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Hijabi in the workplace

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Salam alaikum

Second day of Ramadan and first day at work as a Muslim.
Most already knew what I was doing, perhaps if they hadn’t had the warning I would have had a totally different reaction. However when I first walked in with my hijab on (matching the uniform naturally) people hardly bat an eyelid.
The genuine curious questions did come eventually. The health fanatic guys were more interested about the fast, and the women asked general questions about me covering. Mostly however, in fact as much as 99% of the time, it wasn’t mentioned.
Customers too couldn’t care less… Well apart from one. When the middle aged man came to my till his opening line was: “I bet you’re hot in all that gear”. Admittedly harmless enough, it wasn’t until I got him his water and he saw the price that he went into one.
“You know you’re not going to heaven, that’s theft”. He then went on to rant about how it was a 300% profit, and that I was going to burn in hell. All the while I tried to tell him that 1) I don’t decide the prices, and 2) we do allow customers to bring their own drinks. His daughter eventually told him to stop.
Now of course maybe my headscarf had nothing to do with his rant and it really was just the price that angered. I don’t doubt that it was the price, however I do believe his choice of words were directly related to him assuming I was religious. The way he was telling me I was going to go to hell was as if he wanted to hurt me.
It didn’t, I was in a bit of wide eyed shock and on the brink of laughter. My mind naturally thought of atheistic comebacks- “I don’t believe in hell so couldn’t care less what you think, now pay for your drink and get the hell away from my face” was the first to come to me. But no, I stayed patient, I stayed polite. I waited until he walked away until announcing what an arse he was (probably not how a Muslim in Ramadan should speak).
All other customers however acted with me like always. I got the same smiles, the occasional ‘hi love”‘, questions etc. Why would I expect different? I just assumed some, mainly the elderly, would be slightly “off” with me. I served an old schooled friend and many regulars who had no idea about the exoeriment, and they took seeing me covered in their stride. A single day however is hardly enough to say England in general is fine with Muslims. Does any Muslims reading this living in the west have any stories?
My usual work uniform is trousers and t-shirt, all I had to do was put a long sleeved top under and wear a head scarf. Was it comfortable? Well it wasn’t bad. My under scarf bonnet on my ears all day gave them a bruised feel, and I didn’t feel very “free”. Taking it all off when I got home was a comfortable release. But I can’t really blame the clothes, the under top was tight and stiff, and I had layered my hijab instead off wearing a light weight singular one (it did look better than the bright blue cap I usually have to wear though). It looks like summer is finally arriving in England, so I will have to change it up a bit.

So fasting whilst at work, in a job that means I’m surrounded by food most of the time? Not too bad actually. Now and then my stomach would rumble and tighten to remind me of its existence. Thirst started creeping in from 3pm. I kept needing to lick my lips and my throat was noticeably dry. However it is hardly unliveable.
I can’t even begin to say how shocked I am by the ease the fast has come to me. Yes it is now two hours to go untilmimvsn eat, and my tummy is becoming more frequently angry, but I don’t feel weak.
I LOVE to eat, I constantly do which is why I am obese. I couldn’t go more than an hour having another snack attack before the fast. I assumed my body suddenly going without the constant stream of food would render me a light headed mess. A religious person might wonder if Allah is easing Ramadan for me as encouragement, I however would say I have a lot of fat for my body to use up, holding off hunger.

Now this is when time drags. My husband is cooking leaving me with nothing to do but think about dinner, and the lovely smells coming from the kitchen aren’t helping.

This is my first attempt at blogging from an iPad, sorry for the even larger amount of typos and spelling erros than usual- or maybe I can blame exhaustion and hunger? Pregnant women have “baby brain” as an excuse for slip ups, I have “fast brain”.
I’m off to distract myself for an hour.
Ma salama

My first day as a Muslim

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Salamu alaikum and Ramadan mubarak!

Where do I begin? Well I guess 2:30 in the morning when the alarm went off. Having not slept until past midnight, you will understand why it took a good half hour before I managed to have both my eyes open at the same time.
Boy I couldn’t have been less hungry at silly o’clock, but like a trooper I made up my porridge with fruit, hard boiled egg on wholemeal bread and water with lemon. I ate it all with minimal angry tired mutterings too.

suhoor

suhoor: What I forced fed myself at 3am

Then there was my first ever wudu (certain way of cleaning before prayer). Hands three times, face, ears, hair, arms, nose, feet (the correct order is already lost on me), well it certainly perked me up.
The actual prayer itself? Well to be fair I didn’t really know what I was doing. I followed my husbands movements, listened to his Arabic words. I could tell the meaning was a bit lost on me when I noticed I was thinking that the carpet didn’t smell how I imagined it would, instead of God. But right now I am just going through the motions, I really must get the English translation, there is no hope with me connecting to words I don’t understand.
I crawled back into bed at 4am and realised it was bloody hard to get back to sleep with a full tummy and freshly splashed face. As you can imagine when my son woke me up nice and early I was doing my usual morning errands in a zombie state.

I finally got to wear one of my new hijabs out in the world, and had zero issue walking outside my door with it on.

Attemping to wrap my hijab

It was perfectly colour coordinated with my t-shirt, denim jacket and jeans (all suitably wide and long), and I even managed a strong wrap so I was able to walk around hardly noticing the new thing on my head. People’s reactions were nonexistent. I got the same amount of polite smiles, doors being held open and small talk, as ever (when I’m walking around with my toddler that is, without him people don’t bother with an acknowledgement). My town isn’t far from London, so although we are not incredibly diverse, hijabs are not a total rarity either.
The weather played nice, giving the same grey skies as England has known most of summer. I felt comfortable in my clothes and relaxed. I do wonder what the reactions will be of people who know me, but not the experiment (such as neighbours).
I made sure I was home for the other prayer times, one of which was without my husband as he was at work. To compensate I had a youtube video open and copied from there. I have to say these later prayers were as far from meditation as you can get. My son has rarely seen his father pray, so seeing me perform those movements were a bit of a novelty. He was climbing on my back, running between my legs, going under my skirt, etc, and when he wasn’t bothering me, he was bothering the dog, so I had to keep a close eye on the pair.
Prayer- five times a day, every day. How many Muslims reading this actually do that? It seems so much. Maybe once I get used to it, understand the words, then finding it a welcome relaxation will come. Right now however, out of all the things I am trying to do: Hijab, fast, reading Quran etc, it is the prayers that I’m struggling with.

So let’s talk about the fast. I feel like I must have eaten in some dreamlike state throughout the day because come evening I felt absolutely fine! Once or twice in the day I felt hunger pangs, but mostly I just wanted to eat, instead of felt the need to eat. By the end however I felt as if I had eaten breakfast just an hour before.
I broke my fast with a glass of pure orange juice and a date and fig. I prayed before having my main meal: lamb tabbouleh. I ate a portion size equal to any day and felt absolutely stuffed. What will I be praying for in my fajr (dawn) prayer? That the whole of Ramadan will be as easy as today!
Ok, so honesty time: I wasn’t perfect. In the morning when I opened a yogurt drink for my son I licked the lid automatically. I immediately realised what I done and was able to wipe my tongue before swallowing. Another thing, when my son dropped his lollypop on the floor I done the typical mothers thing of giving it a quick suck to clean it before handing it back to him. Old habits die hard. There were some times when the little devil on my shoulder whispered: “just take a bite, no one will know”, and yes of course I could technically lie all I want here, but I can’t lie to myself. At the very least I’m determined to have a sense of an achievement at the end of the month.

Tomorrow will be my first day at work as a Muslim. I realised today I actually forgot to give a heads up to my general manager, who also happens to be the one who works Saturday mornings. I think if I do recieve a negative reaction it will be from keeping her in the dark instead of the actual concept though. I work around food and it will be an incredibly busy shift, so I have a feeling my prayers for all days to be as easy as this one will go answered. Oh god, I can smell the hotdogs now!

Now I must sleep. It was likely this total exhaustion that kept the hunger at bay today- I lose appetite when tired- but I think I’d rather be hungry to be honest.
We still haven’t been able to figure out the accurate Fijr time for my town! Anyway…
Ma’a salama

My last day as an atheist

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(Figuratively speaking that is).

What do you do the day before you change your life? Well, shop and eat, oh and run around like a headless chicken seems to be the answer.
Now a frantic Ramadan eve rush appears to be the norm if the sudden boom of hijabi’s (women who wear the headscarf) that were up the town are anything to go by. Not only did I have to make sure my meal plans were ready and food bought- which had to be gathered in four different locations across my town- but I also wanted to fully indulge in what I would be leaving.
Eating during the day was number one. I met up with a friend who I have regular “luncheons” with and fully enjoyed my bacon and sausage sandwich. Then it was off to have my last Wispa mcflurry, Mcdonalds would have moved on to the next limited edition by the time I can eat during the day again, and boy do I love Wispa. And then I took my son swimming. I felt no shame having my body revealed in a swimming costume in front of men, I wonder if I would have a different view on things once this month is up?
I know I shouldn’t be focusing on the things I am giving up, I also know that I need to remember not eating during the day isn’t the typical Islamic thing- it is Ramadan, I picked that month so I only have myself to blame, not the religion, I cannot use it against Islam.

I almost expect that I should wake up tomorrow and just *feel* different, that I shouldn’t be just sitting around, I should be doing “Muslim” stuff. Ha! Of course a Muslim has to get her children up, dressed and fed just like an atheist does. A Muslim has brush her teeth, get herself dressed, tidy up, just like an atheist. I’m not becoming a different species, so why do I feel like I’m holding my breath before something big happens?

So far I have had nothing but positive reactions (to my face). People are curious, they are asking questions and I am getting first hand experience of how naïve so many still are about Islam. Would I have been any different if I had never met my husband? No, I too would ask the same confused questions in their position. The first thing I get asked 9 times out of ten (amazingly it isn’t “WHY?!”) is: “So are you going to cover your face?”
I have only ever seen one person ever wear a niqab/burka in my town. I see half a dozen wearing hijab every time I go to the shopping centre, so why o why is it the “burka” that is seen to represent Islam here? A part of me is curious as to what it would be like wearing one, but then the thought of stripping myself from all outward identity makes me shudder. I have become friends with a couple of naqabis on the internet, where personality is known before clothes worn, I am making baby steps to becoming more open minded and tolerant to the garment.

This is more than just a fast- Islam has to be in my thoughts with all the actions that I do. I will have to ask myself “this the Islamic way?”. My studies have only just begun as tomorrow I open the Quran and read, and try to understand exactly what it is I am reading. I don’t have my personal Imam to go to, but I do have some Muslim friends who have earned my respect time and time again with their knowledge and perception. Hopefully they don’t mind me pestering them, and of course I will write down any questions I have here.

Will I miss pork? No.
Will I miss showing my hair? I doubt it.
Will I miss being able to do things on my own moral compass instead of one that I have been told I should have? Absolutely.
I guess that is the biggest problem. Muslims have the morality that the Quran gives them, it is a fit. I however feel as if I’m trying to fit a square into a circle. I can act like a Muslim, thinking like one however might just not come. What if I get nothing from this month? Will I just be an atheist in a colour coordinated head scarf?
I will dedicate all that I have control over to this, my biggest fear though isn’t that I find nothing, it’s if I really dislike what it is I do find. And what if my husband likes the “new”, albeit fake, me? What if we become closer than ever before, how will I then feel on the last day?
I promised I would not write a hypothesis as I didn’t want to steer this to a premeditated conclusion, instead however I am constantly thinking of all the different scenarios- the good, the bad, the boring.
I guess there is only one way to find out, and what will be, will be. “It is in God’s hand”, as my husband says, “Who knows” as I say.

Good bye Atheism- forgive me Dawkins!
Ma’a salama

It’s the final countdown

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salah

How do I feel knowing that I only have one full day left living the “atheist life” (whatever that is)? Frustrated, excited, stressed, overwhelmed, anxious, thoughtful, both unprepared and ready… I’m certainly not going to wake up on Friday and know exactly what I’m supposed to do, but then the whole month is the learning experience, the days leading up to it are just some basic prep work.
I feel like I’m a student again. My notepad is out and I write down the Arabic words that flow so easily from my husband’s lips but sound as strained as a gurgling fish from mine. I’ve never been one for languages, I seem to have a limit on how many words I can learn, every new one he teaches me seems to push out the old. At this rate I won’t be able to haggle with taxi drivers the next time I’m in Egypt!
Then there is the wudu (specific way of washing before praying) and the prayers themselves. It is not exactly coming naturally to me at the moment. The thought of then putting the words to the action seems like some complex mathematical problem that far outweighs my ability.
Added to that are the stresses that effect both my husband and I. I’m used to Islamic scholars disagreeing, but when it comes to prayer times (specifically Fijr which is the dawn prayer that announces that start of the fast) I stupidly assumed they would all be on the same wavelength. Not so. After checking a number of sources (three phone apps, London central mosque, local Islamic community centre and a general site giving times for all areas) I have concluded it is somewhere between 2:40am and 4:20am, splendid.

But it isn’t all frantic stress.

hijab

some of my hijab collection

My hijabs are arriving thick and fast. I’m spending far too much time in front of the mirror with youtube clips playing on my phone with a long list of ways to wrap them. I’ve still yet to master a nice and practical way for work though (must be able to take me rushing about and picking things up without falling into my face, over heating me and slipping). I’ve also become somewhat of a stalker, whenever I see a woman in a nicely wrapped hijab I unintentionally follow her around the shop trying to work out how she done it. I check out what women are wearing and whether or not it is suitable and if I can recreate the nice ones that are. Sorry to my hijabi friends reading this but I’ve probably gone down your facebook photos checking out all your different outfit-hijab combinations. It really is becoming somewhat of an addiction.
There is also the bond it is creating with my husband. He doesn’t have any expectations for after the month, but I can tell he is enjoying having someone to share Ramadan with. For once we are able to talk about religion without it forming into a debate. He talks, I listen- it is quite a new concept for us.

I’m not going to lie, my fast preparation was a complete disaster, I fell into the mindset that I might as well enjoy it whilst I can. I promise to you all though I will be honest, if I slip up I will write it here, no matter how ashamed and guilty I feel. I always intended to make this an honest documentation of what I am doing and not a piece of fiction. I’m hoping knowing that I have an audience, be it big or small, I won’t feel like I can get away with making a half hearted attempt.

Anyway back to my lessons, alas not hijab wrapping ones, wish me luck!

How did I get here?

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A western liberal atheist girl with a Middle Eastern conservative Muslim man was bound to be a bit of a roller coaster. When we met in May 2008 people told me he will want me to wear a burka within a year, that obviously never happened (in fact he isn’t a fan of them), but he did encourage me to learn about Islam, which I wanted to do anyway just to help me understand him.
I purchased a Dummies Guide and an English Quran and set to work. I never did finish the Quran and the Dummies Guide just left me with more questions. My Islamic studies were shelved and I decided that I had little need to know how a Muslim should be, all what was important was how my Muslim is.
Not exactly genius thinking on my part.
Islam was just a quiet voice in the background of our relationship, but that voice became a screaming importance when less than a year since we started our relationship, I fell pregnant. At times pregnancy felt like a negotiation as we worked out exactly how we will be raising our son.
In Islam children born of Muslim men are automatically considered Muslim, it is also believed all babies are born Muslim. So despite our eventual agreements that our son will not be raised specifically as Muslim but instead taught about Islam as well as other religions and my own disbelief, I know in my husband’s heart he is one.
At that point we still weren’t officially married. As our wedding day in England approached, there was another major Islamic problem: Muslims are NOT allowed to marry atheists:
“Do not marry unbelieving women until they believe. A slave woman who believes is better than an unbelieving woman, even though if she attracts you. And not marry (your girls) to unbelievers until they believe. A man slave who believes is better than an unbeliever, even though if he attracts you. Unbelievers do (but) beckon you to the fire but Allah beckons by His grace to the garden (of bliss) and forgiveness, and makes His signs clear to mankind; that they may receive admonition.- (al-Baqarah, 221)”
Boy did we desperately search for some sort of loophole for this. We never found one. My husband was stuck between a rock and a hard place. He chose me.
There is no perfect Muslim and yet when people hear of a Muslim marrying an atheist they act as if he had just broken the number one rule in Islam. Tell a Muslim that you haven’t prayed for a couple of days however and they shrug it off as unimportant, and that is one of the pillars in Islam!
So yes, my husband sinned, but so many seem happy to sin just for a glass of alcohol, he sinned to be with the woman he loved, mother of his child. If you are not going to be perfect, be imperfect in the things that will bring the most good and happiness I say.

So in this time together has Islam “rubbed” off on me at all? Possibly, ok not the belief, but some of the principles. Before meeting my husband if someone told me they didn’t drink alcohol I would actively encourage them to do so. I no longer drink myself (not due to being morally against it, I just realised that I wasn’t a “good” drunk, and made some very bad decisions). This decision has granted me some delightful “digs”, as apparently despite the fact even one of my closest friends doesn’t drink until intoxicated, my situation simply *has* to be because my husband wont allow me. Funnily enough, if I was a smoker and quit people would be rejoicing, quit alcohol and they act as if you have announced you have decided to amputate a limb.
Do I dress more modestly now than four years ago? Yes, but then when I met my husband I was a 21 year old university student, I’m now a mother and certain parts of my body are not where they used to be. Ok I’ve always been a big girl so not one for mini skirts, but I still don’t have any issue for those who do have it to flaunt it (within accordance to “time and place”). I’ve come across some of the most judgemental, nasty hijabis, and some of the sweetest, kindest uncovered women. Clothes in my mind are irrelevant to character.
The biggest difference having Islam enter my life via third party had to be on my view on religion and religious people. As I mentioned on my opening page, I was very anti religions and had many generalised view on those who followed religions. Now I have met many people, husband included, who do not fit my previous narrow and insulting view, I am far more tolerant. In that sense Islam as already help me become a better person, or at least certain Muslims have.
I never did really resume my Islamic studies though, at least not until my current cramming. Islam has just been a constant trickle in my life for four years, I now feel it is time to face the flood.

What to eat when you’re fasting

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ramadan

It sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it, but the truth is the foods you eat when you break your fast after dusk, and again your meal before dawn has a massive impact on your hunger levels, mood and health during the day.
There are certain things you can’t avoid: you will feel hunger. In fact, you SHOULD feel hunger. Many say a part of Ramadan is to help you remember those who go without. Also there will be times I feel sucked of energy. There will probably be times that I curse this whole experiment (probably whenever I get a whiff from restaurant doors as I walk around the town or prepare my sons meals). This month is supposed to be challenging, and as they say: “nothing in life worth having comes easy”.
But being careful with what you do eat will hopefully get you off to the best possible start.
After scanning the internet (health sites and Islamic ones), as well as talking to some “Ramadan seasoned” Muslims, a menu is starting to form in my mind.
The meal in the early hours of the morning (suhoor) should be taken by 3.17am according to current time tables. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I’ve just woken up I certainly don’t want to spend much time cooking (when do I ever?), nor do I have the stomach for it.
So firstly, water with a squeeze of fresh lemon. In this time I would like to drink at least a pint of water to help keep me hydrated for the day. To eat: porridge, boiled egg, wholemeal bread and fruit should be enough to make sure my body has the nourishment it needs.
Now this greatly differs from my husband’s idea of breakfast. Fuul (a type of bean with tahini), falafel (heavily fried), cheese and lots of white bread is his (and most of the Egyptian population) favourite. Fuul is certainly a required taste, and falafel has far too much grease, so I think I’ll just be leaving him to it. Let’s see who feels healthier at the end of the month.
And now dinner (iftar), the meal that I will probably be obsessing about throughout the day. After a day of fasting it will be hard not to raid the cupboards and fridge and eat myself into a food coma. Obviously this isn’t exactly the best way to do it, but hungry tummies aren’t the best decision makers.
Many people have told me it is important to break your fast slowly. Well I don’t really have time for that as I have to go to bed so that I have the energy to wake up and eat again, and then to be woken in the morning by my toddler. I’ll be able to eat from 9.08pm (side note: because the times go on sunrise and sunset they change by nearly an hour as the days go past). Traditionally a drink and dates are the first thing consumed and then perform a prayer before the rest of the meal.
The important and difficult thing to do here is not to engorge yourself. I have plenty of weight watchers recipe books that are filled with healthy foods and proper size portions. Soup is considered a great way to start the meal, so perhaps a mug of healthy vegetable soup would do the trick of preventing me overeating on the mains. Citrus fruit is the recommended way to finish the meal.

Any hope of being able to save money on the shopping for a month is totally out the window, but if I am able to stick to my ideas above then I will probably be healthier than I currently am.
Anyone with meal suggestions and tips are welcome to share.

The little details

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The day is drawing near. It was easy to look at the big picture when I decided to do this, it seemed simple, now however I’m learning the little details that I will have to take into account whilst being a Muslim. Silly things that to others might seem insignificant but nevertheless I have to approach it the Islamic way.
When the postman, or any other man, knocks on my door, I’m going to have to cover up before answering. Now considering the postman often knocks about 9am and I’m still in my nightie, this doesn’t bode well. In Egypt I have noticed people are used to waiting a while before the door opens, I guess any women there are quickly rushing about for a scarf and abaya to throw on.
Another thing is injections/tablets. I would have assumed they were perfectly fine to take whilst fasting as it isn’t nourishment, but a friend who is a doctor’s receptionist told me how a man phoned and said he needed to have his holiday injections before Ramadan due to his fast. I’m on the contraception pill, I’m also awaiting an appointment to have my wisdom teeth removed, oh dear.
Swimming- I don’t have a “burkini”, I can’t justify buying one either after my hijab spree the other night. At the moment I take my son weekly as well as go to aqua zumba once a week, and now that has to stop. Feeling deprived isn’t exactly the best way to start this.
Exercise- is it safe to really do any exercise whilst fasting, considering I will already be dehydrated? I have a month left on my gym membership, seems a waste.
Sleep deprivation- I have been so focused on the lack of food I forgot the lack of sleep! I will eat around 10pm, and then pretty much straight to bed as I would have to wake up at about 3am, and then back to bed as my toddler wakes at 7am. He has recently dropped his nap so no help there. Will being both tired and hungry put a strain on my parenting?
What about when prayer time comes whilst I’m at work? Do I abandon my till and customers to get ready and pray?

The list of the little details gets longer by the day. I knew about the prayers, I knew about the clothes, I knew about the food, I didn’t however know that I might have to abandon my make up and scan all my body products for any pork ingredients.

I’m going to make mistakes, I’m going to forget things, I’m going to be totally oblivious to some. Right now I am learning the details, but I still have some way to go before I truly understand them. Maybe an atheist never will.

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