explanation for how they can all do it and make it look natural and perfect and I can't, no matter how many tutorials I watch. (Heather denies this, but I suspect that she's been sworn to secrecy vis a vis this process)
Lemme show you a thing:
|This is the face of a woman who really wants her hijab to look good but knows that it doesn't. It is also the face of a woman whose one eye is red and swollen because Allergies and Florida, not because she has some horrible disease.|
Also, glasses! Because my allergies are so bad right now that I can't wear my contacts. People tell me I look cute, but I think they're lying because they can see the seething hate behind my eyes.
Basically, I think I look like Bruce Banner when I wear glasses.
Which is fine, you know, if you're a guy. Which I am not.
GLASSES!!!! *shakes fist at sky*
I picked up this book about four years ago and I'm sure there were a couple of reasons that I chose it, but mainly I recall picking it up because it was a description of someone going on Hajj. Why, you may ask? Because I REALLY would like to go to Mecca. Really a lot.
I will not, because non-Muslims aren't allowed, and I respect that even as I wish it wasn't so. Thusly, I have resigned myself to not ever going to see Mecca and have determined to get my fix vicariously. (As much as I ever resign myself to anything, which is not a whole lot, to be honest.) Still, you know, if they changed that rule (I know this won't happen) I would be there in a hot minute (assuming I could afford it) in spite of the fact that I hate crowds (it's very crowded) and dirt (from what everyone says there is a trash problem) and hotels and travel and....still. Mecca was the reason I picked this book up.
It is about Mecca, and the hajj, to a certain degree. But it's more about how the authors' experience in Mecca changed her and what she did with that change when she returned home. I should say that I've read nothing else by this author and while I'm aware that she's something of a polarizing figure in the American Muslim community I'm not up on any or all of the precise issues surrounding her. All I can talk about here is this particular book and my impressions from it.
Ms. Nomani was a newspaper reporter and it shows in the style of the book. The chapters are broken into sections that resemble newspaper articles more than anything else. They're concise episodes within the larger framework of the book and that makes it an easy book to pick up and read a bit, then set down and come back to later or to read through in longer chunks when you have the time.
I enjoyed the descriptions of Hajj, but I have to admit to being oddly dismayed to be told that the mosque has grown to include the path that Hagar took between Safa and Marwah. Why dismayed? Good question. I'm not entirely sure why this bothers me. Maybe it's because I, in my remove from the emotions of the event, am looking at it and thinking that they've sanitized this remembrance somehow. Does it take away from the impact of what they're doing for the people performing hajj? Probably not, or at least I hope not.
I was also maybe a little more than a bit freaked out by the crushing crowds that are described once or twice. Especially with the author having brought her infant son with her. I'm not claustrophobic, generally, but I think that would have been too much for me. Of course I also should like to think that I wouldn't bring an infant to a place like Mecca with all the possible diseases (not like ewwwwwwwwww *foreign* people, but whenever you travel there are strains of bacteria that you can encounter that are not native to your system, thus they hit you harder than the ones you're used to and with a baby...well. It's not the choice I would have made is all.) and the knowledge that people have died on Hajj due to fires and being crushed by the crowds (some people died during the Stoning of the Pillars on Ms. Nomani's Hajj).
Some of the depictions of Mecca itself made me sad, mostly the commercialization of the place with KFC's and other fast food type restaurants seemingly all over the place. I understand that it is a city and that there are millions of pilgrims, but in my head it's a holy city. KFC seems so out of place.
The question of the disconnect between the mixing of the genders at Mecca and the strict lines that can be encountered in other mosques all over the world stuck out to me too. Why is it okay for women and men to pray side my side in Mecca and not elsewhere?
I have to admit that I kept being surprised by how many things Ms. Nomani didn't seem to know about her own religion until she started looking into it due to the murder of her friend Daniel Pearl and the conception/birth of her son out of wedlock (and being abandoned by her son's father). It seems odd to me, but then I remember how many born Christians believe that the Bible was written in English originally.
My biggest problem, I guess, comes when Ms. Nomani returns home. She has, up until this point, not been involved in the local Muslim community. Due, it seems, to it not being a particularly inviting one to women. But I have to wonder if part of her perception, as a child, of it being uninviting is her mothers' aversion to the mosque. Her mother and father came from India and her mother came from a (according to the authors' book) very traditional area and family. She was never allowed or invited to participate in the community life of the mosque and never felt welcome. So I do wonder if that attitude trickled down to her daughter to a certain degree.
Ms. Nomani, on her return, goes to her local mosque and finds it wanting. Rather than become a part of the community and try and change things from the inside, she seems to appear and immediately begin demanding that things change and change right away to her way.
She refuses to use the women's section of the mosque but rather settles in the back of the men's section, refusing to leave when asked, ordered or threatened. While I can appreciate the point that there is no real reason for the women to be forced to pray in a room that leaves them feeling disconnected from the community, a room that is not equal in cleanliness or access, this felt so harsh to me, coming from someone who is basically a new comer to the community she is demanding change.
I was especially struck when Ms. Nomani describes a young woman who comes to the mosque to convert. She is not permitted to convert in the nice men's (main) hall, in front of the whole community, or even to have a microphone in the women's section so that the community can hear her take her shahadah. Instead she converts with only the other women present, and according to Ms. Nomani, laments that "This isn't the Islam I was promised." as she leaves. And I can relate, not to the specific circumstance, but to finding a religion not as promised.
I think we can all relate to that, to one degree or another.
*looks over 'review'*
I told you I was bad at this.
Anyway. Generally, I enjoyed the book. I'm not sure that I would like Ms. Nomani in person, but I found her writing to be easy to digest, informative, and it certainly kept my interest. Not so useful as an introduction to Islam (I have no impression that it was meant to be), it's definitely a memoir that gives you one point of view on the religion.