Hebah Amhad recently posted a very honest, and very insightful article on MM about fighting down the nafs when it comes to how we see other Muslims.
“She is not wearing hijab, tsk! tsk!”
“He is laughing with that woman who is most certainly not his wife or family member, shame!”
“How can she possibly show up here with her clothing so tight?! Scandalous!”
“I know she does not buy Zabiha so I am sure she is serving people non-halal food!”
“Does his mom see how he is behaving…where is the Islamic upbringing? That’s what happens when you send your kid to public school!”
It’s a great read, and thank God, it concludes with some practical tips for changing how we see and interact with other Muslims. I related to the entire post, and in all honesty, anyone who can’t is very blessed. I think most of us regularly fall into judging and condemning other Muslims while working hard to avoid the condemnation we anticipate from them in turn.
I know that for years I avoided religious classes and gatherings, and even “religious-looking” people because I was intimidated and afraid of being measured and weighed and coming up short. Even these days, I sometimes feel a twinge of nervousness when attending classes where I am in a non-niqab wearing minority, and it takes a deliberate mental effort to remind myself that wearing a niqab doesn’t make anyone judgmental or holier-than-thou. Also, it helps for me to remember that as a scarf-wrapped, black abaya-wearing female, I can seem scary to people intimated by/unfamiliar with Islam and hijab.
(But then I’m seldom seem without this big cheesy grin, and in my old age I’ve become the kind of person who talks to other people in elevators whether they want me to or not. Owl says I’m crazy. I say I’m entertaining people who are just as bored as I am and might never be likely to talk to a Muslim woman unless they were talked to first. Also, sales people remember me and I tend to get lots of free samples :p)
Having lived in the UAE for over five years now, I finally have many, many friends who wear niqab, and I’ve come to realize that the initial awkwardness wasn’t their fault, it was mine. Underneath of the niqab are normal, entertaining, intelligent, and very funny women who joke about sometimes standing near good friends without realizing who’s “under there,” and washing ice cream out of black chiffon, and beneath the billowy black abayas they wear things like purple sequined ballet slippers, and overalls, and sometimes- their pajamas. The mental barrier was of my own making, because I was afraid they would see me as falling short of their greatness, so I accordingly bristled with subtle indignation from a judgment that was never made.
“I don’t think niqab is fard,” Sabah said to me one day over cookies and coffee eating with her niqab flipped up. “I just think it’s extra points, and I have no problem saying that God knows I really need some!”
I’ve come to recognize her by her height, the shape of her abaya, her green purse, and the way her eyes crinkle at the corners when she’s smiling under there. And I no longer find her intimidating, I just find her normal. She isn’t a member of the pervasively judgmental and highly exclusive organisation of ‘The Niqabis,’ she’s just Sabah. And Farzana is just Farzana. And Noura is just Noura (and occasionally talks about Star Wars) and none of these women are defined by the clothes they wear any more than their husbands are just ‘beards.’
In the printing world, a stereotype is a copy of the original, and they are both the same. In the Muslim world, a stereotype is an assumption that all religious people are the same, and they all think you’re lame. And it’s very rude of them to say such a thing, and you could never attend a class with people who think so badly of you, and you would never, ever want to be like them! Hmmph!
When we see others with a negative filter on our vision, we see everything they do as wrong.
(So, the niqabi likes Star Wars? How hypocritical!
Hey, don’t you have the whole action figure collection?
Yes, but no Muslim is perfect!)
(She’s wearing purple sequined ballet slippers? Wow, that is so flashy. What is she trying to do, attract attention to herself despite the niqab?
You’re wearing a purple sequined tank top.
Yeah, but Allah knows that I have modesty in my heart!)
(She struggles with her Iman on a daily basis? She’s human just like everyone else, so why does she have such a holy attitude?
You’ve never spoken to her, how do you know what her attitude is?)
Sterotypes are illogical, and as far as Muslims are concerned, they generally stem from fear of judgment and our own perceived inadequacies. We are conscious of our shortcomings, and we assume everyone else is too. Our own deficiencies are more conspicuous in front of people who seem to have spiritual abundance, in the way that a normal woman feels fat in the company of supermodels. Ok, that’s a strange analogy, but I think you know what I mean. And maybe some more stuck-up supermodels really are tsk-tsking in their heads and thinking that you let yourself go, but the majority of them are probably just normal people who are really skinny. And skinniness is not the zenith of human fitness any more than a niqab or beard is the zenith of spiritual achievement. So if you tell them they look nice, they’ll say oh man, I have such awful hair! I love your hair! In the same way, when you talk to Sabah you realize that in her mind she’s standing at the bottom of the spiritual ladder and has a long, long way to go up. She’s not looking down on you, she’s looking down on herself, just like you are. The only difference is that she doesn’t think you’re looking down on her too.
If she did, then she might be afraid that all non-niqabis think that she’s oppressed and unintelligent, and has made her own intellect subservient to her husband’s desire for her to dress in a black cloud of fabric, and that given the chance, she would throw caution and headscarf to the wind for just one ice-cream cone that doesn’t get smeared on her niqab.
(Ok, not really. Sabah’s more secure than that. But you see what I mean.)
So where does this pervasive feeling of mutual persecution come from?
And say to My servants that they should speak only what is gracious, for satan (is keen to) provoke discord among them. Satan indeed is an enemy to the people, disuniting (one another).
–The Qur’an 17:53
When we feel judged by people before we’ve even spoken to them, and we exclude ourselves from the company of ‘religious’ people solely because of their religiousness, we’re doing exactly what Shaitaan wants us to do, which is hate, separate, and isolate ourselves from other Muslims- aka- divide and conquer. Good company helps us maintain good behavior, so Satan gives us reasons to keep away from practicing Muslims. Regular reminders of Islam make it easier for us to remember Allah, so Satan creates distance through self-consciousness that helps us forget. In accusing others of judgment, we ourselves are making a tremendously unfair judgment about others- we assume that their righteousness is just a way of lording their superiority over other Muslims, that their actions lack sincerity, and their perceptions of other Muslims are harsh, unforgiving, and holier-than-thou. Where do we get off making harsh judgments about the state of another Muslim’s Iman when Allah alone can see what is in a person’s heart?
Returning to the point where we started from, one of the comments following the article had some wonderful advice which I would like to share.
Sa’eed bin Al-Musayyab was reported to have said:
“Some of my brothers among the Companions of the Prophet, salallahu alayhi wa sallam, wrote me the following message:
“Give your brother’s action the best interpretation you could find as long as you have not seen any proof that would make you think otherwise. Do not ever give the word uttered by a Muslim bad interpretation as long as you can find better interpretation for it.
But he who makes himself vulnerable to suspicion should blame only himself. He who conceals his secrets has the options in his hand.
The best reward you can give someone who disobeys Allah through you is to obey Allah through him. Be always truthful even if truth is going to kill you. Do not envy anyone except in regard to something for which the dead person is envied.
And consult, in respect to your affairs, only those who fear Allah in their privacy.”
The Leader of the Believers, ‘Umar bin al-Khattab, may Allaah be pleased with him, said, “Think only well of a word that leaves your believing brother so long as you find a way of understanding it in a good way.”
[Quoted by ibn Kathir in the commentary of 49:12]
May Allah have mercy on us all, and protect us from the whisperings of Shaitaan, and protect us from fitnah. Ameen.
So go on, hug a scary-looking religious person today! They’re not judging you, and even if they might have been, you were judging them first. So there. :p