Shadia: There will be 'Love, Inshallah'

For Middle Easterners, reputation is everything.

And while I embrace a lot of my culture's characteristics, this is one of those things I don't care for as much.

For me, reputation is important, but being real about what you feel, think or experience is more important than what someone might think of you for it.

But for my mom, grandma, aunt and uncles — and pretty much most of the Middle Easterners who come before me and my generation — it's about what others think of you.

My mom, Shadia, and I have this conversation a lot.

It usually goes like this: "Who cares what people think?!"

"I don't care what people think; you just have to consider the consequences," my mom usually responds.

"Really? Hmm."

Though modesty is one of the characteristics of a good Muslim, I think modesty and the need to reserve one's reputation are often confused. And this obsession over reputation and the refusal to speak up publicly about valid issues never provides a forum for finding solutions.

I've noticed that the more sheltered or rural the society tends to be, the more its members care about their reputation. I think it's because sometimes they believe it's all they have. And a lot of times, that's actually the case.

Enter the young-and-upcoming, educated Middle Eastern generation, especially the one growing up in America and Westernized nations, and clashes between the young and old are inevitable.

I say this because there are times when certain issues like dating, romance, love and all sort of things that come with it, are often considered taboo. Talking about them is almost nonexistent in our community, and not talking about them leaves a huge void and many unsolved problems.

A few weeks ago, my friends Michelle Samani (Meesh), Jasmine Duel (Jazy) and I decided to visit a place our mothers — I know mine for sure — wouldn't approve of: A bookstore on Sunset Boulevard.

No, silly. The issue isn't that we were at a bookstore. It's what was going on there: a book reading of "Love, Inshallah." Inshallah means "God willing," and it's something Muslims say a lot because everything happens by the will of God.

The book is an anthology of 25 stories by Muslim women who shatter the glass ceiling of stereotypes with their experiences. It's a collection of the "secret love lives of American Muslim women."

Some of the writers were there reading parts of their stories. The place was packed with people, and I have to be honest when I say that, as some of the racier parts were being read, I felt a bit self-conscious of my surroundings.

I bought the book. Don't tell my mother.

Those secrets include a lesbian who was married to a man and struggling to fit in her community (she ended up asking for a divorce), co-wives (the thought makes me cringe), converts to Islam, finding a husband, being Shia or Sunni, and not conforming to the Islamic ideals when it comes to dating.

The thing is, those issues have to be addressed at some point, and because our elders and community leaders aren't doing much about it, you're going to have books like "Love, Inshallah." (At least one story was a bit too explicit, though, and I don't know if that was really needed.)

Jazy, who is Jewish-Persian, Meesh and I have had many talks about what it's like to be Middle Eastern when it comes to dating. When I once said that I feel my pool is too small because I'm Muslim in America, Jazy — who, like Meesh, is a lawyer — put me in my place.

"Excuse me! Your pool has 1.5 billion people in it," she said. "My pool has, like, 12 million. I have a little Jacuzzi; you have a whole ocean."

Point taken, Jazy.

MONA SHADIA is a reporter for Times Community News. An Egyptian American, she was born and raised in Cairo and now lives in Orange County. Her column includes various questions and issues facing Muslims in America. Follow her on Twitter @MonaShadia.

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