Unveiled: A Look Back on the Hijab

I, along with two other former Muslim women (Marwa Berro of Between a Veil and a Dark Place and Reem Abdel-Razek), recently spoke with Valerie Tarico about our experiences with the hijab. This is a cross-post of my interview with her.

Tarico: How long did you wear hijab, and what did it mean to you at the time?

Dadabhoy: I wore hijab for a decade (ages 8 to 18). I started wearing it because I was always a people-pleaser; it seemed like the right thing to do to please my parents, many of my older relatives, my teachers at my religious school (a headscarf was part of the uniform for the Islamic girls’ school I attended in London for a year), and, of course, Allah. I was also a very literal and devout child. I wanted to make sure that I obeyed Allah as much as possible.

Continue reading “Unveiled: A Look Back on the Hijab”

Unveiled: A Look Back on the Hijab

To Those Defending Alleged Marks & Spencer Religious Exemptions

Edited to ensure clarity on the fact that the incident with an M&S cashier was an isolated incident rather than a reflection of M&S overall policy.

As a former Muslim who has spent significant amounts of time in the Muslim-dominated parts of London, I have been following the recent Marks & Spencer kerfuffle with great interest. The short version is that it was claimed that Muslim M&S employees are allegedly exempted from ringing up customer purchases that include pork and alcohol. Said cashiers could ask that customers making such purchases join another line to be rung up by a presumably non-Muslim cashier. Thankfully, the incident was at a single store and not a reflection of overall M&S policy.

Despite the fact that the story wasn’t quite accurate in terms of M&S policy, the discussion around the matter had a lot of people defending religious exemptions to job duties. I don’t believe that such an accommodation would be at all reasonable because when one signs up to be a cashier at a store, one is signing up to potentially ring up any of the items sold at the stores, not just the ones that follow one’s personal religious dietary restrictions or other beliefs. Furthermore, if Muslim employees were permitted to redirect customers based on their personal beliefs but other employees aren’t also allowed to refuse to ring up purchases that are against their personal views, it would indicate the privileging of religious views.


That aside, there is a theological flaw in the defense of the alleged objections of the Muslim employees. Simply refusing to handle pork or alcohol hardly changes the fact that all M&S salaries are paid, at least in part, thanks to the sales of haraam items. As one of Muhammad’s sayings goes, “When Allah forbids a thing, He also forbids its price,” meaning that any money gained by the selling of a forbidden thing is considered forbidden money. Should M&S be obligated to ensure that only the profits from halaal items will go towards paying Muslim employees?

M&S has apologized and clarified its position since the story broke. Even so, ensuring that Muslim M&S employees work in the bakery or clothing departments instead of as cashiers doesn’t exactly solve the problem with haraam money making its way into their paychecks.

Had this issue been more than just a single incident, it would have been a classic case of religious folks performing their religious beliefs where convenient (and, I might add, very public) but ignoring the restrictions that they find to be too inconvenient. If they choose to follow their religion in that fashion, they are by all means welcome to do so. However, it’s rather disingenuous to cite religious restrictions as a reason to not do part of your job yet happily cash paychecks that include funds that your religion says are tainted. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. Regardless, the defense of such behavior and the support of religious privilege surrounding the matter is highly troubling.

To Those Defending Alleged Marks & Spencer Religious Exemptions

Allah’s Little Ambassador: What Hijab Is & Isn’t

A few weeks back, I gave a talk at the first Sexy Secular Conference in Akron, OH, with the title Virgins, Raisins, & Sexy Serving Boys: Decoding Female Sexuality in Islam.

I had a lot of fun giving the talk and attending the con — shout-out to the organizers who put the it all together. Even disregarding the fact that it was just their first year doing it and that they are students, it was a remarkably smooth, well-run, well-organized event that I look forward to attending again.

If you watch the video, you’ll notice that the videographer, Rob of Hambone Productions, was cool enough to caption and cut out the questions during the Q&A rather than include them, for which many of us are grateful. In a conversation following my talk, the asker of one of the questions hit upon a disconnect worth noting: the difference in what a non-Muslim sees when they behold a woman in hijab versus what she might be expressing by wearing hijab.

You see, the asker explained, he did not feel that he was singling out Muslim women by asking them about their religion. He does the same with Christians wearing crosses, Jews wearing Stars of David, and so forth. He thinks that it’s interesting that they choose to wear a symbol of their faith and believes that doing so invites him to ask them about their beliefs.

So, there are two problems here.

Firstly, this is a gendered matter. Women are often treated as if we exist for the benefit of society rather than as individuals. I have personally felt the effects of this assumption quite heavily. When I wore a headscarf, I was condescended to, gently chided, yelled at, ignorantly questioned, rudely interrogated, violently accosted, and have otherwise had my day disrupted thanks to my headscarf. After I de-veiled, I assumed that I could be normal, blend in, and live my life without being bothered. Not so — street harassment of the more sexually racist kind replaced the garden-variety racism I had experienced before. Until women are generally treated as people rather than as representatives of their gender or any other such category, it’s important to keep in mind what we are doing when we expect a woman to serve as ambassador for an entire group of people — doubly so when that group is a minority one.


Secondly, conflating the headscarf with any other religious symbol is at least somewhat fallacious. The reason that Muslim women wear headscarves is not so that they can be Allah’s ambassadors to the world. Indeed, dawah, or calling people to Islam, is traditionally done by men if it is for the benefit of men. Stricter interpretations of Islam, i.e. the sort that many scarf-wearing Muslim women follow, limit the amount and type of interactions that might occur between men and women. This brings us to the underlying reason why Muslim women cover, according to Islam: to live in accordance to Islamic standards of modesty. For a practicing Muslim woman who adheres to that interpretation of Islam, putting on a headscarf is as essential as putting on a shirt. While a Christian woman can choose to not wear a crucifix because she happens to not want to wear one that day, a Muslim woman who has committed to hijab wears her headscarf as part of her basic wardrobe.

There do indeed exist Muslim women who wear the headscarf as a way to portray Islam in a more positive light who would be happy to talk to you about their choices and their faith. There also exist Muslim women who, for whatever reason, are uninterested in being an open-source educational resource to the public. Assuming that a headscarf-wearing Muslim woman exists to satisfy the curiosity of strangers is to both play into gender myths and misunderstand what covering up means to most Muslim women.

Allah’s Little Ambassador: What Hijab Is & Isn’t

Dawkins Has It Pretty Good, Honey: An [Ex-]Muslima’s Perspective

The first in my family to fly after September 11th, 2001 was my wheelchair-bound, arthritic grandmother. An international traveler of many years, she had carried the same pair of small, sturdy nail clippers in her purse for nearly two decades. They were duly confiscated. We laughed it off nervously. What else could we do? We didn’t laugh when we heard about people being detained indefinitely, guilty-until-proven-innocent treatment of terrorism suspects, names on No Fly lists, and secretly-planted FBI agents (initially dismissed as paranoia, later vindicated at my liberal hometown mosque).

The first time I flew after 9-11, I was fourteen years old. My father was waved through but my mother and I, in our headscarves, were pulled aside. As the TSA agents unzipped my suitcase and snapped on their blue gloves, I started to feel nervous. Their search meant casually making hay of my belongings and I was afraid that their disruption of my tightly-packed items would make it so that the bag wouldn’t close again.

a female TSA agent with blue gloves on searching a bag

I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach as I realized that they would be going through everything. Carefully hiding my underwear and maxipads under my pajamas had been for naught. These two men were thoughtlessly rooting through what I, as an adolescent girl, felt were my most private possessions. It would have been mortifying for any other teenage girl to have her undergarments and sanitary supplies thoroughly searched by anyone, let alone a pair of older men. It was especially mortifying given how my teenage-girl shyness was enhanced by Islamic gender and modesty laws.

The search ended with the sealing of my bag with a zip-tie, which later proved hilariously problematic, in a Catch-22 sort of way, given that we were staying at a hotel afterwards and weren’t allowed to fly with scissors.

Despite my deconversion from Islam, my caution when it comes to airports persists. My head might be bare and my name not “Muslim”-sounding, but I am often mistaken for an Arab, which is synonymous with “Muslim” to many. I also hail from a Muslim background, have visited Pakistan, love and spend time with my Muslim relatives, and sometimes carry Islamic books with me. People like Sam Harris believe that I ought to be profiled based on those factors — and I am hyper-aware of this fact when I move through airports. I am the most efficient, overly cautious version of myself when flying and do things in that context to which I am far from proud to admit. I’ve viciously snapped at my partner for briefly mentioning the dubious merits of TSA security theater. I’ve stood as far away from other “Muslim”-looking or -seeming folks so as to avoid any perception of collusion or affiliation. When on the phone, I avoid the usual “salaam” greetings I otherwise use with family members. I carry both my passport and my driver’s license with me when I travel even just domestically, “just in case,” as I say.

people waiting in line at airport security

Given all that, I have absolutely no sympathy for someone who is angry about being subjected to appropriate actions when he violated TSA regulations. I might even feel angry about it when it’s someone prone to sarcastically belittling others’ problems by comparing them to problems he personally believes are worse. Even worse is when it comes from someone who promotes the narrow view of Muslims and Islam that make my life difficult in the first place.

I could go the cheap route and say that from this ex-Muslima’s point of view, my problems as a traveler are far worse than those of Dawkins and therefore he should shut up and never complain about his problems ever again. Instead, I will do him a far greater courtesy than he does to others and admit that his pain is not only real, but also indicative of a greater matter.

Almost everyone agrees that at least some of the TSA guidelines are irrational. It’s not a controversial thing to point out that they are. If only Dawkins had noticed and called out said issues in the full dozen years that they have existed, in the time span of over a decade in which they have adversely affected others. But I guess a community that doesn’t produce enough Nobel Prize winners for Richard Dawkins’s satisfaction shouldn’t expect men like him to care for the rights of its members. They’ll only notice when their sweets are taken away from them.

Update: Dawkins has responded on The Guardian. In his piece, he manages to denigrate those tweeting at him while dubbing his tweet “campaigning” against unfair TSA rules.

Dawkins Has It Pretty Good, Honey: An [Ex-]Muslima’s Perspective

The Huffington Post’s Resident Conspiracy-Theorist Creationist

I’ve always had mixed feelings about The Huffington Post. They make money with notorious clickbait and yet don’t pay their non-staff writers. Their UK political editor is someone who, despite being an Oxford graduate and a journalist, chose his words rather poorly when speaking of non-Muslims, especially atheists (he did apologize for it). Steven Novella has written several times on the HuffPo’s promotion of pseudoscience.

Knowing those things, however, could not prepare me for the fact that Adnan Oktar, alias Harun Yahya, a notorious Islamic creationist, is a HuffPo contributor. Let me rephrase it so that those who don’t know who he is can feel the outrage: the Muslim Ray Comfort — with a generous dash of Harold Camping — writes for HuffPo.

Harun Yahya has written 234 (!) books (all available for free online) on topics like Islamic apocalyptic conspiracy theories, the Holocaust, and the evils of Romanticism. His favorite theme, Islamic Creationism, can be found in nearly all of his books, even the ones not about his views of the science of evolution. Despite being advised (and, according to some whispers, funded) by American Creationists, he thinks that “Darwinism” is not only factually and scientifically incorrect, but also pure Western-created evil designed to subjugate Muslims.

After years of exclusively using the Harun Yahya identity, the man behind it, Adnan Oktar, has emerged into very public view. He has a talk show called Building Bridges TV on his television network (not to be confused with the Muslim American TV channel, Bridges TV). All the appalling glory of the show, hosted by women Oktar calls his “kittens,” has been covered by Slate. I personally think the worst part is the dancing, if their version of Gangnam Style is any indicator.

At first blush, the listing of Oktar’s contributions to HuffPo doesn’t look too terrible. One piece appears to be pro-science (even though he’s bad at science) and another pro-women. The problem is that the average HuffPo reader is likely unaware of who Oktar is and what he does. In the same way that Ray Comfort uses politeness, Oktar uses his platform on HuffPo to lull people into a false sense of security. By presenting only his most palatable, sanitized views to the public, he can portray himself as not as dangerous as he actually is.

And mark my words, he is dangerous. When I was a religious Muslim teenager, I happened upon a copy of his Evolution Deceit. The book appealed to my budding distrust of “the West” as well as to my love of science. The fact that the man used a pseudonym appealed to my conspiracy-theory-primed mind: I thought that he must be telling some hard truths if he couldn’t use his real name and face. I read his books, with their glossy color illustrations and exciting-looking covers, to bolster my fading faith in Islam. Obviously, that adrenaline-shot of Harun Yahya to my flagging faith wasn’t enough to stop its death march, but I understand all too well the seductiveness of Harun Yahya’s writings. He is a slick, skilled promoter of pseudoscience, adept at disguising the ludicrous nature of his claims in intellectual-sounding language.

Adnan Oktar along with text exposing hi,
Feel free to save, copy, and distribute this image.

There are legitimate Muslim scientists, one of whom I had the honor of speaking with last year, who are doing good work deserving of promotion. In lieu of helping them with their cause, the HuffPo has given a conspiracy-theorist Islamic creationist yet another megaphone by which he can promote his frankly absurd views. Any amount of awkward dancing and lip-service to female empowerment cannot hide Adnan Oktar’s promotion of conspiracy theories and anti-science in the form of Islamic Creationism. It is utterly irresponsible for The Huffington Post to lend this man an air of legitimacy by providing him a platform.

I urge you all to join in me in calling attention to Oktar’s body of work and to his anti-science agenda. Even if the HuffPo continues to feature him, it’s important that anyone who reads his work knows who he is and what he is about. In addition to spreading the word, you can let the HuffPo know that you aren’t okay with giving Adnan Oktar a platform by tweeting @HuffingtonPost/@HuffPostBlog, posting on their Facebook page, and/or emailing them at [email protected].

The Huffington Post’s Resident Conspiracy-Theorist Creationist

Ex-Muslims of North America: A Dream Come True

Call me biased — I happily accept all charges of subjectivity in this matter. I am going to unabashedly revel in how amazing this is and nothing can stop me. This was so desperately needed and it finally exists.

I’m talking about Ex-Muslims of North America.

When I first became an apostate in 2006, the world of the ex-Muslim was far more narrow than it is today. The only apostates I’d heard of were international figures who had to live under armed guard, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali; anonymous folks mostly found online, like the now-defunct Towelians; or those who somewhat qualify as both, like Ibn Warraq. The idea of run-of-the-mill folks simply being apostates of Islam in their hearts, let alone out under their true names, seemed impossible. The overall message for ex-Muslims seemed unequivocal: your family will disown and shun you at best, Jihadis will put a mark on you, and the world aside from the extreme right-wing will reject you.


I didn’t want to be an out apostate if it meant being hurt or killed, or losing my family, or automatically joining up with Daniel Pipes.

I did it anyway.

Though I knew it would end up doing so, I didn’t do it to cause trouble. Though I knew the act would be perceived that way, I didn’t do so to rebel, either. I didn’t even do it to make a point — at least not primarily.

I did it because I wanted to be loved and accepted for who I was. All I wanted was to be myself, consistently, everywhere, with everyone. It was how I behaved when I was a devout Muslim and it was how I wanted to continue to behave as a former Muslim.

My actions did end up making a point. As far as I know, there is no fatwa against me declaring that I should be killed. My family, though in deep disagreement with me, still loves me. The only association I’ve ever had with Daniel Pipes was attending a free event of his where I asked him a pointed question about his racism at which he rather waffled and, of course, contradicted himself. My existence alone, as I am, makes more than a few points.


Obviously, such is not the case for all ex-Muslims, including but not limited to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Take Marwa Berro, the brilliant young woman behind Between a Veil & a Dark Place, for example. Plenty of other ex-Muslims hide their identities and/or are only out on a limited basis to keep themselves safe from harm. On the flip side, I’ve heard of ex-Muslims whose families don’t care too much about the fact that they’ve left Islam, something I never thought possible. That’s the point: what an ex-Muslim experiences as a result of their apostasy depends a great deal on that person’s family, background, country of origin, nationality, and so on. There are a lot of different experiences out there, and the variety of voices and approaches showcased on Ex-Muslim Blogs is a testament to that. It’s essential that we hear from more than just a few of them.

I am so pleased and honored to be living in a time when ex-Muslims have reached critical mass and are starting to come out more and more as well as to organize. Between the Ex-Muslims Councils that have formed in Europe, the active “ex-Moose” sub-Reddit, Muslimish, and EXMNA, I feel incredibly hopeful. The multiple facets and varieties of the ex-Muslim experience are worth discussing and knowing. Ex-Muslims of North America is one more step in deconstructing the myth of the monolith about those who hail from Muslim backgrounds. More importantly, groups like EXMNA make the world a better and safer place for those who leave Islam, one vocal and/or out apostate at a time.

Ex-Muslims of North America: A Dream Come True

“Inspirational” Biblical/Quranic Intersections: Abraham’s Sacrifice

[Content notice: child abuse, attempted murder, animal slaughter]

Yesterday marked Eid ul-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice, for Muslims all over the world. The other Eid (Eid al-Fitr, or the Feast of Fast-Breaking) marks the end of Ramadan. This one both commemorates one part of the story of Abraham, called Ibrahim in Arabic, and wraps up the many rituals of Hajj.

The Quranic story varies somewhat from the Biblical one, most notably in terms of which son it is and in the amount of detail provided, but the gist is the same. In the Old Testament, the son whom Abraham offers to Yahweh for sacrifice is Isaac (Ishaq in Arabic), the son who just happens to be the progenitor of the Jews, while in the Quran, it’s Ismail (Ishmael in English) who is offered, the son coincidentally said to be the father of the Arabs.


The story begins with Ibrahim dreaming that Allah is telling him to offer up his son in sacrifice. The dream repeats to the point where Ibrahim thinks it is a command from Allah. He asks his son if he’s willing to be sacrificed and Ismail agrees. Along the way to the spot where he is supposed to slit his only son’s throat, Ibrahim is tempted three times by Shaitan (Satan) to disobey Allah’s dream-given command. At each point, Ibrahim throws small stones at Shaitan to make him go away. When he finally gets to the spot where his dream had told him to slit his son’s throat, he ties down his son and blindfolds himself, both at his son’s behest. Just before the knife manages to touch his son’s throat, an angel comes down and replaces Ismail with a ram. The angel tells Ibrahim that he has passed Allah’s test of faith.

Today, Muslims performing Hajj symbolically stone three pillars at the spots where Ibrahim was allegedly tempted by the Devil to disobey his god by not slitting his son’s throat. All Muslims who can afford to do it, whether performing Hajj that year or not, sacrifice a sheep or goat (or other halal animal if a sheep or goat is unavailable) to celebrate Ibrahim’s sacrifice. The story is taught to children as a lesson in obedience to one’s parents and to Allah.

All this leaves me skeeved out, to say the least. I wonder what sort of folks justify this sort of story, teach it to their children, commemorate and celebrate it, defend it to those who look at it in horror. Then, I remember.


I was exactly that sort of person. The story was a big part of my day on Eid and I participated very enthusiastically in the rituals. Before I started doubting my faith, I had used a knife to slaughter at least three cows and two goats with my own hands (as soon as even the faintest doubts entered my head, I found myself unable do it anymore). There is even a picture of me wearing hijab and holding up a severed goat’s head. Theologically speaking, I would defend the story’s cruelty to others, saying that it was just a test of faith, that not a hair on Ismail’s head was ultimately harmed, that Ibrahim was later blessed with another son for his loyalty to Allah, that Allah knows best, that life is difficult and this was the difficulty Ibrahim had to face to prove his strength of his conviction and character as a prophet and friend of Allah.

Would I have ever taken a knife to my baby brother’s throat because I had dreamt that my god had told me to do so? No. I would have felt sick to my stomach and prayed to Allah to keep evil dreams from my sleep. If the dreams had repeated, I would have asked my mother to take me straight to a mental health facility and wept the entire way, frightened and upset that my obviously unwell mind was turning me against the brother I so loved and cherished.

On the flip side, I’m sure that if Ibrahim did exist, he would have found whatever excuse, be it his deity or another, for the delusions and dreams that led him to nearly murder his son. It’s sick that a holiday is built around such a person, but thankfully, as with many other holidays predicated on gruesome stories, there’s a lot to it that has nothing to do with its origins, especially since many Muslims aren’t as painfully aware of the tale as I am. Each year, I remind myself to take a leaf from their book and focus on family, friends, and food.

“Inspirational” Biblical/Quranic Intersections: Abraham’s Sacrifice

Four Myths About 9/11 & Muslims I’m Tired of Hearing

Palestinians didn’t celebrate 9-11; that was footage from 1991.
This one is trotted out often by sympathetic, well-meaning folks who want to believe that no one could celebrate a tragedy like 9/11. They’re wrong: there is no evidence to support the claim that CNN was conspiring to make Palestinians look bad by airing old footage and plenty to support the claim that the footage was taken right after the 9/11 attacks occurred.

It makes sense to profile people who appear to adhere to Islam since 9-11 was planned and carried out by Muslims.
Yes, I’m looking at you, Sam Harris. It’s comforting to think that terrorists wear specific garb or all look a certain way and that, therefore, targeting people who look or dress a certain way is helpful in preventing terrorism. If only those darn politically-correct simpering liberals would let us, amirite? Except, if you take a look at the hijackers, what do you see? No long beards — or beards at all, for the most part. They look like any number of brown men in the US. Furthermore, they dressed in “normal” garb, as in pants and shirts rather than robes and turbans (most turban-wearers are Sikh rather than Muslim, anyway).

Muslims didn’t condemn 9-11.
At least within the United States, nearly every major Muslim org and mosque put out a condemnation of 9/11, just as they have done with every other major terrorist act. Why wasn’t that better publicized, then? Ask yourself what tends to make the news especially after a terrorist attack. “Muslim Group Condemns Terrorism” is either going to be ignored entirely or buried because it’s not sexy, violent, offensive, or otherwise attention-grabbing. Furthermore, Muslims aren’t exactly a huge percentage of the American population.

Some claim that Muslims should have gone further in order to make their condemnation of terrorism clear and public, with a march, perhaps, or a giant protest of some kind. The problem is that, especially right after 9/11, most of us Muslims were, frankly, scared shitless. We faced potential and actual violence from our fellow Americans for a violent act that killed several of our own. Organizing a giant public spectacle to appease those who automatically believed us to be terrorists wasn’t exactly the first thing on our minds when we couldn’t go about our daily lives without fear. Later, we had plenty to fear from the government: the Patriot Act was used to falsely accuse, incarcerate, and persecute innocent Muslims; the government lied to us despite our cooperation in anti-terror measures on at least one documented occasion.

Personally, I believe that people are innocent until proven guilty. While I have my issues with Islam and agree that there are problems with the Quran that lend themselves to being used to justify horrendous violence, that’s no reason to automatically assume that every Muslim is pro-terror unless they’ve participated in a march to “prove” that they aren’t. For some of us, such demands simply add insult to injury. Muslim Americans are just as targeted by Al Qaeda and its ilk as any other American: Bin Laden himself said so*. If someone who is arguably the face of terror tells you that Muslim Americans aren’t his people and you still believe them to be his supporters, well, I don’t know what more I can say. I don’t think it’s helpful in fighting terrorism to lump Muslims who aren’t terrorists in with terrorists, but hey, what do I know?

It was disrespectful for Muslims to want to build the Ground Zero Mosque.
For the record, the building is a community center called Park51 and wasn’t built on Ground Zero, so the term “Ground Zero Mosque” is a deliberate troll. For many years, there have been mosques close to the World Trade Center site in New York City. There was a Muslim prayer room in the World Trade Center itself. New York is a multi-cultural city and most of its residents understand that. If Muslim Americans who aren’t at all affiliated with terrorism aren’t allowed to build community centers anywhere near Ground Zero, then by that logic, no churches of any denomination should be allowed anywhere near reproductive health centers.

* I was unable to find a link to it, but I do recall seeing a Bin Laden video at some point where he basically said that it’s cool to kill American Muslims because they’re on the wrong side of things. Even if I’m misremembering, Al-Qaeda has generally been fine with killing Muslims who are in the way of their non-Muslim targets and considers all Americans a target, no exceptions stated.

Update: Astute commenter Nathan found a link to a transcript of a Bin Laden tape where he says

Anyone who aids America or help it, including Arab leaders, or anyone who fights alongside them or provides them with bases or any kind of support, even if it was only verbal, in order to kill Muslims in Iraq, that is a Muslim that he is no longer a Muslim and therefore he will be a legitimate target.

Four Myths About 9/11 & Muslims I’m Tired of Hearing

Never Forget: Reflections on a Dozen Years

[Content Notice: terrorism-related violence, anti-Muslim bigotry, anti-Semitism]

Before my second day of high school, the reactions to me were more along the lines of confusion and pity than hostility. Lots of “you don’t have to wear that here, honey”s and “Are you fresh out of Iraq?”s and mistaking me for a pediatric cancer patient.

Healthiest-looking cancer patient ever?
Healthiest-looking cancer patient ever?

The morning of my second day of high school, I awoke to the sweet, poppy strains of whatever Radio Disney was playing (and possibly censoring) at the time. I quietly made my way down the stairs so as not to wake my kid brother. Halfway down, I paused on the landing and noticed that the TV was on, its volume turned way down, its eerie light the only thing illuminating my mother’s face. The mouth on that face opened to say the first non-sung words I heard that morning.

“Something happened to the World Trade Center.”

At the time, I was steeped in an odd blend of far-left political dissent via my pro-Palestinian protesting, Islam-flavored conservatism via my upbringing and reading, and far-right patriotism via Christian TV programming. My sleep-addled brain, then, heard “World Trade Organization” rather than “World Trade Center,” so I assumed “something bad” meant that it had been disbanded or something. I said the first thing that came to mind: I yawned out a sleepy, half-questioning, somewhat sarcastic “Yay?”

Absorbed by whatever she was watching, my mother didn’t even notice I’d said anything, so I finished making my descent to the TV room, and, for the first time, saw and heard what was on the screen. The WTO wasn’t disbanded, two separate planes had hit the World Trade Center. Disbelief set in. Perhaps my mother had unwittingly tuned into a movie with an extended news segment and hadn’t realized it. Then, she flipped the channel at a commercial break, and I saw that every single television station was covering it.

Still, our day wasn’t cancelled. We ate breakfast, dressed (complete with headscarves), and headed over to the the dentist for my appointment, then to school. I watched the footage of one tower falling, than another, as my teeth were drilled. On the way over to my high school, someone in the car next to us glanced at us and then did a double-take, glaring angrily. At school, one of my classes was cancelled because the teacher in question was worried about her New Yorker parents, so we went to the multi-purpose room to watch the news instead. That was when they started broadcasting the footage of Palestinians celebrating the attacks.

Until that moment, I hadn’t any conscious understanding of how defensive I was starting to feel. It suddenly welled up in me and bubbled out in the form of an impassioned, ill-advised-and-timed call to my classmates to understand that the United States has been waging war on Palestinians via our support of Israel for years, along with a reminder that Muslims had probably died in the attacks, all issued by a mouth still half-numb from Novacain.

On 9/12/01, my parents kept my sister and me home from school, and it was confirmed to us personally that at least one Muslim had indeed died thanks to the WTC attacks: my second cousin. We spent the day mourning her in prayer and fretting over our fate. My mother, a Canadian citizen, started talking about how we could go north if we got “kicked out” of the United States. There was no time to reflect on the irony of having to worry about being placed in internment camps like Japanese Americans were during World War II when any of us could have been my cousin, killed just like any other American could have been at the hands of Al-Qaeda.


My father suggested that we women might have to stop wearing our headscarves, which shocked and appalled me. A few weeks later, when we heard about friend of a relative was followed in her car by men who turned out to be drunk off their asses and armed to the teeth, it didn’t seem so outlandish after all.

I remember crying when the news reported on how Japanese American survivors of internment camps came out publicly in support of American Muslims. I remember being infuriated when someone asked “Was ‘he’ one of the hijackers?” after I told them that my Muslim cousin had died in the WTC attacks — and being equally as infuriated when someone else in a different context asked the same thing and then claimed it was a “joke.” I remember being solemnly informed by British Muslim relatives that “the Jews were warned” about 9/11 since it was all a Zionist conspiracy. I remember the receptionist at the dentists’ office quitting or being fired since she was unable to treat any Muslims with decency after 9/11 (her New Yorker brother turned out to be fine but she was quite upset regardless).

9/11 led me to research Islam even more than I had before so that I could answer people’s accusations that my then-faith was inherently violent and evil. That research eventually led to my deconversion. My deconversion led me to spend time with people who didn’t know who I was and where I’d come from in the hopes that, after years of having to act as the Muslim ambassador to the world and defender of the faith, I could just be me.

Vain hopes. Once, out of nowhere, someone who read me as Latina (i.e. assumed that I couldn’t be of Muslim background) informed me, just as solemnly as my British relatives had about “the Jews,” that “the Muslims were warned.” I told him about my cousin. He asked me if “he” was one of the hijackers. Someone else in some other context asked me if my family was “Muslim or American.” A man who I had the gall to honestly turn down with an “I’m not interested” told me that as “a Middle Eastern” who wasn’t a virgin, the best I could hope for out of life was a hasty marriage to a poor, already-married old man to “save my honor” and prevent me from being murdered by my own family.

“We all know how violent you sand [n-word]s are,” he reminded me. “Remember 9-11?”

Never Forget: Reflections on a Dozen Years

Breaking News: Saudi Arabia is a Thing

No really. It’s a thing. I had no idea.

Never mind that I’ve been to Saudi Arabia. That, even though I should have been way too young to understand, I picked up on the fact that my mother was being treated like a piece of meat by Saudi men for daring to expose her face while accompanied only by my younger sister and me (i.e. not a man). That, recently, I refused a free trip to that particular Gulf nation because I knew that going there would essentially make me legal property of my father, not to mention would put into harm’s way as an apostate. That I not only know what Wahhabism is, but that it touched and warped my upbringing.

It's actually just for men. Women aren't allowed to be out alone.
It’s actually just for men. Women aren’t allowed to be out alone.

Nope. I, like all the other privileged Western feminists, used to walk around wholly unaware that there is mistreatment of women in Saudi Arabia. Thanks to a truly brave hero at CONvergence this past weekend, this grand oversight has been fully rectified. I now am fully cognizant of the fact that bad things happen to women in Saudi Arabia (though I’m still not sure what a defeated Mormon presidential candidate has to do with it).

Now that I know that women in Saudi Arabia have it bad, what am I supposed to do about it? Again, I look to only the bravest of the brave heroes to tell me exactly what I am supposed to do about the fact that women are mistreated in Saudi Arabia. I thought that I would hear more about what I could do for those poor Saudi women if I kept up my disguise as an ignorant, whiny, Westernized feminist. I mean, they wouldn’t just mention Saudi Arabia to feminists for no reason, right? There must be some purpose.


As it turns out, they mention Saudi Arabia as a counterpoint to the criticisms of sexism in the United States. I was mistaken — it isn’t about helping out women worldwide, it’s about making us uppity Western feminists realize that our concerns are trivial and meaningless compared to those of women in Saudi Arabia.

Consider this my official thank you to Western men for not behaving as badly as they tend to in Saudi Arabia. I am incredibly grateful that you choose to so mercifully allow me to do things like drive and walk around showing my face. I should really count my blessings and not expect any more or better out of you. My mistake for assuming that you were capable of more above and beyond simply not treating me the way women are treated in Saudi Arabia.

Breaking News: Saudi Arabia is a Thing