Author Edit (June 3, 2016): Yasmine’s story was originally posted on the Children’s Rights (CR) website – which focused on her appreciation of the adoption agency and her adoptive family for helping her find a loving household after her traumatic experience with her birth family. In no way does the CR article take away from Yasmine’s experience – and move focus to the “horrors” of growing up as a Palestinian Muslim American. In order to “sell more” and profit off of Yasmine’s tragedy, Seventeen magazine “juiced up” Yasmine’s story in an effort to sensationalize her Palestinian heritage and provide emphasis on the religion of her mother and grandmother. Yasmine’s story has now been republished on Good House Keeping and Cosmopolitan – the way Seventeen rewrote it.
The media has a responsibility to open the public’s minds’ to worlds and cultures unknown. Journalists have a responsibility to present their readers and listeners with all of the facts, even when publishing personal stories and opinions – specifically personal stories and opinions that would result in swaying a society’s view on a religion of 1.6 billion people.
As you may have seen, Seventeen magazine published a story in their Real Girl Stories column titled My Mom Took Me Overseas and Forced Me Into Being a Teen Bride – if you have yet to read, I have reluctantly provided you with the link above so that you can get as pissed as I am right now.
As a short overview – the girl’s story was tragic and awful but thankfully had a “happy” ending. Her father died when she was 4-months-old. Her mother, left to care for her four daughters alone, moves into her own mother’s home and essentially locks the author (Yasmine) in the home. She pulls her two oldest daughters out of school around the ages of 13 and ships them off to Palestine to get married. Her mother eventually ships Yasmine off as well at the age of 15 – after first illegally ripping her out of school – to marry a man 9 years her senior (for the record: my parents are 9 years apart and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that if it’s by choice and makes you happy – also men take forever to mature so I prefer an age gap) after she is caught going on a date with a “white dude” and she’s forced to then plan her escape back to the states.
Yasmine eventually gets a hold of a phone and computer and contacts the U.S. Embassy in Palestine and they help her escape the “dusty and dry” Palestinian desert by sending her back to America. She ends up in foster care – moves in and out of homes – and eventually meets her forever family in Illinois. Yasmine then graduates high school, and receives a full ride to college. And there you have what is probably the first exposure to Middle Eastern Muslim families that most young girls reading this story have ever received. So thank you, Seventeen, for making us look like savages who birth daughters only to breed more children for a man.
I am not, in any way shape or form, belittling this girl’s terrible experience with a shit mother and a crappy hand in life. Let’s get that straight. Does this happen? Yes. Does it happen often? Probably. Is it what the majority of us – Arab Muslim American women – go through? Absolutely not. I have no problem with her sharing her story, not that my opinion matters in the grand scheme of life. In fact, I wish that more girls who go through trauma like this would share their stories – in order to help others struggling with the same experiences. Alhamdullilah (praise be to God), that Yasmine escaped and is living out her life the way she wants to now. This is how it should be.
I do, however, have a MAJOR fucking issue with an outlet like Seventeen publishing THAT type of story. Because, Seventeen, not only did you publish THAT type of story. You published it, and made THAT story seem like “the norm” for Arab Muslim girls in America. You made it sound like a normal thing for a 15-year-old Palestinian American Muslim girl to be robbed of her education and forced into an unwanted marriage in the homeland. Here we have a major mainstream magazine, that caters to developing young women in the U.S. – and you have just handed said young women what is most likely to be their first impression of “Muslim culture” and the Arab world (specifically Palestine, cause we apparently don’t get enough shit from the media). And you made a terrible story sound like it is all of our stories.
The following is for the millions of young Muslim Arab American women in this country; when you refused to acknowledge that it is against Islamic law to force anyone into a marriage let alone a young girl (as both parties must agree to be married)…
“Oh you who believe! You are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should you treat them with harshness, that you may Take away part of the dower you have given them, except where they have been guilty of open lewdness; on the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If you take a dislike to them it may be that you dislike a thing, and Allah brings about through it a great deal of good.” – Quran 4:19
“A woman without a husband (or divorced or a widow) must not be married until she is consulted, and a virgin must not be married until her permission is sought.” – Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)
When you refused to acknowledge that education is a fundamental RIGHT to women in Islam, and women are encouraged to achieve the highest levels of education available to them and take up careers in fields like medicine, education, etc…
“Those who truly fear Allah, among His servants, who have knowledge.” – Quran 35:28
“The acquisition of knowledge is binding on all Muslims, male and female.” – Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)
“A mother is a school, if she is educated, then whole people are educated” – Hadith 1993:25.
…And when you refused to acknowledge that the Middle East, specifically Palestine, is actually a beautiful place filled with olive trees, mountainous hills, evergreens, beautiful people and historical architecture that dates back to Jesus’ time on earth…
…You robbed us of the slightest chance we had to show your young, malleable readers that we are just as valuable, just as educated, just as loved by our families, just as strong and ambitious and worthy as they are. By publishing the story of one girl – one girl who fit your narrative of being saved from her “savage Palestinian Muslim family” by white folks in Illinois – you threw a massive wrench into all of the progress we’ve been making in an effort to show you that we are no different. Because you went with the story that fit your agenda – instead of expanding on it JUST A BIT MORE in order to give enough insight to those who may not understand Islam (i.e. the quotes from the Quran and the Prophet, peace be upon him, that forbid forced marriages and encourage education) to develop their own opinions on our religion, you gave the bigots kerosene for the massive fire they’ve been constructing against the Middle East and Muslims. You perpetuated this ridiculous idea, that the west has a responsibility to “save” people, particularly young girls, from Islam. You allowed your ignorance on an issue of skewed culture-clashing with religion to take over a young girl’s tragic story.
So, I’m here to tell you about the Muslim women whose stories you refuse to publish, instead. Starting with mine.
At 16 years old my father sat me down and reiterated his “no dating” rule. No boys. Ever. And not because I was being prepped to be shipped overseas and married off to a third cousin who is missing half of his front teeth. It was because my father expected/demanded/intended that I graduate from high school, and begin my journey through college. Boys were a distraction. Especially for a young teenage girl who was obsessed with Cinderella stories and finding her Prince Charming.
By publishing the story of one girl – one girl who fit your narrative of being saved from her “savage Palestinian Muslim family” by white folks in Illinois – you threw a massive wrench into all of the progress we’ve been making in and effort to show you that we are no different
After my high school graduation, I began my college career as a collegiate athlete, in all high level courses – and lived on campus. Every weekend my team and I would travel to a different university, in a different state, for weekend long tournaments. This continued for two years until I decided to study abroad. I lived in England for nearly six months –alone. I traveled around Europe and the northern tip of Africa – alone. I came back home after having an experience that changed my life – an experience that my mother pushed me to have – and I transferred schools and began working in New York City. I was commuting and navigating the Big Apple all while going to school full time – alone. I graduated college with honors and made the Dean’s list every semester. I started my full time career at 22 years old, and now at 25, after working for six years, I saved up enough to pay my own rent — and now I am able to relieve my parents of having to finance my life. I am 25. I am not married. I have my own career. I have my own goals and dreams. I have traveled the world – and continue to trek around it. I have co-founded and am running a website of 27 writers – most of whom are Muslim American women – who have all graduated high school and have or are now in the process of graduating from college.
Our team consists of incredible examples of what it means to Muslim women. One of our writers just received her doctorate of nursing degree. Another, just finished her PhD in sociology and political science. One of our writers is a human rights attorney living in the Middle East – who graduated from law school in the states and chose to work abroad. One writer is a teacher in the making. Another, a techie genius living out in California alone – while her family lives in New Jersey – and guess what – she wears hijab. We also went to college together. Most recently, we have had the pleasure of welcoming a registered nutritionist to the team, who I’m hoping will convince me that “eating clean” tastes better than a Big Mac. We also have two young mother’s on our team – who balance their personal lives – their children’s lives – and their work lives ALL on top of being incredible writers here at MissMuslim.
I (and other Arab American Muslim women) have incredible parents – Alhamdullilah. My parents are Palestinian American immigrants (surprise) – and they did not “ship me overseas and force me into being a teenage bride.” Does this happen? Again, yes. Is it the majority of our stories? Again, absolutely not. You are doing my parents, along with all Middle Eastern Muslim parents like them, who support their daughters in our individual journeys, a disservice when you insinuate that a story like Yasmine’s is normal.