Comedian | Professor | Writer
(& Smartest) Arab
Flashback: I am nine years old and spend the summer listening to hip-hop with my cousins. We play 400 (Arabic card game) and eat Flaming Hot Cheetos while inhaling secondhand hookah smoke. When September hits and Islamic school opens up for the year, I bravely share my summer with our chadored ‘sister’ (teacher) that posed the question to get our all-girl class cozy.
“But Dancing is haram, Yasmine. Music is haram. Do you want to go to hell?!”
My cheeks flush red and I scratch at the hijab that became part of my uniform. “No,” I say, sinking back into my seat wishing I never said anything at all. But then I say the next thing: “I don’t think dancing sends you to hell.”
I am made to write lines. “Dancing is haram.” Over 100 times. I would also have to write “I will not bring magazines to school” in other upcoming years, alongside a suspension for nail polish. But even as a young girl, I learned what was really my oppression: those in charge of Islam. At home and with my family, I lived my whole life as Muslim authentically, because I am a Muslim.
As the world and the west misinterpret and misrepresent Islam, we here at home are hit hard with uncertainty. We struggle with our faith, but instead of looking in for clarity and purpose, we lash out. We start calling ourselves anti-western without defining ourselves first. We reach for the things they say are “bad” and hold tightly to its fur, without looking the beast totally in the eye. Is it really in the spirit of Islam that women are often met with a dimension of sexism that is sold as “for their own good,” or “the natural cosmological order of things”? Is it really in the spirit of Islam that minorities like gays, genderfluid and the like are barred from being openly Muslim, that they must deny parts of themselves to be amongst the believers, to get us to vote for their secular rights? Does opting to be a wrapped piece of candy rather than an unwrapped one really make or break my status in the club?
I never did well at this forbidden dabkeh, only to be done via anasheed (instrument-less Muslim anthems), even though everyone expects me to pull off flawlessly, as a Muslim Arab woman. I was born with a pristine sandal on one foot and a Batman-clad Converse on the other. My religion isn’t a performance, a dance, something antithetical to the western imagination. It’s nowhere as simple as the haram police assert. All the books, schools of thought, philosophy and history of the interpretation and integration of Islam outside the Quran say as much. Too many muslims and Orientalist tools alike conflate the legacy of Islam, along with its beautiful divine universal and timeless text, with its human implication and interpretation across the last millennia or so. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a joke, Iran is no better, and most political factions of Islam in modern times have more things in common with right-wing terrorists in the US than they do with me. I’ve been called a “moderate Muslim” from imperial tools as often as I’ve been branded “as bad as the Taliban” with conservatives in my own community.
I hate to break it to you all kindly, but I may as well be the new standard. I don’t live in dissonance. I pay homage to the secularism that birthed me and privilege it has afforded me. I’ve gone through the indoctrination, through Islamic Sunday schools. I have read into my religion, beyond what appears thereof and am entertaining the idea of house. I’m educated in both purported cultures, passed both at the top of my class, and I have to report: There is no culture war. The same texts that inspired jurisprudence used at the height of the golden age to not only answer the questions of mudane for time- and culture-specific Muslims also helped usher in the sciences and brought the enlightenment to the “West” we all find ourselves seeking asylum in.
What I’m saying is that I’ve seen too many commonplace hadith, with chains of transmission so weak you might as well have quoted your grandmother, floating about endorsing the status quo. I am seeing too many Muslims drop the dance entirely because the inconsistencies in “practice versus prophet” are too jarring for even the most skilled. “Dancing is haram, but why?” You are not allowed to ask. To too many in our community, questioning a hadith about stringed instruments is not about intelligence or faith, but about obedience to this fear about not being Muslim enough and becoming like “them,” the “West,” the “Amreeki”.
I am 25 years old and I make myself write lines, mismatched shoes and all, through the seasons, over a thousand and one times. And I’ve decided for myself. Dancing is not haram.