Two Muslim Women in their Own Words about Religions in Egypt
I was inspired to write this blog post after I read Superluli’s comment on my post about the little boy George Shahata who became victim of sectarian violence in Egypt. This blog post includes honest real personal accounts or confessions that should make it so interesting if you want to learn about what is going on for liberal Muslim women and Copts treatment in Egypt.
Superluli in her own words:
“I agree that things here are not good for Christians. My group of best friends are 2 Copts one catholic and one Armenian, and me the only Muslim! Over my life I have had other friends, who were also Christian - I never had a problem, I think if you are Muslim, then you automatically are Christian and a Jew too. (But that's a whole new discussion) Apparently in Egypt my looks let people perceive me as Christian.
Here are some of my experiences which lead me to think that things are not fair, but not brutal. Maybe you can elaborate on some brutal experiences so we can determine the level of severity!
1) My first experience as a 13 year old, I was wearing the key of life - a pharaonic symbol that looks like a cross. I was walking down the road and two young guys in their 20ies called out "roohi enty wel 2asees beta3ek" (go away you and your priest) I was young and I was in a Christian school - I thought life was rosy, my friends were Christian, my family taught me that there's no difference. And that was my first shock! Nothing violent.
2) I have experienced taxi drivers who never stop, if I am asking to go to ramsis for example, and a veiled woman is standing two meters after me also wanting to go to ramsis, a taxi would tell me no but would stop and pick up the veiled one. My Christian friends experienced that, they get into a taxi, the taxi looks at them, sees a cross, stops and tells them to get out and he will not drive them. That happened a few times to more than one girl.
3) I have Christian friends who hire a Christian maid, a Christian driver and a Christian door man, I have Muslim friends who do the same. I have Christian friends who have Muslim drivers and vice versa! there are companies who hire only Christians like off the top of my mind coz I just dealt with them ghabbour and Thomas cook and companies that hire Muslims only (I can't remember any example now, but there are many)
4) I studied at two universities, a private one and the university of Alexandria. In the University of Alex, I took private courses, before the exams with a group of 15 people. They NEVER talked to me. NEVER helped me out and completely ignored me, and I was trying my hardest to be nice, and to fit in despite of the difference in social class and education.
In the second year they got into an argument about religions, and I stepped it and it was clear that I was Muslim. Since then, they completely transformed! They were sooo nice suddenly. I was puzzled, until I realized that this was the point where they realized I am not Christian. I do not believe in manifestation of religion which is why I never wear anything that would make it obvious what religion I am.
Since then I made a point of wearing some 'masha2allah" every once and a while so they see it. I started saying "el salamu 3aleiko" instead of good morning. And that did it! They called me when I didn't show up, and gave me their notes!
I and my mom are not veiled and apparently we do not "look" Muslim. There are so many times we feel discriminated against because of these facts, in lines in a government agency (unless the employee is Christian, then we have priority!)
My mom was mugged a few months ago in broad day light, and there were a few men standing 10 meters away from her, men with beards. They saw her.
Had she been veiled, would things be different? Would they have at least helped her off the ground?! I wonder!
So I agree things suck! But there's a line between unfair & uncivilized and between dangerous and brutal. FFE portrayed it at the latter. I am not sure it is THAT severe.
That is my argument. Feel free to prove me wrong!
Freedom for Egyptians in her own words:
I do share with Superluli many of these incidents. My mother and I are not veiled, i.e. we do not wear the Islamic scarf over our heads, not only that, this idea does not exit in our dictionaries. We represent the infidal culture in our soceity according to the current Egyptian standards evaluating a Muslim woman. There are so many Egyptian women who do not wear Islamic scarves, however, they whole heartedly believe in it and they encourage other women to wear it. These personalities are simply are the real hyporcites.
My grandma never liked women with Islamic scarves. She used to upset so many women in our family and even in public places for her opinions. I remember so many of her comments to veiled women when used to go shopping or doing our groceries. I sometimes felt so embarrassed but people used to take it because she is a senior citizen. I grew up in a family that does not only wear Islamic scarves but also despise them. I never thought why when I was younger but now I think why and I know why.
I consider my family’s relationship with Egyptian Copts (Christians) is very unique. I believe that until I was in my kindergarten, I did not know whether I am a Muslim or Christian, simply, because at home I was not educated to talk about Christians or Muslims. As a result, the idea never occurred to my mind, even though some members of my family were/are practicing Muslims including my grandma. I remember I was going to school and in the school bus one day and an older student asked me whether I am a Muslim or a Christian. I did not have an answer. She asked me whether my dad goes to a mosque or Church, I did not have any answer. I was mute. I went home to ask mom, that day I knew that there are Christians and Muslims in our society.
The reason why I am mentioning my grandma so frequently is because I spent my childhood years with her due to the fact that my mother was a working mom and because my parents lived in the same building with her. My Grandma’s lawyer was a Copt. Until this day, my family’s lawyers are Copts and we do not trust except them. The fashion in my Grandma’s days/era that each family should have its own tailor. This tailor is usually a very sophisticated person, in the sense that his place is like a mini fashion designer shop. My Grandma’s tailor was a Copt. She grew old with her lawyer and tailor. And the three of them passed away. Before her death, she could not leave home. Her tailor paid her courtesy visit to do her something. He himself so old, we were all so touched by the visit and by the kindness. He considered her a friend.
Names in Egypt are very indicative to everyone's religion. Usually names consist of three, four or five names. Those names could include three grandparents. And you can use your first name with your father or any grandparent name that you think musical. All my school and university years I used my father’s name and I do not know why. May be I thought it is musical. From my name and dad’s name, one can never know my religion in Egypt. It is more likely to be a Christian name. I loved to tease so many “true Muslims” by never revealing my religion; it is none of their business. They want to treat according to my faith. And I thought it is so discriminatory.
So here come the discriminatory record incidents that I experienced:
1) So many times I was asked whether I am a Christian or Muslim because of my name. My dad's name does not indicate any religion. And I would believe it tends to be a christian according the Egyptian standards. I was asked several times whether I am a Christian or not.
2) I once asked a Taxi driver to lower the volume of the Quran tape he was playing in the taxi. It was deafening. I told him if you do not like what I am saying, stop here. He did. I was kicked out of the taxi. I had to look for another taxi.
3) I got a severe insult by a loser woman in a birthday party. This woman has nothing in her brain cells except the Islamic scarves. I was the only person who was not veiled. I got so many lessons from this woman on how to be a pious extremist Muslim woman. The bottom of this lesson that I am a whore. I went back to my mom almost in tears telling her I had never thought that such day will come. My mom told you should have given her due, I told her I respected the hostesses' presence. I thought it was a mistake to be among this group in the first place, but I am not used to discriminate against anyone for what he or she wears. I felt my society will never appreciate individuals on the basis of their achievements or contribution but on whether they are wearing this scarf or not. Despite the fact that I had my own intellectual circles where we speak the same language, but I believe that these women or their mentalities are the majority now in Egypt. And they show zero tolerance to others in an insulting way.
4) So many times, I thought of buying Egyptian wine and beer to my American friends in the US. You cannot buy Egyptian wine in the US. I went to a store in Cairo in a district known to have many foreign residents. The first time I went, I was rejected the service because it was a Muslim Eid. Luckily I had a foreign friend. She bought the wine and beer on my behalf. The second time I managed to buy the beer and wine but I was denied a taxi ride. I was in the taxi, the driver saw the bag I have with the wine, he stopped the car and asked me to leave. That was funny and bitter.
5) I love the pharonic “key of life” or Ankh. It looks so artistic and it has a meaning, but looks like a cross. Colleagues see me wearing it immediately ask me one of the two questions; “Are you a Christian? We did not know”. Those who know that I am a Muslim ask me; “why are you wearing this cross?” I reply back this is not a cross. This is a key that symbolically believed to open for you the other life.
6) We used to have a dog in our building. Friends and colleagues hear me talk about the dog tell: “This is dog is "haram",an Arabic word for forbidden in Islam, because it kicks away the angels”. Many friends for my family refused to visit us for the dog.
7) I used to volunteer in a state-run orphanage which is part of a big complex where so many minors are there for different reasons including crimes. This orphanage does not accept Christians and if one came by mistake, he has to be deported to a church-run orphanage. I do not mind him going to a church-run orphanage. But this is a government orphanage and is run by the Ministry of Social Affairs. It should be for all Egyptians without discrimination.
8)Last but not least, and when I remember this I really laugh. During my high school time, I used to wear shorts, besides the causual, it was the fashion to be in shorts that function like a skirt. I was walking close to my house with my neighbor who was one my best friends at that time. Suddenly from our backs, we felt pebbles being thrown on our legs. At the beginning, I thought I was stepping on them by mistake. Then I turned, I found very young children throwing pebbles on our legs. My friend knew the reason. She told me that a Sheikh in a near by mosque who is giving religious lessons asked the children to do so with sinful women.
There are hundreds of stories that I can fill a book with. But I want to say that I believe in everyone's right to worship but regrettably those who practice this right do not believe in the right to be an individual with his/her beliefs or the right to life and freedom.
I want to say that despite all these street intimidations, women with no Islamic scarves are very well respected at the professional level in Egypt and not only that they are sought to hold key positions. Everyone can argue this fact, but I am speaking here from experience for a having a very successful career myself in Egypt and never covering my hair one day in my life or even thinking about it.
One final comment on the treatment the Egyptian Copts receive. I am a Cairoian, grew up in Cairo, and if intimidations did not take a violent form against Copts, however discrimination has the door open for those who would like to get in. I met people coming from villages in Egypt who are proud that they do not have one Egyptian Copt in their villages. I am not a supporter of giving privilages to citizens on basis of their faith. I am supporter of the right of equality to all Egyptians to be full-fledged citizens regardless of their faiths or even if they chose to be faithless.