As my first semester of graduate school draws to a close I can say, whole heartedly, that my last few classes have been... colorful, to say the least. In my State and Religion class we have been dedicating time to talking about the subject of Islamic Fatwas (a juristic ruling concerning Islamic law issued by an Islamic Scholar), and if you truly want to be entertained I suggest you go online and read some questions and fatwa rulings, because it is utterly astounding to read some of the things that Muslims ask their religious leaders hoping for guidance and answers. In my class each student was asked to chose a fatwa that had been issued by an Islamic scholar and present it to the class. Naturally, this led to rather colorful discussions and some very interesting tangents.
My Fatwa, while interesting, was probably one of the less outrageous that was presented. I found a ruling on a question of Islam's stance on plastic surgery. There was a woman who had a convert friend who was overweight and wanted to get liposuction but didn't want to go against Islam so she posed this question to Islamic Scholars for an answer. Now, depending on the "religiousness" of the scholar, whether he is a more fundamental Salafist, or a more moderate Wasati, the answer could have more or less room for religious "interpretation". I found a Wasati fatwa that was issued for this question which stated that plastic surgery goes agains the will of Allah but it is acceptable if it is for health reasons and there are no better ways to go about achieving this health. True religious interpretation at work :-)
Now some of the more colorful fatwas answered questions like "Can I masturbate while my husband is away visiting his second wife?", or "Is it against Islam to drink my wife's breast milk while having sex with her?" Or " Is my wife allowed to peel a banana because she might be tempted to think about impure thoughts?"... the list goes on and on... Reading some of these was a great way to pass time and be thoroughly entertained.
Anyways, after I read my fatwa on the issue of liposuction it led to quite a tangent on women and being fat which, and I don't remember how we got onto this topic, led to the discussion of the forced fattening of women in mauritania. I had never heard of "forced fattenings" so naturally my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to tune out of the class for a few minutes to research this issue on my computer. I was astounded by what I discovered and encourage everyone to read this article on the issue. It gives a good background into this practice: http://www.marieclaire.com/world-reports/news/forcefeeding-in-mauritania.
Any concept of "slim" women, or "fit" women being beautiful holds absolutely no relevance or significance in Mauritania, where the fatter a woman is, and the more rolls and stretch marks she has, the more beautiful she is in the eyes of Mauritanian men (who, by the way, are usually stick thin). Because of this it has become a highly practiced tradition to take young women (ages ranging from as young as 7 to 14 or 15), bring them to the middle of the desert, and keep them in tents for months to do nothing but eat and get fat in order to prepare them for marriage. Most girls marry between the ages of 12 and 14. Like previously stated, the fatter the better, so these girls are forced to eat anything from animal fat to soups of thick gruel until the point of vomiting (at which point they are beaten if they can't keep the food down). They are intensively force fed until the reach weights of 200 pounds or more. An interviewee in this article was 5'4 and weighed over 200 pounds after her time in the tents. Aside from the horrible effect this has on the health of these women, it showed that, no matter what a society deems "beautiful" to be, people will go through hell to get there. In the West women will do almost anything to become thin, and it seems that the same happens in Mauritanian though on the opposite end of the weight spectrum. It was fascinating to read about, although painful at the same time to see what these women go through for what they consider beauty to be. It brought up a lot of thoughts nonetheless.
Anyways, after discussing this issue my professor decided it would be appropriate to tell a rather inappropriate Arab joke involving this issue of being fat. Not wanting to say the joke in English he revealed the punch line in Arabic and left it up to the people who speak the language to translate what it meant for the rest of the class. He began by saying "do you know what "kus (coos) ukhtak" means?" I, of course, knew and said what it meant to a girl behind me who proceeded to announce to the class that it means "your sister's vagina". Anyways, the joke is that an Arab man is about to marry off his sister and she is stick thin so he wraps her in pounds of newspaper to make her appear full figured to please her husband. On the wedding night as the groom is undressing his bride he tries to unwrap the pounds and pounds of newspaper and finally gives up, calls the brother and asks "on what page is your sister's vagina". It sounds much funnier in Arabic but you get the gist! Needless to say it was anything but a dull class!
There must have been something in the air that day because in my next Arabic class, when we were translating, there was a verb that meant "to blow" and you can guess where all of our minds went... and then of course it had to be discussed publicly. It was quite a day! The night was just as crazy and random. I finally had the pleasure of spending time with a friend from university who has been so busy with work the past few weeks. We both share a love for Arabs and Arabic music so it was a night full of hookah, Arabic music, sushi, random hawaiian parties in the middle of winter, a rather sketchy trip to Allenby where we met some very interesting gentlemen, and then back to smoke more hookah, relax, and enjoy some more Arabic music. Despite this research paper (which I am one editing session away from being done with) I have my last weekend in Israel very booked up, and it has been one of my best yet.
Yesterday I was out with another friend from university, another person who shares a similar love of Arabic and the Middle East, and it was another great chance to continue building relationships and getting to know the brilliant people I am fortunate enough to be studying with! Tonight it is out to dinner with an Israeli friend of mine followed by meeting another friend, and tomorrow I am having dinner with a very dear friend in Medical School here followed by a trip to Jaffa with my former roommate for some hookah and Arabic practice. After all of that it will be Monday before I know it, and I will only have two more days until I travel back home to California! It's been one hell of a last week here!
More updates soon including my travels back home <3,