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Very religious female muslim student - advice needed

(46 Posts)
springydaffs Sat 15-Nov-14 11:17:17

I currently have two female muslim language students staying: one wears a hijab but ordinary/western clothes (though covered up); the other wears the full kit - not a burkha but a full-length overdress (can't remember the name) and a white hijab, with one side loose, when she goes out.

The more 'relaxed' student goes out - in fact, all the time and is never here. The more religious student never goes out and seems frightened to go out - I'm not sure if this is because of her beliefs/conditioning or if she is eg agoraphobic: she is very nervy when we go out, she shuts down entirely, becoming 'invisible'.

Her dad came with her and stayed a month, seeing her every day numerous times - he was staying in a hotel minutes from her language school. He grilled the previous host on who would be coming to the house; that host knocked the stay on the head because of the father's tight control. Student came to me because the father was assured it is a female-only household.

Her father has gone home now but she won't go out on her own. Which means she is here the entire time and wants me to take her out and pick her up if she does go out and won't be back before 7pm. I'm not up for doing this. I've been a host to foreign students for over a decade and these girls are the first muslim foreign students I have hosted.

Would it be unreasonable to suggest she doesn't wear the dress when she goes out, as this draws attention to herself, whereas a hijab is commonplace and won't stand out too much? I don't live in an area where there are many strongly observant muslims - in fact, there are none (or there may be but they're indoors?)

antimatter Sat 15-Nov-14 11:20:52

I would only communicate anything related to religion through school.
I am not sure what else you can do. It would be easy to offend not knowing her culture.

How long is she going to stay with you.

If picking up is not in contract - tell school you won't be doing it.

springydaffs Sat 15-Nov-14 11:22:04

She is also barred by her father from doing any extra-curricular activities the school organises. Or is this her choice? I'm not sure. Her english isn't brilliant, though not bad, and she doesn't respond well when the conversation drifts towards any of these subjects eg if I say 'are you going to go on the bowling/carting/etc trip with the school?' she answers with a very pithy 'no' and the subject is firmly SHUT as far as she's concerned.

springydaffs Sat 15-Nov-14 11:24:55

I ask about the activities because I didn't know if she was ultra-observant when her father was here but may feel she can be more relaxed now he's gone.

thanks for your suggestion, anti. she's here until June if I survive !

springydaffs Sat 15-Nov-14 11:27:53

The first FEMALE muslim foreign students I have hosted, I should say. I have hosted many male muslim foreign students.

SuperFlyHigh Sat 15-Nov-14 11:29:49

Depends how long she's staying.

She may not have many friends. If she's staying for a longer period I'd maybe gently encourage her to go for coffee etc with them say at lunchtime.

Is her father against cultural outings too? If she does want to go to eg a musuem/shop etc you can either go with her or do you know someone who would go with her. Then if she did feel up to going by herself you could give detailed plans, map etc of where to go etc... and for her to eg ring you in an emergency.

I wouldn't say anything at all to her about her dress, if anything I'd guess it's her safety barrier through clothing (a guess). That's totally her choice.

Picking up, if she's really uncomfortable eg on public transport arrange for a taxi service but therein lies the question, males not her relatives... you don't sound to be in an area where there's a female only cab service, but that would be perfect.

SuperFlyHigh Sat 15-Nov-14 11:31:25

OP - the males (AFAIK) are treated very differently to the females, given more leeway, I'm sure they are allowed to socialise with women etc.

Whereas the women, a lot of time I think they are not allowed to mix with men who aren't related to them, but this may be relaxed I don't know, depending on the household.

springydaffs Sat 15-Nov-14 11:39:18

It doesn't sound like she does have friends at the school. she is huge friends with the other student staying here - I think she may be her only friend, they get on famously, but that student is constantly gadding about and has, in a month, only eaten here 3 times. I don't know if she doesn't have friends at the school because her father was with her every spare minute the first month eg they had lunch together every day.

I suppose I'm a bit put out that there is no discussion with me about the rules of her religion - it's a no-go discussion area. Yet I'm expected to fall in without question, facilitating every part of it. She's 18, has a lovely nature, intelligent, not a fool by any means. Strong-willed, actually.

SuperFlyHigh Sat 15-Nov-14 13:44:06

But the thing is here religion and it's rules are personal to her.... She doesn't have to discuss them with you!

Why don't you leave her to get on with the other student for now? You could also ask other student for advice on what to do eg chaperones etc as she may tell you and enlighten you on her friend's behalf.

SuperFlyHigh Sat 15-Nov-14 13:44:25

I meant her not here!

specialsubject Sat 15-Nov-14 13:55:27

simple - you just refuse to do what isn't in the contract. If she isn't supposed to be there 24/7, contact the school and tell them it isn't working.

she could always call a female-driver taxi firm for transport. The outfit isn't relevant. So that's two problems solved.

peacefuloptimist Sat 15-Nov-14 14:49:12

Springdaffs, I think it would be unreasonable to make comments or suggestions about her changing the way she dresses. She is 18 years old and if she felt comfortable with not wearing her religious clothing could have easily done it without your suggestion. She is not a child and her family is not around to influence her so if she is choosing to dress in that way it suggests she is actually happy the way that she is. Your comments and questions about her religion may be making her feel uncomfortable. Just because someone appears outwardly religious does not mean they are happy to engage in discussions about their religious beliefs. For many that is personal and a topic they dont like discussing with someone they have just met or barely know. Give it time she may open up to you more as she starts feeling more comfortable.

Having said that her issues dont sound like they are to do with religion otherwise your other muslim female student would have similar problems. Depending on where your student is from she may not be used to going out on her own without a chaperone/companion etc. That could be to do with the customs of where she is from or because the environment is not really safe for females to go out on their own. That may be influencing her behaviour. Or she may just be nervous. I am extremely independent in the UK but when I first went abroad on my own at a similar age to your student I spent the majority of the first week at our apartment unless I was going out with a friend. I couldnt speak the language at all of the country where I was staying and was afraid to interact with people because of it. Plus I was terrified I would get lost. After about a week I gradually gained confidence to go to the language school on my own and then to the shops to buy groceries. By the end of it I was hailing taxis travelling across the city on my own.

If this is the case with your student that she is just afraid to go out on her own (because she is not used to it or is nervous) then the solution is not to drop her and pick her up everywhere she needs to go but to teach her how to get about on her own. If you show her where she needs to catch the bus/public transport to get to her college, how/where she can buy her ticket, where she needs to get off the bus, how to read the map etc it will take a bit of your time but hopefully should stop you having to chauffeur her about. Your not with her all day so she has learnt how to get around her university on her own so obviously can do it. As sympathetic as I feel for her if this is a case of nerves she really would benefit from becoming more independent as she can only really learn the language if she interacts with people and that includes getting out and about and making friends. Sometimes people just need a bit of push and when they see that it didnt end in disaster that should hopefully give her more confidence to travel about on her own. Maybe show her how its done and make it clear that she is going to have to do the journey on her own and make up an excuse why you cant take her/pick her up. Im sure she is not going to want to miss her classes thereby wasting her parent's money and her own time sitting in the house because she cant get a lift. Also if she is coming home late just give her the number of a reputable taxi company and tell her to call them when she needs to get home. She may not feel comfortable at first but if they are a reputable company then you know she will not be in any actual danger and eventually she will get used to it.

Hope that helps.

peacefuloptimist Sat 15-Nov-14 14:59:46

Oh and about the extracurricular activities if she doesnt have any friends yet then the idea of spending the day out and socialising with people she doesnt know may not appeal to her. Once she makes friends she will probably be more willing and eager to get out and about. She new to the country after all and must be quite interested to look around see tourist sites etc. Highlight the historical/cultural visits rather than the bowling/go karting ones. Some people just arent interested in that sort of trip (I wouldnt be).

SuperFlyHigh Sat 15-Nov-14 16:54:59

Just thought does she know the local mosque (where it is etc) and what activities they have there.

You could ask her to cook for you etc.... If you're open to that. She (and other student) may enjoy this. My mum when she had students and Muslim females said they enjoyed cooking for her and the companionship of doing it in the house occasionally.

flack Sat 15-Nov-14 17:01:56

Could you talk to the more relaxed one about taking her mate out? So the more relaxed one becomes in effect chaperone for the shy girl? Seems a shame to come all this way & hardly socialise at all or sample the different culture.

Or maybe she could find someone else to act as her chaperone. I would talk to the language school about it.

I bet she's afraid of being tagged on FB with unknown boys in the picture, though. Daddy will see it & all Hell will break loose.

springydaffs Sat 15-Nov-14 18:17:29

But the thing is her religion and it's rules are personal to her.... She doesn't have to discuss them with you!

She does if she's living in my home. Students live with a host family and become, up to a point, one of the family. The role of the language student host is to, loosely, 'look after' foreign students - or perhaps 'look out for' would be closer to the truth as time goes on. They are living in my home and comply with my rules in my home - this is the deal, they are here to live as an english person for the duration eg food etc. So, if she suddenly announces, doesn't ask, that she's staying home from school to fast one day then that is my business, as it's my home and the deal is that students are not at home during the day (unless they're ill).

the questions I ask are 'are you going to go on the trip?' which is non-intrusive and, also, gives me a heads up about who's going to be in the house during the weekend/evening (I cook evening meal). These are bog standard questions but they are met with a terse negative. This is my home and my life I have chosen to open to students from international cultures (paid very poorly, it has to be said) with the aim that students are absorbed into the british culture; not the other way around.

She is much happier this evening, has spoken to her family. I have spoken to various links who are winding up to support not just her but me. After posting here, I said to her that she's going to have to explain to me some of the things about her culture because I don't know and can't guess. It is how things are between a host/language student, communication is key, not least because of the high possibility of cultural misundertandings: we discuss cultures, largely because students are being introduced to not just the english language but culture. This is the deal.

I'm sure the gadabout student has invited this girl but for whatever reason she is reluctant to go. I'm guessing the gadabout appears to be very wealthy and this girl not so much so, and she is therefore not able to finance the endless socialising gadabout can easily afford. I don't feel it's my place to ask the lively student to befriend the quiet student - apart from anything it's patronising and, also, not a student's role to make another student comfortable.

I do intend to slowly push her out of the nest but of course will do it carefully (and kindly!) - students are very sensitive and out of their comfort zone on many levels, you have to be gentle. I have hosted foreign students for over a decade - hundreds of students - so know the ropes re info, guidance etc. I am making it as clear I can that it isn't my role to pick her up from places and I have introduced her to taxi companies. I have even sourced a woman-only taxi company - only to be told it doesn't matter to her whether it's a male or female taxi driver...

I'm sure she'll loosen up over time!

twizzleship Sat 15-Nov-14 20:36:15

i don't think she's being deliberately arsey with you op or demanding, i think it's more of a culture shock thing she's experiencing. she's grown up in a society and household where she was expected to 'blend into the background' and not draw attention to herself, she's been taught that 'mixing' with people of a different sex or religion or taking part in 'non-islmaic' activities is wrong and against her religion. she hasn't been brought up to be independent or self confident and the lack of interaction with other outside of the home means she has no social skills (or very little) hence why she's wanting you to pick her up/drop off and why she's nervous when she's out and about. the mental and emotional control her father has over is very strong. we would recognise that situation as controlling and abusive in the western culture - unfortunately in the culture she grew up in it is perceived as 'protecting' her modesty and chastity.

i would suggest speaking with the other girl and asking her to help this girl with respect to doing things like going shopping etc to start off with. i suspect suggesting she take her out bowling etc will not go down well with girl no.2 because she may well view those things as 'unreligious' and 'haram', she may not want to have anything to do with girl no.1 for the same reason because she sees her 'going out' and 'wearing western clothes' as going against her religious teachings (in her opinion).

i grew up in a restrictive islamic household, but whereas i rebelled at every given opportunity my peers did not. the mental conditioning was very strong in them and they kept to themselves due to that and due to fear (of the unknown). That kind of upbringing can also have an extremely negative effect on a womans self confidence, self esteem and self autonomy. so when she says 'no' and you perceive it as terse, she may actually be feeling like she can't say why because a) she's not used to having her opinion/views heard so communicating them is alien to her, b) she already feels depressed and like an outcast because she doesn't 'fit it' anywhere so telling you why just confirms it (in her mind), c) she is finding traversing the two cultures very difficult and doesn't know how to communicate that to you without unintentionally insulting or offending you, so feels it's better to just keep her mouth shut and conversation to a minimum.

i would also suggest speaking to someone in charge of pastoral care at her school, let them know that she is struggling with basic independence and socialisation skills. It is their duty to help her with that - not yours. what this girl needs is to socialise with people who can understand her and her school should be able to liaise with the mosque/asian womens groups etc in order to facilitate that. her choice of attire is NOT the problem here, it's the mental conditioning and clash of cultures and her inability to handle that which is causing problems for her.

twizzleship Sat 15-Nov-14 20:53:28

if I say 'are you going to go on the bowling/carting/etc trip with the school?' she answers with a very pithy 'no' and the subject is firmly SHUT as far as she's concerned

ahhh....i remember those days very well. i was never allowed to take part in any extracurricular when i was at school and at college, mainly due to my religious dads dictats of 'girls don't do that' and partly because my mum couldn't afford to do it behind my dads back either (she would have if she could). simple little things like joining the Brownies, being part of the school play (which meant rehearsing after school hours), joining the school choir etc. i was elected to be Head Girl but couldn't take the position because i knew i was never going to be allowed to spend any time outside of school hours to carry out any of the duties. it was only my teachers who knew exactly what my situation was and who i spoke to about it. If my peers asked i would just say 'no' and leave it at that because it was too distressing to go into and i knew that either i'd start crying or the other kids would just rip the piss out of me for 'being poor' or 'not allowed' and i would just be looked at and treated like more of freak than i already was. there were lots of other muslims kids at school who were allowed to do those things (Head Boy was muslim hmm ) so it just made me feel worse.

hope the insights help your situation op smile

springydaffs Sat 15-Nov-14 21:35:23

They do. A lot.

Thanks, twizzle, that's an enormous help. Really gives me major insight into what is going on with her.

I have to say that I find the intense restriction she has been subjected to very disturbing. I have worked with DV victims for many years and feel distressed at how she lives and how she has been conditioned. BUT, and it's a big but, I keep my opinions out of it - not just verbally (of course!) but also professionally: it's none of my business what this woman believes or practices (except if something impacts on my home in a way I don't want). I know the cultural/religious beliefs put an entirely different flavour on how she lives her life, which are entirely foreign to me. I have however hosted many middle eastern Muslim men, and thoroughly discussed all the key points at length. I'm not about to convince anybody, recognise how different cultures can be to the point there's no point comparing, they're that different, you can't compare.

I suppose my job is to watch over that she is 'happy', as far as is within my remit (which doesn't extend to much tbh). I also keep a close eye on harmony in my home - and that remit is total.

I'm afraid language schools are simply not interested to go the extra mile, though they may go a few yards. Students are expected to adjust or they shouldn't be here. Brutal but not such a bad thing, really.

peacefuloptimist Sat 15-Nov-14 21:56:19

Springdaffs, didnt you start a thread a while ago about a muslim male student who was staying with you and your issues with cooking him halal food? Apologies if you are not the same person this comment of yours reminded me of that other thread,

they are here to live as an english person for the duration eg food etc.

I have to say I disagree with this. Your students are here on a short term basis (what a couple of months to a year maximum). They have come to the UK to learn the language not to become an 'English person'. You didnt mention if the students then go on to stay in the country and study here but even if that was the case why should they be expected to be 'absorb[ed] into the british culture; not the other way around'. If you went to India for a year would you totally give up British culture and dress in a sari/lenga/shalwar kameez because that is the traditional Indian dress? Would you become a vegetarian or not eat beef etc because those are cultural norms? There aren't any laws against dressing in a certain way or eating certain foods in this country even if that is not what is common where you live. You dont need to go out of your way to accommodate their religious observances but nor should they change them to learn English and survive for the short period of time they are here. By dressing in the way she likes your student is not changing British culture for goodness sake she is just doing what she has always done.

Also there are a lot of assumptions about her father. Remember he has sent his daughter at the age of 18 to a foreign country on her own to learn English. Obviously he values his daughter's education and has some trust in her otherwise he wouldnt have let her go in the first place. From the pp you can see that in a way he has a more enlightened attitude then even some British muslim families. His concerns might be about his daughter's safety rather then simply about controlling her. Lets face it he cant really control her when she is in a completely different country to him and he (and she) would know that. Lots of fathers/families would have similar fears and worries if there child went to study abroad on their own at 18. In fact I have a White British colleague at work whose daughter wants to go abroad when she turns 18, to the Middle East for the summer as part of an adventure holiday type thingy organised by her school and she was only just recently telling me how her husband is dead set against it and refuses to help fund it in any way. Some of the posts on here are drawing heavily on stereotypes and making a lot of assumptions about this girl and her family. I was brought up in a conservative, 'religious' muslim family, yet I still participated in school activities, went on school trips, joined extracurricular clubs, went out with my friends, lived out for one year at university, went abroad during my gap year on my own to study a language etc. Not all muslim families function the same.

springydaffs Sat 15-Nov-14 21:59:33

You say she's not being intentionally demanding, twizzle, but when I introduce her to marmalade and she says she prefers strawberry jam (though happily eats oranges); or when she says she prefers chocolate brioche to crumpets and won't eat what's on her plate... It kinda pisses me off. There can be an expectation that I am the housekeeper/maid, here to do their bidding. It doesn't help that I'm doing what I can to accommodate the cultural difficulties she is facing but she can't even finish a crumpet on her plate. Then there's the garlic, onions, vegetables, English vegetables... She says I'll know if she likes the meal if her plate is empty at the end of it <splutter>

She is 18, after all.

springydaffs Sat 15-Nov-14 22:12:03

It is the deal, yes, peace. Language students stay with a host family as a full cultural experience. If they don't want to do that they can live independently and many do. Their choice. If I went to India in a similar capacity I wouldn't necessarily wear a sari but I would expect to follow Indian customs if I was a guest with an Indian host. That's the deal with language students staying with host families.

These students are not university students, they attend language schools. There is little to no pastoral care, depending on the school.

springydaffs Sat 15-Nov-14 22:21:44

I doubt it was me posting about providing halal meat for Muslim students as I do that as a matter of course. In fact, most of my meat is halal, Muslim student or not, because it's so good!

twizzleship Sun 16-Nov-14 00:00:47

if she's being fussy over food then just tell her she's welcome to go food shopping and buy whatever she prefers to eat. She's 18 so perfectly capable of cooking for herself. this will encourage her to be independent. If you are paying for her food then take her shopping with you so she

Also there are a lot of assumptions about her father....Obviously he values his daughter's education...not all muslim families function the same That is true peacefuloptimist but this girl does not seem to have been exposed to a more 'modern' way of living so you do have to wonder where that influence has come from.

i have known and continue to know many muslims who live a more 'modern' or 'westernised' lifestyle....however that still comes with conditions attached. It is still expected that they will get married, either an arranged marriage or at least marry 'one of their own' (i.e another asian muslim). the general consensus amongst my friends who went to university was "enjoy your freedom while you can" because once your studies are over you have to start living your life according to the religious and cultural expectations that your parents and community have for you. so yes, even though some comments here are drawing on stereotypes and assumptions they are not completely baseless...and i speak as someone who has two siblings in mixed race marriages - and they both had their spouses convert to islam for appearances and acceptability's sake (neither of the converted spouses actually live according to the islamic tenets) because THAT is how strong the mental conditioning is.

flack Sun 16-Nov-14 08:08:06

Sorry, I do wonder if she sees you as below herself socially, OP. After all, she's from a family that probably has servants that do the ordinary, and her family can afford to send daughters abroad for education (daughters, even!). Dad could afford to take a month off work to chaperone her. You on the other hand, take student lodgers in for a bit of dosh.

Nothing to do with religion all that. Almightly culture clash, though.

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