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Dew Point

This blog is dedicated to sharing my every-day discoveries of how the light and beauty of Islamic spirituality can be part of a modern, well-rounded way of life.

Month

June 2011

Meeting my frizz half-way

I made a decision last December to embrace my curly, frizzy and typically unruly hair once and for all. After 31 years of meddling with my hair’s natural state of existence, I was finally ready to take the all-natural route.

Well, sort of.
If I left my hair completely natural – i.e. without any leave-in conditioners, serums or oils – it would look coarse and shapeless, with the odd ringlet evident only beneath a heaping mass of frizz. That would leave me a tad too dishevelled to suit my job as a research analyst or my typically shy demeanour.
I knew embracing my hair would be difficult; I had spent my entire life passionately trying to avoid my natural hair. But after the initial fright (I was actually terrified!) I’ve come to really enjoy this process of getting to know my hair for the first time and experiment with what makes it happy and sad.

My cultural roots are Egyptian and my hair is something of a cross between the thick frizz of African hair and the wavy-yet-smooth hair of those in the Levant – more toward the former than the latter. From a young age, I felt something was inherently wrong with my hair. As with most things in my life, when something is wrong I tend to try my utmost to set it right.

A school girl growing up in Saskatchewan and Alberta, Canada, I was surrounded by classmates with straight, smooth Caucasian hair. Straight, wash-and-go, blonde or brunette hair became my standard for what hair should be, and I carried that assumption through my life. It was my view that hair was best if it was straight, with the only alternative being natural, soft ringlets.
It took me years to learn how to blow dry my hair at home to avoid the expense of a hairdresser, and it never really quite looked, well, natural. It would not gracefully fall back into place after walking in the wind and the first scent of humidity would turn it into frizzy mess. Much of the time, in frustration, I would just pull my hair vigorously back into a bun.
The dreaded blow dryer!

When I did leave it curly, I would have to wash it every morning because the curls would stay intact for only the day. As soon as I slept, my hair would completely lose its form and need to be re-done. But shampooing every day would quickly leave it dry and unmanageable. I would sometimes use a children’s relaxer treatment to smooth my hair and make it more controllable, particularly during the summer months.

This never-ending struggle finally reached its threshold last December. I was visiting my stylist for the first time in months and she said my hair had thinned a lot compared with last summer. It had fallen out a good deal in the prior months and her words were just an affirmation of something I already knew – my hair wanted, at long last, to be left alone.
From that day onward I decided I would not bring a hair dryer or iron anywhere near my hair, and I would try to put as few hair barrettes or pins in it as possible.
It took me about two months to figure out how to keep it presentable for a few days at a time to reduce the need to wash too frequently. I started exploring natural hair remedies such as using baking soda instead of shampoo, which damages curly hair if applied too often. Baking soda is a more gentle way to clean your hair and scalp. My hair has responded very well to a combination of baking soda and light shampooing.
It is quite moody when it comes to conditioning though. I need to condition my hair so that I can detangle it without too much hair loss. Conditioner also helps tame the frizz. Since my hair doesn’t respond to any product for more than a week, I try to rotate between serums, leave-in conditioners, olive oil, virgin coconut oil and a fibre paste to keep it as happy as possible.
Oils, particularly olive, coconut and almond varieties, are great for nourishing dry hair
I also try to deep condition my hair regularly with a variety of masks – some bought, some homemade –which, too, seem to work only intermittently. I tried Apple Cider Vinegar, highly recommended on many websites and blogs, but the scent is too putrid to justify.
A mixture of eggs and olive oil is also supposed to provide a good treatment for hair. But you are warned to rinse it out with cold water so the eggs don’t scramble. Unfortunately for me there isn’t really cold water in Dubai, so the egg did scramble and was a bit difficult to remove from my hair. Once I did manage to get it out, my hair was smoother-than-normal only for a day before it reverted back to being dry.
Mayo is not just good on sandwiches, it is a great hair conditioner!

After a lot of hesitation, last week I actually put mayonnaise in my hair on the assumption it might “add luster and vitality to dry hair”. Mayonnaise is made from oil, egg yolk and vinegar, all three of which are cited as good conditioners. Again, you have to get past the fact that you smell like a sandwich for the hour or so it is in your hair. Following a good wash and conditioning, the scent disappears.

I was very impressed with the results. For the entire week, my curls formed nicely with little frizz and needed very little additional hair product. It was so nice that one day a girl with similarly frizzy hair came up to me while we were waiting in line at a government office to ask what I use in my hair. She actually wanted to touch it. I doubt mayonnaise will be a magic cure for my frizz but I’ll let you know how it goes.
For my birthday dinner two weeks ago, I decided to blow dry my hair at home for the first time since December. After a six-month break from all of the aggressive styling, my hair had grown in longer, fuller and quite bouncy. Unfortunately it happened to be the most-humid day so far this summer in Dubai. By the time we reached the restaurant, my hair became frizzy and had lost the bounce. The entire night I was uncomfortable and eager to wash it and leave it curly again. I never would have imagined feeling that way six months ago.
Too many hair products! Time to keep it simple
What I have come to realise in the last six months is that natural, whatever that happens to be, is best. I have saved so much time and money by just accepting that my hair is going to look slightly – and sometimes considerably – different each day of the week.
It was truly liberating to discover that bad hair days are worth it if I can be totally myself. I love it that I don’t have to worry about humidity or rain or wind, and that I don’t have to plan ahead to ensure my hair is done on time for any event. In fact, I have fewer bad hair days than I ever did before, not because my hair looks glamorous, but because, for the first time, I don’t expect it to be more than it is.
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Unlike Fulla, the Islamic Barbie doll, we aren’t objects

‘Fulla’ is an Islamic answer to ‘Barbie’ marketed in the Islamic world
I often imagine it must be truly difficult for many non-Muslims to understand why a woman would choose to be Muslim. If you look at the media these days you find so many reasons why it seems absurd for an independent, modern-minded woman to follow the Islamic faith. This month, news emerged that a group of women in Malaysia had set up an ‘obedient wives club’, which sounds dreadful, but somehow manages to be worse than it sounds.
The club’s founders say that domestic violence, infidelity and divorce can be rectified only if women keep their men happy in the bedroom. They should be so good in bed that they are “better than a first-class prostitute”. In effect, they equate a woman’s proper practicing of the Islam with her success at satisfying her man’s carnal desires. Some Indonesian women have opened their own branch of the club.
If I was not a Muslim myself, I would cringe at the thought of a faith that objectifies women such that they are reduced to being sex objects for their husbands. Marriage, in this context, is a union forged solely for physical satisfaction and a man’s faithfulness relies on a woman’s ability to satisfy his sexual needs.
Fulla and Barbie: just toys

At about the same time as that story was splashed in newspapers and news wires across the world, a Kuwaiti woman who had once run for parliament called on sex slavery to be legalised. She argued that buying a sex-slave would protect devout Kuwaiti men from committing the sin of adultery.

Again, what woman would willingly choose to be part of a belief system that assumes men are inherently too weak not to be given to sin, and places on women’s shoulders the burden of ensuring men don’t stray from their faith?
I sympathise with non-Muslims. Even as a Muslim I read these articles and cringe. In many ways, they are worse than reading about men suppressing Muslim women in places like Saudi Arabia, where women are struggling even for the basic right to drive.
I cringe because these women attack the most-beautiful aspect of my life, my Islam, and complicate it, tarnish it, misconstrue and misinterpret it. In my view, they are doing a major injustice to humankind and, more importantly, to God. They appear to take the view that we as women are nothing more than Barbie or her Islamic answer, Fulla – objects that can be bought and played with.
Muslim men and women will often loosely cite traditions or Quranic phrases, stripping out the context and relevance, in order to justify their illogical ideas of what it means to be Muslim. In the process, they alienate Muslims and non-Muslims alike. They distort the beauty of God’s message in a way that places ego and fulfilment of pleasure above all else, which is completely at odds with Islam’s purpose.
Indonesian women launch branch of ‘Obedient Wives Club’
The term Islam means ‘submission to God’ in Arabic. The more you surrender to the Divine, the less attached you become to the desires and temptations of the world, and the greater freedom you find. As a woman, I have found more liberty in submitting myself to God in Islam than any feminist ideology, job title, self-help or how-to book, or piece of clothing would ever collectively even come close to giving me.
Submission places in a human’s grasp the freedom to be happy in every moment of life, and find purpose and blessing in every hardship and triumph.
A relationship between true Muslim men and women is far greater than a physical bond. One who really loves God and submits her/his self to the Creator as a Muslim would never be unfaithful. That is not part of the language of true submission, that is part of the language of ego and desire that we are supposed to separate ourselves from.
I would applaud efforts to strengthen marriages by encouraging men and women to communicate better and be obedient to each others needs mentally, spiritually and physically. But placing the burden on women is a gross misrepresentation and disservice to Islam.
Islam is simple and inherently rationale, hence its appeal to me and many women. God gives each human soul the chance to attain salvation through prayer, fasting, charity, patience and works of righteousness. I often cite the Quranic verse below because it so beautifully encapsulates the egalitarian ideas that God tries to convey to those who are willing to listen:
For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah’s (God’s) praise, for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward. 
(Quran, 33:35)
There is an intrinsic spiritual equality between men and women in the pages of the Quran (The Recitation), which charts out the path individuals should take to strive toward eternal peace and escape the facade of modern life. Men and woman are different by nature, and our roles in life are very often complementary. But Islam does not objectify women – patriarchal cultures and traditions upheld by men, and women, do. Islam is a very personal struggle to discover God and find peace.
As I truly embraced Islam in the past year, I discovered how to separate myself from the emphasis society places materialism, consumerism, success and sex appeal in achieving lasting happiness. Islam has taught me to drown out the senseless noise of modern society and allow the beauty of God’s message guide me.

Being a Muslim woman means I am chaste. I involve God intimately in each of my daily activities, knowing as God informs us in the Quran that He is closer to me than my jugular vein. Like everyone, I work and run errands, meet friends and family, cook, clean, shop and travel. But five times each day like clockwork I pull myself away from whatever activity I am doing to kneel in devotion to God in prayer. It is comforting to have this consistency in my life; whether I am having a good day or a bad day, I am constantly drawn back to the Source.

Quran mentions women and men and equal number of times on its pages
There is a harmony in submission that runs through your life as though it were a continuous thread, weaving together our days into a beautiful quilt, each loop of which is coloured with a new insight from the Divine.
Being a Muslim woman means I fast regularly out of a desire to purify my body, speech and thoughts. It means I give generously to charity from the money God has entrusted with me. It means I try my utmost to be a loving, devoted daughter, sister, friend, colleague and human being. I am not married, but if God wills that I should be some day, it will mean cherishing my husband and striving to work together to find intimacy on a spiritual, mental and physical level.
This short description of what Islam means to me as a modern, independent and devout Muslim woman will never be splashed as a headline like the “obedient wives club” so irritatingly was this month.
But this is my reality; submission is a beautiful state of existence. It is a shame that a minority of irresponsible women and men will continue to tarnish the spirit of Islam for their own narrow-minded, self-centred objectives. 

All I can really do to fight the stereotypical view of Muslim women’s oppression is be the best Muslim I can be. The closer I draw into God’s embrace–and He becomes the object of my affection–the more I discover liberty in the truest sense.

Gifts for my late father on his birthday

For the first time in my life, I won’t be able to wish my dad a happy birthday on June 13.
He passed away last August quite suddenly at 64. I wasn’t sure how I would feel when his birthday came around this year. After all, for every year of my life, my dad’s birthday fell on the same week as Father’s Day and two days before my own birthday. I suppose it is natural to sense there is something missing this week.
I remember one of my dear friends called me the day after he passed last Ramadan. Her father had died several years earlier and she spoke of how it had taken a number of years for her to fully come to terms with his death. She eventually found comfort in the idea that her father is her ‘wasta’ in Heaven. Wasta is an Arabic term that refers to people who are connections with clout, able to get you favourable treatment, usually in government offices.
She put a smile on my face when she said that; it was one of a number of ideas that brought me comfort in the first few days of separation.
I continue to get teary eyed when I speak of specific memories we shared, browse through old photographs or hear a sappy song. Sometimes I will cry deeply when I am up in the early morning giving dua’a (supplications) for my dad before the dawn prayer, fajr. There are ever-present thoughts that I could have done and said more during his life.
Yet I surprised myself and many people I know by how calm I was after my dad’s death. My faith in God helped me rationalise, accept and even rejoice at his passing. I know that may sound strange, but it makes perfect sense when you embrace the concept that death is the most-important point along the journey of life. If a person has lived a virtuous life and espouses sincere belief in God and His message, death is a time to celebrate the soul’s reunion with its Creator. Rumi articulates this better than I ever could:
Our death is our wedding with eternity.
What is the secret? God is One.
The sunlight splits when entering the windows of the house.
This multiplicity exists in the cluster of grapes;
It is not in the juice made from the grapes.
For he who is living in the Light of God,
The death of the carnal soul is a blessing.
(Excerpt from a poem by Jalaluddin Rumi, Mystic Odes 833)
Through my faith, it has been possible for me to continue having a meaningful relationship with my father. I certainly spend a great deal more time thinking of and praying for him now than I did during his life.
It was surrendering to Islam, the Arabic term meaning ‘submission to God’, that helped me soften the blow of my father’s passing. There are so many gifts we can continue to give to our loved ones once they have departed from this world. The more I delve into my submission, the more I uncover new layers of this that I had been unaware of.
We have the power as children to seek favour for our parents with God. A person’s soul, when separated from the body, remains in a state known as Barzakh, the interval between death and the Day of Judgement. According to tradition, God opens a window for the righteous that brings Heaven into sight when they enter Barzakh.
The last Prophet, Muhammad , said of the deceased: “When a person dies, his actions come to an end, except in one of three ways: A continuing act of charity, a useful contribution to knowledge, or a righteous child who prays for him.”
When I first heard of this Hadith from my brother-in-law the day of my father’s death, it brought me instant comfort. I immediately incorporated dua’a for my father after every prayer. Since I pray five times every day, this means I have been able to keep remembrance of my father frequent and consistent in my daily routine.
When we give dua’a, we ask God with a dedicated heart to fulfil our righteous and legitimate requests for ourselves and others. I ask God to forgive my father for any wrong action, to grant him peace and serenity, to elevate him in the ranks of Paradise, to bless his soul.

We learn from Hadith, sayings of the Last Prophet , that our dua’a reach our loved ones. When the deceased receives dua’a from the living, “he becomes so delighted it as if he has something better than everything on this earth. Certainly, Allah (God) confers reward on people in the grave equal to the mountains.”

Imagine that. Just by praying for your parent’s soul, this gift reaches his/her soul and is so valuable to them that it renders the entire world and their lives in it insignificant in comparison.
Another Hadith speaks of how God will elevate the ranks of some believers in Paradise on the Day of Judgement, based on the actions of their children. The parent will ask of God ‘How did I get this high rank?’, and God will say, ‘Your children prayed for your forgiveness, and it is due to the dua’a of your children that I have granted you this position’.
Other than prayer, I have done my best to offer gifts to my father in the form of charity, acts of worship and fasting. Muslims are obliged to provide 2.5% of their income and assets each year to charity, although this is a minimum. Charity should whenever possible be given throughout the year, particularly so at times when God brings us abundant wealth. Since my father’s death, I find myself constantly looking for a new way to give charity, knowing that doing so will benefit not only me, but my father. When I can, I ask the recipient to say a prayer for him.
There are other gifts we as children can give as well. Last December, I performed an umrah, a short pilgrimage in the holy city of Makkah, on behalf of my father, something he did not have a chance to do during his life.
I also continue to read chapters from the Quran daily that are beneficial for the deceased, and I fast regularly apart from the month of Ramadan with the intention of providing some benefit to my dad as well as myself. I typically fast on Mondays or Thursdays, which are blessed days to fast because, as the Last Prophet  ﷺsaid, “Deeds of people are presented (to God) on Mondays and Thursdays. So I like that my actions be presented while I am fasting.”
Given the sheer magnitude of gifts we can send our parent’s way after they have died, I suppose I have found very little time for grief. Instead of grieving I am giving generously and graciously to my father’s soul whenever I can. Every time I do something to honour the memory of my dad, I imagine the gift reaching his soul and bringing him peace.

So, on this first June 13 that he hasn’t been here, I will commemorate my dad’s life with extra prayers and wishes for his soul to find peace. I hope that if you have read this, you might also send a good wish to God on his behalf.

“Indeed, we belong to God and to Him we shall surely return” (Quran: 2:156)

Let’s keep the spotlight on Egypt’s sexual harassment crisis

The insidious prevalence of sexual harassment in Egypt found itself at the centre of a very public, global discussion this year, and I could not be more pleased that this issue has emerged from the shadows.

CBS reporter Lara Logan’s account of her physical and sexual assault by a Cairo mob and news that women detained during the Jan. 25 uprising were subjected to forced virginity tests have given male offenders a sampling of the negative glare and condemnation they deserve.

These incidents will surely make many tourists think twice about travelling to Egypt and should force society and the government to bring to an end the practice of turning a blind eye to acts of violence against women. For decades, too many men in Egypt have become progressively more cruel and deliberate in their mistreatment of women in public places.

Egyptian women have sought for years to stop sexual harassment
Sexual harassment of Egyptian women is, sadly, ingrained in the cultural fabric of society to the extent that we have accepted it as an unalterable reality, one that women have been forced to adapt to. I certainly became numb following repeated exposure to harassment while living in Cairo after university, and during periodic visits since then.
As a young, cash-strapped journalist when I first moved to the Egyptian capital in 2002, I would take mini buses and vans to and from my family’s apartment in the heart of the Pyramids district to my office in the more upscale neighbourhood of Mohandiseen. The commute took about an hour in the morning rush on Cairo’s congested Pyramids Street.
I was always careful to wear ankle-length skirts or pants, and the sleeves of my blouses would usually extend below the elbow. All but my hair and face were generally covered. Yet not a day would go by that I wasn’t glared at, subject to inappropriate often sexual remarks, objectified, and sometimes touched or stroked by other male passengers.
My cheerful disposition quickly transformed; I became very stern, unsmiling and cold in order to dodge harassment as much as possible. I learned to avoid eye contact with men, instead focusing on a book or out the window as I eagerly awaited my stop each day. It was exceptionally difficult to feel comfortable in my own skin when defiant stares concentrated on every part of my body.
Such an experience is the rule rather than the exception. Some 83% of Egyptian women and 98% of foreign women said in a 2008 poll by the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights that they faced sexual harassment while in Egypt. A staggering 46% of Egyptian and 52.3% of foreign women faced harassment daily – and 72.5% of the well over 2,000 women surveyed wore some form of a veil.
Women have little recourse to report abuse
Needless to say after about five months of taking public transportation, I was relieved to be able to afford regular taxis that would pick me up and drop my off. Until today I cannot fathom how women endure the abuse of men every day on public transport; I applaud their courage and strength. My experience in the workplace, at functions and meetings  tended to be more respectful and comfortable.
Yet even after I stopped taking public transportation, men would find ways to do the most appalling things. Once I was waiting for my morning taxi on the street corner in front of my apartment building, and a young man of less than 30 passed by. He stopped a couple of metres away from me at the corner of the fence that bordered the property next door, pulled down his pants and underwear and began masturbating while facing me and staring. Horrified, I ran up the walkway of my building and waited at the top of the stairs until my driver called to inform me he had arrived. From then on, I wouldn’t leave my apartment until a missed call signalled the taxi was downstairs.
It was not always easy to escape quickly when faced with inappropriate behaviour. Often when my hands were full of groceries as I walked home from the nearby souk, young boys would challenge each other to run by, touch my bottom or breast, and then run away. Lecturing them to have some respect or fear of God would induce only laughter. These boys had learned that it is alright to objectify women who are not their sister, relative or family friend. And they faced no consequences for doing so.
The walk to my office, home, grocery store or mall would often be interrupted by a slow-moving car whose driver was scouting the streets for prostitutes. And I don’t even want to remember the remarks I heard and touches I suffered when I once missed the door to the women’s carriage of the Cairo subway and found myself in a subway car teeming with men, many of whom had no concept of respect or courtesy for the opposite sex. What consistently shocked me was the lack of intervention; not one time did a man who very publicly harassed me face any criticism from others standing in the vicinity.
The tides are beginning to change with initiatives such as HarassMap, which allows women to instantly report incidents of sexual harassment by sending a text message to a centralised computer. This initiative is absolutely imperative to start altering the culture’s tolerance of sexual harassment by documenting its frequency. The media is catching on as well. Al-MasryAl-Youm said this month it would feature pieces each Wednesday to “dissect the reasons behind sexual harassment”.
I was very excited by women’s extensive participation in the Egyptian revolution, especially when I heard anecdotally that harassment was rare in Tahrir Square. I thought the revolution would offer a sincere challenge to the patriarchal structure that for so long had condoned sexual harassment. In recent months, however, it seems the condition for women has reverted back to what it was before, and by some accounts harassment has gotten worse as part of a concerted effort by the military to shame women away from protesting:
“The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine. These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square, and we found in the tents Molotov cocktails and drugs.”
This blatantly incorrect, ignorant and shameful comment by an army officer did not surprise me. Such perceptions are suggestive of the damage caused by the disintegration of moral values in Egypt in the last 40 years. Virtually every Egyptian woman over 55 will recount stories of how she and her friends wore short dresses and sleeveless tops in the 1950s and 60s—and no man dared to harass them.

My mom feeding a giraffe with friends at the Cairo Zoo in late 60s, when harassment was rare
Ironically, my mom was more comfortable walking on Cairo’s streets as a striking 20-year-old in a mini skirt than she was as a conservatively dressed woman in her late 50s. After buying groceries at a neighbourhood shop a few years ago, she was approached by young man who offered to assist her with the bags. When she declined his invitation, he made an obscene comment. Needless to say my mom gave him a well-deserved and very loud lecture on morality and Islamic values before he was able to escape the vicinity.
Society must begin naming, shaming and ridiculing male perpetrators of sexual harassment in newspapers, on television and online. These offenders must face legal consequences for their actions so Egypt’s youth are conditioned over time to change their disgraceful ways. Allowing the harassment problem to continue to fester threatens widespread social and economic ramifications, including for tourism.
New campaigns that target a man’s honour, preach respectability, and teach men to treat all women as they would their sisters must happen widely and aggressively before meaningful change takes place. Egyptians are persuaded by the ideas of honour and shame they are exposed to on the news, television programmes and movies. The onus of upholding honour has always fallen on the shoulders women. The time has come for men to share the burden.

Look forward to your comments!

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