Ramadan Reflections '13, Day 9: Meddling Muslims

The brain is a funny organ. Well, mine is anyway. I think we all have a tendency to remember negative events quite strongly, thanks to the link between the memory centre of our brain (i.e. hippocampus) and the emotional core (i.e. limbic system). I especially have a good memory for Muslims I've met who less than tactfully give advice without asking, or overstep their boundaries whilst unknowingly crushing my spirit. I'll lay out a couple of examples.

It was two years ago and my mom and I were at an unnamed mosque for Taraweeh prayers (i.e. a set of prayers performed by Muslims during Ramadan). The mosque was packed and while we were waiting for the prayers to begin, groups of women were chatting silently in whispers, or some were even whispering their prayers out loud. My hijab was occluding my peripheral vision but I soon realized that a friend of mine was sitting next to me, and she realized the same. We smiled and exchanged silent "salaams" and seated hugs, asking how our Ramadans were going. All of a sudden, I see a young girl approach me and in a voice laden with fake maple syrup, she asked me to be quiet. Seriously? You talkin' to me?! I told her I had just seen my friend and said salaam, how is this incriminating?! She told me she HAD to tell us talkers to be quiet and left and proceeded to catch all the other law-breakers, including Aunties that were much older than us. I looked over to where her mom was sitting, and even she was gabbing happily away with several women around her. You've GOT to be kidding me! And prayers hadn't even begun. So let Allah punish us if we were doing something "wrong" at the mosque, who made you Sheriff? What if I was a convert or revert to Islam and I was attending my first few Taraweeh prayers, and needed the support of my friend to feel more comfortable? This was somewhat the case for me. And here was a young barely 20 year-old girl telling me to shut up and not "salaam" my friend. Now every time I see her face plastered somewhere in Facebook, those same emotions boil up. I don't know if my brain linked this event the same way it did with childhood bullying events, but the memory of this taraweeh night is strong. Ironically enough, we had met once before and I eagerly added her onto Facebook, trying to expand my Muslim circle. I promptly did what should be done as ultimate punishment and deleted her off my Friends list. Yup, that did it!

Another time, I was making wudu (ablutions) at university during a weekend seminar, something I am also very self-conscious about (wudu, not seminars!). When I was done and drying off, a girl in the bathroom told me I had done my wudu wrong and that I should re-do it, otherwise my prayer would not be valid. I remained quiet and as retribution for her talking when it was none of her business, I continued to pat dry my face in front of her. She left the bathroom and I felt like crap. Seriously, why can't women just be quiet?! My first public wudu in this place and you need to tell me that I'm a bad Muslim?

I could go on and on about other women I've come across who have done similar things. You're praying wrong; why are you wearing that thing (i.e. chadoor, a traditional Iranian prayer garment that covers everything but your face); why aren't your arms crossed in prayer; why don't you speak Arabic; etc. My gosh people, why the heck can't you give others the benefit of the doubt and learn some diplomacy on how to give advice? Since when did Prophet Mohammed, Peace Be Upon Him, stop people in their tracks and tell them off? Is this the example we are setting for others? I seriously wish I had some retorts back to these women, but I seem incapable of challenging people in the moment. In a way, this is good, since I'd rather not stoop to their level. It is better to remain silent than to say something that is haram.

So this Ramadan, let's all work at giving people 70 excuses or more before jumping to unreasonable conclusions. Or even better, let's refrain from doing this at all! Islam is not a set of mechanized rituals or routines, and we certainly don't need the haram police wondering around Calgary, telling followers what they're doing is wrong. Let's save the extremism for Saudi, eh?

The intention is what matters, even behind an act which someone may dub as "wrong". Do we stop an eight-year old girl from praying because she's using the hood of her jacket as a hijab rather than an actual hijab? Do we chastise someone because they choose to read the Quran in English rather than Arabic? And do we call someone "too liberal" when they start to talk about ideas that may challenge our own comfort level, yet have a basis within our faith?

The beauty of Islam is that the relationship between a follower and Allah is sacred and reserved for these two parties alone. So let's not try to be an intermediary and meddle where we don't belong.

And Allah knows best.

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