A R C H I V E S
Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|"The veil in my handbag"|
|03/22/04 at 06:30:50|
Tuesday June 18, 2002
I see a girl in Manchester Piccadilly station. She has a full mouth, high cheekbones and velvety brown eyes. But what captivates me is the white cotton scarf covering her head. People know she is Muslim because of her veil, and I wish my appearance had the same effect.
I envy her because I am too weak to wear the veil, too scared that doors will close and that opinions will be formed long before friendships are. Islam doesn't oppress me; fear does. I live a half-life, a double-life: not quite a Muslim and not quite a westerner. My parents raised me as a Muslim. They gave me everything I wanted but I coveted the freedom enjoyed by non-Muslim friends and, because I derived no satisfaction from religion, I sought solace in hedonism.
I was 18 when I left home for university, and my limited knowledge of Islam meant I only saw negatives. Religion was bad because it stopped me from wearing what I wanted, tasting what I wanted and doing what I wanted. And what I wanted was to be like everyone in mainstream society. So I set out to have fun.
I was the toast of my friends. But I was the scourge of the Muslim community, who viewed me with pity and distaste. I remember going into a shop to buy some things I shouldn't have been buying. The man behind the counter greeted me: "Asalaam alaikum." I looked at him blankly. "I'm sorry, I don't understand you," I lied. "No, I'm sorry," he said, "I thought you were a Muslim." "I used to be," I whispered, as I left the shop, crying.
Too ashamed to talk to my parents about my guilt and too impatient to unravel my dilemma to my friends, I never said anything. And the silence was devastating. I was bereft of purpose and support. My sense of isolation intensified when I saw other Muslims being part of society without compromising their faith. When people spoke about Islam, their eyes would light up and their voices resonated with pride and love. I once shared their enthusiasm, but my lifestyle was leading me so far away from religion that I could barely remember anything about it.
So I went to the university prayer room. I performed the intricate washing ritual, an act of purification and preparation. I took my place on the prayer mat to recite verses from the Koran, but my lips froze. I couldn't remember any verses - the same verses I had repeated every day as a child. I panicked. I prayed to Allah, pleading with him to let me remember. The words didn't come flooding back, but I muddled through the prayer.
I decided that I didn't want to muddle through any more and shut myself away for days, poring over books and piecing together the fragments of my knowledge. As my awareness increased, so my appetites diminished. I would go out, but I wouldn't stay out. My clothes were less revealing, but fell short of complete coverage.
Had it not been for these cosmetic changes, I would have gone through university life with my religious identity concealed. But I told people I was a Muslim and, post- September 11, this revelation prompted a tidal wave of questions. People quizzed me about jihad - the holy war. I was reluctant to talk about it because my views were at odds with those held by most people living in the western hemisphere.
I once broached the subject of the Middle East conflict during a conversation. I explained that there was an international community of Muslims, a nation state: the ummah. Every Muslim is a member of this community so when one is murdered, it is an assault on Muslims throughout the world. I was shouted down. My peers accused me of sympathising with terrorists. I have not spoken about September 11 or jihad since.
I have left university and now feel better equipped to cope with the irreconcilable differences of being British and Muslim. You can be born and raised in this country, benefit from its education and live freely and comfortably thanks to the solid British economy. But you can also be oppressed. Stay silent when your religion is being lambasted in the press. Look on helplessly when Muslims are being persecuted in their homeland and then watch them being punished by the British asylum system. Stuff your veil into your handbag because you'll never get that job if you cover your head. Sacrifice prayer times and fasting to keep up with the crowd and stay in with the boss.
I am in my mid-20s now and loosening the ties with my past, although I still have the same friends I started university with. They know my values are changing and they respect my decision to learn more about Islam. So I have overcome one set of hurdles - the conflict between the desires of youth and the duties of religion. But I want to work as a headhunter and this line of work sits uncomfortably with the demands of my faith. Long hours, business travel and face-to-face meetings mean my values will be tested again and the disharmony will continue.
For now, I will try to pray at the appointed time instead of cramming in three or four prayers together when I get home. Nor will I break my fast. When people ask me why I'm not having lunch, I won't tell them I'm on a diet - I'll tell them I'm a Muslim
|Re: "The veil in my handbag"|
|03/23/04 at 16:16:54|
jazak Allahu kair for posting this.
A good story to pass on to those who are in need of it, as im sure many can relate to this.
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