Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Don't you ever "brother" me

Yes, seriously. What's up with this brother/sister thing that gets added to your name. Who invented it?!! When did brother become a title?! It is a beautiful word, but when did it become a title?! Sometime during the last century someone introduced this "innovation" to the English language. This is one of my pet peeves. Why is David Dave but Mohamed is Br. Mohamed? Why is Elizabeth Liz but Mariam is Sr. Mariam? Why do I respect everyone without adding to their names any titles but I have to add a title to my Muslim "brother" or "sister" to show respect. I have been struggling with this issue for a while and I discussed it with several people and here are the answers I got:

1- Respect: It is a cherished value in Islam and we need to respect each other and older people in particular.
Rebuttal: Are we respecting David and Elizabeth less when we do not add the br./sr. title to their names? Don't we respect our teachers and professors?! Don't we respect our seniors at work and don't we respect our neighbours?! Did the Prophet (SAW) show respect to people using elements alien to their culture? Didn't he use the very titles that they used to use to show respect to them like the Kunya (which means calling a person father of "his son's name" or something beloved to him)
2- Professionalism: In Islamic work we need to be professional especially across genders, thus the need to use titles.
Rebuttal: Why do we need to be professional in a different way from the rest of the society? People are very professional at work, yet they don't use titles most of the time. They only use titles sometimes in some settings with doctors, professors, judges, attorneys and some elected officials. However, most of the time in professional settings they don't use titles and they are very good at being professional.
3- Brotherhood/sisterhood: When we add the title we enforce the concept that we are brothers and sisters which is the bond that ties all of us as Muslims.
Rebuttal: Keep it real dude. As soon as I add the title I don't feel that bond anymore. You want me to feel the bond call me with my name or say my dear brother. You can put the word brother in sentence, it is such a beautiful word but please don't make a title out of it. When someone sends an email and signs, your brother it touches my heart. When some tells me "ya akhi" which is the Arabic for "my brother", I feel the warmth of brotherhood. One time a dear sister emailed me and signed "ukhtak....." (your sister), I was so happy and replied back thanking her. My brothers and sisters in Islamic work are as dear to me as my family and I don't add titles to my cousins names. If you are from a background that mandates giving elders titles and you feel uncomfortable not doing that with me (if I am older than you), then use the same title you would use for your older brother in your culture. In that sense if you are Egyptian and you feel that you can't call me by my first name, then call me "Abaih Ayman". As funny as that sounds, I won't mind it. If you are younger than that, I won't mind being called "3ammo Ayman" :).

Let me share this story about Umar, may Allah be pleased with him. He was off to a 3umra and the prophet (SAW) told him mention us in your prayers "ya akhi" (my brother) and Umar (RAA) said that he wouldn't have loved anything better than this "ya akhi". When the prophet (SAW) wanted to be very brotherly he didn't give him a title. Ever since I read this story, I can only relate to the word put in a sentence but never as a title, ever.

In our Masjids and communities we don't want to create an alien culture. We need to create an all inclusive culture of genuine respect and sincere brotherhood and sisterhood. What message are we sending to people of other faith when we call each other br./sr.? Are we telling them that they are not our brothers and sisters? Let's love each other but let's also make room for our fellow neighbours to come join us in our activities. Let's not create a culture that will stand out like a sore thumb but rather a culture where everyone likes to belong to.

So my dearly beloved sisters and my dearly beloved brothers, don't "brother" me anymore pleaaaaaaaaaaase.


moi said...

Brozar Ayman, I mean, 3ammo Ayman, I mean, Ayman!
I couldn't agree with you more. I too feel that as a title, the Br. and Sr. makes things less personal and more official. Why do I need to address someone who I've grown up with for years, and I know she's my sister at heart, with "Sr." just because we're in a meeting or something like that? I think most people think it's inappropriate to call the other gender simply by first name, which is right, only if you don't know the other person. Just like you wouldn't call your boss by their first name on the first day in the job. But if you've known them for a while, then I think the extra title is just awkward sounding.
Oh and one more thing, when we advertise for events and such, and put on the flyer, "Brothers and sisters are welcome" or "Sisters only"-- the cynic in me says that some people won't understand that that means females and males, or only females! Maybe I'm wrong, but not every Muslim is familiar with the "brozar" "sistar" culture :)

Ayman said...

I am trying to stop using brothers and sisters in any speech except if I am saying: Dear brothers and sisters. Otherwise, I use guys and girls or men and women.
I agree that it is a little awkward to address your boss by first name on the first day on the job until they ask you to do so, right? But how about your coworkers on the first day of the job? Don't you use first name right away?

Anonymous said...

Small typo Br. Ayman :)

You wrote -
Ever since I read this story, I can only relate to the work put in a sentence but never as a title, ever.

You mean word.

Sr. Anonymous

Ayman said...

thanks sis (It is in a sentence :))
however, I am peeved :)

yaser said...

salaam yaa brozzer (that's in ayman approved usage :) )

the real reason of course that we have to use br and sr is so that we can use it in cross-gender communication to avoid fitnah :D

joking aside, laa fudda fook, i couldn't have said it better.

Ayman said...

your comment stamped orthodoxy to my entry :)

Anonymous said...

salaam ayman,

My brother Yaser referred me to this post. Your comments echo what i've been thinking for a long time, but I can't seem to get past this phenomenon because its what people are used to. I can't imagine calling my leaders by their first name because I *think* they expect the brother/sister, and I want to give them the respect they deserve. How can I reassure myself that I've done them justice? Of course our leaders are supposed to be on the same plane as us in many respects, but we want to give them more out of reverence for them, in the same way that we call people shaikh or we call our elders 'uncle' and 'aunt'.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I didn't mean for the last post to be anonymous. I'm Asma from Canada. I work with Yaser.

Ayman said...

w/essalam Asmaa,

The shift in culture will take time. In my position as a leader, I can make the change by telling younger people, call me Ayman :)

There are two types of leaders; those who are American/Canadian in culture and others whose cultural references in many issues are foreign. You may want to treat people the way the feel most comfortable with. You may try rocking the boat with your peers but definitely you have to change the culture with people who are younger than you or your subordinates, if that's a correct characterization.

Those who like me to use titles, I use their professional titles until they ask me to drop it and those who are fine without titles, I just drop the titles all together. It is more culturally appropriate (American/Canadian) to call someone Dr. or Mr. but not Br., right? I may even use Shaikh and Ostaz which are titles in the Arabic language but never Br. and Sr.

Br. and Sr. are cultish. They are used by nuns and priests, African Americans, sororities and gangsters sometimes. Muslims are not about to create a culture that is so exclusive like that.

In Detroit we have a growing MAS Youth group and the leaders never used Br./Sr. so the younger youth are naturally coming to call all the national leaders 20 years older and above by their first name. they do it so innocently and spontaneously that no one can object to it. That is called a culture shift Asmaa :)

About giving reverence to our leaders, why do you want it to be articulated in a title? If we establish that there is a need, then why don't we find a title that is relevant, that any Joe-lunch-bucket can relate to, otherwise we are running the risk of creating a culture that excludes mainstream America/Canada from it. Aren't all Muslim organizations civil in nature and no one should have a special status? If you have a mentor whom you want to give a special status, then think of a title that will make your non-Muslim neighbors, upon hearing it, realize the status you are holding that person at.

By the way, welcome to my blog :)

Dalia H. said...

Salam Ayman. I agree with you, but there is just one thing that may stop me from stopping the word "Brother". This may sound funny, but I'll use this certain situation. Two people, female and male. At first, they just pass eachother daily. Then they decided to say salam, then "how are you",then let's go and get some coffee, then the situation became out of control and they start dating (for example). Now, I'm not saying that I want to date anyone here, of course not. But don't you think we should keep that word "Brother/sister" just to keep things tame, especially in Islamic work. This may be silly, but I feel that in our lives, especially Islamic work, we should be acting Islamically with the opposite gender and I feel if we start calling eachother by our first names it's taking off a layer of the barrier of our Islamic faith. First it's Salam Brother, then it's Salam Ayman, hey Ayman, let's go have coffee and then so on. I don't feel when I call you brother that it takes away any of the brotherhood feeling.

Even today I feel that the way some of the brothers and sisters interact with eachother is too much especially in the environment of Islamic work. I'm not an extremist, just a traditionalist. I'd love to hear your thoughts. I'm ready to be persuaded.

Ayman said...

Dalia, I am glad you asked this question. The fact is that using terms and practices alien to the dominant culture has not prevented the Muslim dating scene. It has lead to people developing duality. We all know that there are many who say brother and sister around Muslims and then still go dating. I would rather handle inappropriateness out in the open than assume that everything is okay just because everyone is using Br./Sr. When people join any Muslim community and find that they are acting in a way that is very different from the dominant culture they are not encouraged to open up but that doesn't mean they are holding themselves to a high level of modesty all the time.
Moreover, we always forget that the American culture has many unwritten rules to ensure boundaries and modesty. For example, at work I can be casual and professional with the opposite gender as much as I want but there are lines if I cross everyone will understand that I am interested in her beyond work. In the Muslim community we have to celebrate those lines and boundaries and use them to avoid inappropriatenesses rather than create new lines.
I don't see a problem that men and women meet in a healthy environment where they can feel they can be themselves and get to know each other more and then get married. No one goes to have coffee, lunch or have a date as a slip. They know what they are doing and they know that they are crossing the line of casual-professional interaction and going to another level.
Part of tarbeya is to be realistic and to draw a line that people can relate to and understand. This line can't be foreign to the culture. Did this answer your question?

Dalia H. said...

Yes, I believe so. I guess I have to get used to it.

Wael Hamza said...

Ayman, I agree. Being a speaker in in one of the Catholic Universities, I was introduced as "Brother" Wael. After I delivered my speech, the dean came to me and thanked me and told me that I reminded him with the Catholic "Brothers" who used to teach him when he was young. Since then, I never used this title.
I wonder how it will look like if my name on the flyer is "3ammo Wael" LOL

Your Brazzar

Wael Hamza said...

btw, no offense to my Catholic friends. I just did not want people to think that there is a religious title in Islam called "Brother"