Muslim in Minnesota - Part 2
Dating, hijab, rape, & sisters
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Ali, 28, is from Saudi Arabia and studied electrical engineering at St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is married and has two children, aged 3 and a newborn.
Conversation with Amara Hartman
You mentioned Sunni and Shiite both kind of have the same perspective on women, but then why is there such a grip on a lot of Middle Eastern women? If both sides are claiming to be fair to women, where how does it happen that some women are dominated?
It’s like when you get a pet, like a cat, and you start telling this cat, “This is the place you’re not supposed to go,” for 10 years. The cat won’t go there at all. So it’s the way that you teach your generation. Me and all the kids who had been with me in my school were taught certain things about women. But as I grew up, I saw the way my parents were treating my sisters. That showed me different idea. But if I’d been living for 25 years, thinking inside the box, I wouldn’t be able to look at this from a different perspective.
I guess I don’t know anything about why some Muslim women choose to wear the hijab or why they don’t. Your wife does wear it?
What does it represent?
In Islam, the only parts on a woman that should be seen are their face and their hands. The rest should be covered to keep men from having sexual thoughts and to give the woman some respect. But that doesn’t mean I’m looking at you with disrespect because you’re not wearing hijab. It’s just the idea. One of the big parts of wearing hijab too is to hide the hair. So when women are wearing hijab, men are not able to see their entire beauty.
So it’s a way to make men rely more on your character? To not get distracted by all the physical aspects?
Have you struggled with that being here in the U.S., before you met your wife, and meeting different girls at college? Were you like, “Why are American girls like this?”
No, it was nice! I’m a man, and I like women. It was fun to look at, but I couldn’t date them.
Have you ever dated an American woman?
OFF THE RECORD MOMENT.
So dating women who are not Muslim opens up a lot of ridicule.
Say I dated a Christian girl, but we are not doing anything, and we are leading up to marriage. That’s okay, because Muslim, and not only the men, are able to marry Christian, Jewish, etc. that’s not a problem. But if my idea is just to hang out with this girl and have sex…
You still have to have the same intent, basically.
Right. It doesn’t matter who they are, but you still have to treat them like a human being
So, does [your wife] cover everything but her face and her hands?
And that’s just her choice? Because I know some Muslim women just do the hijab but wear modern clothes.
Yeah, her friend doesn’t wear hijab. She wears regular clothes, but they’re not tight or anything. That's the idea. If you, the girl, walk outside in only a bra in underwear, and you come complaining that this guy bothered you, watch what you’re wearing before you complain. The lady herself is able to decide what will make her safe and what will not. The stuff that you’re wearing, if it will give you more of a man’s attention, then be prepared for it. If it’s not, then you won't have to deal with all that.
What do you think about rape? If I’m out for the night with my friends, and I’m wearing a really cute or more revealing dress, yes I’ll get more attention, but if the man acts on it, that’s unacceptable. How do you feel about that? Do you feel like--because I totally see what you mean about dressing a certain way and inviting attention you don’t want--but depending on the situation, do you think that just gives the man the right to do something?
Let’s imagine I had a party. You came over, and one of my friends was like, “You’re beautiful” and started trying to talk to you. From that point, you as a lady know if this man is acting respectfully, or if he’s here for sexual things or out of his mind. You are able to decide. But what I’m trying to point to is if you’re wearing stuff you think will attract more men, try to wear it in more in a place where you'd be like 90% safe .
Like with your friends, or don’t show up at a bar by yourself wearing…
Exactly. So [to the point of the hijab], if a Muslim woman is wearing a hijab, and she’s wearing really tight clothes, what’s the point of a hijab? Take it off and don’t bother yourself. [I mean I don’t] think I’m God, and I’m judging her. I’m just saying, don’t put yourself in a compromising situation. If a guy comes and touches your butt, don’t complain about it later.
How do you feel about women who do cover up and are sexually assaulted?
See, things happen. You won’t be able to prevent everything from happening. Even in my country where I’m thinking everyone is Muslim and [should be acting good], there are still women who are kidnapped, there are still women who are sexually assaulted. I mean I would feel sorry for that girl. I would send the guy to whatever punishment there is, because he should take all the punishment. I mean, I’m a man, but I do have control over myself. I came here, I never slept with a woman, and there were girls around me, and I wasn’t like (mimics grabbing butts) trying to grab them. You should treat people with respect, not something you’re gonna use and leave.
What did you think about girls when you were a boy?
Well, like, in my country since women can’t drive, if you want to go to the grocery store to buy some candy, I have to drive you there. Otherwise, you have to stay home until a male person comes from god to take you. Before I started driving, I felt sorry for my sisters. If they wanted to buy stuff for school, they had to wait for my father to take them. And you know, old people don’t want to come from work then take you out. They want to take a rest and sit at home. And the other part I felt was just from watching movies a lot. I thought, “I would like to hang out with a girl!” So, you know as a male, I’m looking at females like, “They’re beautiful,” but also looking at them like they don’t have… they can’t live their life.
Did you ever feel guilty about [not driving your sisters]?
I felt guilty when I couldn’t drive them because I had other plans. I know if I said “no” there’s no way they’d be able to go. The whole time I’m hanging out with my friends, I’m feeling guilty like I should have taken my sister out, otherwise she’s just going to sit at home.
Do you have a good relationship with your sisters now?
I’m still a little afraid of my older sister.
Oh good! Older sisters are like that. I think I still scare my younger sister. What do you think when you hear the words sexism or misogyny? Do you know those words? Do you have an immediate reaction to those words?
Oh, like they say “a woman with half a brain?” No, I don’t see that at all. My sister is doing her PhD. There is no way I’m doing that. So, she has a brain and a half more than me!