Lines of Relationship
There is a sense of mutual constitution between Hebah and her local Islamic community. She grows in her own faith because she is supported by them and they consequently grow in their faith because she is a confident, vibrant example of peaceful, faithful practice.
I would place Hebah in the 'Compartmentalization and Privatization' stage. This is because Hebah does not wish to see what is happening on a global scale. There is too much violence for her. It is difficult to remain positive if all she is seeing is negative images of her faith. Hebah has chosen to focus on her direct circle of interaction and influence. She has no power to change the big picture, so why worry about it. Things will happen and she will react to them with her family as the top priority. She is able to compartmentalize the anger and aggression being directed at her and focus on her faith privately. It is commendable that she feels so secure in her faith that she can tune out the negativity of the world and create an environment of positivity for her community and family.
Covering --> Staring --> Questions --> Confidence--^-----------------------------------------------------------------
This dynamic was explained to me by Hebah. It seems quite backwards, but from her perspective, I was able to understand her thinking. Hebah started covering only 5 days after 9/11. The days following the chaos were in fact terrifying for peaceful Muslims in the United States. Hebah was seeing news that reported Muslim women uncovering because they were scared of the actions that may be taken against them. It was their fear that finally gave Hebah the confidence to cover. She says that she has since found her true confidence. She notices the stares on campus or in public and knows that she has to 'be smart' about where she goes, but "don't all women?" she says. Hebah sees and feels the staring, but she encourages people to ask questions if they are curious. She is trying to promote a positive view of Islam to her community. Every time she makes a new friend or can answer a simple question, Hebah's confidence in her choice to cover grows. She knows who she is and that people have to respect her for her thoughts and opinions, not her body.
Hebah is an open person. She willingly talked about her faith and some of her main beliefs after just meeting me. She has told me a few of her habits and everyday behavior, but I have also observed a few things that help paint a full picture of who this woman is. Hebah is a loud, confident person. These characteristics translate into being an outspoken leader. Taking her Gender role into consideration, I would apply this role as a leader to the other women in her community. Hebah would not consider it her place to command or lead the men. In a private setting with her husband, they are complete equals, but in society, the men's role as protector and provider must be respected and acknowledged.
Hebah is extremely intelligent. She went to Kansas State University and received her degree in engineering. She is also a very warm, welcoming person which makes her naturally accomplished at speaking. It was easy to let her talk about her faith uninterrupted. she is a strong woman who is raising her kids with concrete morals and a positive disposition. Her own disposition is one of happiness. Hebah is a passionate individual. I couldn't believe how open she was with me throughout our conversation. We talked about many controversial topics, religion obviously being the main focus, but also the violence and negativity that is currently surrounding her faith. Hebah's choice to avoid social media and any media in general shows me that her priorities lie with her family and the current events that are directly influencing their lives.
The most important relationships to hebah are the purely submissive relationship she has with the creator, the loving, equal marriage she shares with her husband, and the merciful, unconditional love she has for her children. One Thing Hebah said to me about a mother's love for her Children was this: Of the 1oo mercies God has created, only one exists on earth. That is the love a mother feels for her children. The other 99 mercies are waiting for us on judgement day. To hebah, this is just a glimpse of the creator's power. It REITERATES her opinion that no person on earth has the power to decide your fate. We have no idea what is waiting for us and all we can do is love our families and live our lives the Way the creator has told us to.
Hebah's entire livelihood is based in her faith and the validity to which she holds these beliefs. If she were to change her opinion, she would also be changing her way of life. This is not an overstatement. Hebah admittedly lives out every decision and action with Allah's true life as an example and goal. Losing sight of that vision would shatter the structure in Hebah's life. In addition, she would lose the trust and support of her community which is central to Hebah's life.
Embodied: Hebah spoke with no accent and used proper english grammar. The way in which she speaks clearly communicates the fact that she is educated and knowledgeable.
Objectified: As far as I could tell, material objects were not a high priority for Hebah. In addition to not owning a TV or radio, Hebah's family has one car and during our discussions, material possessions were rarely, if ever mentioned.
Institutionalized: hebah has an engineering degree, which is extremely prestigious in any circle. In addition to her academic accomplishments, Hebah would consider her marriage to be an institutional cultural capital. It is an element of status to be a married women in the Islamic Culture.
1. Hebah was born a Muslim. She did not choose the family or society she was born into, but accepted it just the same. In the past few decades, the Islamic faith has been the victim of media scrutiny and internal conflict. For this and other personal reasons, Hebah wasn't comfortable 'covering' even though she felt it was the right thing to do in her faith.
2. The attacks on September 11, 2001 were horrific and shocked the world into an uneducated hatred for all Muslim people. Hebah heard news of Muslim women uncovering because they were scared of the reactions or threats they would or had received. Only 5 days after 9/11, Hebah found the strength and confidence to cover. She saw the actions of these other women as desperate pleas for strength. If they were not strong enough to stand for the Islamic faith, Hebah would be an example and stand for them.
3. I don't know if Hebah had a specific mentor in her journey, but if she had a vision of who to follow, it would be the creator himself. Remembering that Hebah does not believe in worshiping false idols, I see her asking for advice or guidance, but her true mentor and strength is in the form of submission to Allah.
4. This connection Hebah has with the creator, which is neither corrupted or interrupted will show Hebah the power of unconditional love. Her steadfast belief in the creator's power will give Hebah the confidence to live a life with the truest character. This will allow Hebah to live the hero's life that she is being called to lead.
5. There is danger in living such a life. A true hero will be threatened by unbelievers or challengers. There are many who feel threatened by a person's sense of absolute confidence. The passion Hebah shows for her faith and the confidence she has in her life and purpose may cause others to react negatively. In the recent past, Hebah has experienced a few ugly situations like this. She has been called a terrorist, told that she couldn't buy bleach for her bombs, and was almost run off the road with her children in the car. Anti-Islamic sentiments are very strong right now and it takes courage to dress and act the way she does. The ignorance of these people however are showing Hebah just how important it is to remain strong in her ideals and in her faith.
6. Hebah is relatively strong in her resolution to be an advocate for peaceful Islam. That said, in the moments when her family is being threatened or when she is the recipient of an especially horrible insult, it is tempting to put away her cover and become more homogeneous with society. It would be easier and she would not have to put herself in harms way.
7. I can easily foresee a moment in Hebah's future in which she becomes an icon for Islam at some level. Even if that is the local level, her passion, positivity, and confidence are going to be the key to making a change. Her transcendence may be as simple as becoming a leader in her community, but it will be a powerful event.
8. I believe that Hebah is striving for peace, understanding, and acceptance between Muslims and non-Muslims. Her rise to recognition will do wonderful things for the local Islam chapter, but she will truly succeed when there is an open sense of acceptance in the community.
9. Once Hebah has achieved her goals at the local level, I am not sure it will be her goals to expand any further. She is so focused on her family and its success that I think her 'return' will include sharing her story with others for the purpose of sending them off carry her message and success to other places. In a way, this is the ultimate ending for Hebah's story; she will achieve both her religious and personal goals in life and will achieve the balance between these two motivations.
Hebah has struggled with her faith in light of the societal stigmas that have been put on Islam. To be a positive, influential, happy person while your faith is being targeted as a violent hateful organization is extremely difficult. Even more difficult on the individual level is identifying yourself as a Muslim in a community where that is not always a safe thing to be. It is understandable, but one of Hebah's weaknesses has been her fear of judgement and retaliation if she were to cover. In the past, she decided against covering because she was scared and lacked the confidence.
I think this "weakness" shows how Hebah has grown and it helps tell her Hero Story. After she saw other women like her uncovering for the sake of fear, she immediately took up the cry. In the sense of growth, this development has become a "strengthness" of hers. She now knows what empowerment feels like. She can sympathize with those still living in fear of judgement or aggression. Her progression makes her a hero of the people and an excellent candidate to combat the cultural barriers against Islam.
Creating Significance and meaning
Hebah is striving to live life with the ideal character every single day, in every decision she makes. If her actions do not speak of significance, I do not know what does. She is dedicating her life emotionally, culturally, socially, and personally to a belief. The peace she exudes is meaningful because it comforts others who may be questioning their decisions or their faith. Also in a world were organized religion and tradition are starting to become unpopular, Hebah is being an example for her children of how to balance religion with everyday life.
From what I have learned from Hebah, I wish to convey the fact that she may be my 'other,' but our morals, goals for success, focus on family, and general positive outlook on life run parallel to each other. I had one of the most connected, invested conversations with a stranger because we were both curious about the other and as we spoke, we learned. Instead of judging, we listened. I came away from the Islamic center with a newfound understanding and sense of acceptance for a culture I had been nervous about. I am not discrediting the threat of extremists. They exist, both Hebah and I agree on that. That said, there are extremists in every single group you will ever encounter. We both strive to see the good in people and in the world. I am still so thankful that I got to meet and talk with Hebah because I have a connection to a person who believes and thinks the way I do, in a completely different position in society. It gives me hope that we can find a balance and peace among all people. A difference in religious belief does not mean that people are fundamentally different. Like Hebah said, people are fundamentally good and this is what we must focus on.
My own subjectivity
As I talked with Hebah, I realized how easy it was to discuss gender roles and 'hiding our bodies' from the eyes of men. We could roll our eyes and laugh about the men checking their reflections in the one way mirrors (The men can't see into the women's prayer room, but the women can see into the men's room). This was an element of being on the same side as my 'other' and this perhaps made the interview easier for me. One thing that I became aware of was my lack of 'cover' during our interview. My hair was down and I hadn't thought about it, but I was wearing leggings to an extremely conservative religious service... (I kept my long coat on the whole time). I was able to empathize with Hebah's perspective on covering, but have never felt the urge to cover my hair or body to quite that extent. I didn't know if I was being inconsiderate and that made me feel a bit uncomfortable. I will never know exactly how covering makes these women feel, so it's a challenge for me to write from her perspective. One additional aspect of this culture that I was unfamiliar with was how to interact with the men. I offered my hand upon meeting them and was confused when seemed hesitant to shake it. Later, I learned that this was very forward of me. In the Islamic culture, women are not touched by men. It is one of the ways in which men practice modesty. They do not look at women directly in the eyes beyond initially meeting them so as to avoid suggestive thoughts and they do not touch women. Without knowing all of the cultural rules and regular behaviors, I could make an assumption about Hebah's life and be completely off base. That said, based on what I learned and what I have researched, I feel confident in the general direction of my story.
Speaking for Hebah
The only way I can think of to preserve Hebah's character and her story is to explain the way her words spoke to me. I can preface any opinions by saying that this is what I believe she meant, or 'if I understand what Hebah was saying...' I do not want to alter the integrity of her character by making assumptions about her opinions and beliefs. I want to paint a picture of the person I met and listened to without compromising who she is for a story. Hebah struck me as an honest, loving, and devoted individual. She carries herself with a confidence that comes from her faith and it was refreshing to hear her words of explanation mixed with a message of hope for the future. Her hero story is still playing itself out, but I can only imagine the impact her life will have on the people she interacts with. What a joy it was to meet her and learn about an 'other.'