Excuse me for the Arabic title, but I honestly could not find a matching word in English. And when this accusation is shoved at my face, the men’s vigourous yells reflect anything but my charm.
I had wanted to write this post two weeks earlier, or maybe a week. I can’t remember though when the urge to write it started nagging me. All I can tell is it wasn’t too soon, neither was it too long ago.
I won’t claim being saintly; but I prefer to pray each prayer within its allocated time. Well, not exactly prefer; I usually go around looking for the nearest mosque, when I’m outdoors of course, in order not to miss my prayers. Yes, and I also happen to be not veiled. Those two characteristics, it appears, are the two faults in my personality which cause me to experience what I’m about to narrate.
Years ago — or was it months, really? whenever I prayed in an outdoor mosque or prayer area, I would usually be left to my own devices. Sometimes, a woman might give me a warm smile coupled with the ever-most famous expression of; “you look so beautiful in a veil! When are you planning on tying that headscarf around your face?” I would usually respond with an equally warm smile and ask her to pray for me. See? I wasn’t always passive aggressive!
The first alteration from that mild form of preaching was when a man called me as I entered the mosque. “You can’t walk inside the mosque with your hair uncovered, sister. Put on a veil.”
I was taken by surprise to the extent that at first I believed him. Bowing and entering the mosque half embarrassed, it took time for the idea to sink in.
“But why?” I asked my friend. “Is there any religious basis to his claim? If a Muslim woman is obliged to cover her hair, then it should be covered at all times; it has nothing to do with being inside the mosque. If she isn’t, then again, why inside the mosque? You’ll eventually cover your hair while praying. Why the rush?”
Soon, the polite preaching turned into condescending orders. Outside the very same mosque in Zamalek, as I unbuckled my sandals and prepared to enter, a man approached me and asked me to cover my hair when standing outside the mosque or getting ready to enter it. Later, during the same day, as I unbuckled again, I received another order coupled with “haven’t I already told you so before?” While another man gave me,
يا بنتي حطي حاجة على شعرك؛ متجبيلناش الكلام
(please put cover your hair; don’t get us into trouble)
The frequency of the scene seemed to increase, not with with the frequency of my outings or my trips to the mosque; but in a very invariant manner. Things took a different turn when, waiting for a friend of mine outside another mosque in Zamalek last Thursday, I was approached by another “man” who told me;
“باب السيدات مش من الناحية ديه”
(The door to the women’s prayer area is not this way)
I told him I’m aware of that; the door to the women’s prayer area was closed anyways.
“طيب معلش برده متقفيش على باب الجامع كده بس عشان الفتنة”
(Still, don’t stand in front of the mosque’s gate because you cause …) well, the only translation I can think of is (“arousal”)
Up until this moment, my approach was; according to Islam, they have the right to give me advice they see as useful and I have the right to take it or leave it. I shall leave it without causing a scene. Yet, that so-called “man'”s appalling comment had me fly into a rage that I was ready to punch him in the face. It was like I had finally come eye to eye with the real reason behind their “preaching”. It wasn’t because they believed it to be religiously wrong for me to enter a mosque with uncovered hair, it was because the sick animals would just forget about prayer and stare at the first woman that comes their way! It was because they couldn’t carry out the duty Allah has dictated upon them, which is غض البصر(to avoid staring at women’s attractive features) so the easiest solution for them is to blame it on the woman.
Never mind all the aforementioned, for what happened today managed to surprise me, and disgust me beyond repair. I went into a tiny mosque around the corner to pray. Surprisingly enough, I was not bothered by the flock of men who caught me red-handed as I untied my shoelaces and aimed for the interior of the mosque, my hair scandalously showing. I went into the women’s prayer area; a tiny square at the very end of the mosque to get to which I must delve into the men’s praying area. I made my way past the slightly opened sliding door. Two women, a young lady and a middle aged one, were already seated inside; both veiled.
The second I began praying, the show started. A “man came up, peeping through the sliding door in such an exasperated manner with a piece of cloth in his hand:
“!!يا حاجة يا حاجة!!!! اديها العباية ديه و قوليلها تلبسها”
(Give her this cloak; let her put it on) He said urgently.
“هي لبست عباية معاها؛ بتصلي خلاص”
(She already put on her own cloak; she’s praying now) the middle-aged woman said reassuringly
“!قوليلها متخرجش إلا و هي لبساها! مينفعش كده! الناس كلها بصت عليها و هي داخله! ديه فتنه ! الرجالة اللي بره اصلاً كلها مستغربة: اول مرة تشوف حاجة زي كده! داخلة الجامع كده و شعرها عريان”(Tell her to put on the cloak when coming outside! This is inappropriate! Everybody looked at her! She aroused us! All the men here were taken aback by what she did; it’s the first time for them to experience such a thing! Entering the mosque like that with her hair uncovered!!) him and the rest of the “men” kept ranting on and on for a good while, causing a myriad of load bellows and yells that hardly allowed me to concentrate on my prayers. The woman finally convinced them to let it go and allow me to pray in peace, while quietly arguing with the young lady that I have done nothing wrong; that it was none of their business to stare at me in the first place.
Speaking of staring, might I clarify that the prayer qibla (the direction towards which worshipers are to face when praying) would necessitate that all the men inside the mosque have their backs directed towards me while I sneaked in from behind to make it to the women’s area? Which means, in order to “watch” me and be “aroused” by me and thus so appalled by my behaviour, the pious “men” must have turned around to check me out!!
“Avoid praying in mosques,” is the only advice my mother has to offer whenever I shock her with my experiences.
What upsets me is not their inability to see the effort it takes an unveiled woman like me to find a place to wash for ablusion then go walking around the streets and asking for directions to the nearest mosque only to pray on time and try her best to be as good a Muslim as she can be. I’m currently at a phase beyond expecting them to understand. What really sickens me is that, through their selfish behaviour and due to their inability to fight their animal instinct, they see no problem at all in driving me from the house of God and from carrying out my religious duties, just because they are men under the roof of a mosque; thus entitled to preach as much as they like “in the name of God”.
I’m not planning on stopping prayers at the mosque anytime soon. But I believe I’m as close as could be to responding back, getting into arguments and perhaps being rude all for the sacred desire of carrying out my prayers. What a mess!!