A melting pot

Allison Remcheck

Western culture for a Middle Eastern woman

Sarah Shendy laughs with her mother Fatn Ahmed as she practices reading from an Arabic reading textbook.

Credit: Beth Rankin

Sarah Shendy is Egyptian. Islamic. And she spent her childhood in Saudi Arabia.

She embraces her Islamic religion, but when it comes to the Arabic culture, she is glad to be an American.

She is independent, self-reliant and a living example of the American dream.

Although Shendy, senior criminal justice major, is a devout Muslim, she still has concerns about the Arabic culture, where the religion originates.

“The Islamic religion — it forces the male — your husband, father, brother — it puts them at a higher rank than I would say other females,” Shendy said. “It’s the culture I have a problem with, not the religion. The religion all makes perfect sense. It has perfect evidence. But the culture is all based upon stereotypes.”

And most of the stereotypes focus on women.

“Females in the Middle East don’t realize this. I guess it’s imbedded in the nature of how they were raised,” Shendy said. “They don’t realize what’s outside of the box they live in.”

But the Islamic religion does not demean women.

“The Islamic religion does not suppress women,” Shendy said. “It does not. It gives you the same rights as it gives any male.

“The culture suppresses you,” she said. “Why is it in America females are not suppressed, but here in the Middle East they are suppressed, and the only difference between the two countries is religion. And it’s just culture.”

Shendy said females in the Middle East are not aware of their lack of opportunity.

“They don’t know they do have the power because they’re not used to living on their own,” she said. “When I was in Egypt this summer, I was so upset. My cousins tried to have control over me.”

“(They would ask) ‘Where are you going? When are you coming back?’ Always asking me questions,” she said. “They were raised to always question your sisters, and not just your family, but your extended family, cousins, second cousins, third cousins, whatever. The family is led by the male.

“It’s not so much a culture, it’s more of a mentality,” she said. “Like the Middle Eastern mentality. The mentality stays the same across the Middle East for every male.”

There are also radicals in the Arabic culture who give Americans a poor representation of what Muslims are really like, Shendy said.

“They’re like extremists, and they’re the ones who ruin how Islam looks,” she said. “They’re the ones who come over here — and first of all, they don’t even belong in America — they do not know how to assimilate to anything.

“If a girl is raped at home, and she looses her virginity or has premarital sex, there’s a chance they would kill her.”

Because of the double standard between males and females in the Arabic culture, Shendy said she is not attracted to Arabic men — although her husband would have to be Islamic.

“I want to say nine out of 10 males that I know here go out, have sex, do drugs — and their parents know nothing about it,” she said.

Shendy said she does not find this behavior attractive, but she feels differently about her father.

“My dad’s a really great person. He’s so kind-hearted, and I look up to him so much.”

And when Middle Eastern people come to the United States, they develop their own stereotypes about American people, Shendy said.

“A lot of parents who come over here, they see America through TV, which is completely false,” she said. “They see things like ‘The OC,’ or ‘Sex in the City,’ any show that might talk about school or college. There’s drinking, sex and bars.”

Shendy said many Middle Eastern parents do not trust their children to stay away from the immoral activity, and they also don’t understand America isn’t as bad as it’s portrayed on television.

“They don’t go to people or take it upon themselves to find out information,” she said. “And I think it’s kind of ironic, because we, as Middle Easterners in America, they get upset that Americans don’t seek information for themselves and go to the media (for information about the Islamic culture).”

America is very different from Arabic culture.

“A female’s supposed to be dependent emotionally, financially, all of that,” Shendy said.

Shendy’s mother, Fatn Ahmed, also appreciates the opportunities in the United States. Although Ahmed attended the University of Cairo and studied Arabic language and Islamic history, she said, “Here you can make whatever you want. You can work wherever you want.

“In our country everyone is watching you. Nobody here looks at you like you’re different.”

Besides creating her independence financially, Shendy also expresses herself through writing lyrics.

“My writing is so emotional and so beautiful,” she said. “I never write about money and drugs. All my writing is very expressive.”

Ahmed said she recognizes Shendy’s differences.

“She doesn’t like to be the same way in my religion,” Ahmed said. “She wants to be different in everything. She likes to be different — even in her personality.”

Sometimes Ahmed said Shendy needs to subdue her personality, but she won’t try to change her.

“I’m not forcing her because you cannot force anyone to do anything,” Ahmed said. “But you know, sometimes, you have children who are different.”

Shendy’s parents still have strong ties to Egypt, but Shendy considers herself an American.

“I don’t have any intimacy for Egypt, because number one, I did not grow up there,” Shendy said. “The country did not give me my education, it did not give me the will power, the motivation I have right now, and it wouldn’t give me the opportunity. That place just exists to me because that’s where my parents are from.”

Contact features reporter Allison Remcheck at [email protected].