Ramadan Kareem!

 

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Ramadan Kareem to you all (and good day to all of you non-Muslims).

It’s been a while since my last post, so I thought I really should give the blog a wee update. I’ve finally got all my exam results, so no can finally relax and breath again! Two A’s and two B’s. Not my best, but certainly nothing to be ashamed about. My parents are just glad that the money they’ve spent on my fees so far appears to be a good investment. That’s the main thing.

One of the reasons why I haven’t updated in a while is because I haven’t been working at the club since the beginning of exam season. Having a mostly nocturnal lifestyle really doesn’t fit well with pre-exam cramming and 9am exams. It seemed a bit off to be writing as a Muslim exotic dancer when I haven’t been working as a dancer lately. Not that I’m short of stories from my time spent dancing. Also, with Ramadan just around the corner my occupation would be even more of an issue than usual. At times it seems hypocritical enough to be calling myself a Muslim while working as I have, let alone trying to work in that type of environment during the holy month. I may or may not go back to dancing when my next semester starts in September. Also, I may or may not continue to wear hijab after Eid. I have been giving both of these a lot of thought lately and have mixed feelings about both.

I have a tempting plate full of food covered in clingfilm ready for suhoor next to me on my bedside table and have to keep reminding myself not to pinch any of it now or I’ll regret it when I’m hungry in the morning. It’s definitely better not to be lazy and to go to the kitchen when I need a post-iftar, pre-suhoor snack. Looking forward to finally being able to eat a bit of junk food here and there without it sneaking up on you as it always seems to when you’re fasting. I’m sure many of you are too. There’s only so much filling wholegrain bread and avocado I can stand within a month!

Peace be upon all of you and have a blessed Eid.

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Empowerment v.s. Oppression; Stripping and Hijab

I find it funny how both strippers and hijabis are seen as oppressed by many people. Particularly as I use both to increase my own personal freedom. Many Westerners see Muslim women as an oppressed group as they are “forced by their families cover up everything but their eyes” (not true in most cases) and equally many Muslims see Western women as oppressed as they “have to walk around naked for men to ogle at while the guys are all covered up” (also, nope).

 

I found an article a while back called “Burkas and Bikinis” which explores how both methods of covering women’s bodies and leaving them uncovered can be used for oppression and are essentially “two sides of the same coin”. The author states that both are forms of sexualisation and objectify the women in each scenario. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the link to show you, but I will hopefully find it again soon.  While there are several points in the article that I agree with, I feel that there are several other points to be made. Namely that neither covering nor uncovering has to oppress anyone.

It is true that both a bikini and hijab can be used to oppress women, but it is also true that both can be used for liberation. The main difference which leads to different results is how and why the women are wearing bikinis,  hijab or other types of veil. Are the women themselves choosing how they present themselves or do they simply feel that they have to? If they cover or uncover due to a feeling of obligation and not by choice, I would consider this oppression. This could be pressure from friends and family, bosses, society or even the laws of a particular country. If however, the women are happy choosing what they wear and how they present themselves, I would say that they are not being oppressed.  In fact, just the opposite!

Women who wear hijab do so for a variety of reasons and often not because they feel forced to. The same goes for those who wear the niqab (face veil). For many it’s a barrier between themselves and strange men. They can choose who gets to see how much of their body and hide or reveal however much they choose. Someone who wears a veil often does so because they want others to pay attention to them for their personality and intelligence and not because of their beauty or body. This is partially why I choose to wear hijab when I am not at work. No one can see that part of me when I choose for them not to.

Similarly, those who choose to wear revealing clothing often do so by choice and not because they feel they ought to or have to.  They feel proud of their bodies and comfortable in their own skin and so are not afraid to hide it. Women wear bikinis on the beach because they are comfortable to swim in and let’s be honest; don’t reveal much more skin than the average swimming trunks that men wear. In any case, many women who choose to show off skin are not even doing so to please men. Perhaps it’s just more comfortable to wear less on a hot day and enjoy the feeling of warm sunlight. Perhaps in their society, women’s bodies aren’t sexualised to the extent where they feel they have to cover it up, just in the same way men don’t feel they have to.  Many tribal people, both men and women, don’t see the chest area as being sexual and so little effort to keep it covered. To them, it is seen the same as leaving one’s face uncovered; it’s just another part of them.

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Are either of these Zulu people “oppressed” for baring their chests?

Women who strip also do it for a variety of reasons and often not because they feel that they have to. For some, the extra money gives them that bit more freedom. For others, it’s a chance to express and discover their own sexuality (like me) without doing anything that they don’t feel comfortable with. Of course, there are strippers out there who are oppressed people and this is often due to issues with the management rather than the job itself. This could be because the management frequently rips off the girls, because they pressure girls into doing things which they are uncomfortable with or improperly dealing with bad customers so that the girls don’t feel safe. I’m happy to say that this is not true in my case or any of the other girls working at my club.  The wages are fair, no one expects “extras” and those caught giving them are promptly booted out and likewise, bad customers who try to take advantage in any way are also quickly removed from the premises. We have a very safe, friendly environment where we are free to enjoy and express ourselves as we please.

I feel immensely lucky to have the opportunity to explore such opposites and make the most of them. I love the freedom that I gain from both in a way that so few others do.

Perhaps there is another question we should be asking ourselves. Why is it that both the West and Islamic worlds are so keen to discuss whether women are oppressed by how much or little they wear when no one gives a damn about how much men wear? No one I know of thinks of men as being oppressed when they wear neither swimming trunks nor when they cover themselves from head to toe.

So, which of these guys are oppressed? (a discussion you’re unlikely to find on the internet).

 

As far as I can see, it’s only a big deal when a woman is perceived as wearing too much or not enough. Frankly, who should bloody care anyway? As long as someone is wearing something they feel comfortable in, man or woman, it shouldn’t be anyone else’s business.

John Oliver explains why religion shouldn’t be used to discriminate

I realise that what John Oliver says in this 14 minute clip is entirely U.S. based, but it is bloody hilarious and all so true. The man could easily make a career in comedy.

 

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It really is impressive how much progress the USA has made in the last few years. Only back in 2013 there was no legal way to bring in your same sex spouse into the country and give them a green card, not even with a civil partnership. For such a “modern” country, that truly is a disgrace. Luckily this was fixed back in 2014, but still. Rather late in the game if you ask me. Even though same sex couples could not marry in the Scotland, Wales and England until about the same time, at least they were still allowed to bring in their civil partners from across the globe! Sadly, I do not see Somalia, Saudi Arabia or many other countries in that general area of the globe to follow suit. While I like that the people are keen to follow the Qur’an, religious law is not something that any government should enforce. That is something personal between someone and Allah (or whatever faith they belong to).

I painfully admit that it was not all that long ago (early high school years) that I was a bit of an a-hole when it came to accepting gays and lesbians for who they are. Back then it was something I was convinced was a choice and not a part of who someone is, but I have adjusted my attitude since. I might go more into this in a later post when I have more time to explain, in fact I probably will. Ironically, it was the fact that I’m not entirely straight myself, which was the reason why I used to believe it was simply a choice.

However, I would like to add that this was my attitude towards homosexuality and such, not the people who are gay/lesbians themselves. Much in the same way that I have nothing against prostitutes. Their behaviour is considered “sexually deviant” according to many religions and cultures, but they don’t harm anyone and it certainly does not make someone a bad person. Also, I really have no room to judge anyone for sexual deviancy now that I’m a stripper. That would be both preposterous and judgmental beyond belief.

Anyway, if you fancy a good laugh I highly recommend giving John’s clip a watch.

 

The host of Last Week Tonight tears into people who use their religious beliefs to refuse services to LGBTQ people.

Source: John Oliver explains why religion shouldn’t be used to discriminate

From Ballerina to Rocking the Pole

Something that provokes curiosity in both the other girls and customers alike is how does someone go from being a good Muslim girl to a stripper in the first place? While I can’t speak for the few other Muslim dancers I have heard about, I can attempt to explain my own story and a bit of Anushka’s since she was the one who lead me into it. Truth be told, it was a slow process. I’ll start with our first transition from classical dancer/non-dancer to a rather modern type.

When I was little, I used to do ballet. I was fairly good at it and moved up grades with relative speed. I often got a lead role in the end of term show and even won some competitions back in the day. This was put to an end when hit puberty at around twelve and I began to develop hips, a bum and a hint of bosom. Several of my aunts began hinting to my parents that perhaps I was a bit old to be doing this type of dancing as I had to wear such form fitting gear. My parents eventually agreed and forbid me to carry on dancing. I loved ballet and was deeply saddened by this.  I now know that it is in fact possible to pursue ballet while wearing more appropriate clothing. A quick Google on “Muslim dancer” or “Muslim ballerina” can show you.

 

 

Once I was in my first year at university, I had a quick look through all the different sports and activities offered at the Sports Union. Seeing that they did ballet classes, I immediately knew which I wanted to do. No one could stop me from dancing now!

I told Anushka, one of my flatmates, that I had decided to take up ballet again and how excited I was by it. Her eyes lit up and she suggested we do some type of dancing together. Since she had never done ballet before, we decided to choose something we were both beginners at so we could be in the same class.

The Sports Union at uni didn’t have a suitable ballet class for me since they were all aimed at beginners. Anushka and I then started to search for a local dance center where I could find a good ballet class and where we could find a class that the two of us liked. We found one and began to search through all the differnt kinds of lessons they offered. Salsa? Nah. Ballroom? Nope. Tap and jazz? Meh. Then Anushka caught sight of something that made her almost squeal. “Oh look Henna, they do pole dancing! How cool it that!” I eyed her suspiciously, nope sure if she was being sarcastic or was genuinely intrigued by the pole dancing classes. “Seriously, pole dancing? No offence, but I think you’s make a really funny pole dancer. In fact. so would I.”

This made her grin more. “Exactly! Let’s do it for a laugh! Look, it’s an all girls’ class, so no harm in doing it. And besides, I hear it’s really good exercise. Pole is probably much better at toning all your muscles than ballet.”

She had a point. Plus, it would be funny to see the look on people’s faces whenever we told them we did pole dancing. It was decided. Plus, it turns out you can also do pole dancing while modestly dressed. It’s just much harder to grip onto the pole.

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Pole dancing is great fun and really is fantastic for the body. I also know a few blokes who take pole dancing just to tone up and increase their overall strength. There is absolutely nothing wrong with your average Muslimah taking pole lessons. Most of the girls we took the classes with had never seen the inside of a strip club, let alone worked in one. It is essentially a form of vertical gymnastics that takes years of training to perfect. There were other factors that played a part in Anushka and I turning from vertical gymnasts to fully fledged strippers.

The Highs and Lows of Being Hijabi

There are many reasons why Muslim women and girls choose to wear or not wear a hijab. Each has their own very personal story behind it. Many feel that it gives them respect. That instead of focusing on their beauty or (lack of), people must appreciate them for their intelligence, wit and personality and find wearing the hijab to be liberating. Others do it because they wish to feel closer to Allah and that by wearing one they show their loyalness to him. Some wear it simply because they think it looks good. For me it was partly because I feel culturally connected to the piece, but for the most part because I wanted to show the world that I’m Muslim and not afraid to let everyone know.

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When you wear the hijab, it becomes a part of your identity. Much like being British, female or Muslim. When you pass another hijabi in the street, you acknowledge one another with that knowing smile and an “Assalamu alaikum”. Even if you have never seen this person before in all your life. It’s kind of like a part of a secret sisterhood. Only of course, it isn’t at all secret. Anyone can spot someone wearing hijab miles off. It’s also kind of similar to when you see another person who’s also wearing a t-shirt by your favourite YouTuber, in my case Markiplier, and you give them a high-fiving and complement them on their fantastic taste in TouTube channels (this actually happened once). On a slightly different level of course, but you catch my drift.

The hijab is also great on a superficial level. Don’t feel like styling your hair today? No problem; shove a scarf over it. Don’t feel like washing your hair just yet? Hide it under a brightly coloured scarf. Having one of those days when your hair resembles a troll doll and nothing you do can tame it? You know the answer. Have a hideous pulsing growth on the back of your neck? You should probably get that checked out by a doctor. But in the meantime, shove a scarf over that mofo! Not to mention, there is a near endless possibilities with different colours, patterns and styles. It’s so much easier that cutting and dying your hair all the time. Alternatively, if you DO feel like dying your hair and do a really shitty job like I did once (it was an awful orangey pink) and want no one to see the disaster area on your head, wearing the hijab is also a great way to conceal that.

Having said that, it isn’t always easy wearing one in public in Western countries. I rarely have any trouble here in Scotland. Most people seem to be fairly used to seeing hijabis in my adopted city and I’m treated as normally as I would if I had been wearing a hat. The same goes for London in general. The center is so diverse that you can wear almost any garment from anywhere in the world and still blend in. The part of London I grew up in has a more suburban feel to it with not all that many people who don’t look “native” so to speak. I was never harassed or made to feel unwelcome, but I did attract a lot of stares on a regular basis when I first started wearing my hijab. Then again, that may have been because people were used to seeing me without it.

The the places where I DO get hassled tend to be either in the small villagers where people tend to be naturally insular, the US, Korea and continental Europe.  For example, when I was in Orlando, Florida last year, I had several people come up to me and say along the lines of “Honey, you know you don’t have to wear that anymore? You’re in America!” Why yes! I did know exactly which country I was in. Good for me. I don’t feel badly towards the few who said that. They may have been grossly misinformed, but they were just trying to be helpful. Perhaps I should have let them know that they didn’t have to show their hair if they didn’t want to either. Others were less friendly and told me the usual “Go back to your own country, terrorist!” Unsettling, but again, not too bad.

One of the worst experiences I’ve had while wearing a headscarf in public was on a street in Spain. I was on holiday with several mates and wee were wandering around looking for somewhere to eat at(i.e. minding our own business). I was the only one of us wearing a scarf. We stood chatting for a moment trying to decide whether to pick a restaurant on close by or keep trying to find this particular place for tapas. I noticed a woman staring at me intently slightly further up the road. I figured she was just another starer, so ignored her. We eventually decided on a place and continued to walk up the road, the woman’s eyes still locked onto me. As we were about to pass she called out in Spanish “Why do you wear that? This is Spain, not a place for barbarians. Take that rag off your head!” We then started to move more quickly. She called out again “I said take it off!” and just as I was passing her she lunged forward and grabbed a hold of my hijab, yanking it hard. I yelped in pain a surprise and felt myself flying towards her. She then proceeded to tug at my scarf and hair, chocking me in the process. My friends all tried to bat her off and shouted threats towards her. She became maddened and started to scratch me and bite my ear. In the end I was able to throw her off, knocking the air out of her and we all made a run for it. Needless to say, my pals and I were all in a state of shock straight afterwards.

We found our way to the restaurant and tried to look as composed as possible when the waiter appeared and lead us to our seats. He clearly noticed something was up. He kept glancing at us nervously and asked if we were okay. Once we had all sat down and the dazed feeling started to fade and I felt a sharp pain in my right ear where the mad woman had bitten me. Before long, much to my embarrassment, I started to cry like a little girl. The waiter returned and asked what was wrong and so we (or rather my pals since I was still blubbering like a baby) told him what had just happened outside. He was absolutely wonderful. Not only did he have lots of comforting words and offer to fetch the police, but he organised for my meal to be on the house. I left him a massive tip.

I suppose what it boils down to is that there are both ugly and generous people wherever you go. Nevertheless, it is definitely a different experience when you wear a hijab and when you don’t. It’s a shame how wearing one can bring out the worst in some people. What I find strange is that the same piece of clothing provokes such different reactions depending on whether you wear a scarf over your hair or around your neck. Whether you do or whether you don’t wear it, it is a personal choice to make. Be sure it is for the reasons you feel rather than fear of those around you. The choice is yours and yours alone.

Stripping and Islam

 

 

 

One question I hear fairly regularly is “How can you be both Muslim and a stripper? Is that even possible?” In short, yes. You might not be a very good Muslim of course, but that is up for debate. For many, their idea of a Muslim girl is at most covered by a burqa, at least in a hijab. In other words, very covered! For the most part that is me also. When I’m not “Henna” in my local gentleman’s club, I dress and (for the most part) act like most other Muslim girls. I doubt anyone at uni apart from Anushka would even believe me if I came clean about my night job. Not that I have any such plans to do so.

I think we can all agree that the act of getting your bangers out in exchange for cash is indisputably haraam or forbidden where Islam is concerned. However, I highly doubt it would be enough to send someone to hell on its own. There are many, many different ways in which we can all sin. My guess would be that rape and murder would be somewhere at the top of that list and other acts that cause grievous harm to others. There is a reason why being a stripper is legal in many countries (not many Islamic ones I will admit) and being a rapist or a murderer is not. While exotic dancing is considered amoral by many for various reasons, it does not inflict harm on anyone. It is simply a guilty pleasure, on my part and for my customers. It is something that makes me feel alive in the most bizarre way.

Nowhere in the holy Quran (or Bible for that matter) does is explicitly state that stripping itself is bad. It does however state that women should cover their all but their face and hands, so in that context stripping is indeed bad considering most remove all but their shoes. As far as I can see, this is the only so called crime being committed when someone takes part in public nudity.  I’m sure that must be fairly low on the list of Things that may get one sent to hell. Premarital sex is clearly a no-no and yet many Muslims of the younger generation (especially boys) are guilty of that on numerous occasions. Assuming that there are no “extras” going on in the club, stripping does not actually include sexual acts of any kind.  Sex is certainly implied, that is the nature of the business, but the point is that there is no actual sexual activity going on. Or at least of course there shouldn’t be. I myself haven’t shagged anyone yet and so am in the clear on that one issue.  And yes, being a virgin and a stripper is a very odd combination. The other girls often ask what the hell I’m doing here. And no wonder.

Engaging in sexual acts for money, at a strip club or elsewhere, makes that person a prostitute. Not that I have any issue with prostitutes, so long as they do what they do willingly. It’s just not my cup of tea. You find people in that profession all over the world, including all over the Islamic world. While what they do in considered sinful, I certainly do not believe they should suffer for all eternity for it. After all, a fair exchange is no one’s loss.

There is one particular thing I find confusing.Despite being incredibly modestly dressed nuns are often widely sexualised in pop culture (for the record, I’m a fan of the sexy nun outfit).  Not only is their dress is much the same as modestly dressed Muslim women, but their reasons (i.e. religion) are more or less the same too. Now, I realise that nuns are made sexy simply because it was considered ironic. They are meant to be celibate after all. Yet Muslim women are for the most part are seen as being completely sexless beings, despite the fact that it is certainly easier to find sexy Muslim girls than you would nuns. I find it funny how such a similar dress code has such polar results.

 

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In any case, I do wish that there was less stigma associated with the stripping industry no matter what one’s religious beliefs. Ultimately, strippers (not so much the boys mind) and others in similar positions get a disproportionate amount of crap for what they do. There are some places where a woman who likes being nude in public (causes no harm) would cause far more outrage than someone who beats their partner (does cause harm) or mutates babies’ genitals for a living (causes a lot of harm) for no logical reasons whatsoever. Women have been fired from their respectable professional positions after being found out that they used to be exotic dancers, despite it having no effect on that position (see Diary of an Angry Stripper by Sarah Tressler). It’s not as if she had been partaking in illegal activities such as drug dealing her way through college.

Regardless of any morality issues, it’s certainly a job that will be staying off my C.V.

 

From Halaal to Haraam

 

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It’s weird, I never thought I would ever be associated with the word “stripper”. If you had come up to me, let’s say four months ago, and told me I was going to be an exotic dancer now I would probably have laughed in your face. Mind you, many of the other girls around here say the same thing. No one imagines themselves being a stripper growing up. Imagine the outrage if there were children’s toys available to show them it was a career option! Still, it’s definitely not a permanent career option for me. This is my way of having some wild times in uni before returning to the real world once I graduate. I study structural engineering so hopefully I’ll get paid to build stuff afterwards. My parents keep suggesting that I find work in Dubai (Somali parents all seem to be obsessed with Dubai. If you want to get something from them, just tell them it will help you move to Dubai), but I’m keen to help rebuild Mogadishu or Laascaanood in Somalia once I finish.

Anyway, you may be wondering how a good little Muslim girl found her way into this type of business. To be honest, my story is similar to many others. I’m sure you have all heard those stories about good Catholic girls and Mormon girls who grew up in a strictly religious environment and want to find their rebellious side? And those who were a bit nerdy in high school who are looking to prove that they have a dark side? I’m really just another cliché only no one ever seems to think that Muslim girls can be sexy too. We’re just like everyone else.

My friend Anushka was the one who talked me into it. She is Saudi, but spent her a fair chunk of her childhood in the UK as her dad spent years earning various degrees courtesy of the Saudi government. She had a hard time fitting back into life in Saudi Arabia when they eventually moved back. The lifestyle is entirely different as is the weather. I’m not surprised she decided to pursue her studies here to experience the life some more now that she’s older. And without parental supervision. I thought that by keeping close to other Muslim girls at uni, I would stay away from haraam things that typical Scottish students like to do (i.e. excessive drinking), but it seems to have lead me in the opposite direction. Well, the other girls I know are all fairly well behaved. It’s just Anushka who’s going to be the end of me. In fact I would hate to think what any of the others might say if they found out! That is partially why I thought I should start this blog. There are so few people I can tell about the things I’ve been up to recently without getting myself into trouble. It doesn’t particularly matter to me if no one reads it. The fact that I have somewhere to publicly vent helps ease my mind.

I am very keen to keep Anushka’s identity under wraps (Anushka is her stage name), so I’ll be very selective in what information about her I give. She goes back to Saudi Arabia once her studies are done and it would be unsafe for her to return if her current activities got out. Honour killings are no are occurrence there and while I doubt either of her parents would do such a thing, there is always the risk of extended family. Not to mention girls have been killed for much less than being a stripper. One woman was killed by her father for chatting to a guy on Facebook* for crying out loud! There is no doubt that being an exotic dancer has it’s own risks when you are a part of a highly religious family. However, I would like to make it clear that I do not believe that these so called “honour” killings have any part in Islam. It is a disturbing cultural issue much like FGM is in the Somali community. Girls have been murdered by their families for all sorts in all parts of the world to families of various religions.

Nevertheless, I would love to share with you as much as I possibly can. Anushka and I have our fair share of stories to tell and it has only been a few months since we first started. I hope you will enjoy reading some of them as I sure as hell won’t be able to share them with anyone else.

*Saudi Woman murdered for chatting on Facebook: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1583420/Saudi-woman-killed-for-chatting-on-Facebook.html