“My name is Turkey,” he said.
“Turkey,” I confirmed, not sure I had heard him correctly.
“Yes,” he said, “Your bird here in America named turkey, was named after the country Turkey. I am also named after the country Turkey.” He had an accent but I wasn’t sure where from. Perhaps Turkey?
It turned out Turkey was from Saudi Arabia, currently studying in America at my university. He was going to go back to Saudi Arabia when he was done and take his skills with him. He was some kind of Information Science type major. He was also a Muslim. The Muslim who’d been chosen to show me around the campus Muslim center and local mosque and talk to me about Islam.
It was summer 2001 and I was on my spiritual journey. I’d recently read The Autobiography of Malcolm X and was moved by his story, how he’d changed so much in his life. Going from criminal to Nation of Islam to true Islam and activism that went after the global structures of oppression. From justifiably hating the white race to forgiveness and unity through God. If Islam had done such amazing things for him, maybe it was the truth.
I began reading the Koran and dressing in hijab. Hijab included long skirts, long sleeves and a head scarf (called a hijab also) that covered my hair completely and even my neck. if you dress in hijab you’re called a hijabi. I still love that word. I made my hijab from pink fabric I bought at Joann Fabrics. I found most people I encountered believed me to be a pink nun. White Muslims were not a thing in rural western Pennsylvania then. Still aren’t.
I contacted the campus Muslim group and spoke with the Imam who arranged for Turkey to show me around. So, here I was, standing in a campus dining hall meeting this Saudi Arabian guy with an unexpected name. He wore a t-shirt tucked into jeans with a belt and had a fanny pack on. I hadn’t seen one of those since the early 1990’s, but hey, you can’t be a slave to trends, right? You have to do you. After all, I was dressed like a pink nun.
His hair was fluffy and his body seemed somehow feminine to me. He was a bit overweight and the belt cinched in his waist. He had body odor. I guess they don’t use deodorant in Saudi Arabia, I thought.
I’d started eating Halal at this point. Halal is sort of the Muslim version of keeping kosher. It’s a set of religious laws governing diet. The basic tenet is that you can only eat halal meat if you’re Muslim. Halal meat has been killed and butchered by someone who is one of the people of the book (one of the Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity, or Islam) in the least cruel manner possible. I’d been driving an hour down to Pittsbugh to buy kosher meat because it met the requirements: killed and butchered by a Jewish person and killed in the least cruel way (kosher law requires the animal is killed by being cut with a sharp blade across the neck, dying instantly. There have been kosher meat producers exposed not to be doing this, but that’s the standard).
But as we stood in the university food court, Turkey asked me where I wanted to eat. He opted for Burger Kind and got a whopper for himself. He explained to me that since America was a Christian nation it was considered halal. Really? That didn’t seem quite… kosher to me. I figured Turkey knew what he was talking about though. After all, the Imam had chosen him as my tour guide through Islam.
I opted for a veggie burger and we ate and chatted. He showed me the room at the student center where they held Friday services each week. Men in the front and women in the back. He drove me to the local mosque, which was really just a house. The men worshipped downstairs, the women upstairs, he told me.
When we were done he took me to his apartment. I told him I needed to leave soon but he invited me in and I went. He said he needed to change into something more comfortable and given how tight his belt and fanny pack were, I didn’t blame him. He changed into a big caftan thing like the one I’ve seen pictures of my dad wearing back in the 1970s when he had a semi-fro and bushy beard.
Turkey had copious chest hair that now came forth from the V-neck of his caftan. I sat on a chair and he sat on his couch. I remember him showing me bootleg DVDs from Saudi Arabia of American movies. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be impressed. I also wasn’t sure bootlegs were the most Godly thing to be showing off. He then began telling me about jihad. He wanted me to know the true meaning of it given the way it was presented in America. I’d already read up on it but I welcomed his insight.
I was expecting him to go into the fact that jihad isn’t about literal war but rather the spiritual war we all face within ourselves or some other such similar thing. Instead he began telling me that when men went out on jihad (literal war, not the struggle within. he had no problem with jihad being a violent fight agaist the infidels apparently) they were away from their wives and therefore allowed to take temporary wives and then leave them and return to their real wives when it was over. Wow, I thought to myself, that’s pretty horrible and misogynist. But I nodded politely. I was trying to figure a way to get out of there. He’d driven me and I was hinting that I needed to go but he wasn’t picking up on the hint. Then I found out why.
He explained to me that he was here in the states studying for two years and it was considered the same thing as jihad. (Really? That’s a hell of a leap) So, he was allowed to take a temporary wife. That is, sleep around. (Eww). I wasn’t even aware he was married back home. I don’t think he was. What I do think, is that he was trying to sleep with me. It didn’t occur to me at the time to be honest with you. I just thought he was a weirdo telling me things that had me questioning the path my spiritual journey was taking. He soon drove me back to campus and we parted ways on a polite note.
It was only once I told my older sister about the whole odd day with Turkey that she pointed out to me what he’d been trying to do. Oh. Yuck. Like, yuuuuuuuucck.
“But I was dressed head to toe in hijab,” I said, “why would he think I was going to sleep with him?”
“Your ankle length skirts have slits up to your ass,” she said.
It’s true my ankle length skirts mostly do have slits up to the knee so that I can, ya know, move my legs far enough to walk. I find it pretty convenient to be able to walk. But this never seemed especially risqué to me.
She said this and I felt dirty. Here I was seeking God and being modest and I got the same treatment as ever: a guy trying to sleep with me, looking at me as a piece of meat. Halal meat, but meat nonetheless.
These sorts of things happen all the time to women in this world. I used to look back on this memory, on all the other memories I have like it–some worse than this one, some more benign, but all wrong– with shame. It made me feel dirty. He made me feel dirty. They made me feel dirty. I wasn’t always covered up head to toe seeking religion when it happened. Sometimes I was drunk. Sometimes I was just walking down the street talking to a friend. Sometimes I was lonely and looking for love and an end to that vast void inside me. And instead of filling it, they made it expand ever further. They say the universe is constantly expanding. It felt that way for so long.
But I know now I’m not the one who should be ashamed. They are. Blame rape culture if you want. Blame Eve and the Fall. But I blame them. They know what they’re doing is wrong. They know they’re taking something they have no right to. They know they will keep us silent by shaming us so they can keep on.
That strange bird, Turkey, treated me like a piece of meat. He thought he was a good Muslim but he was a hypocrite. He ate meat that was most definitely not halal. Why? Because he wanted a whopper and couldn’t sacrifice his flesh for God. He somehow convinced himself it would be Godly to sleep with this presumably slutty American girl as he awaited going back home to marry a virgin (God help her if she was not a virgin on her wedding night). The slutty pink non showing off her calves clearly wasn’t here seeking God. She was clearly his for the taking, for his consumption. Just like the whopper.
But I am not meat. I am wonderfully made. I dress modestly now, almost 20 years later, not to protect myself from men like Turkey, not because I am ashamed of my body or of the things I have done with it, not to prove what a Godly woman I am. I dress modestly for God and for myself. I dress modestly because I feel closer to God when I do. I dress modestly because it is what my heart has wanted, has been called to, for a long time now. I don’t expect it to offer me any immunity from the advances of predators. I don’t judge women who walk around in less clothes than me with their beautiful hair flowing in the wind or think they deserve disrespect. And I sure don’t blame Eve. Even if she was naked.