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The Fast

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fasting
Obviously you don’t need to be a Muslim for a month to learn about Islam, anyone can buy a Quran, download one, get the app, and read it at their pleasure. Fasting however is something I don’t think any book can really tell you about. It would just be pointless words on a page, which will have most people thinking Ramadan is crazy.
I didn’t get it. I have seen my husband fast for that last few years and I just couldn’t grasp the point. Oh sure it was explained to me- time to be closer to God, time to appreciate what you have, time to remember those who go without etc etc, but going without food and drink? Really?
Well yes, really! At the end of the month I probably still won’t understand much about Islam, but I can now say I do understand why people fast, why they look forward to it, why they are not all leaving the religion after the first day. This is something you really need to feel to truly *get* it.
I honestly didn’t think I could do it, I never in a million years thought I would enjoy it. But I am and I do. Every morning it feels like an impossible task, than every day at 9pm I get to feel such a sense of achievement, and I get to share it with my husband. Meals are appreciated, I can’t say when the last time was that I truly appreciated a meal before this month, they are a celebration. I love the discipline needed, the focus required. And on the spiritual sense, fasting means you will never forget that you are in a special month, that you are doing something. For the religious every time they feel weak, they feel the pangs of hunger, they have a reminder as to why they are doing it, who they are doing it for, and to be thankful.
Don’t get me wrong, not all Muslims enjoy Ramadan. Out loud they feel they most proclaim a love for the Islamic holiday, but quietly they whisper their true feelings. People can become moodier, lack of food and exhaustion, thanks to the very early wake up to eat, is not a great combination. Apparently breaths can be worse too, something I’ve not noticed (another thing for me to be thankful for!), and someone even said BO increases too, oh my. Too many women also complain how they have to spend half the day in the kitchen cooking, making food more a part of their daily lives than when they could eat. There are feelings of guilt when some think all they are doing is fasting and they don’t have time to also read Quran, perform longer prayers etc.
Having the wrong attitude about Ramadan also doesn’t help. Some spend the whole month counting down to Eid (three days of feasts after Ramadan), or they spend the whole day thinking about their evening meal, and eating more than a days worth of food in the one sitting. Some people spend the day sleeping, completing voiding the whole point of the fast.
I can’t eat or drink between 3am to 9pm, but I’m not going to sit around thinking “oh woe is me”. I’m not going to wish this month away either, in fact when my husband said earlier that we were half way, I felt a pang of sadness. When I had five days where I couldn’t fast, I felt as if I was missing out.
Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t a walk in the park- in fact it was walking in the park on one of England’s hottest days of the years that proved one of the hardest days fasting- there are moments I am just staring at food, smelling it, fantasising about eating it. Then there are the small but more enticing temptations such as wishing I could taste food as I cook it, just to check it is ok. Feeding a child during the day has also had me nearly slipping up from old habits. Before this month I don’t thing my son even knew ice lollies came without a bite taking out of them first!

Now, I have a slight fasting problem- on Wednesday I’m due to be put under general anaesthetic to have my wisdom teeth removed. I haven’t had my consultation so don’t know if you are supposed to eat beforehand, however I’m pretty sure afterwards I’ll be wanting pain killers, which breaks the fast.

religion data

What am I?


Another issue my minor operation is causing is the form I have to fill out. It asks for my religion. I will still be wearing hijab (though taking it off for the actual operation), so ticking nonreligious or N/A seems a bit of an eyebrow raiser. But I don’t want to lie either. I’m guessing I should leave it blank, after all as far as I’m aware legally I’m not obliged to answer.
Hmm, I don’t really like being a blank.
I guess a devout Muslim would put of the op until after Ramadan, the problem is it turns out I have a massive fear of GA (never been put to sleep before) and if I put it off now I doubt I will ever do it. Oh well, I guess it is impracticalities such as this that make some people hate this month.

Right, now I really must sleep, I have to get up in two and a half hours to eat before my fasting day starts again. Alhamdulillah.

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Muslims in the west

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Is it impossible?

Muslims in the west

Being a Muslim in a nonmuslim country obviously brings up issues that you don’t get in Egypt et el. Considering Islam is meant to be more than just a belief in a certain god, but a complete way of life, living in a country where that isn’t the way of life makes me imagine Muslims here are often faced with tricky situations and choices.
Praying for example. As far as I’m aware employers don’t legally have to give Muslim’s more time on their break to make sure they can pray, nor do they need to allow them to split their break and have it at the set times of prayer. Muslim men on Fridays have a much bigger problem as praying jumuah at the mosque is compulsory for them (women don’t need to go to mosque to pray), so unless you have a very lenient boss, it is either not going to happen, or you have to quit.
And it isn’t just that where problems rise up about work for Muslims in the west. I work in a cinema, the cinema has a bar, selling alcohol is haram (forbidden). I asked my managers if they could avoid putting me on it this month and they were fine with that. However, I am working kiosk, the main part of the job. There we sell popcorn, coke, nachos and, oh dear, hotdogs. Pork hotdogs. Like with alcohol, a Muslim cannot consume or sell pork. Those two things alone limit you greatly from what jobs you can go for, especially if you are unskilled or need something more flexible, such as supermarkets, restaurants, bars.
And what about when it comes to eating out? Unless you live in one of the high Muslim populated areas or want a kebab, you are stuck with vegetarian or fish as you are supposed to eat only “halal”. Now as it is Ramadan and we cannot eat until after nine, we haven’t eaten out so I haven’t had to deal with the limitation. I don’t really care for fish and kebabs should come with a three drink minimum.
Another thing I haven’t yet had to deal with is having a man (such as postman) knock on my door unexpectantly, so I haven’t had to deal with the rush and inconvenience of throwing something over my head and making sure my arms and legs are fully covered too.
And that leads me to clothes. Now this is only a problem if you are particularly conservative and just wear abayas as even the ones on eBay are double or more the price as those abroad. Other than that however I have found there are so many options in normal highstreet shops that can give you perfectly acceptable modest covering. Maxi dresses, waterfall cardigans, wide leg jeans, linen trousers, boat neck t shirts, etc etc. Mixing and matching such options mean no shop is off limits. I can’t even look at clothes now without thinking whether it is appropriate, and if not what can I add to it to make it so! I love looking at Muslim fashion blogs such as this one for inspiration: http://luffisallyouneed.blogspot.co.uk/p/about-me.html. Women such as her certainly don’t seem oppressed to me.
As for hijabs, once again you are not limited to specialist online stores or a trip to Edgware road, as pretty scarves can be found anywhere (in fact the newest member to my hijab collection comes from New Look).
I’ve personally not had to deal with discrimination going out and about in a hijab, but I’m sure for some it is a persistent issue they face. It is one of the things those in a minority will likely always have to deal with sadly. Reading about this subject online meant I came across both the extremes. Some islamaphobes telling Muslims to bugger off where they came from (a common misconception that Islam is a region not a religion), and some Muslims calling to force their beliefs on Christian countries. Sadly the first group believe all Muslims think like the second group, and the second group believe we all think like the first. The majority of people don’t think like either alhamduallah, both are hateful and, well, idiotic to be honest. I don’t believe England will erupt into a religious war like some OTT people on the sites have predicted, I have faith in my county and its people, be they Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Atheist etc. I truly believe we are one of the more diverse and tolerant countries in the world and will continue to be so.
Sadly these negative attitudes cause be extremists and bigots means the normal Muslim has to deal with the backlash. Being in a minority means you might not have anyone/ or very few to turn to who can emphasise though, especially if you don’t have a local mosque where you can meet other members of your faith.
And that brings me to a problem I have faced. In a Muslim country there are mosques on every corner, and between those corners there are speakers doing the call to prayer (also known as the adhan). This lets people know, wherever they are, whatever they are doing, that it is time to perform wudu and pray, which also means you know exactly when to break and start the fast. Every day the time changes slightly so it is something you have to keep checking up on when you don’t have the announcement. Also, people differ sometimes greatly on what the actual times are, and when you are waiting to eat after a whole day of sustaining, every minute counts.

I know if I was being a Muslim for a month in Egypt, I’d have all the resources, I wouldn’t feel concerned about going out in hijab, hell even if I went out in a burka people wouldn’t care. My prayers would be on time, and I would have muslim sisters all around me to help and guide. I guess that is the true benefit of the Muslim for a Month holiday which started this whole idea, it is just so easy. But it is also unrealistic, why would a British person wanting to really know what it would be like to be Muslim, do it in a way that has little reflection on how he/she would actually live as a Muslim?
There is one benefit to being a Muslim in the west compared to the Middle East- you don’t have the issue of confusing Islam and culture. The two have become so mingled there that many Muslims are not quite sure where the line is. In fact whether here or there the only way to truly know what Islam is, is to read the Quran. That way you get the true message, you don’t get a bias (be it positive or negative) interpretation, you don’t get it mixed with the Arab culture, you get Islam.
You can be a Muslim anywhere in the world, after all the word simply means: “one who submits to God”. Yes there are parts of the finer details that can be more difficult, perhaps impossible to follow in a Christian country, but you don’t need to turn to some bearded fellow for the answer, as the Quran says God knows what is in your heart and knows your intention, that is what is important.

Wanted: Muslim sisters

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muslim sisters
The other day I posted how I wanted/needed to go to a mosque, and I still intend to, but the more I think about it the more nervous I get.
I am not one who enjoys new situations, and when I have no choice I really like someone to “hold my hand”, at least for the first time. I assumed I would have my husband to hold my hand, but alas this can not be.
I already knew that men and women did not pray together in most mosques- most have women in a separate room, some behind a curtain, and apparently there are even some that don’t allow women at all. Now I can’t begin to say how anti I am for all three of those. This isn’t a dig at Islam, because it ISN’T Islam. In the time of the prophet it can be gathered by hadiths that women were in the same room as men, not hidden away. Yes, they were at the back, but free to participate in mosque discussions and with clear view and hearing of the imam. I really can go on about the subject, but this Muslim brother’s blog page pretty much sums up my thoughts on it perfectly: http://muslimreverie.wordpress.com/2009/10/31/its-time-to-end-gender-segregation-in-mosques/
Anyway, so as nerve wracking as I knew it would be to enter a mosque, I was prepared for it. I thought to lessen anxiety my husband and I could go for Iftar (evening meal after fast), until he informed me that that too was segregated! For someone who isn’t the most confident of people, the idea of sitting around eating and trying to make small talk with complete strangers has to be up there with one of my worst nightmares. I know I’d hate every minute of it. Obviously I will be dealing with feelings of not belonging there and feeling a fraudster, but feeling lost and confused on top of that? Argh!
I don’t want a trip to the mosque to be tainted by my own fears, I wish I knew even just one Muslima in the “real world”, to show me where to go, what to do, to talk to me as we eat.
But I don’t, all I have is my husband and he wouldn’t be much of a support in another room.
Before Ramadan many large London mosques were running classes for new Muslims and those interested in it. That would have been perfect, at the very least I wouldn’t feel like an imposter, and they would know and expect ignorance on my part. Sadly now it is the holy month, mosques are a bit preoccupied and the classes have ended/put on hold.
And it isn’t just visiting mosques that having Muslim sisters around would help with. The only Muslim in my life is my husband, and obviously he cannot explain to me Islam from a females point of view. In fact, he thinks I obsess about the differences between men and women in Islam, but he just doesn’t *get* it, there are difficulties women face that he doesn’t, and so doesn’t understand just why they are difficult. A woman however would get it, and explain how she deals with it/understands it. An example of this is the segregation mentioned above- my husband who gets to be in the main room with the speaker, able to participate in the discussions, cannot say how women feel being hidden away. Ok, some, maybe most, women might love it, but only they can say that, not a man. It is easy for men to say women shouldn’t wear make up, shouldn’t pluck their eyebrows, shouldn’t do this, shouldn’t do that, they are not living it, so they don’t bother truly thinking about it and understanding it.
When nonmuslims talk about the worst things about Islam, it is likely to be ranked: 1) terrorism, and 2) female oppression.
Now I know number one is simply not true, I didn’t need to do this month to know that, but number two is what I am working on now. You don’t need western media distorting Islam and making it out as sexist when so called Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia do it perfectly well all by themselves. But I have known some women online for years who are Muslim and not the “stuck in the kitchen and only out in a burka” type. The Prophet Muhammed’s first wife, Khadija, was a strong, successful business woman, much older than he was. Their monogamous marriage lasted for 25 years until she passed away, making me believe he must have truly loved and respect her. Doesn’t seem like the type of woman or marriage for a man who some claim just wanted women hidden away.

I need to start addressing the issues I have with Islam, and not be like those who are judging it by inaccuracies. I’m thinking of starting a facebook group and posting my questions/concerns there. Right now, whenever I discover something I disagree with, I’m seeing it as a point against Islam, instead of researching the why and even credibility behind it.
I’m nearly half way through being a Muslim for a month and feel as if I’m still clueless. I need more dialogue with actual Muslims, preferably sisters!

Searching for religion?

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This is no new question to me, be it from others or myself. Am I searching for religion? Well, that would explain my interest in it. Long before Islam ever entered my life I had already read and studied the bible, I was a member of atheist forums and a frequent poster in the Yahoo! Answers religion and spirituality section, and then before that I was very much into mythology, especially Nordic.
Not including subjects I formally studied at school/collage/university, I have spent more time studying religion than anything else.
Why?
Some will say that perhaps I’m searching for something, and maybe I’m a believer in denial. In fact, I’ve come across many religious people who do not believe anyone is truly atheist, but instead purposely turn away from God for various reasons. And some of those who do grudgingly accept that atheism does exist, still insist that the atheists disbelief isn’t as strong as their belief.
Am I a believer in denial? No. I honestly cannot stress my complete zero belief in deities enough. I have often closed my eyes a thought long and hard, searching if I felt there was a remote possibility, that perhaps there was some sort of Supreme Being, but I just come up empty. I’m not denying god purposely anymore than a theist denies the millions of possible other deities.
But am I searching for something? Do I *want* to believe? Ah, well this is where it gets complicated. I don’t think I’m searching for something, I believe my interest in religion comes from fascination, after all I know a few devout Muslims who are interested in the gods of ancient Egypt, it doesn’t mean they are being pulled religiously to it.
But as for wanting to believe, I just don’t know. I’m a nonspiritual atheist, I personally believe when we are dead, we are dead, nothing. It isn’t exactly comforting. I’m lucky that I’ve yet to lose someone really close to me, but when it happens (if I don’t go first that is), I’m sure I will be praying there was some sort of after all.
However saying that, if the Quran is indeed correct, then most of my close relatives and friends are doomed to be tortured for eternity due to most being atheists and agnostics, so hmm, I think the idea of “nothing” is a bit more comforting there.
But knowing that someone was always listening? Having faith in miracles? Now that is comforting.
When your life is at its worse and there seems to be no way out, having the comfort of prayer, and knowing that something can make it better- that IS comforting.
The community I spoke about in my last blog- that IS comforting.
I believe the need for comfort is one of the main reasons people are drawn to a religion. It isn’t just comfort because of loved ones and your own imminent death, but in a broader sense: The unknown. Whether it is questions of what happens after we die, or what was before the universe, “I don’t know” is a frightening answer. God supplies a far better answer, he/she/it/they make people feel loved and secure, and religion gives people a purpose and importance. It sounds incredibly reassuring.
If I could click my fingers and believe would I? Possibly, but I’m still searching to find what it is I would want to believe. As of yet, I can only draw comfort from Mark Twain: “I don’t fear death. I had been dead for billions of years before I was born, and hadn’t suffered the slightest inconvenience.”

I didn’t start this month because of a want to convert, I started it because I want knowledge, we all should. Whether you are an atheist, agnostic or theist, learning about other peoples point of view is the best way to end intolerances and broaden the mind. Fully immersing myself into the religion may seem like an extreme way to do this, but already I feel it is letting me experience religion in a way the years of merely reading about it didn’t. The forums and groups I was a member of before was geared towards finding the negative, whereas what I’m doing is to enter without agenda. I will be open about the good as I am about the bad and confusing. I’m not trying to debate it, which for me is a refreshing change, I’m trying to feel it.
So no, I’m not searching for religion, I’m searching for understanding, it should be an endless search for all of us.

I would love for hear from converts- to any religion or from it. What was your journey?

The community

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Last night I walked into my staff room where a new security guard was waiting for his shift to begin.
He looked at me, and then with a smile said: “Salam alaikum”.
It is an Arabic greeting meaning “peace be upon you”, and is used by all Muslim, regardless of whether they speak Arabic or not.
“Wa alaikum al-salam,” (and upon you be peace) I replied.
It felt warmer than what would have been a simple awkward “hi” had I not been in hijab. He greeted me in such way which showed me that he too was Muslim, a “brother”.
The sense of community in religion is undeniably strong and welcoming, I know nonreligious people who go to church every Sunday just so they can get that sense of belonging and connection to others.
When I wear my hijab out, no I don’t feel modest, but I do feel like part of something. I see another hijabi and want to smile in acknowledgement, we are part of something together. However, I don’t know whether she feels the same, so without knowing the correct protocol, I avoid eye contact and pretend I don’t see her (the same way you stare intently at your mobile when you see an old acquaintance and not quite sure if them being on your facebook really warrants a real life hello- best to just look distracted).
I have seen how religious people are with newly converts or those “on the edge” of it. Suddenly you get a million best friends, they will listen, they will be understanding, they will shower you with informative internet links, and happily talk the night away with you. Wear a hijab for the first time and expect a hundred of complimentary comments: “beautiful”, “mashallah”, “it suits you”- it doesn’t matter if actually it has made you look like you’ve aged twenty years and nowhere near as nice as your hair looked, they will make you feel as if you had just been professionally made over. They are like your best friends who will tell you your hideous new shoes are stunning. Religious communities will take you into their bear hug, and for some people it doesn’t actually matter what the religion is, it is the community that they were drawn to.

Is it a bad thing? I don’t think so, however it is such a powerful feeling that many use it as a converting tool. Christianity is probably leading the way here, and cults too use this “love bombing” as an effective way to get converts, however usually it is a genuine show of warmth and hope to an individual you pray would join the faith. My husband got to experience this with our devout Christian neighbours at our old address. When they invited him out to London on a nice sunny day, he had no idea he was going to a Christian celebration. Once there he said it felt like a “bring a disbeliever day” as there were many nonchristians just like him that had been brought by believing friends. There is no denying the neighbours and those he met that day were nice, really nice, probably some of the friendliest you will meet (especially in London). But there was an agenda, it was the same agenda they had when they invited him out again a few weeks later, and why they are so insistent on us going to some community camping trip this summer. It is definitely more effective than knocking on doors.

However converting people aside, when you are part of a faith, you suddenly have a massive thing in common with up to two billion people. This is more than just having the same favourite colour. Your core morals, ethics, beliefs are similar, they come from the same place. Yes people have different interpretations but the overall picture is set.
You don’t have that with atheism.
Atheism is a simple disbelief, and links people as much as a disbelief in Santa does. Some try to makes it as a community, they come up with groups like “Brights” and “Humanists”, there is even an atheist “A” symbol, but it really doesn’t make sense for a disbelief. In everyone’s life there will be thousands of different types of communities we will be part of, it is human nature to seek out those with similar beliefs and circumstances, hell I’m part of three separate online communities just because I’m married to an Egyptian, but religious ones are in a league of their own.
If this is sounding critical it didn’t mean to. I LIKE the feeling I get when I’m out wearing a hijab and people think I’m “one of them”. I think this feeling is stronger and even more important when you are living in a country where you are the minority. It is also probably stronger in Ramadan. You are not just sharing a religion, you are sharing a struggle, a challenge, a goal.
And because of this I cannot wait until I can fast again, and that is something I never thought I’d say. I miss it, obviously not the feeling of dehydration, or dragging myself out of bed at silly o’clock to eat, but doing something, experiencing something, sharing in something… important. When I read a diabetic Muslim friend of mine had tried to fast for a day with dangerous consequences, I thought she was crazy, why on earth would anyone risk themselves like that, but now I get it (although obviously I don’t recommend it). Not fasting these last few days has given me the same feeling I would have not putting decorations up at Christmas- sure you don’t need decorations up to celebrate Christmas, but it helps you feel part of the holiday.

If I truly want to immerse myself into a religion, I must immerse myself into its religious community. Islam puts emphasis on the ties between believers, fellow Muslims are your brothers and sisters, it demands that you look after each other, “The Believers are but a single brotherhood….” [Al-Hujuraat 49:10] . The next step in my experiment is clear- I have to go to a mosque.

The personalities of the pious

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I have been wondering if it takes a certain personality to be able to be a Muslim (and other religions). It doesn’t come naturally to me, I tend to find I disagree with more than I agree with in terms of what I can and cannot do. People tell me Islam is meant to be easy, well for me it doesn’t seem to “fit” (yet).
It isn’t just about believing God, and Mohammed being his prophet, I think I would need a total personality overhaul.
For example yesterday I was out in a maxi dress, cardigan and hijab. Perfectly acceptable by most Muslim standards, until that is I rolled my sleeves up. It was an automatic thing, I felt hot, I do it all the time. When I realised I put them back down, but not because of any horror that people saw my arms, I couldn’t have cared less, they are just arms in my mind, but because of this “experiment”. Will I ever feel any shame for showing strangers that part of me? Do I think for a second women should feel such shame? No, it seems such a strange concept for me. I just don’t get it.

musims view on magic mike

If that’s wrong I don’t want to be right

Days before I started this month I saw Magic Mike, a film about male strippers. I also read 50 Shades of Grey, and I want to see Ted, a film about a vulgar teddy, I love Family Guy. I’m not a PG type person. Is a good Muslim girl allowed to see/read such things? Ok, 50 Shades was awful, but that’s not the point, do you have to change who you are when you become religious, or will only certain people ever follow “restricting” religions, because they already believe in the principles?
I’m not a bad girl by English standards. I’ve never been in trouble with the law, never done drugs, don’t smoke, never been in a fight. I’m not Mother Teresa, I’m not evil spawned either, I’m an average 26 year old woman. Up to this point I’m pretty much OK with my interests and humour, but if I converted to Islam, would I suddenly not be allowed to laugh at certain jokes? Not allowed to see certain films and TV programmes? Will I really be “me”?
I wonder if this is why many converts change their name, despite not needing to, to represent a complete new them. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that, I’m not even sure if it’s possible.

Rubbish book, but is it sinful?


At work I will often have a break in the staff room with just one or more male co-workers. Probably not allowed for the pious. Also working with people aged mainly 18-23, I hear the crudest of the crude things, and laugh. It is an involuntary action that I don’t believe I would ever be able to change. I also had a baby outside wedlock, my parents had grandchildren before they married, and my brother’s girlfriend is due their first in Sept, are we supposed to feel like sinners?
So I ask converts to Islam- did your morals, values and personality fit Islam before learning about it, did it change as you learnt about it, or is it a constant struggle to keep having to remind yourself the things that are now not acceptable to you? Or maybe you have a different view on what is required in Islam and you proudly saw Magic Mike in hijab, couldn’t put 50 Shades down between prayers, and you know more crude jokes than Jimmy Carr.
Can a very left wing liberal,15 certificate rated westerner ever fit Islam?

One step forward, two steps back

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prayers not allowedA mere couple of hours ago I was ready, I was pumped up, I was determined and dedicated. I was going to do it all, read the Quran at every opportunity, pray with the truest intention and fast without complaint, but then Mother Nature happened. I shouldn’t be surprised, I was kind of asking for it wearing a white dress so close to being due on.
All this week I was looking forward to it, thinking what a welcomed break it would be, no more fasting, no need to feel bad for my lack of Quran reading, nor will I have to do any prayers. But now “she” is here, I feel so deflated.
In a bit of a daze I poured myself a glass of water and drunk it, just yesterday I would have killed to be able to do the same, but now, now that I can and did? It seemed so bittersweet. I could have made myself a feast, but I have no appetite. I don’t *want* to eat, and not because I have developed some sort of eating disorder, I’m happily planning my iftar meal, it just feels wrong.
All those promises I made in my earlier blog, was it just this morning I said all that? And now, I wait, five days of setback. Five less days to read the Quran. 25 less prayers. Can I still practise the words, or is it forbidden merely uttering them?
I’ve already made my thoughts clear on what I think about the whole “women are unclean during their period” situation, so I’ll not repeat it, after all it wouldn’t be very Islamic of me.
I know I shouldn’t feel discourage, just because there are certain things I can’t do doesn’t mean the whole experiment is shelved, this is just something us women have to deal with. It isn’t the end.
But still… sigh…

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