MMW Roundtable: Responding to Randa Jarrar’s “Why I Can’t Stand White Bellydancers”

Last week, Salon published Randa Jarrar’s “Why I Can’t Stand White Bellydancers” as part of their “feminists of color” series curated by Roxane Gay. The response to her post has been overwhelming, including responses from dudes at the Washington Post and The Atlantic to G. Willow Wilson’s response at her blog. We’ve been exchanging emails back and forth here ourselves at MMW. The following is our edited take on events:

Fatemeh: Have you seen Randa Jarrar’s “Why I Can’t Stand White Bellydancers” over at Salon? I wrote something similar for MMW and Racialicious in 2007. I swear, if someone asks me if I can belly dance one more time… *head exploding*

Shireen: Thanks Fatemeh for sharing your article. It is sadly still so relevant.

Nicole: My suggestion to all of you wise ladies is to not read any of the comments on any iteration of this article unless you already take blood pressure meds.

I plan to harvest these comments and others for my seminal academic work on white privilege called Still White (with the ultimate hipster irony being that I am whitesplaining white people because, well, that is what white people do).

Eren: I really liked the article. Lately, though I have seen a lot of discussion about appropriation—it seems like a blurry topic. I also find interesting that there is little talk about how minorities also appropriate and the difference between appropriation and imposition…

Sana: A local belly dance class called “Serpents of Anubis” is being held where I live. Yeah.

Fatemeh: GAAAAAH.

Shireen: Nicole, the “whitesplaining” comment made me laugh all day. Still giggling about it. Sana, You MUST attend that class. And do this dance.

Azra: I second the cobra dance!

Randa’s article reminds me so much of how yoga is often practiced/appropriated, but I struggled with the idea that white women should never take up dancing. When is it okay to partake in an activity from another culture? Where are we supposed to draw the line?

The comments on Randa’s piece at Salon are all sorts of ish. You’ll have an excellent hipster project, Nicole!

Anneke: I gotta admit I have a hard time understanding where to draw the line. As a Frau Antje can I only dance in my wooden shoes? And who can belly dance/do raqs sharqi? It is certainly NOT a style of dance authentic to all ”Arab” countries….

Shireen: I think we struggle with where to draw the line. I am not Arab but I grew up in a small community with a HUGE Arab presence. Very few Pakistanis as close friends. I spoke more Arabic than Urdu until I was 6 and my Grandparents freaked out (our neighbours were from Egypt).

I feel slightly fraudulent but it wasn’t my fault I learned to make basbosa before kheer.

Here’s an article Eren shared—“Cultural Exchange and Cultural Appropriation” from Everyday Feminism by Jarune Uwujaren—which really helped clarify things for me. An excerpt:

“So as free as people should be to wear whatever hair and clothing they enjoy, using someone else’s cultural symbols to satisfy a personal need for self-expression is an exercise in privilege.

Because for those of us who have felt forced and pressured to change the way we look, behave, and speak just to earn enough respect to stay employed and safe, our modes of self-expression are still limited.”

Eren: I love Jarune’s article. However, I feel that there is also a lot of focus about how white people appropriate stuff, but not enough talk about what the power relations are between minorities.

Fatemeh: Somebody on Twitter had that exact question: was it still appropriation if done by people of color?

Long answer: it depends. If it’s just dance, then I don’t think so (yes, even if white people dance). But if it’s jangly belly dancing hip scarves and stage names like Fatima and all that…well then I’d say yes, because those become appropriation.

(Meanwhile, The Washington Post and the Atlantic publish their responses to Randa’s post.)

Fatemeh: It’s sad that the majority of reactions Randa’s received are basically the same whitesplainy outrage that my MMW & Racialicious articles got 7 years ago. [Read more...]

The Glorious and Not-So-Glorious Sounds Of Eid-ul-Adha

Continuing our tradition of sharing reflections on Eid (see our posts from Eid-ul-Adha last year, in two parts, and from Eid-ul-Fitr this year), today we’ll be posting four reflections from Eid last week, written by Eren, Izzie, Krista, and Shireen.

This Eid-ul-Adha was the first one I have not attended salah. Due to recent knee surgery, attending the huge gathering in a sports complex didn’t seem like a smart move.  Thousands of people were being ushered in and out quickly, to accommodate the next group of worshippers.

I couldn’t imagine Eid without the craziness in my house to stay up after Fajr salah and make sure everyone’s shalwar has an elastic, is ironed and we all have matching socks while my youngest sings “Labbayk” so loud we all have to yell over his voice. What was Eid without the sounds of hustling, bustling and warm greetings?

My family has often rushed in traffic to make it on time to our salah as we chant Takbeerat with the kids or just put on Dawud Wharnsby Ali’s highly useful and pleasant tribute to Eid ul Adha.

Seeing all the happy, joyous community gathered together excitedly in their moonsighting-best is a treat: gem-studded hijabs, shiny silks, wide-legged pants, starched kurtas, bejewelled abayas and whatever the latest fashions dictate.

I love the traditional chaos of women talking to other women during the khutbah that is being projected on a huge-screen TV The sargeant aunties troll the periphery and shush the chatty women. The many women take endless selfies and post them to whichever social media site with fun hashtags. I have no idea what the men are doing because we are separated by a huge divider (the ones that divide regulation size soccer fields into smaller fields).

The excited children are all dressed in scratchy outfits as their Moms try so desperately to tame their precious hairdos. Then there’s my favourite part: the eager and overreaching local politician who comes to wish us “Happy Eid Mubarak!” [Read more...]

Honouring Hajar on Eid-ul-Adha

Continuing our tradition of sharing reflections on Eid (see our posts from Eid-ul-Adha last year, in two parts, and from Eid-ul-Fitr this year), today we’ll be posting four reflections from Eid last week, written by Eren, Izzie, Krista, and Shireen.

Fabrics laid out to create a bright and colourful prayer space.

It’s becoming a tradition for me to travel from Montreal to Toronto each Eid.  The women’s spaces in mosques here in Montreal aren’t great, with few options for people who want to listen to a khutba (sermon) in English or French (not Arabic) and be able to actually see and hear the imam from the women’s section.  After a few disasters, I’ve mostly given up, and happily make the trek to spend Eid with the El-Tawhid Juma Circle in Toronto instead, with the side bonus of getting to hang out with friends and family there, including a few MMW writers!  As I wrote when talking about the El-Tawhid Eid prayer last year, it’s a space where our access to the khutba and prayer is not determined by our gender, which for me makes a big difference in my Eid experience.

This year’s Eid-ul-Adha prayer was similar to last year’s in terms of the diverse congregation and inclusive atmosphere, and I love that this inclusivity and equal access has become the new normal in my Eid experiences.  What stands out in particular from this year, however, is the khutba.  In her reflections on Eid last year, wood turtle wrote that:

“Every year I complain that not enough is done to recognize the importance of Hagar – and every year I am sorely disappointed. I would love to hear a sermon focusing on her, noting that without her sacrifice, faith, ingenuity and leadership, Mecca might not even exist.”

I’ve often shared wood turtle’s feelings on this, and was thrilled when I found out that Hajar actually was the focus of this Eid khutba, delivered by El-Tawhid Juma Circle co-founder El-Farouk Khaki. [Read more...]

My Vicarious Eid

Continuing our tradition of sharing reflections on Eid (see our posts from Eid-ul-Adha last year, in two parts, and from Eid-ul-Fitr this year), today we’ll be posting four reflections from Eid last week, written by Eren, Izzie, Krista, and Shireen.

All my life, I have enjoyed Eid. As a child, it used to be about waking up early and getting dressed in my brand new dress. Once I became an independent adult woman who realised she in fact could go to the mosque, I started doing that. Though women in my family didn’t go to mosques, they still were liberal enough to allow me to do so. So I used to visit the Eid Gaah alone, be it in the city I worked or in my hometown, wherever I would be that particular Eid.

Eid foods: alsa and egg yolk chain.

After my marriage into a Salafi family that encourages women to attend  public prayers, visiting the Eid Gaah became a family affair. My own father, on the other hand, has been an agnostic all his life, and didn’t celebrate Eid or any festival for that matter. He used to carry on with his usual daily routine of evening baths and newspapers, though he didn’t stop us from celebrating. But I wondered about what how much he missed out on, because as much as it is about religion, Eid is always also a family gathering.

However, after finding out about my pregnancy, and having a less-than-ideal first trimester, my Eid-ul-Adha was just like my father’s. I couldn’t visit my hometown, because I was too tired to travel. I couldn’t celebrate it in the city, because again, I was too tired and nauseous to get myself to the mosque. I couldn’t have a feast, because most of the food  wouldn’t agree with me. I couldn’t let myself believe or find peace in the fact that all this sickness is a prelude to something blessed and important. In short, unlike what everyone else was telling me, I couldn’t think of it as a miracle. [Read more...]

The Strangest Eid

Continuing our tradition of sharing reflections on Eid (see our posts from Eid-ul-Adha last year, in two parts, and from Eid-ul-Fitr this year), today we’ll be posting four reflections from Eid last week, written by Eren, Izzie, Krista, and Shireen.

I have a love-hate relationship with Islamic holidays, and this Eid was no exception. While I am often encouraged by other fellow Muslims to get into the “spirit” of Eid, I always find that the holidays do not completely satisfy my spiritual needs.

Since my conversion to Islam, I had found a little niche among other converts in my city. We would get together and try to enjoy Ramadan, Eid-ul-Fitr, and Eid-ul-Adha. Normally, Eid would go something like this: I would wake up, meet with fellow converts for breakfast, go for prayer, and spend the rest of the day getting upset at the fact that the prayer space was crappy, or that the imam said a bunch of inappropriate things in his speech.

This year, though, I spent Eid alone in a new city with a highly segregated community. The Eid-ul-Adha prayers were held in a big building, with Muslims from different backgrounds congregated to pray but rarely crossing the lines of racial difference. I was not surprised to find the area separated with a line of chairs. Men were at the front, while women and children prayed behind. The sound system was horrible… obviously no one had bothered to check whether one could hear the imam from the women’s section. The interesting thing is that, unlike Muslim women in my previous city, these Muslimahs did not care much for what the imam was trying to say (and they couldn’t hear). As soon as the prayer was over, most of the ladies went about their business, talking, laughing and visiting the bazaar outside the prayer space, without bothering with the imam’s speech. [Read more...]

Eid in Four Countries

As one final addition to our Ramadan 2013 posts, we wanted to share a series of reflections on how Eid was spent among some of our writers. Writing, respectively, from South Africa, Pakistan, Canada, and Kuwait, MMW bloggers Safiyyah, Merium, Shireen, and wood turtle bring us their experiences of food, gender issues, politics, and celebration.

Safiyyah (South Africa)

In South Africa this year, ‘Eid day coincided with our national holiday, “Women’s Day” on 9 August. Women’s Day in South Africa is a commemoration of the brave group of women who took to the streets to protest in 1956, against the Apartheid Regime and its racist laws. Of the core group of organizers and leaders of the historic march was Muslimah, Rahima Moosa. I am very proud, as a South African Muslim women of this legacy left to us by our female struggle veteran

One of the protest songs sung on the day was “Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo!” (Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock)  which has come to represent the courage and strength of South African women.

Our masjid (Masjid ul-Islam in Brixton, Johannesburg) commemorated Women’s Day with a jumu’ah lecture by sister Rehana Moosajee, who has worked in government for over decade. She reflected on the struggle for gender equality and the way forward. For me, what stood out is her emphasis on the idea that women’s participation in any sphere cannot be measured in numbers alone, especially when organizations still operate on male-paradigms and patriarchal values.

This Ramadan had been better than the last two years for me, because my toddler twins are more independent and sleep (a little) more. I managed to make it to the masjidmost evenings, and even had the opportunity of delivering the tafseer of the Qur’an which would be recited in taraweeh to the entire congregation (men and women) a few nights. The masjid coordinators organized a child-care room for the first 8 rak’at of taraweeh, and both my husband and I were able to volunteer, as well as benefit from the facility. Whilst the broader Muslim community has a long way to go in ensuring equality of the sexes in Islamic education and sacred spaces, I was proud on ‘Eid day, to belong to a thriving community in which the participation of women has truly been transformative.

Merium (Pakistan)

Although we have nothing special planned this Eid, our celebrations are dampened by the news of another bombing in Quetta on Chand Raat (celebratory evening of moon-sighting announcing the end of Ramadan).  I’m shaken by the idea of dead bodies in a house on Eid Day – imagine facing a death of a loved on Christmas day – devastating.  And after losing my grandmother just before this holy month, the images conjured up by the Quetta bombing are particularly painful.

Nonetheless, my mother is up early (still on the Ramadan sleep cycle) whipping up sheer khurma (a sweet staple that heralds Eid day) and a batch of her famous haleem – a slow-cook meat and lentils dish that’s worth the wait and takes hundreds (if not thousands) of hand stirring motions to get that “cottony” consistency.  I wake up to the mouth-watering scent of fried cumin and chilli, the final step to the dish which ends with a liberal drizzle of the hot, buttery oil on the haleem, resulting in a tell-tale sizzling sound.

Mum and I spend much of the next few hours cleaning and cooking (some more); fresh linen everywhere, new crockery and cloth napkins for the main plates.  Our housekeeper Nadine, is away on Eid holidays herself and deserves a break even more than we do.  Separated from her husband who took a second wife in hopes of a male child, Nadine cleans houses for a living and is raising her daughters on these meager wages.  While many have suggested she get a divorce, Nadine confesses that she’d rather survive being “estranged” from her husband than being divorced in this society.  “My daughters will never be able to marry into good families if their mother is a dirty divorcee,” she says.  As karma would have it, Nadine’s husband just had another daughter with his second wife.

Everyone loves the haleem with naan.  They ooh and aah over the freshly set table and fizzy drinks in crystal glasses.  The house sparkles and the calming scent from lavender candles meshes perfectly with the aroma wafting from the kitchen.  And with the gentle pitter-patter of rain outside, you could almost almost forget we’ll be spending the next four hours cleaning up.  There will be dishes to wash, linen to de-stain, toilets to unclog and left-overs to wrap and freeze.  Eid day is work.  Hard work.

Mum and I end the day with a cup of hot chai, lounging round the sofa watching TV.  Unfortunately for us, our day is bookended by news of an attempted suicide attack, this time on a Shia mosque in Islamabad, just hours away from where we live.  While the attempt was foiled, the potential fall-out of such an attack leaves me sad and angry.  But I have barely any energy to muster for a Facebook rant or discussion with a friend.  I switch off the TV and return to my tea and biscuits.

Shireen (Canada)

Praying on the pitch

After a challenging Ramadan full of stresses and blessings, I was looking forward to enjoying a predictably uneventful Eid Salah, held in a huge sports complex – to my usual delight, on an indoor football pitch.

The khutbah had the usual contents: commentary on the mercies of Ramadan, requests for extra generosity for Masjid expansion projects, reminders for women to be covered in prayer (*yawn*), and the usual political allies of the Masjid board.

*Cue to screen: Grinning, wealthy, white woman in a draped pashmina*

“Assalamalaykam. Eid Faadir Mabrurak!” She exclaims carefully. I try not to discount her. Yet. She begins very loud: “I am the representative for your Riding. And- I – want- to – thank- you- and – say…”

I am fully rapt with attention. Not because she is saying anything of significance but because she is speaking English to us (and by us I mean 7000 Muslim-Canadians, mostly South Asian, many of whom have been settled for decades, if not born and educated here) as if we are hearing impaired. I worked in Settlement Services for a long time. Even my ESL teacher colleagues never patronized newcomer students by speaking in such a manner.

“I am Catholic and we have our special, spiritual time too!” [Mandatory #SharedValues insert.] She throws in precious “Allah, the Creator” gems. The crowd nods appreciatively. Babies cry around me. I am with them on this one.

She continues to explain to us how she is always helping us with Immigration and Citizenship concerns. We are lucky to be in Canada, a “tolerant and wonderful land of opportunity.” She is honoured to work with us. (*cringe*)

Good thing my hijab is covering the steam coming from my ears.

How about recognizing that all people in Canada, other than First Nations, are immigrants? *crickets*

If the only relevant topic any politician can think to speak of is immigration, as opposed to, I don’t know…urgencies in health care, (Primary Care physician shortage, ER wait times, inaccessibility to Specialists), education, job accessibility, issues of gender in the community, safety, then I would rather they. not. come. at. all.

I realize it’s not the most hospitable of sentiments on Eid. But I always felt that Canada was far more tolerant without anyone reminding me how lucky I am to be here.

My body gets rigid and my Mom pats my arm. I can hear her wordlessly saying “Do this. Almost over!” Obviously, I have mentally composed a letter to her office. It’s over soon enough.

We pray, I recover quickly, entertain myself with the chaos in the parking lot, and am able to forget about her nonsense. I go home drown my grumpiness in haleem, family and joy.

I entertain family and friends. The Polish lady helping me is enamoured with the celebration. She is lovely and keeps wishing us “Merry Christmas.” Our Hindu neighbours join us, our Jamaican friend comes over and the Chinese neighbours walk by, wish us happy Eid and wave. I know how lucky I am, Alhumdullilah.

Woodturtle (Kuwait)

Eid for our small family usually means dressing in our finest, rushing to pray with thousands at an exhibition hall, patiently listening to elected officials remark on the amazing diversity of Canada’s mosaic, and delighting the children with bouncy castles for a few hours before returning home or going back to work.

This year, we celebrated ‘Eid in our pyjamas.

Many mosques in Kuwait start ‘Eid prayers at about 5:15am in the morning. So most of the household just didn’t bother going to bed — we stayed up all night chatting with extended family members, applying henna, praying Fajr and listening to several of the neighbourhood mosques chanting the takbirat, broadcast high above the city from minaret speakers. Then, bleary-eyed, we threw abayas over our pyjamas and carried the still sleeping children outside to pray in a rocky parking lot.

Carpets softened the makeshift musalla and a caterer distributed cold dates and water while the men sat in the open-air and women took their place in a special section behind them. To ensure “maximum privacy,” the women’s section was enclosed on three sides by a large beige tarp — which doesn’t provide much of a view, but beats staring at a paved road.

This year our speaker system unfortunately cut out just as the khateeb brought up the topic of women. A few people took the silence that followed as a cue to wish everyone a happy ‘Eid Mubarak, many waited patiently, and I peeked over the tarp to see what the men were up to. Later, the Hubby told me the sermon was very positive — telling everyone that women should be an essential part of the community, working and volunteering publicly. That women should be elevated, empowered and proud. A lovely sentiment, but pretty ironic without a game plan to change societal perceptions and when we’re peeking from behind the tarp.

An irony I largely ignored in favour of experiencing a fun and privileged ‘Eid day with friends and family in a city where the overwhelming majority celebrated as well. In Canada, the prayer itself seems to be the main event and I’ve always felt slighted at being told how empowered I am on ‘Eid, while mosque officials put me in a basement every other day of the year.

We later breakfasted with family at an aunt’s house — enjoying creamy and strong cooked tea, eating a sweet pasta dish called atriya and home made Yemeni bread, all lovingly cooked by the grandmothers in the family. Then we retuned home to sleep before finally dressing in new ‘Eid clothes and spending the rest of the day party hopping, gift exchanging with the family and wandering the hallways of a flashy and trendy mall with thousands of other families enjoying the same.