My Moroccan Interfaith “Aha” Moment

By: Autumn Elizabeth, Editor in Chief 

Morocco, Hijab, Interfaith

At the beginning of this month I really knew nothing about modesty. As I wrote in my post about preparing for my trip to Morocco, I wasn’t all that sure about modesty and religion, or modesty’s relationship to hijabs and other coverings. I also had absolutely no idea how modesty might relate to my own spiritual journey.

However, since wearing a head covering in Morocco, since reading our own Nermine Mohamed’s post about hijabs, and since encountering The Hijab Project by the amazing Amara Majeed, I feel like I have a much better understanding of modesty.

My experiences in Tangier, Morocco were enlightening and important. I saw women and men  with their own version of modest clothing. Some women covered their heads, others didn’t. Some men, mainly students of the Koranic schools, covered their heads too. Some people wore traditional djellabas, others wore modern interpretations, still others wore jeans and t-shirts.

Although Morocco is a Muslim nation, there was a Spanish Catholic Mission in Tangier as well. When I saw several nuns walking in the Petit Soco in the center of Tangier, for the first time, I saw their habits as a form of hijab. Now this may seem like an obvious connection, but despite my years of interfaith work, I had seen head coverings as something primarily associated with the Muslim and Jewish faiths. This was for me a mix between an “aha” moment, and a startling realization of my own ignorance.

Although I had no judgement on head coverings prior to this moment, afterword I felt a deep spiritual connection with my head coverings. I felt suddenly perfectly at home with my head covered as a Christian in a Muslim country. I also saw the deep and abiding connection between what are referred to as the “Abrahamic religions” meaning Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Baha’i. These religions share a common bond, and to some extent a common practice of head covering.

For me this is why travel, and the sharing of spiritual journeys from around the world, is so important. No matter how different our spiritual journeys look from the outside, when we see people not religion, when we share experiences and not ideologies, we can find striking similarities, and fonts of wisdom we would have missed otherwise.

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What is Modesty for an U.S. American Living in Morocco?

We decided to have each member of our staff reflect on the question: What is Modesty?  Our Writing Intern, offered her perspective as Muslim woman, our Editor in Chief tried to define modesty, and our Author in Chief explored modesty in a multicultural world. For our last piece in this series, our Social Media Intern, Will O’Brien, shares his thoughts on modesty beyond its depiction in western media.

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When I think of modesty, my mind jumps to an image of a dad lecturing his daughter for her “revealing” outfit choice in one T.V. sitcom or another. I fear that this is often the western image of modesty– something a man is imposing on a women. I am afraid we seen modesty only as a symbol of the hetero-patriarchy, an accomplishment of white men, and a feather in the hat of the traditional powers that be.

Having conjured this image myself I cannot claim to be immune of the societal structures that placed it there; however, in taking this image a step further I hope to change this concept. What if modesty, as it is taught in most religious traditions, as an act of self-expression, not an imposition?

I think that modesty is not purely a performative representation of one’s self based on how they dress, or how society tells them to dress. Saba Mahmood, in her book Politics of Piety, advocates for modesty to be an element of individual agency. It is not something that can be imposed on someone, and thus modesty is something totally different than what is portrayed in much of western media. True modesty is a decision that one makes for oneself about oneself.

Preparing For Modesty

By: Autumn Elizabeth, Editor in Chief  

modesty prepreareI’ll admit, I am not the most modest person in the world. In some senses I have worked hard on doing things that most people consider immodest, such as embracing my sexuality, loving my body, and having excesses of fun. So as I prepared for a trip to Morocco, it wasn’t that surprising that my closet contained virtually nothing that met the cultural standards of modesty there.

Despite all my travels, I’ve never been to a predominantly Islamic country before, so I wanted to make sure I was prepared. I researched what parts of the body I shouldn’t expose, and read copious articles on the mix of European and Moroccan values and fashion happening in places like Casablanca.

I found lots of diverging opinions on dressing modestly. Some people said ti was a political statement to wear whatever they wanted as women, others felt most comfortable adopting the fully traditional Moroccan dress. My favorite piece of advice, coming from a European woman who spent several months living in Morocco, was that she tried to embrace the cultural modesty while still being herself.

Of course, this isn’t simply a cultural question, but also a religious one as well, and I think it is important to respect both religious and cultural values as a traveler. So this brings me back to my closet, and its complete lack of what one might call “Moroccan Modest” clothing. Although I could go for the political statement, as I write this my partner is packing several sari’s I have acquired from around the world to help me cover what my clothing won’t. Hopefully this international hodgepodge of fabrics, and a Ramones t-shirt or two, will sufficiently allow me to feel like myself while embracing a new level of modesty. Hopefully, I will be able to respect the culture and faith of Morocco, while honoring my own. Hopefully, I will be prepared for modesty and presented with new ways of viewing this complex concept.

Silence and Writer’s Block

By: Will O’Brien, Social Media Intern 2015

IMG_0545I seem to have a story, quip, or adage for every possible moment. I often write these down, telling myself that some day when I’m sitting in my little apartment over a pub on the Dingle peninsula working on my next novel these scraps of stories and characters will come in handy. However, as I have sat staring at this blank word document attempting to reflect on silence for the past four weeks not one of these scraps has come in handy.

I haven’t been experiencing the external silence I was yearning to write about. I faced an internal silence – writer’s block. This rut I was stuck in while being stared down by a blank word document is not vastly different from the rut I often feel when isolated from my religious community.

When I first arrived in Morocco, I was told an adage about travel that didn’t make the list, but should have. ‘When you are in a place for a week you can write a novel, for a month you can write an article, and when you are there for a year you have nothing to write.’ As you become accustom to a practice and a culture it becomes the norm. The same phenomenon occurs in the course of ones religious practice.

What happens when one develops spiritual writer’s block? Many practitioners or organized religion have been practicing in the same tradition for years if not decades. They participate in the same communities with similar people worshipping and creating community in the same way. Does the practitioner still have something relevant to say? How do they go about finding a fresh perspective?

Now, this is not an evangelical how to blog post – 10 Easy Ways to Rekindle Your Passion in the Chapel – but perhaps looking at a few authors’ suggestions might serve as a nice road map. When I struggle with my own bouts of writer’s block I often turn to the all-knowing Internet to find how the best deal with a similar problem. Without fail the top advice is always to set a routine for yourself.

While this sounds like reinforcing the problem perhaps the ‘yourself’ is more important than the ‘routine.’ We often rely on the timing of exterior factors to determine when we take time for religion. Whether that is the placement of the sun or a priest changing the time of mass this routine is not uniquely yours.

When I stepped back and took the time to worship and reflect on my own, my perspective was refreshed. I developed a relationship and point of view that I could not have built on someone else’s schedule. It takes a personal routine to break down a personal block.