If i should speak, p.14

If I Should Speak, page 14


If I Should Speak

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  “Sing?” Aminah repeated, confused. “What makes you think women can’t sing?”

  “Dee said they can’t sing in public, or something like that.”

  “Oh.” Aminah smiled, nodding, realizing what Tamika was saying. “It’s just that in Islam, a women’s beauty is not to be shared with the world. Only other women, her close male relatives, and, most specifically, her husband can see and enjoy her beauty.”

  “But how is singing —”

  “And a woman’s voice is considered part of that beauty,” she answered before Tamika could ask.

  “So she can’t even talk in front of men!” Tamika asked in protest, thinking that to be extreme.

  “No, that’s not what I’m saying,” Aminah clarified. “She can talk in front of other men.”

  “Oh,” Tamika exhaled, relieved but still skeptical.

  “But she can’t purposely beautify her voice in front of strange men.”

  “But singing is not doing that,” she argued.

  “Singing is not only doing that,” Aminah disagreed, “that’s the entire definition of singing.”

  “But not for strange men.”

  She decided to tackle the issue differently. “What’s the purpose of singing?”

  “To just sing,” Tamika responded defensively.

  “To just sing?” Aminah repeated with a smirk, staring at her as if to say, Come on! But instead, she leveled, “Now, you know that’s not true.”

  “It is,” Tamika insisted.

  “So I can just get up there and sing and I’ll sell a million records.”

  “If you can sing,” Tamika chuckled.

  “What do you mean?”

  “If you sound good,” Tamika concurred.

  “Exactly,” Aminah nodded with a smile. “So it’s for the purpose of people listening to a beautiful voice, am I correct?”

  Tamika shrugged. “I guess you can say that.”

  “So then what’s the point of men listening to you?”

  “What’s the harm?”

  “What’s the good?” Aminah challenged.

  “I mean,” Tamika defended, “it’s not like the world is full of perverts.”

  “That’s not the point,” Aminah replied. “Similar to the fact that my covering is not to say the world is full of perverts. That’s irrelevant. The rule is to cut off the path to evil, not to assume anything about the people who are being cut off. Just like in Islam,” she gave an analogy, “a man and a woman who are not related are not allowed to be in a room alone together.”

  Tamika’s mother had once told her to never do that, telling her it led to “no good.”

  “This rule doesn’t only apply to people who aren’t friends or men whom you don’t trust. It’s a protective action, not an assumption or accusation against a particular man. The prohibition simply closes the doors to fornication or adultery even possibly occurring. The same goes for the rule on singing.”

  “But how is that the same as being alone in a room with a man?”

  “It’s not the same, and I’m not saying it is,” Aminah told her. “But I used that example to show how God doesn’t just tell us not to do a sin, He tells us to not even go near it.”

  “But if I’m singing in a studio a million miles away from a man, how is that tempting?”

  “But is your voice staying in the studio, or is it being recorded to go into the homes in which men live, making that same singing present in their very home?”

  Tamika did not respond.

  “And anyway,” Aminah added, “nowadays, singing is not just about a singer’s voice, especially when the singer is a woman. She’s all over T.V., in magazines, plastered on posters, and throughout newspapers. She also does enticing videos, which clearly awaken men’s desires—on purpose,” she added for emphasis. “She’s always half naked, no,” she corrected with a chuckle, “she’s always ninety percent naked. And, in reality,” Aminah pointed out more seriously, “popular singers, especially the women, are more prostitutes than they are entertainers.

  “And you can say what you want,” Aminah continued before Tamika could respond, “but that’s what it means to ‘make it,’” she said, gesturing her fingers to underscore “make it.” She forced laughter. “I don’t even know how people convince themselves it’s innocent when you can just go ask the average teenage boy, or even adult man, why he likes a particular singer.” She laughed again. “And if he’s honest,” she argued, “it does not boil down to a good voice.” She hesitated but decided it relevant to add, “It’s a good something else he likes.”

  Tamika chuckled, unable to control it. But she did not know what to say.

  “And that proves what the whole purpose of women singing in public is in the first place,” Aminah argued convincingly. “And I think the concerts and lives of women singers speak for themselves.”

  There was a long pause.

  “In any case,” Aminah concluded with a sigh, “the prohibition is not against singing per se, but a woman singing in front of strange men. If a woman really just wants to sing because she enjoys singing, and her intentions are in fact pure, then what’s the harm in singing only for women?”

  What was the harm? Tamika did not know. Was there any? “It’s just inconvenient,” she blurted, the argument having come to her suddenly. “I mean, are we supposed to ask all the men to leave because I’m singing?” She chuckled at the ridiculousness of it. “Goodness!”

  Aminah was silent, unmoved. She was not smiling, finding no humor in Tamika’s words, but she waited for her to finish. “In Islam,” she stated finally, her voice commanding respect, “we submit to God. And He’s the One who outlined the laws of singing. And singing is not prohibited, just restricted, in that no musical instruments are used and that the men and women are not mixed. Now,” she leveled with Tamika, “you can call it extreme if you want to. And, besides the fact that God knows what He’s talking about and we should just submit,” she began, “both you and I know what goes on at parties where there’s music and singing and men and women are together.” She paused then added, “I’ve seen it.”

  Tamika did not reply. She had seen it too, having gone to many parties with Makisha on weekends.

  “And in any case, the believer does not view her time on this earth as time to fulfill her desires and be diverted by petty things like music and singing. She’s too concerned about her soul, because she knows life is too short.” Aminah added, “And she loves her Lord more than this world.”

  Tamika avoided Aminah’s gaze, the memory of what she had read earlier revisiting her, that no one ever knew when she would die. And from that perspective, nothing mattered at all. Nothing. Except going to Heaven.

  “The Muslim,” Aminah explained, emphasizing the word, redirecting the conversation to reiterate her point, “submits to God. Once it is clear that God said it, they submit, no questions asked. This is the way of the believer, even if it does not make sense to him.”

  Yes, Tamika had believed that, even when devoted to Christianity. Hadn’t she accepted the Trinity on that premise? “But what’s wrong with questioning?” she wanted to know.

  “Nothing,” Aminah replied, “if it’s to seek understanding or to ascertain the truth. But if it’s directed at the truth itself,” she paused to allow the enormity of the statement to resonate with Tamika, “that’s where problems arise.”

  Tamika did not respond.

  “Anyway, what would you think of a person who came here to Streamsdale and sat in your Calculus class and asked every day really loud, ‘Why is this chair here!’ or ‘Why did they paint the walls this color!’ and they kept asking these questions until they never even heard a lesson of the class and thus failed? What would you think of her?”

  Tamika chuckled. “That’s crazy.”

  “Why?” Aminah inquired, leading Tamika to her own answer.

  “Because,” Tamika replied as if that were a sufficient response.

  “Because what?”
br />   “Because,” she laughed, “that’s stupid. They should just do the work and not worry about that.”

  Aminah smiled, “And that’s exactly what we should do.”

  Tamika wrinkled her forehead, then realized a moment later what Aminah was saying. “But —”

  “But what?” Aminah challenged calmly.

  Tamika groaned, frustrated. “But still,” she insisted, searching for a counterattack. Then she thought of one. Before considering how it sounded, she argued, “I can’t accept any religion where the men can oppress the women.”

  Aminah stared at her incredulously, squinting her eyes, blinking. “Excuse me?”

  “Don’t the Muslim men oppress their women?” Tamika now asked it carefully, as if she wanted to know, having realized how the original statement must have sounded to Aminah.

  “Before I answer that, let me ask you something.”

  Tamika shrugged in agreement, self-conscious all of a sudden, ashamed for having offended Aminah. “Okay.”

  “Do men oppress women?” Aminah inquired.

  “Some do,” Tamika admitted nonchalantly, shrugging.

  “Do Christian men oppress women?”

  “Some,” she replied impatiently.

  “Do Jewish men oppress women?”

  She sighed. “Some.”

  “Do atheist men oppress women?”

  “I’m sure some do.”

  “Now,” Aminah said calmly, intently, “to answer your question.” She repeated, “Do Muslim men oppress women?” She nodded. “Yes, some do. Just like other men. But,” she said, emphasizing, “if your question is, does Islam tell them to? Then the answer is no. And quite the contrary.”

  Tamika nodded, understanding, embarrassed because she had not thought of the obvious herself, suddenly feeling like a bigot, her ignorance too apparent to hide. “But uh,” she fumbled for a response, “I know a lot of Muslims who say it’s their religion,” she exaggerated, having only heard others saying they knew of Muslims who said so.

  “To oppress women?” Aminah speculated, finding it difficult to believe any sane Muslim would assert such a thing.

  “I mean,” Tamika shrugged and admitted, “not oppression, but that the woman has to listen to the man.”

  “If you’re asking about the man being the head of the household in Islam, then yes, this is true.” Aminah paused then added for effect, “Just like in Judaism and Christianity.”

  Tamika shook her head, intending to clarify but unsure of what she was going to say. “No, I mean, like there are some Muslim women who are treated badly and say it’s their religion.”

  “Okay,” Aminah began, “let’s say this is true. In fact,” she added, hypothesizing, “let’s say for the sake of argument that every Muslim woman is mistreated by a Muslim man, which of course is not the case, but anyway, let’s just say that.”

  Tamika listened.

  “So what does that have to do with truth versus falsehood?” Aminah inquired, becoming silent as she waited for a response. But Tamika said nothing. “So am I going to go to Hell eternally,” she challenged, “because some people, and Muslims are people,” she reminded, “are doing wrong? Are you going to fail your class, on purpose, because you walk in and all the other students are playing around, and you know you need the class to graduate?” She waited. “Would you?”

  “I see what you’re saying,” Tamika admitted in defeat, not wanting to respond directly to the inquiry.

  “And the same goes for religion, at least for me,” Aminah clarified. “And I know Muslims aren’t perfect, but even your religion teaches you that humans aren’t perfect.”

  Yes, Tamika could not deny that.

  “But I’m not going to turn my back on truth,” Aminah stated truthfully.

  Tamika could sense the conviction in Aminah’s words, and she was slightly envious of Aminah for her strong faith.

  “Not for any person,” Aminah stressed. “I don’t care what they do or say. If I know something is essential for my soul, you betta believe I’m gonna do it,” she promised. “Even if I’m the only one.”

  Tamika was speechless.

  “And I personally have no problem having a man as the leader of my household,” Aminah stated. “I don’t worry about being ‘inferior,’ because I’m not here for my husband. I’m here for God, and if God is pleased with me, who cares?” She continued, “I look at my role as a wife as I do with any role I fulfill, whether a student or employee or what have you. When I register for school, I accept that my teacher decides what assignments I’ll have, but does that make me inferior to her?”

  No response.

  “Because I do some things for my boss at work, does that make me inferior to him?”

  No response.

  “So when I obey my husband, as every wife should, does that make me inferior?”

  No response.

  “Anyway,” Aminah continued, “it’s not like a woman has no say. A Muslim is instructed in the Qu’ran to conduct affairs by mutual consultation. Mutual consultation,” she repeated, wanting to be certain that Tamika had heard. “And that includes a husband discussing key family decisions with his wife. It’d be chaos if there was no predefined leader, one who would have the final say,” she argued. “And God appointed man as that person. And who am I to question God?”

  Tamika said nothing.

  Aminah shook her head, disappointed. “It’s crazy how people get so diverted by insignificant details, but they accept those same things in other parts of their life, like at work or even as a citizen.” She paused then asked, “Do you view yourself as inferior to the governor or the president?”

  Tamika shook her head. “No.”

  “And don’t you have a say?”

  She nodded, considering it. “Yeah.”

  “And so does a wife. And if a man takes advantage of his role, that doesn’t speak against the religion, that speaks against him. Just like if a woman takes advantage of her husband,” Aminah explained. “As some do,” she reminded. “And a man who mistreats his wife, like a wife who mistreats her husband, will have to answer to God for it, and he may just get punished in Hell for it while the wife goes straight to Heaven.” Aminah paused. “And who’s inferior then?”

  There was a brief pause.

  “I don’t spend my life questioning God,” Aminah shared a minute later, as if giving advice. “Because as God tells us in the Qur’an, God will not be questioned about what He does, but you will be questioned about what you do.”

  Tamika did not want to say anything else, but she could not help but wonder, which was why she asked, “But you don’t feel subjugated in a religion where the man is the leader of everything?”

  Aminah was silent, a small smile developing on her face. A few moments later, she spoke. “I always wondered how Christians could ask that,” she remarked thoughtfully. “I mean, here I am, a Muslim, who worships God and accepts that He placed man as the leader, at least in human affairs like government and family. But then I’m questioned about this role by a Christian, who views it as subjugation, inferiority, and whatever other demeaning term society wishes to label it.” She shook her head in disbelief. “But for the Christian, the man is not only the leader,” she stated, “but God himself.”

  Defeated, Tamika could not muster a response. She had never heard such an analogy. But it was true. How was it that Christians criticized Muslims for their position on the man being the leader, when they worshipped a man? Certainly, if any of the two cases pointed to the inferiority of women, it had to be the case in which the man was God. The man as the head of the household was understandable, but God?

  “But to answer your question,” Aminah remarked, interrupting Tamika’s thoughts, “no, I don’t have any problem with it.”

  Exhausted, Tamika did not care anymore. She had now come to terms with the fact the Christian religion was not true. Islam now nagged at her conscience, calling her to submit. Deep inside, Tamika wanted to argue, to fight the
inevitable, wanting to find any excuse not to do what she knew she should.

  In reality, none of the Islamic mandates were truly extreme, or even unjust, in Tamika’s view. Not the women’s dress and not even the women’s role in marriage and society. Inside, it all made sense to Tamika, and much of it she had known all her life, at least internally. She had always sensed the righteousness of a religious woman covering her body. She had always sensed the natural inclination to accept the man as leader, and she herself would hate to have a husband who was not the leader, maintainer, and protector of the family.

  But submitting was another issue altogether. She was not ready—or perhaps just unwilling—to give in just yet. Yes, she was aware that life was about sacrifice, sacrifice for God. She knew that God’s mercy could not be earned by merely doing what she wanted, expecting eternal bliss after she died. Although she had been taught that at church, she knew better, and she simply could no longer accept it. Guilt haunted her whenever she sinned, but she would convince herself that all she had to do was accept Jesus and it was “all good.” But her conscience would tug at her, because it did not seem right to live that way. So she had left it all alone, the boyfriends and the drinking. She now lived an alcohol-free, celibate life. Tamika had recently become a “born again Christian” who was “saved.” Or so she thought.

  But now, even that was not enough. Her entire foundation had been wrong. She thought she had the ticket to Heaven, erroneously thinking the Muslims were on the wrong path. But it was she who was on the wrong path, astray, headed for nothing but misery—unrelenting misery—in the next world.

  But now she knew.

  But why her! She did not want to know the truth, not then, maybe when she was seventy years old, but not as a college student! Her life was just beginning. Couldn’t she have all her fun first? Couldn’t she just be a singer? That was all she ever wanted to do! Was that too much to ask!

  “Ain’t nothin’ worth turnin’ your back on the Lord,” her mother would often tell her, her voice now echoing in Tamika’s mind. “You got somethin’ you ain’t doin’ right, you betta give it up, child, ‘ain’t worth it.”

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