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My last day as a Muslim

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Has it really been a month? I woke up on my last day as a Muslim thinking how anticlimactic it seemed, but what did I expect? I just wanted to do something, a final push perhaps, but when I have to spend my day with a toddler, my options are limited. I knew where I needed to go, I knew what I needed to do, and after begging my manager, I was given my evening shift off to be able too do it.
I needed to focus on Islam, not the show of being a Muslim. I probably should have done more of that in this time, but then, there are a lot of things I probably would have done differently if I could redo this month. I was going to go to mosque for maghrib prayer (around 8pm) and stay reading the Quran until ishaa prayer (around 10pm).
Not much perhaps, but I truly felt that is where I had to end this, that is what I should be doing.
With my evening plans sorted, the day time was uneventful and insignificant. I discovered a new hijab wrap, and felt a pang of sadness that my hijab days were about to be behind me. I quite liked having something different about me, standing out from the norm, and of course there is the community that goes with it. At the same time, I do miss my hair, and having my ears free from material.
It felt too surreal to honestly think exactly how I felt about it being my last day. In some ways I don’t feel ready for it to end just yet, in others ways I do. It very much feels like what it is- I have been playing a character for a month, and that can get exhausting. It didn’t come naturally to me, I didn’t feel like me as a Muslim, not just due to the beliefs, but the clothes, the attitude, the actions. But I also feel like I need more time, that it has only been in the last few days that I felt any true connection, and the desire to learn openly and honestly.
When I asked for the sign during my first time in a mosque, and when during the day there were moments I genuinely thought it was going to happen, I cannot shake that feeling. Excitement, nerves, fear, joy, and then the feeling when the day ended and the sign was never shown. Empty, betrayed, surprised and yet nonchalant… disappointed? I still haven’t made up my mind exactly what I feel about God even if He were real. I morally disagree with many of His actions and ideals that the holy books (Bible and Quran) accredit to Him. And yet, it would be nice, wouldn’t it? That comfort, feeling part of something bigger than yourself, having a purpose.
The evening came and I got ready for my second trip to mosque, I went armed with my quran and note pad, but when I arrived it wasn’t like what I had experienced just two days previously. It was empty!
What a difference there is between the first day of Eid to the last. I stood in the woman section feeling a bit lost. Although I had prayed many times, I also needed some visual guide, be it my husband or YouTube video. Thankfully my husband saw my lost expression and decided to pray with me behind the barrier. Afterwards he disappeared back to the men’s section and I sat to read Quran. I got through about five suras (chapters), reflecting at the end of each one. I half smiled as I read small parts here and there about the signs God has given us, and frowned as I read more promises of afterlife torture.
If I was looking for *something* to put it all in place, I didn’t find it. I was just left frustrated. There was no connection, I didn’t even feel spiritual. I wished they had dimmed the lights, lit candles, burned incense, have the Arabic Quran playing, just something! Bright red carpet, dull walls and cheap lighting, it just didn’t feel like the type of environment that a religious awakening can take place. But surroundings aside, I had hoped that something in the text would feel personal to me, that would strike a chord. I’m still a way off truly understanding why so many have converted, I want to understand and so making it a continuous mission to do so.
I haven’t finished the Quran, but I will, and it doesn’t stop there. I do believe the most important thing to do when learning a religion is to go to the holy book first. Use your own brain and see what it says before having people tell you what it says. They easily manipulate words to make it come across as more positive or more negative, they are bias one way or the other. However, I also believe that with a book that can be so complex and difficult to read, it is great to seek other sources to help you reflect. I’ve a growing list of other books I want to read, and speakers I want to hear. Clearly a lot of people gain something positive from Islam, they see it as the absolute truth and beautiful, I might never believe but I want to continue learning and understanding why others do.
I prayed the final prayer alone, wanting to test my own ability. Well I messed up, twice. I assumed I enjoyed praying alone more, but I missed the feeling I had when I prayed with a room full of women during Eid prayers and really hope to be able to do it again. Is that wrong of me? Not doing the shehada (affirmation of faith) but wanting to go to mosque and pray?

By the time I went home and to bed, the day felt as anticlimactic as it did at the start. I feel like I’m missing something, although I am no longer going to “play Muslim”, I know this isn’t over yet, I don’t want it to be. Yes I am still an atheist, but there is a thirst for knowledge I don’t feel quenched. This is supposed to lead to something and I want to know what. God? Perhaps, or maybe it is nothing to do with religion specifically, but the learning. I’ve been at a bit of a crossroads in my life lately, my toddler is getting older and at twenty-six I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. I always said I wanted to go back to education, maybe a religion/theology class is the way to go?
I will give an in detail overview of my thoughts, feelings and perhaps changes to myself during the month in another blog post, I just need to work out what they are first.

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My first trip to a mosque

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going to mosque

The pious (and blurry faced) family

I was hoping to write this yesterday, with my experience fresh on my mind, the every thought still vivid, but any Muslim reading this will know how hectic the first day of Eid is, and it was certainly no exception for us. But, it was the first thing we done that was the most, perhaps only one with religious significance. My first trip to a mosque.
The feast prayers were starting at 9am, but when you have a toddler alarm clock that isn’t particularly early. Still full up from the night before, having breakfast wasn’t a worry and instead I focused on getting ready. Firstly there was performing wudu, I knew after I done that I wasn’t allowed to go to the toilet or even so much as fart as I just did not have the courage to perform wudu again at the mosque. I then slipped on my abaya and began pinning my hijab. Now that was a challenge, despite having a month of practise I didn’t know how conservative I had to do my wrap for mosque, how long should my scarf be at the front and back, how tight under the chin? And socks! Was I supposed to wear them? Was my feet meant to be bare? I felt like I was messing up before I had even got there. After a frantic SOS post on a FB group I decided that I shouldn’t wear socks (thankfully I didn’t read the posts that later disagreed with the first reply, I think my head would have imploded). And then we were off.
What if I was one of only a few women? What if my clothes looked nothing like anyone else’s? What if I completely mess up the prayer? Will people see my hands shaking?
According to the website the building can hold 300 people with room for women. I’ve heard some horror stories about the women’s spaces in mosques, and that some didn’t allow women at all. What if I was stuffed into a dark closet sized space, in the sweltering heat, not hearing what the imam was saying?
My heart really was pounding in my chest. I did feel slightly better when we pulled up near the building and the street was lined with cars and Muslims pouring out. Plenty of women that I can just follow to show me the way, and the more women the less likely my total inexperience will stand out.
Outside the building there were mats laid down just in case the men couldn’t all fit indoors. Surely that means women really will be crammed in some tiny space as the men will take priority (as men have to pray in a mosque but women can pray at home)!
I spotted a small doorway to the side of the building that women were going through. I don’t think I have ever experienced segregation like that, to the point of a different entrance. I admit it, it seemed very reminiscent of black/white segregation in America less than a hundred years ago. What was waiting for me inside? Was the feeling of second class citizen going to continue?
With a pounding heart I said goodbye to my husband and son and went to my door. Just on the inside of the entrance were shelves to place shoes, thankfully I was already aware of this. I took my shoes off and slowly edged forward. To my left was a bathroom where women were removing their hijab and performing wudu, I was glad that I get to at least avoid the stress of doing that publicly. But then, was I supposed to do it there? If I didn’t would people criticise me? I couldn’t deal with the added stress that I may already be making a mistake, and instead focused on the room to my right.
From my angle all I could see was a line of chairs full of women chatting away. I wasn’t sure if that was where I was meant to go, of if that was some informal meeting. Well, it was either in there or the bathroom, so holding my breath I entered.
As I stepped in a realised this was certainly no closet space! We wasn’t even in a separate room to the men, instead the hall was divided by a barrier, probably no more than 6ft high. And not only that, but the barrier divided the room equally. I was shocked, of course more men would be coming to mosque, but still they made the space 50/50. The barrier was placed diagonally (to indicate the direction of mecca, the direction we have to face to pray), and we had fans! Large fans lined the back wall, keeping us cool on the hot summers day, a luxury the men did not have.
Women were sitting on the chairs in the back or in little groups chatting away. There was still plenty of space, so after a moment or two looking dumbfounded, I shuffled slightly away from the door and quickly sat.
There was still fifteen minutes before the prayers began, so I assured myself that there was nothing I needed to do other than sit and take in my surroundings.
salwar kameez

The type of clothing most were wearing


The women were pouring in and my did they look stunning! I wasn’t in a room with women in black burkas looking miserable, but a room alive with fantastic colours and sparkles. Some were in diamante encrusted abayas like me, but the majority were wearing the Indian/Pakistani salwar kameez in the most gorgeous bright designs. Hijabs were wrapped in all the ways you can think of, some accessorised with flowers and brooches. Bangles and earrings didn’t seem off limits either, and to my relief there was a mix of socks and bare feet.
Looking around though I noticed I was the only one sitting alone. I felt like I was in a no mans land circle as women came in and then went off to greet their friends and family, leaving the space around me bare, and making me feel more and more lonely.
“Ria?”
My name that has been with me all my life didn’t make sense to my ears at that moment, after all, who would know me here, who would speak to me here?
I turned and expecting to see no one, but instead I saw a face which seemed somewhat familiar from years ago smiling at me.
She reminded me of her name and that we had gone to school together. I think my wide, petrified looking eyes very quickly gave away that I had no idea what I was meant to be doing, and probably with sympathy she sat down with me and we began to chat.
I couldn’t have been more thankful and my nerves finally began to calm. I didn’t mention the blog but did say I have spent the month reading and learning the Quran and hadn’t done any official declaration of the faith. I regretted not being more honest from the get go, but to be fair I didn’t feel like I had much control over what I was blurting out of my mouth.
She invited me to come sit with her mum and herself, an invite I gladly accepted. Her mum greeted me warmly, as a British convert to Islam, married to a man from a Muslim country, she seemed to emphasise with the manic emotions I was feeling.
Eventually people began to sit in their rows. Although crowded, there was enough space for me not to worry that my backside was going to go in someone’s face when I had to bend down. The Imam was speaking from the other side of the barrier, not like I could really hear him. This wasn’t the fault of the barrier though but the women! Despite the Imam constantly reminding people to be quiet, the women chatted away endlessly, all distracted with their “Eid Mubarak’s” and kissing cheeks. The nerves that were fading returned with vengeance however when I heard the Imam explain the differences in the prayer. Differences? My husband hadn’t warned me this prayer was different to any other. All I heard was something about four “Allah Akbar’s”. I was certain I was going to mess up.
And then the prayer began. I didn’t have to worry about messing up, after the first “Allah Akbar” most of the women then moved on to the bending down position, only to quickly realise their mistake and stand up straight again, my husband later told me the men had done the same *phew*.
My mind was blank, I forgot the little part of the prayer that I had learnt, instead I just went through the motions trying to look like I had been doing this for years. And then there was another bit of unknown territory. After the prayer, people stayed sitting with their hands raised and palms towards their face. Unsurely I done the same, I don’t know if they were reciting quran, or saying some other specific words, but something told me, rightly or wrongly, that I should pray, this was my time to ask God anything I wanted from him.
So I did. I asked (perhaps cliché) for a sign.
What the sign should be is personal and needed to be shown before the end of the day, but it wasn’t something like moving a mountain, appearing in front of me, letting me win the lottery etc. I also knew that even if the sign came, it would still be the start of a long, perhaps difficult journey, but it would also be the only time in my life that I seriously prescribed to the idea that God is actually real.
After the prayers we all got up and once again the room was alive with kissing cheeks and happy Eids, dates were also passed around. After giving my thanks to my old school friend for taking me under her wing, I made my way out and found my husband and son (who had been given a lollypop).
Despite the nerves I left on a buzz, it wasn’t a negative experience and many parts of it pleasantly surprised me. I didn’t feel like a second class citizen, and the women didn’t look solemn and oppressed. Praying in a group is perhaps something that takes getting used to, and the more you go the less you would be taking sneaky looks around and just fully immersing yourself in the prayer. Although the sneaky looks around did prove fascinating as well. I saw elderly women performing their own version of the prayer with the aid of a chair, children either attempting it or just watching on, and then a couple of girls sitting on the chairs in the back, sporting the camel bump hijab and sleek abaya, with a sour, bored expression as if they were the cast of an Emirates version of “Mean Girls”. Yes, the room was certainly diverse in more ways than just race.
I wish I had gone during Ramadan, although I’m not sure if it is always open as a mosque/Islamic centre , or just for the special prayers. But I have to say it was not what I was expecting at all, and there really is nothing to be worried about, even if you are not lucky enough to have someone recognise you.

As for the sign I asked for. Well at some parts of the day I actually thought it would come to pass, I was ready to declare “la illaha illallah” (there is no god but Allah) the moment it did, and although it might take a long time to truly understand what that means, and what path that placed me on, I was ready to take the first step.
It didn’t happen. I’m trying to work out exactly how I feel about that, is the disappointment simply stemming from the fact I didn’t get what I asked for, or because of something bigger? Why do I feel slightly betrayed?
I know I know, people will come up with every excuse- “God has already given you the signs”, “look around you isn’t that enough”, “you can’t manipulate God”, “maybe he didn’t give you it for a greater purpose”, etc etc etc. I know all that, but obviously those “signs” that other people find enough doesn’t work on me, and God knows they don’t, not because I choose to ignore them, but because I look at things such as the universe, nature, birth etc, a different way. After starting the day on a religious high, as midnight came I was at a low. Tomorrow is the last day of the journey but right now I’m not sure where to go from here.

The last days of Ramadan

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My last blog entry caused the biggest reaction I’ve had, with the topic spilling over to a facebook group I am on. The more I look into the subject of Hadith, the more firmly I believe that the Hadith was never supposed to be part of Islam. If God truly sent the Quran, then when he said it was complete he meant it.
I find the subject fascinating and will likely delve far more into it when I have the time, but right now with the end of my exploration in sight I have too many other pressing matters to focus on.

Firstly, when I talked about going to Mosque that wasn’t just idle chitchat. It is customary to go to mosque the first morning of Eid, so that is what I shall do. Eid (three days of feasts after Ramadan) looks set to start on Sunday, that gives me just enough time to truly freak out about it. Ok, it is actually an Islamic centre as my town doesn’t have a mosque, but still, eek!
Secondly, there is the pressing matter of reading the Quran. I could finish it if I just speed through like I would with any other book, but I like to take note, reflect, question, perhaps frown and scratch my head.

Just three more days of fasting! You have no idea how good that sounds to me now. After having my wisdom teeth removed last Wednesday I had a few days off the fast whilst I took medication and returned to it on Tuesday. And now I’m already sick of it. It isn’t the hunger, that comes and go briefly throughout the day but doesn’t really burden me, it is the *wanting* to eat that is frustrating. An ice cold lemonade on a hot summers day, a cheeky lick of my sons ice lolly before I give it to him, testing the food as I cook it, meeting the girls for lunch, having popcorn when I go see a film, going out with my husband for a dinner date, stuffing my face with free strawberries when I go strawberry picking, oh god I miss it all. Due to one reason and the other I have had ten days off fasting this month, so I can imagine how much I would be tearing my hair out if I didn’t at least have those breaks. Saying that though, even when I didn’t have to fast I still felt too uncomfortable to eat in public whilst wearing a hijab.
And talking about hijab, I miss my hair! Sure I take it off when I’m at home, but due to having it on earlier in the day my hair has a massive bump in it from being in a bun, so I just keep it tied up. People always joke to me that at least I don’t have to worry about brushing my hair, no instead every time I want to go out, even if it is just to get the mail from my postbox, I have to find a scarf that doesn’t clash with my clothes and pin it all together. Ok I’m approving with my time, I can now easily just use hijab pins instead of holding it all together with safety pins, but it is still more time consuming than brushing hair (which I never bothered about doing just to go to my postbox anyway).

nonmuslim hijabi

Despite my complaints, I had fun trying out new hijab styles


If I were to ever convert to Islam I’m still of two minds whether I think a hijab is essential or not. The majority of Muslims would say yes, but I just can’t see the logic of it, nor does it seem particularly important in the Quran.
Saying that though, I do get a buzz when someone greets me in Arabic, and I definitely think it was the right thing to wear for this month to “fast track” me into the community feel.

On a brighter note we are planning Eid! It couldn’t have landed on a better day as Sunday is the one day both my husband and I don’t work. Mosque in the morning (did I mention “eek”?) and then a fun filled day with our son and perhaps a romantic dinner out in the evening, hmm maybe a film with popcorn too. Also traditionally (I don’t think there is any religious bases for it, just cultural) people buy new clothes to wear for the feast. Now I’m not one to need an excuse to shop, but if you are going to give me one, I’ll happily use it! For mosque however I’m going to pull out one of my abayas that I got from Egypt. I haven’t been out in one yet, I have found in the past people react far more to them than they do the hijab alone. My neighbours will probably think I’ll be in a burka next!

Well, this time next well it will all be over. I’m still not quite sure what “over” means just yet though.

What type of Muslim would you be?

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I’m starting to realise something, if I didn’t know any Muslims, if I wasn’t told anything about Islam from websites and information pamphlets, if all I had as my source of information was the Quran, I would practice the religion completely differently to how it usually is now.

Ok so I still haven’t finished it (I know I know tick tock) so I can only base this blog entry on what I have read so far. I also cannot read Arabic so basing it on an English translation (M. A. S. Abdel Haleem, oxford classic, to be precise). But the Quran doesn’t seem to make Islam as ritualistic, OCD, complicated and nitpicking as Muslims would have you believe.

First things first: Hadith. Now these are the stories/sayings of the prophet Muhammed, they are not part of the Quran. For the most part they are considered pretty essential to a Muslim to tell them how to practise their religion and to expand on what the Quran says.
I have noticed in the last few years that all too often Muslim’s seem to put hadith equal to what is meant to be the word of God, the Quran, in fact in some cases they put it above.
I’ve thought that strange before truly knowing the religion, now I am learning the religion I find it wrong/haram.
Hadith’s were not written by the prophet, they were collected after he had died. The prophet was also just a man, he isn’t the son of god, or divine, a human with the faults that humans have. So why are people using his alleged teachings and sayings as an essential part of their religion?

niqab

God’s wish, or mans?


The Quran states that it is the completed word of god, it has perfected the religion, you need nothing else. It gives the rules, it tells you who god loves, it tells you who will be punished, it tells you the sins, it even tells you heritage laws. It also tells you time and time again that Muhammed’s ONLY duty is to deliever the Quran

“We did not leave anything out of this book, then all will be gathered before their Lord (for judgment). Those who do not believe our verses are deaf and dumb; in total darkness. God sends astray whomever He wills, and directs whomever He wills in the right path.” (6:38-39)
“Shall I seek other than God as a source of law, when He revealed THIS BOOK FULLY DETAILED? (6:114)
“The word of your Lord is COMPLETE in truth & justice.” (6:115)
“You (Muhammad) cannot guide even the ones you love. God is the one who guides whomever He wills, for He knows best those who deserve the guidance.” (28:56)
“You have NO duty EXCEPT delivering (Quran)” (42:48)
“Your ONLY duty is delivering (Quran), while we will call them to account.” (13:40)
But how is it that they come to you for judgment while they have the Torah, in which is the judgment of Allah? Then they turn away, [even] after that; but those are not [in fact] believers (5:43)

These are just SOME quotes from the Quran to show my point, there are more. Things such as stoning are not mentioned anywhere in the Quran, that comes from hadith, the burka/niqab too. People tell me the hadith helps them know how to be a muslim, but surely if it isn’t in the Quran, then there is a reason why God didn’t put it there? He doesn’t strike me as the forgetful type.

Wudu. This is the specific way to clean before you pray. To me it seems very OCD. I was told to perform wudu as follows:

1. Wash hands 3 times
Use left hand to wash right hand, up to and including the wrist, 3 times. Then, use right hand to wash left hand, up to and including the wrist, 3 times.
2. Rinse water in mouth 3 times
Cup right hand with water and put in mouth, then spit it out, 3 times.
3. Snuff water in nose 3 times
4. Wash face 3 times
5. Wash forearms 3 times
Wipe right forearm with left hand, all the way up to and including the elbow, 3 times. Wipe left forearm with right hand, all the way up to and including the elbow, 3 times.
6. Wipe water over head/hair 1 times
7. Wipe the inside and back of ears 1 time
Wash both ears at the same time
8. Wash feet
Wash right foot, including the ankle, with left hand, 3 times. Wipe between each toe on right foot, with left hand pinky, 1 time.
Wash left foot, including the ankle, with right hand, 3 times. Wipe between each toe on left foot, with right hand pinky, 1 time.
So can you imagine how much my jaw dropped when I read wudu in the quran (5:6) as: “When you intend to offer prayer, wash your faces and your hands up to the elbows, rub (by passing wet hands over) your heads, and (wash) your feet up to ankles”.
Where is the awful sniffing water in my nose bit? Where is the obsession with the number three? Where is the specific right/left hand order? I can guess where… I feel lied to!

God doesn’t beat around the bush, he is pretty happy to say exactly who is going to hell and who isn’t. He also states that he can forgive anything other than disbelief and putting another god equal to him. There are certain obligations in Islam that are repeated again and again: regular prayers, giving to charity, being just to orphans, believe in Allah and the last day. These people will receive great reward, and considering how often this message is repeated, it is safe to assume that it reflects on the importance of them. If I only got my Islamic information from Muslims and never read the Quran I would think: “women put a scarf on your head” was written on page one in bold.
So much focus is put on that and many other little details, things that have only been given a blip of a mention, or perhaps no mention at all. So many arguments, so many threats. God is probably highly confused why so many are happy to harass uncovered women whilst orphans are being neglected.
halal butchers
Halal: Muslim’s have to eat food that is slaughtered in a certain way, with God’s name said over it. Oh and of course, they can’t eat pork.
Ok, halal, now this is something I thought was very black and white. It is a pain in the west, especially when you don’t live in a high Muslim populated area, your food options are limited. But wait, once again the quran shocks me:
“He only prohibits for you the eating of animals that die of themselves (without human interference), blood, the Meat of pigs, and animals dedicated to other than GOD. If one is forced (to eat these), without being malicious or deliberate, he incurs no sin. GOD is Forgiver, Most Merciful.” (2:173)
“Prohibited for you are animals that die of themselves, blood, the MEAT of pigs, and animals dedicated to other than GOD. (Animals that die of themselves include those) strangled, struck with an object, fallen from a height, gored, attacked by a wild animal – unless you save your animal before it dies – and animals sacrificed on altars.” (5:3)
“I do not find in the revelations given to me any food that is prohibited for any eater except: (1) carrion, (2) running blood, (3) the meat of pigs, for it is contaminated, and (4) the meat of animals blasphemously dedicated to other than GOD.” If one is forced (to eat these), without being deliberate or malicious, then your Lord is Forgiver, Most Merciful. (6:145)
Hang on, where is the mention of slitting the throat? What in those passages say I can’t go buy chicken from my local Tesco? All those times my husband has looked longingly at steak on the menu but opted for the fish, for what? Maybe this is where I need the hadith, maybe the details are there, but God also says:
“Today, all good food is made lawful for you. The food of the people of the scripture (Jews & Christians) is lawful (halal) for you” (5:5)
“Why should you NOT eat from that upon which God’s name has been mentioned ? He has detailed for you what is prohibited for you, unless you are forced. Indeed, many people mislead others with their personal opinions, without knowledge. Your Lord is fully aware of the transgressors.” (6:119)
So he even states that he has detailed what you can and cannot eat, I guess that means we don’t need any more information, it is all there. So I can’t eat pigs, I can’t eat a bit of road kill, no running blood, I can’t strangle the animal, nor can I go steal meat from a pagans alter, or push a cow off a building to eat it, or beat it to death. Ok, I understand all that, so why can’t I go buy my chicken from Tesco?!
This halal business is, well, just that, a money making business. What I’m reading seems to be pretty clear that unless specifically stated in the quran, ALL other food is lawful, ALL other ways of slaughtering is lawful. Over 90% of halal meat in England is stunned before slaughter, some countries state that all meat must be stunned, therefore exactly what is different between halal and normal supermarket? The price for one (halal is often more experience). Maybe it’s the fact that supposedly a halal butcher is saying the name of God over the animal? Well my husband does that before he eats anyway. So it is the specific way of cutting the throat. Our butchers slit throats too, however that is neither here nor there because the Quran doesn’t say it has to be killed in that way, just not in the ways given.
Using common sense, when they hunted in the time of the prophet they likely killed their game with a bow and arrow etc, not chased after it with a dagger to slit it’s throat. A nice clean kill from a distance is far more humane than wounding until you get close enough to finish it off too.

Ok I’m going on and on now. I just feel like I’m reading a completely different book to the Muslims I have met. People often ask me if my husband and I have lots of problems due to having different religions, but I actually believe we would have far more disagreements if I was Muslim: I would be a Quranist, I wouldn’t put much emphasis on hair covering, I wouldn’t only eat halal, my wudu would be short and simple. To some it might look like I would be a half arsed Muslim, but I actually think they are the ones making it harder than it was meant to be.
I cannot wait to read more of the Quran, it is truly fascinating to see what the Quran actually says compared to what I have been lead to believe it says.

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.

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 half arsed Muslim

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I realised something yesterday, I’m doing this all wrong. I’m still spending more time playing my virtual fish tank than reading the Quran, my prayers are all over the place, I haven’t really learnt any of the words, I’m not conducting myself appropriately- I’m not a Muslim, I’m a woman with a scarf on her head and strange diet!
This won’t do at all. Yes in outward appearance I “fit the role” but this is meant to be a spiritual journey, not just a new dress sense. Have I given anything to charity yet? No. Have I tried to avoid swearing? No. Have I cut down on TV, well actually yes, but that’s only because there is no time in the evening, however I haven’t cut down on facebook or, as mentioned above, my fish tank app.
I’m on my seventh day now as so disappointed with myself. It became all about the fast. All I was thinking about was not eating or drinking, and that making it to the end of the day was enough.
Well that’s about to change, I WILL be a Muslim for the month of Ramadan in all the ways I can be. I will step up my Quran reading and other Islamic studies, I will find a charity, I will watch my language and my rather x-rated sense of humour. And maybe I will master the courage to visit a mosque.
And yes, I will even put away my virtual fish, but don’t worry, they won’t die without being fed.

Sadly I’m not alone in my poor Muslim attempt, so many actual Muslims are no better. They focus on their outward appearance and forget about the most important thing is what you feel in the heart, not what the world sees.
For example I have met some “delightful” well covered women. They hold their heads high and think what great little Muslims they are as they wouldn’t dream of going out with their hair uncovered, but on the inside they are hypocrites. One, a favourite of mine who I’ve clashed with a couple of times online, will preach about the importance of tolerance towards hijabis, but then say the most downright degrading things about uncovered women (apparently they are merely pieces of meat). She will happily insult and backbite, but she looks “right”, so in her mind she done no wrong. And she isn’t alone in such thinking.
Men who go and pray at the mosque and then go meet their friends for a shisha (smoke pipe)- hypocrites.
Men who demand women wear a hijab, whilst they are on the beach in just swimming shorts- hypocrites.
People who have never given to charity and cannot remember the last time they prayed, but will happily judge another for marrying outside the religion- hypocrites.
Those who act however they want during most of the year but fast and ask for forgiveness in Ramadan are no better than the Catholics who confess their sins only to do them all again, and again, and again.
Well it is time I really got serious about this on a deeper level, it is time I feel Islam instead of just look like I do. Maybe some Muslims will take heed.

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