September 23, 2014
Today I have managed to combine two assignments into one blog post. The first assignment is the “A to Z Challenge” and we are now up to the letter “L“. I have posted the story in today’s “Longing to Laugh” one year ago. However, I revised almost all of it to fit today’s assignments. The story is as true and accurate an account of my time in the Middle East, as I can remember; the names however, have been changed.
My next assignment is for my Writing 101 class. I am to focus this post on the contrast between two things. Here’s the twist: I am to write the post in the form of a dialogue. Enjoy! Peace, ~v.
“Miss Victoria, it is our tradition. Women do not laugh in public.”
Of all the traditions and customs I had to learn while living in the Middle East, this was the most disturbing. I had been teaching in a remote town in the middle of the Arabian Desert and after six months, I was finally beginning to fit in, until today.
Tears began to well in my eyes as I stammered, “I’m sorry, Miss Da’ad. I didn’t know…” and I let my voice trail off.
“You must not cry, Miss Victoria. I do not mean to hurt you, but we do not laugh in public.”
I knew why the women were not allowed to laugh in public, it was the same reason they wore abayas to cover their bodies and shaylas to cover their heads. It was the same reason they couldn’t leave their homes after dark and the same reason they couldn’t see their sons graduate from high school: Men have no self control.
That is not the official reason, of course. However, I had had enough discussions with my tutor, Mr. Mahmoud, to have reached that conclusion long before Miss Da’ad told me that she longed to laugh.
“So why do Muslim women have to wear the veil, Mr. Mahmoud?” I asked him one evening between lessons.
“The woman must protect her honor, Miss Victoria.”
“You mean without her veil, a Muslim woman has no honor? I don’t get it.”
“No, no. She must be modest in her dress, that will protect her honor.”
“Oh! I see, dressing modestly and wearing the Shayla keeps men from lusting after the women. So really, wearing the veil protects the man’s honor. Well why can’t men protect their own honor?”
“No, no, no Miss Victoria, you are getting it confused! The man, he is not allowed to look at the woman. If he looks at the woman with the lust, the woman has no honor anymore. So she must not draw the man’s stares and she must not look at the man in public, or even at the home, she must cover herself to protect her honor.”
“Wait!” I said, a little more loudly that I had wanted to. “Even in her own home she is not allowed to uncover herself?”
“Of course not. What if her husband brings home a friend? What if her uncle makes a visit? She cannot make the mistake and uncover her modesty. If she makes the man to look at her, she loses her honor.”
“It would be an honest mistake if that happened. Her honor wouldn’t be lost. Anyway, if that happened, it would be the man who steals her honor, not the woman who loses it. See the difference?”
“Miss Victoria, the woman must protect herself. Even in her own home. The man, he does not have the will to look away. The man, he is not responsible to keep the honor. If the man has lust because the woman, she is not covered, the woman has failed to do her duty. The man cannot be expected to look away! And then what? He see the woman, uncovered, and he has the lustful thoughts and the man, he cannot control his thoughts. No, no Miss Victoria, the woman, she is responsible for keeping her honor pure.”
“But she has no control over what men are thinking when they look at her, whether she is covered up or not! If a man sees a woman without her Shayla, he should quickly cover his eyes if he has no self-control. It is the man’s responsibility to control his thoughts and protect the woman’s honor.”
“So, that is how it is in the West? The woman, she is allowed to do whatever and the man, he must protect her honor and control his thoughts and actions? She is allowed to make the man to lust after her? She can stop this, she can save the man and herself if she wants to! The woman must protect herself and she must protect the man. The man cannot help himself, it is the woman who must protect them both. It is not the man’s fault. The woman must not draw the attention to her. It is because of he that the man has not pure thoughts. It is because of her that the man, he cannot control himself. It is because of the woman that the man does not respect and honor her. The Muslim man, he respects the women and he honors the women, but the Muslim man, he cannot be responsible for what he thinks and what he does if the woman does not protect herself.”
So there it was, the fault in the logic of Muslim society. Intellectually, I had known it all along. Women wore the veil because they had to protect the men, not themselves. And here I was, apologizing to Miss Da’ad for my shortsightedness.
“Of course I shouldn’t laugh in public, Miss Da’ad. I did not mean to draw attention.”
“No, no Miss Victoria, keep laughing. The Muslim women, we cannot laugh. But you my sister, you must never stop laughing. Never stop laughing my sister, because when you laugh, you are laughing for all of us.”
And so I laugh. I laugh long and I laugh loud, hoping that the sounds will reach across the miles and into the patient ears of my sisters in the Middle East who are longing to laugh out loud.
The following was posted in Al Arabiya newspaper September 23, 2014: