Friday, July 11, 2008

Portrait #33: Fun and Fanatic

Today I'm going to portray someone I actually know, because she once again inspired me last night. I was invited to her nephew's wedding, and got to see her and all her sisters together in one place. Her nephew was not there, of course! This is the type of family where the men have their parties and the women have their parties, and nair shall the two meet. Well, until the groom shows up at the end to whisk off his new bride.

Anyway, Um Mohammad (I forget her son's name, but half the women I know are named Um Mohammad so it can work for her as well - "um" means 'mother of' and Mohammad is a popular name) is an extremely devout woman. She prays regularly, attends Qur'an lessons and readings, avoids vices such as television, and does not let any unrelated man see anything but the bare minimum of her face. When she leaves the house, she wears all black and a headscarf pulled around her face to cover everything but her eyes and part of her nose. When she's at home, she still usually keeps her head mostly covered. She would never let me take a photo of her for anything but my own personal edification, and even then I think it's more because she is kind to me than because she's cool with me taking her photo.

But Um Mohammad is one of the funniest and most fun-loving women I know. And she has class. When I lived with her neice, she would come over to kidnap the young beautiful lonely girl for an evening on the town. She'd grab her daughters, her sister, her neice and anyone else should could find, load them all up into her son-in-law's van (a cheese refrigerator that he drives for work), and have him drive them all to a restaurant with a view and shishas and good food. They'd get home sometime in the early hours of the morning, or perhaps they'd all crash together at Um Mohammad's house, dispersing each to her home after breakfast.

Last night, she was wearing the classiest dress at the wedding: a retro black-on-white whispy flowing thing. Her hair was piled up on her head in a simple but attractive way, and her jewelry and makeup were showy but certainly not overdone. Her daughters wore some of the most stunning dresses in the room and the three of them must have spent all day in the salon to obtain the looks they portrayed yesterday.

My favourite moment was when Um Mohammad and two of her sisters grabbed (fake) traditional Arab swords and took over the dance floor, waving those gilded weapons around the air and pretending to fight, showing off their belly-dance moves. They are not young nor are they slim, but they can dance and they can have fun. Then they went around the room grabbing random neices and cousins to join them in an assortment of wild and cheerful dances, then to pose for the cameras.

Those photos will never make it onto anyone's wall, nor will they be passed around to show to the extended family. Well, maybe they'll be shown to the women. But this fun was strictly women-only, for that is the honourable thing to do. And for Um Muhammad, it is the way she lives out her religion. Islam teaches her to have strict values and to be unbending in her commitment to live a moral life, without sinful distractions. But her Islam also teaches her to be educated, to have high standards of fashion and education, and to know how to have a good time.

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