I don't like labels and I don't like to be boxed into any particular category based on what I look like or believe in, or on where I come from or where I live. These are all aspects that make me who I am but not one of them takes precedence over the other. So where shall I start?
I'm British, in the sense that I was born in Britain and have (mostly) lived here all my life, albeit in lots of different cities. I have the passport, though perhaps some would rather I didn't. You see, I'm also muslim, which rather complicates matters. But yes, I'm British, whether I like it or not or indeed, whether others like it or not. No matter how often I hear the words 'fuck off back to your country' or variants of this, or sense the attitude of those words without actually hearing the words themselves, it won't make me any less British. It just makes me kind of sad. Bigotry and hatred always do, but thank God it's not too frequent.
I don't know how 'British' I am in my mannerisms and behaviour. I've been told by Arab friends and relatives, and my own parents that I've got some of the 'burood' of the British - ie the coldness. And I sense that too. When someone tells me a joke that is not funny, I tell them it's not funny. I hide behind sarcasm when I'm angry or annoyed instead of just being passionately and innocently angry like other people of 'my kind' would be.
While I'm at it, I'm also European. Britain may like to isolate itself, being a little island and all, but we are European. I respect the Germans for their punctuality (something I can NEVER achieve though) and no-nonsense hard-to-get-your-head-around grammar, I love the French for their beautiful accent and the passion and warmth that characterises everything they do. And Italians are just wonderful - so loud, boisterous, funny, and charming. Just like Egyptians. (They are from the Mediterranean after all!)
Yes, I'm also Arab. Arab in the sense that I come from that wonderful bit of the earth, which is so rich in many ways yet in many others, so poor. Rich in its history, in the knowledge it has produced, the advancements in science that it generated. Rich in the quality of its people, people who struggle to put food on the table and save money for years so that when the time comes, they can give their kid a big fancy wedding. People who struggle politically, against oppression, fear and tyranny - and here Palestine comes specifically to mind. Yes, the Arab world is rich indeed. Rich in its old beautiful mosques, in its language - 'lu3at aldaad', in its literature. And rich in its values; timeless, pure values that will never fade no matter how many people reject them or seek ways out of them.
But the Arab world is also poor. Massive inequality plights my country. The rich get richer - move to the fancy new suburbs of Cairo, send their kids to the private universities, buy their FCUK labels and genuine adidas shoes, buy a villa on the coast, take trips abroad. The poor get poorer - the middle classes struggle to maintain a decent quality of life and the others, well, they just struggle to maintain any quality of life. But they struggle with dignity. They toil the days away in the informal economy, walking the streets of Cairo with their carts selling fresh limes - 'a7dar w kollo mayya ya lamoon...' or on old buses acting as de facto conductors (an Egyptian bus generally has about 10 conductors on it). Young graduates, fresh, intelligent and full of hopes and dreams, engaged but unable to provide for marriage, struggle to find work. Or if they do find work, their pay is so meagre that their parents still have to provide for them.
Yes, I'm Arab, and specifically, Egyptian, as you've probably already worked out. The difference between the two? Being Arab makes me a part of the struggle for Palestine, a part of the anger for the raped country of Iraq, a part of the dream for a unified Arabian peninsula. Where we would have a bit of clout and can tell Bush to get out and stay out. My Egyptianness, well that is a part of my heart, part of what runs through my veins, part of what gets my adrenaline pumping when my plane is going to land in just 10 minutes. But it is a love-hate relationship. I love Egypt, with a passion, but can hate it too. Can hate the hypocrisy of its politicians and democratic process, can hate its disorder, its chaos, people completely ignoring its rules and laws as they please (next to a no smoking sign you'll sure as hell find at least a couple of people lighting up). I can hate the arrogance of its people. But there are so many other things about it that I just love, and miss so much when I'm away. But that's another blog entry, for another time.
And I've left the best til last. I'm muslim. Muslim in the sense that Islam is my value system, my means of connecting with God (Allah) and understanding my place in relation to Him, and in relation to everyone around me, and in relation to this world and the next. Islam to me is not a list of do's and don'ts, it is a frame of reference, something to go back to frequently and value my life against. I love Islam. I love how it gives me the sense that nothing in this world is worth crying over for too long, that this whole life is transitory. It's what you do that counts, so make use of your limited days in this world. I dislike some of the attitides people have about Islam. It's not Islamophobes I'm talking about here, it is attitudes that emanate from muslims themselves. The way they can be so self-righteous, quick to look down on others because they don't do the 'right' thing. The way they can reduce Islam to a debate about the wrongness or rightness of nasheeds and/or pop music. The way they can form groups to unite muslims then splinter off into many different groups because of differences of opinion. I'm not 'part' of any specific Islamic organisation. If I like what one group is doing, I'll join in. If I don't then I won't. And if something needs to be done, I'll get it done. The only 'group' I belong to without qualification or restriction is the muslim ummah.
While I'm at it, I'm a hijaabi (ie I wear the Islamic veil) - I only mention this because it is one of the first impressions you would get of me if you saw me. Not that it, in itself, is of any massive importance. I wear it because it is God's command for me to do so, it is one aspect of the 7ayaa2 (modesty) of the muslim woman. I don't subscribe to the argument that women's hair is so amazingly beautiful that it has to be covered unless you want to be sexually harassed. Neither do I subscribe to the view that we can use our own best judgement to decide what is modest and what is not. Humans err; in Islamic terms, we say that they are motivated by 'alnafs al2ammaara bilsoo2' (and there is no way I'm going to be able to translate that, sorry.) Basically, we can't rely on our own judgement to decide what is best for us and what is not. Go down Union Street on a Friday or Saturday night and see the behaviour of 'mature adults' who by day are bankers, lawyers or whatever, and you'll know what I'm talking about.
While I'm on the topic of hijaab, I must add that I hate the way some people form opinions of ME based on it, or treat me in a certain way because of it. The way non hijaabis think I'm judging them, or the way guys are afraid to talk to me, or the way people assume I'm pious. Yes, I try to be pious. But that comes from the inside. The hijaab doesn't necessarily give me that. Oh, or the way people think hijaabis don't have any fun. Don't know about the rest of them, but I am a hijaabi who likes to enjoy life to the full.
So that's me. Just so you have a general idea!