The class met every weekday after Asr prayer til Maghreb. Basically, it was a memorization class. The teacher would recite a phrase, and we’d repeat it in unison. When her sensitive ear perceived improper pronunciation, the offender was singled out and corrected. No one took offense. In fact, we were amused at each other’s regional accents. We were a collection of Arabs (all except me) from the surrounding Arab countries. We all had issues with certain Arabic letters, because the Qur’an is recited in perfect language, yet they were all accustomed to speaking in dialect.
Their challenge was to purge their pronunciation of regional variations, and my challenge was to master the letters that Westerners cannot pronounce with ease.
I enjoyed the reciting, and I improved my pronunciation, but I could not get comfortable in that class. There I sat, a Westerner who could read their native language while they could not, and I disliked having to ignore that fact. Perhaps they could not get comfortable with me, either. I could read, but I could not speak very well. No one understood that.
Before long, I asked to be moved into a more advanced class. I had to prove my reading ability, which was not difficult, and when the director heard my accent, she agreed immediately that I could graduate to the next level.
The women in the new class looked much like those in the first class; middle aged or older, mostly from Egypt, Syria, or Saudi Arabia, and all sitting in a circle, draped in black, heads covered. I wanted to remove my scarf, but was told that one must cover while reading the Qur’an. I knew this was not true, but who was I to speak up?
So I sat hot, yet happy to be there, and looking forward to learning. While waiting for the instructor, a Syrian woman sitting to the left of me leaned over and asked, “Min fayn inti?” Where are you from?
I said, “Amreeka,” and she turned to the woman on her left and whispered, “Amreeka”. That woman turned to the woman on her left and repeated, “Amreeka.” Each one repeated, “Amreeka” in a whisper to the one next to her, until the entire circle had been informed. Eyebrows either raised or descended, while mouths frowned or opened in amazement.
The next question from the Syrian woman was the predictable, “Min fayn zowjik?” Where is your husband from?
“Misr,” I said– Egypt. Again, my response was repeated in whispers from one woman to the next, while I looked at each one of them as they talked about me without embarrassment and little restraint.
The self-appointed spokeswoman asked me all the vital statistics– what did my husband do? How many kids did I have? Boys or girls? How long had I been Muslim? How long had I been in the Kingdom? Each answer got whispered around the circle like the answers before them, and by the time the teacher entered the classroom, they knew more about me than I’d ever learn about them.
Such began my experience in the classroom with the literate ladies.
You really narrate this in a most interesting way.
“No restraint”, this is the keyword when it comes to people meeting you for the first time and wanting to know “everything” about your life.
I have a friend who’s married for 12 years and has no children. When she goes to a gathering of women, the first question is from which family you are? then are you married? followed by how many children do you have? When she says none, then follows an interrogation of the causes? is it her? her husband? why aren’t they seeking treatment? what treatment have they done? etc.. Imagine this coming from a complete stranger and from the first encounter..
You are shedding light on cultural aspects of behavior which are very interesting to read about.
Waiting for Part 3.
Oh, ~W~, I feel badly for your friend! You are correct, though, in pointing out that Arabs do not restrain themselves from digging into every personal detail of someone they’ve just met. They are flattering, in a way. They have the same free curiosity that kids have before we teach kids good manners.
My I ask how you were treated by your fellow classmates after class?
Yes, Rhysz, you may ask. After they got used to me, I was accepted. I had to prove my sincerity in learning the Qur’an, and I did so by making progress and sticking with it every day. I was treated well enough, but kept at arm’s length. I never made a friend at either of the two madrassas in which I studied.
Part of the problem was the language barrier. I could not speak Arabic well enough to chat, and they could not speak much English.
I had one horrible incident in which I was kicked out of the school, but I’ll write about that at length in Part Four or Five.
It seems that most converts and westerners have experienced this!
Go to http://americanmuslimawriter.blogspot.com and read her post “Life Story in 15 Minutes Please” (it’s a few posts down). It’s so funny and so true.
When they start that with me, I turn it around and start asking them personal questions. It appears that they do not wish to reveal their personal business. Works every time 🙂
Its ironic really this blatant curiosity among Arab/Muslims because of the firmly held belief that privacy is very important….but this privacy doesnt extend to personal details about us. They want to know everything about you 5 minutes after they meet you. Living in the middle east for over 20 years has taught me one thing…dont fight it…your gonna lose…lol.
Nice blog…and your experiences mirror many of mine that Ive had over the years…brings back some old memories.
Thanks, Saffiyah, for the link to AMW’s post. I hadn’t seen it before, and the interesting thing is that it is so similar to mine, and made on the same day. Perhaps I had telepathy with AMW, Allahuallum.
Thanks for your comment, Coolred38. Twenty years in the ME! You must be a pro by now, mashaAllah.
Another great post, Marahm. Now I can hardly wait to hear about the time you were kicked out of the school!
Loved the post but yeah… on tenterhooks waiting to hear about how you got kicked out… 😕
I am really enjoying your narrative!
And I like your new look very much!
And you’ve been tagged for the ”Let’s hope” tag!
I wondered too about this interrogation, as I always thought people were very private in arab countries!
Oh, yeah, can’t wait for the ”kicked out”-instalment!
You do know how to create a cliffhanger!!!!
Well, the episode of being kicked out was going to be Part Four, but by popular demand I’ll have to move it up to Part Three.
Problem is, I’m having surgery on my hand tomorrow, and I don’t know when I’ll be able to write. It’s day surgery, so I expect to have a few days down time, hopefully not more!
Heh thanks for bloggin thsi same time as me we do have ESP or something!
I want to invite you to my new blog plz come and send me your e-mail Marahm so i can add you to the reader list.
You have a good deep insight to life that i love. This post is great! Yes great cliffhanger too! Subhan’ALlah i hope your surgery goews well!!!! Take your time! We will wait on the edge of our seats ok 🙂 That’s great that you could move up in class I can just feel the relief but it’s sad they wouldn’t bond with you…sigh some thigns are like that but you still get major reward for struggling.
I was learning tajweed too but i stoped that class because the teacher kept being interupted by the other student reading along with me and saying a word before i could get it out. My reading skills are so-so. I was frustrated. insha’Allah another time!
Hi Marahm –
I just read that you are having surgery on your hand and I wanted to let you know I am thinking of you and hope that all goes well. Hope you are back to normal in no time flat!
Thank you, AMW and Susie. Alhumdullilah, I am recovering nicely, and able to type sooner than I expected.
AMW, I know how frustrating it can be to learn Arabic and Tajweed, but the key is not to become freaked out because you are the only Westerner. If you never become friends with any of them, so what? If you learn Tajweed, then you have an additional skill and a form of worship you can practice for yourself and help teach your kids.