A Quiet, Normal Life
It is my sincere hope that you and your family (birth and/or chosen) had a wonderful Eid weekend.
This last month has been a whirlwind of the mundane, every day living, seasoned with bits here and there of new life experiences. I’ve been invited to, and attended, a new hijabi party, a bridal shower, an Egyptian Family luncheon and an Eid celebration. All new events to me, in the context that they were all activities flavored by Islam.
My daughter uses a term to describe a woman who has made the commitment to wear hijab, ‘muhajaba.’ I’m not entirely comfortable using this word, so I tend to use hijabi in its place. In my mind they are interchangeable, so please understand that I mean no disrespect.
Through our halaka with Auntie Faye, I’ve met many women who are in varying stages of their religious journey, most headed towards conversion, or already have. Even though my religious journey has not followed this path, I still enjoy the ladies that actively attend. They are a wonderful support system and are good people to have in your court.
One woman has been there the whole time, quietly joining in, often without saying anything. For the longest time I didn’t know if she was Muslim. Nothing about her clothes or the way she spoke or behaved tipped my inclination one way or the other. I saw her wear a scarf in the prayer room, but I’d never seen her pray, I thought maybe she was like me, someone who is married to a Muslim man, raising her son in an Islamic home, and is respectful of what those things require. Then about a month or so ago, I was invited to a celebration of her decision to wear hijab.
As I understand her story, she had converted many years before, but did not wear hijab. Her husband went overseas this past summer, and when he returned, she was wearing hijab. Everyone has described his response as ecstatic, so I can only assume that was something that bothered him before. I am so happy to see that this is an event that is celebrated.
Ever since I had the hint that my ladies may make the choice to wear hijab full time, I have quietly planned different ways how we might celebrate this momentous occasion. To me, it is equivalent to a First Communion or Confirmation and should be celebrated. How? Well, that part is fuzzy, because there isn’t a lot of experience I have to go on. Now that I’ve been to this party, I know that the new hijabi is gifted with a small starter hijab wardrobe. Two piece, wraps, pins and accessories that everyone feels essential. I’m glad I was invited to celebrate with her.
The bridal shower was a mixture of east meets west. I have known the bride for a few years now, she was one of the women I saw every morning before school, and we share similar interests, her children attended school with mine, so we developed what I would call a fluid friendship. Over last spring and summer, we spent quite a good amount of time together while I helped care for her children. Born and raised a Christian, she converted to Islam in her early 20s. I’ve only known her the last 3 years.
The bride and groom had an engagement ceremony at the masjid, and then a month later, a bridal shower was given for her. I’m not entirely sure how the different stages of marriage work in realtionships between Muslims. In my own relationship, it was a fairly standard American style courtship and engagement. So, being new to this, I asked for advice. Many of the people said that engagement didn’t necessarily equate to marriage in Islam, it just gave the couple permission to date exclusively. A lot of people give small token gifts to the bride at the engagement, in celebration that someone liked her enough to express a sincere interest, but nothing like a typical American bridal shower that occurs a month before the wedding, often after the invitations are sent.
So, I wore my ‘inappropriate’ dress, because the invitation said that it was a 15 and over party. To the best of my knowledge, the 15 and over party on the invite means party clothes, no hijab, food and dancing. The shower was held in a large hall and there was a nice gathering of ladies. There was food, and a game or two but no dancing. At the end, the bride opened the gifts that were brought and I slipped away quietly to meet Khaled for an impromptu date.
The large metropolitan city nearby has a long history of being home to many Syrian and Lebanese families. Since the 1930s immegrant families have made their way here, setting down roots in all areas of business, medicine and government that is still seen today. As a cultural norm, the men would gather and smoke hookah and play cards. After a few years, they went out and found a piece of land far removed from the city, and formed a club. The qualification to be a member is that you must be from a certain city in Lebanon to be a member. Many years later a building was built, and now this club is used by many families as a place to celebrate and to gather, but you still must have ties to that city.
There are a great number of Egyptian families in the city, and not a lot of us know each other. Why? I think it is a cultural trait of Egyptians to be family focused and insular against anyone not of their family. We don’t socialize much, my husband doesn’t go out with the boys, I rarely go out with the girls. I’ve come to realize that just because we don’t throw parties and have everyone over, it doesn’t mean we don’t like you, it’s just we are focused on our family keeping.
So it was a complete surprise when I arrived at school one day and a fellow teacher stopped me and invited my family to an Egyptian family lunch. A few hours, Egyptians only, bring a dish to pass and stay as long as you can. We’d love to see you!
I immediately told Khaled, and we put it on the calendar. Then the day arrived, and we had a busy schedule…family keeping and soccer games, we almost didn’t go.
But we did.
And I’m ever so glad. I’m bad at making friends, and I’m even worse at remembering names, but soo many people know my family. The ladies are well known in our little community, and so is my son. It’s a funny thing about my husband, because he never goes anywhere without me, but he seems to know everyone. He’s good at making small talk. He knows how to remember people’s names, and everyone likes him.
I think that over time this gathering will become an essential part of our social lives. It will be good for Mr. Fox to be forced into the community on a regular basis and will eventually make friends. It has already proven to be good for my ladies. They are learning how to be more social in an environment that is safe and family friendly. They are learning to move amongst strangers in a way that I cannot teach them. I’m happy about this. I’m happy that they are eating Egyptian style cooking and enjoying it. I’m happy that they will learn about having an extended network of Egyptians in their lives, somewhat like having a large family.
I’m also happy because when we leave, Khaled has had all of his favorite Egyptian foods, he’s spoken Egyptian Arabic with the guys, and he’s smiling. He can see his family being cared for by women who resemble his family back home and he is happy.
Last weekend we celebrated Eid Al Adha all 3 days. Friday, we went to the prayer and gathered with friends and ate good food. The children were given treat bags and we didn’t feel rushed or out of place.
Saturday, there was an Egyptian Family Eid celebration. Even more families turned out this time, and we stayed longer. Food, families, children, babies, soccer and prayer. I remembered a few more faces, but no names yet. The ladies went off and played, and Mr. Fox even joined in the soccer for a while. On the way home, Khaled was smiling.
Yesterday we celebrated with a wonderful family. We took them to one of our favorite museums and spent the day sharing part of our family experience with others. We took them to our regular restaurant, and then they took us to their regular store. We got lost trying to locate a mosque for maghrib prayer and then we went to the sweet shop for decadent treats. We were so tired by the time we got home, but being tired because you are having fun is a good reason.
This Eid was a lot closer to the celebratory holiday that I have always envisioned for my children. I’m hoping that each year we will find more ways to expand on our traditions.