Hijab, women’s rights, Islam, and East vs. West are subjects that never fail to stimulate a good, often repetitive, conversation.
Learning Arabic is another such topic. I am tempted to repeat my laments about my failure to achieve fluency, and the difficulty of the language, and my lack of helpful cooperation from my kids, etc. All of that is mundane.
I’d rather tell a story about how I studied tajweed.
After I had studied Arabic grammar two years at the ladies community college, conveniently located down the block from my Riyadh apartment (across from the TV tower, for anyone who wishes to investigate), my husband suggested I start tajweed.
I confess, I would have rather continued grammar, but the college offered no further courses. I enrolled for tajweed at a local madrassa, also within walking distance from home.
In spite that my black wraps looked like everyone else’s black wraps, I stood out like a horse in a herd of camels.The ladies all looked at me like camels look at people– directly, standing still, amazed, and wondering what comes next. I was their first face-to-face Westerner.
They put me in the elementary class, with the illiterate women; no one believed I could read. We all sat on the floor, in a circle, and the teacher started taking attendance.
“OmAhmed? OmMariam? OmFaisal? OmNur?” One by one, the women raised their hands, and grunted something to indicate their presence.
“OmHammama?” (Mother of the pigeon.) They all laughed at this.
When she came to me, she raised her eyes, looked at me, and said, “OmAysh?” meaning, “The mother of whom?”
I said, “Ismi Marahm.” My name is Marahm.
“La. Ismi Marahm, wa bas.” No, my name is Marahm, that’s all.
“OMAYSH?” she repeated loudly, with wide eyes, as everyone in the room focused upon me, and no one moved.
“OmRanya,” I said meekly. So much for my Western idea of personal identity. I nearly got up and ran out, but that would have drawn even more attention.
Such began another two years of study, during which I suffered additional insults, but developed an appreciation of the Qur’an worth every minute. More later.