Staring at the black eyes of the woman in the mirror, she realized she does not know her. The eyes are familiar but there is no spark of life in them. Nothing. As if they belonged to a dead body, a dead body buried under a fathomless darkness. But in that darkness, deep down within those eyes, there was something familiar, like a faint memory from long ago. She kept staring at the eyes of the woman in the mirror, as if they would unveil the mysterious truth buried in the darkness.
Soon enough, in the vortex of the eyes, a little girl revealed herself to her. Wearing a dress as yellow as the sun, she was radiant! The sound of her laughter echoed through the alley, and joy filled the air with each jump over the rope. “What a cute girl,” she thought. In that joyful moment, the shadow of a man suddenly covered the girl and the laughter stopped. The little girl turned around and looked at the man, and with a shaking voice she said, “Hello father, will you come play?” The man was silent; he grabbed her by the hand and pulled her toward the house. Clouds filled the sky, and a storm drowned out the sound of the cries and arguments.
Hours passed. The sun had disappeared and the darkness was here to stay. Shadows enveloped the little girl and voices started echoing in her head.
“You are becoming a woman, so act like one! Stop playing around with the boys. Stop running around and climbing trees, you’re not a boy! You are a woman!”
Doors started to close.
“Stop laughing loudly! Men can hear you! Do you want people to say that you are an attention seeker? Be quiet and act like a lady!”
Her voice was silenced.
“Happy ninth birthday sweetheart! Now that you are a big girl, you should be more cautious about what you wear, darling. As Allah commands, it is not proper for a woman to show her body or hair to non-mahrams.¹ You don’t want to make Allah disappointed and angry, do you?”
Her heart was inscribed with the fear of burning in hell.
“If you had a rare diamond, would you put it on the table for everyone to see? Of course not! It’s a valuable piece of jewelry so you would hide it in a safe. Women are like diamonds: in order to keep themselves safe, they should hide their beauty and practice modesty! My dear sisters, it’s not just about the hijab, even your voice and scent may corrupt men, so consider them awrah² too. Be modest!”
Objectified and sexualized: her worth was measured on the basis of her attire.
“Men are visual creatures. They see your naked ankle and basically from that they can visualize your naked body! And that’s how they stumble in sin! You don’t want that, do you?”
She became the source of sins.
“Why is your hair naked? Do you want to ruin everyone’s night by making your father angry? Wear this headscarf or stay in your room for the rest of the night!”
The choice had gone long ago.
“My brothers, you buy covers for your cars and phones to protect them, but you let your wives, daughters, and sisters go out unveiled! Do you not have any honor?”
Virtue and honor: the smell of blood filled the air.
“You sent him an unveiled photo of yourself?! Are you crazy?! Don’t you remember what happened to Fatemeh? She was seen holding a man’s hand and then… poof… she was vanished! And we all know that she is sleeping in the well behind their house so stop acting so recklessly! Your father will kill you if he finds out!”
In a world where “blood cleanses honor,” surviving was the goal.
“I don’t know why she’s making a fuss about it! Did you see what she was wearing the other day? I don’t blame him! You cannot go out like a slut and ask men not to get tempted and touch you!”
Shamed and blamed: she stayed silent.
With each statement, the darkness grew. It started to swallow the little girl. Mortified, she fought back but the shadows fought harder and, belittled and weakened, she shattered. The shadows wrestled her down and kept her in her place, ready to be fed to the darkness. The little girl screamed silently as the darkness covered her and absorbed every spark of light and life in her. All that was left behind was an empty darkness.
Her heartbeat broke the silence and alarmed the shadows. They crawled toward her, and she ran for her life. Looking back, she heard the welcoming voice of the shadows: “You belong here darling, you don’t want to lose everyone and everything close to you, do you? Stay, you will be safe here!”
Reminiscing about the little girl and the look in her eyes at her last breath, she ran like the wind. And the wind embraced her, caressed her cheek, blew away her scarf, and ran through her hair. Once she felt the wind in her hair, she never looked back again. Feeling the warmth of sun on her skin, she knew she was finally free.
A twinkle in the eyes of the woman in the mirror brought her back. Mystified, she gazed at the woman in the mirror and realized that it was her own reflection.
1. Non-mahram: A person you can marry under Islamic law, basically everyone except your parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles, spouse, children, and anyone of the same sex (same-sex marriage is prohibited by Islamic law). Women are not allowed to touch, travel, or even speak freely with their non-mahrams, and they need to cover every inch of their body, hair, and sometimes their face in front of their non-mahrams.
2. Awrah: Intimate body parts, i.e., genitalia.
Photo credit: Boushra Almutawakel
31 January, 2023