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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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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?

Religious ramblings of an atheist

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Yesterday was the first day I didn’t post here since I started this blog, I knew if I did it would just be whiney ramblings. Yes, yesterday was not a good day- I now refer to it as “day three blues”.
Was it the fast? Not really, surprisingly. I coped with the lack of food and water as well as other days. When my tummy rumbled at 9am I assumed I was in for a tough ride, but it soon settled and I wasn’t left a crumbling mess hugging the fridge.
It was everything else.
Lack of sleep meant when my toddler was having a tantrum first thing in the morning I was short tempered and ended up bursting into tears (my husband then immediately sent me up to bed). When I woke however I didn’t feel much better. Things just managed to wind me up easily.
When my mum came back with the shopping, I had to stick a scarf on my head and put a cardigan on just to pop to her car to help with the bags. I live in a quiet cul-de-sac, the only people likely to see me are my neighbours. They have seen me and my hair for years, have I ever had any issues with the men here? No, not at all. None of them have so much as looked at me the wrong way. And now suddenly I need to cover myself up to protect myself from them?
This concept that a head scarf provides any more modesty or protection from men is still completely lost on me. Will it protect someone from rape? Of course not. Does it protect at least from sexual harassment? Not in my experience. In Egypt where most women are covered sexual harassment is shockingly high, even when I’m in an abaya (certain type of long wide dress) and hijab I’m practically guaranteed to get some sort of pestering. In England where most are uncovered, I can walk the street in a t-shirt and jeans and men couldn’t care less.
So many times I hear (mainly from men who don’t wear it) how fabulous it is, how Allah has blessed us women with it for protection, aren’t we lucky! Protect us from what? Men? Here is an idea, instead of making a claim that material on your head will stop anything, why don’t you (men) protect us by not causing us issues in the first place? This does sadly go more to middle eastern men who seem to think they have the right to look at women like a piece of meat and then blame the woman (obviously I’m generalising a bit here).
Now saying all that, I do understand totally the concept of wearing to show the world you are Muslim. I have a Darwin fish on my car, an outward symbol of what I personally believe, so if I was religious I’m sure I’d want something so that all knew my religious convictions.

Well that was rant one. Rant two:
The Quran. I know I have to tread carefully here, obviously people don’t like to hear criticisms of their holy book, but I have to be honest, this blog is a truthful documentation of the whole journey after all.
I’ve not read much yet, it did have quite a long prologue, what I have read however hardly feels me with spiritual joy. If you are a Christian reading it then yes, I can understand why people convert, after all it isn’t bad towards them. But an atheist, Hindu, Pagan etc? Can the book hate us any more? I get it I get it, harsh punishment, hells fire, wrath of God, we are fools, etc. If it was saying all that about Christians, I wonder how many would have converted. And even if it wasn’t bad towards atheists, I still couldn’t turn a blind eye to how I think it is unjust to other religious groups.
It reminds me of the quote: “First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out as I was not a communist” etc. When the bad isn’t directly related to you, so many people can skim it. Well it is directly related to me, and the millions of other disbelieves (be they atheists or polytheists).
I don’t believe my converted friends are cold and uncompassionate, but I don’t understand how they can read those words and be ok with it either.
I guess you have the responsibility excuse though. They don’t blame God for wanting to torture, they blame us for not seeing the light. Doesn’t that scream a bit of arrogance though? A Muslim believes as strongly as a Hindu, as strongly as a scientologist, as strongly as those who used to believe in Ra, Odin, Zeus, Mithra. I think that shows the right answer really isn’t obvious, as you all (atheists included) think you ARE following the right answer. None of us picked our religious paths to spite the other, we didn’t purposely turn a blind eye to what we secretly knew was the right way. You have no power on what you believe in, you just believe what you believe.
God would know that, so why would he then think infinite torture was fitting, using a fear tactic sounds more human than divine.
I don’t think one size fits all when it comes to religion. There has never been a time where there was just one universal belief, and I don’t believe there ever will be. I don’t think everyone will be happy as an atheist, in the same way I don’t think everyone could be happy as a Muslim, Christian, Sikh, and so on. It doesn’t make anyone a bad person, a bad person will be a bad person whatever their religion, and a good person will be a good person whatever their religion too.
God would know that.

Ok, I didn’t want this to end up as the moan I tried to avoid yesterday so I will end on a positive note- the fast. I honestly think this will have long term health benefits. I now know I can go without constantly snacking, I don’t need to be always be rummaging the cupboards.
Tonight however will bring an interesting experience: working the evening shift. This will mean I have to wait an extra hour before I can eat, that might well be an hour too much!

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

The price of modesty

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Like most women I have a wardrobe full of clothes and never anything to wear, so I have been trying to think of suitable outfits I can make from my current collection during Ramadan. It shouldn’t be too tricky once I master the act of layering, and if this awful English summer continues it wouldn’t be too stifling either.
But what about my head? In my trips to Egypt I have noticed that the women colour coordinate their hijabs with their outfits masterfully. I can’t help but think they must have drawers full of different patterns, colours, length and materiel so they are prepared for what ever they throw on.
I’m slightly envious- with my atheist eyes it just seems like another accessory to play with. What girl doesn’t like thinking about what shoes will suit her new dress best? Well now I will have a slightly different twist on that.
So what does that mean? Shopping!
Last night I pulled out some clothes from my wardrobe and had them next to me as a scanned Ebay and the many online hijab shops to find scarves to go with them perfectly. I learnt it is too easy to spend money when you are doing it via a click of a button.
Once my spending binge subsided I was left feeling strange. Not just because I am now too scared to look at my bank account, but also because I feel like I wasn’t taking this seriously.
What does hijab mean? If the purpose is to cover your hair for modesty, then is it right to wear ones that are pretty, flashy, more accessory than clothing?
I have read my fair share of hijabs debates- in these it is usually men who have the loudest voice. In my mind they should focus a bit more on what is required of them, and leave the women to their own relationship with God. But hey, what do I know, I’m just a beginner.
I have worn a head scarf before as I mentioned in a previous post. Did I feel more modest, even when wearing a plain black one? No. Personally I feel more modest and unappealing when my hair is in a basic pony tail, and in the west it is certainly less likely to get attention.
Maybe I just don’t *get* it yet, the odd shopping trip with it on is hardly embracing exactly what it is about, but as I read page upon page of hijab arguing I cant help but think: “It’s just hair!”
Humans decide what is beautiful, which is why it changes over time and why cultures differ greatly. In a Muslim country where even seeing arms can be a rarity they have put them on a pedestal and made them lustrous, whereas in the west it is the norm and certainly not going to give a man a hard on. If men are used to seeing something, the desire for it diminishes.
Now that being said I have already decided that I will cover my hair as it is considered by most Muslims to be a requirement of women. But what about my pretty new scarves?
Are floral prints, stripes and bright colours alluring? I personally don’t think so. In my mind there is a difference between pretty and attractive. I can tell a little girl I find her dress pretty, am I saying it will turn men on? No of course not, in fact in my opinion many things that turn men on are actually rather unpretty!
For now I think not looking like I’m going to a funeral every time I step out isn’t haram, maybe my opinion will change whilst I study further, but for now I’m looking forward to my scarves arriving!