On the wild beach of Abou Galoum, staring at the sea and the mountain shadows of the other shore of Saudi Arabia, only one month after I took off the veil that I wear for thirteen years. I sit alone and lonely reading.
There, I came across this quote from the book of Jiddu Krishnamurti, Freedom from the Known “[…] We are always comparing what we are with what we should be. The should be is a projection of what we think we ought to be, Contradiction exists when there is comparison not only with something or someone, but with what you were yesterday, and hence there is a conflict about what has been and what is. There is what is only when there is no comparison at all, and you live with what is, is to be peaceful.”
At that moment, these words illuminated something deep in me, almost liberated me, not only from the external world judgment, that I subconsciously feared or challenged, but also and mostly from my own perspective of myself.
This self that I thought I know well, this self of the well-educated, French-speaking middle-class girl, grown up in a moderated Muslim family, raised in catholic schools by the nuns, living in the pretentiously religious sexist society like the Egyptian one.
It has been while that I was observing this self, the multiple manifestation of this self, and listen to all narratives that I use to express it.
All these stories that I have been telling about myself, my history, my convictions and beliefs, the “who I am”. To be honest, is not only me who I observe. I listen to everyone I know, and get more and more intrigued about these selves manifestations: how they talk about themselves, about who they think they are, what they think they excel, and I can see the difference between what they are and what they think they are. This virtual image, projection they have about themselves and the stories that they tell and keep telling about them, trying to fit more and more this image that they aspire to.
I am not an exception, I have my stories too, these ones that I tell very well, that I am trained to excel, in different occasions, with different intonations.
While walking in the chilly and dry city of Glasgow, my breath caught as usually it does when I walk and talk to my attentive young 21 years old Scottish. While talking to my young listener, I realized that I am bored of these stories, that I keep repeating to the new acquaintances to identify myself. These stories don’t represent me anymore, however I need to tell them, to give my listener a glimpse of myself, or the one I used to be, believing that I am who my words represent. The words resonated in the chilly air empty of meaning and depth. The story that I was telling to my young listener dated from fifteen years ago about this person I was. Between the past and the current moment, I wondered who am I talking about? About myself? Which self? The person I was or who I became. How far I reached and swam away from this core essence and existence.
In a moment of uncertainty, I looked to my faded shadow in the light of the traffic and the streetlights and this shadow does not reflect the spectrum and representation that I was drawing in the imagination about myself. At this moment I took the decision to write them all, all these narratives, to exorcise these stories from being, spit them all on paper to incarnate my devils and may be get rid of them. By this exorcism/writing action, I hope may be to liberate myself from the projected selves, from the past and the future and live in peace with what I have now here breathing
“I love Jesus”
When I was veiled, I used to wear a pin that I used to love and cherish, to hold my scarf together at my throat . The yellow copper pin had the shape and the form of a Coptic fish. For those who does not know the legend, in the time of persecution, the early Christians used to symbolize Jesus by a fish.
When people, especially foreigners, recognized it, and wondered how a Muslim veiled woman wore the symbol of Jesus, I used to reply, “Well…I love Jesus”. It was a smart joke, full of hidden pride. Looking back, I think my story had some truth, I used to find it such sad and sweet, that the early fervent and oppressed believers had to symbolize their God by a fish to be able to talk about him. Although, with the repetition of my reply, the belief behind it lost its authenticity, it became such a pretentious statement. As if I was saying: Yeah I am this rich controversial special and different Muslim veiled woman, well-educated and liberal. I am not what you expected to be”. I had to get rid of this pin, for a good cause. Once I was speaking with a Christian Dutch believer friend, she expressed how in our modern time, especially in Europe, atheists intimidate believers. It became almost a taboo to express and to talk about the ones beliefs and religious practices. So I gave her my pin. It felt right! I gave her my pride and a hidden symbol to express openly her love to Jesus.
“I am more Catholic than you”
This is another statement I used to repeat to my European friends, who are usually “non-believers/Christians”. I went to a French Catholic schools in Alexandria. My parents although not very rich, were keen to provide their three daughters with proper and decent education; this was their main occupation, priority and pride. At this time, the private language schools where the middle classes sent their children was mostly catholic run by nuns. Although known worldwide as missionary schools, these institutions back in the 80st could not be openly missionary in a more and more conservative society like Egypt. They used to use subtle ways or frames, like the scout movement, and guess what I was a fervent scout girl. I was 21 when I became the first ranger at my school scout movement. My first task was to archive and to collect all our movement pictures and references, among them all the songs that we used to sing in our camps, and the “prayers” that we used to repeat before eating and sleeping, part of the rituals that we used to practice collectively.
While searching the old references of these rituals and songs, I found out that all our “songs” and prayers” that contained the word “lord or God”, was originally “Jesus” in the original text. This was a chock! A deep heart-breaking discovery for me. I realized that I was a target all my life, all the beautiful and special rituals that we had, as young girls in camps, were a means of conversion. At this time, It was the first time in my life, after I read an article about it, to know that our schools were known as missionary and that the scout movement, although originally secular, was one of the known means of missionary that Catholics used in Africa. I used to cover this realization by disbelief and denial. I used to brag about carrying the principals of two religions in me. Who would believe it, looking at me at this time, or even now! That at the heart I am a fervent catholic –who used to be veiled- Muslim woman. What a glory! What a rare creature! Like Unicorns!
Now I just feel I need to get rid of this narrative. I am not sure what I represent anymore. A believer, a Muslim, a Catholic, a brave scout girl? Let this story be out, once and for all.
“I eat halal”
Theoretically, I like the concept behind eating halal. The whole idea is about to have consciousness. To eat halal, means that while slaughtering the animal you have to pray for its soul, asking God to make it bare what it has to endure and for you as a person to be conscious, not to exceed in killing and have a merciful heart even if you are killing an animal to eat.
I repeated this story zillion of times; with all kind of intonations, enthusiasm and conviction that now, I cannot narrate it anymore. Above all, I cannot relate to the story, when I see the butchers back home torture the animals, killing them with ecstasy in front of each other, showering the streets by their blood. And they pretend that this a halal meat, these merciless brutal ignorant.
So to keep my story short and to be true to myself, I just do not eat pork nor meat while travelling, because a) I do not crave meat in general, and b) I am disgusted by the smell of a fried ham in the morning, it smells like a boiled piss. c) I love eating fish and vegetarian dishes that I find very creative and tasty.
Still, I believe that we should not be excessing and being merciful with the animals that if we need to slaughter, we should calm and pray for them.
The story of my submission to Islam / The Hijab story
I was 19, when I first watched a scientific episode about the universe creation/ the big bang. By then I was still this silently rebel and nonchalant teenager who never went willingly to pray. Bulled and observed closely by my dad, I used to pretend to pray but never really did. I never being atheist neither, I simply did not want to pray. I used to talk to God while walking alone in the streets, while laying on my side in my bed before sleeping. I liked to fast Ramadan, but never to pray. I did not want to, so I never did despite of the annoying pursuing and harsh talk of my father. He used all the ruses, from talking to me gently to threading me to accusing me that I am the source of the malediction of the house! (baba used to exaggerate and be dramatic sometimes J
I did not care! The only thing I wanted is to shut him up and make him leave me in peace, alone in my dreamy bubble reading erotic romances in my bed all day! So I used to pretend making my ablutions and pray.
One day, I watched this episode and I realized that we did not exist by the big bang , that we are so small comparing to the universe perfectly done, created and synchronized. By then, I just realized that I believe that god exists. I stand up, went to make my ablution and made my first –free willed not faked- prayer.
It was not a prayer time, it was me needing to talk directly to God, and I told Him by then, that I agree, I “aslamt” (I became a Muslim/ submitted and agreed). By prosterning supporting my body on my knees and palms, I signed my agreement contract. Few months after, I wore deliberately the hijab as sign of submission and agreement that I kept for a whole thirteen years.
By then, I have to say, covering up my body and my hair was not a big deal for me. I did not feel that I gave away or compromised anything. I had no sense of my body. I was, in my eyes, just a massive body, moving functioning and living. I was not a woman, in my eyes, who has any beauty to cover, nor charm to control. I was a person, who hated to look at the mirror even by coincidence.
Wearing the veil, was for me wearing a protective invisible shield who prevent me to see myself as a woman and to let the other see me as one. I was an intellectual strong skilful and smart-ass person.
The peer pressure, and all the “liberal” judgmental people I met through my work and life, made me for long react to protect this armor from falling. How many times, I was advised to take it off as if a smart independent woman cannot wear a veil. I lived for long to prove them wrong. By consequence, I grew an ego and my veil was not about submission nor modesty anymore, but it became another manifestation of my arrogant self who wanted to be distinguished from the other. It was another attempt to be something projected by the past and the surrounding.
Now, my armor fell, the woman behind is vulnerable and fragile. She never been manifested, rarely has been noticed! The first layer, the veil, has fallen, the thicker one is still there. All these rolls, curves, fat, and flesh are still there shielding the delicate one. This shy loner woman who for long believed that she was invisible and rejected. This one who never been in love, who spent days and nights reading romance and waiting for the charming knight. However, this is another narrative that I am telling about this woman, said fragile, vulnerable or shy. All this might not be true. She might be simply an angry one.
My narratives, for long had reflected convictions and beliefs that date back to my early age and my twenties, representing my embedded values, my enlightenment life moments that revealed a certain truth to me or made a certain decision or made me embrace a certain conviction.
Now an emptiness is left after that these selves have been manifested, after that all these stories have been told. All these old stories, I leave them all out. The vacuum of the current and present existence is predominant. I can be all of these selves or none of them.