I always get asked (by those who know me well): how are you so strong and how do you never look back? Truth is, it’s a process. Of course I look back but I make sure I never stay there. I’ve trained my heart to know and understand that this world is always in motion. Moments always pass and that can be both beautiful and bitter at the same time. But that’s exactly what life is right?
Therefore, we must never let ourselves get stuck in one moment, in one memory or even a chapter – no matter how hard it may be. We must keep moving. And that really is the key.
A final little reminder: ‘Do not be sad, because the true span of life is measured by the number of days in which you are content.’ – Al-Qarni, Don’t Be Sad.
I was feeling nostalgic and found myself looking back at some of my Uni work. I stumbled across a particular piece of work that seemed quite fitting with the current ongoing political affairs – Trump’s new America, the Muslim ban, Brexit and of course the never-ending battle against the Islamic dress code in the Western world. Writing Muslims was one of my final year modules and without a doubt one of my most favorite modules ever. We studied a wide range of Western and non-Western literatures written by Muslim writers – an area of study that isn’t widely explored. It was so interesting and refreshing to study such a different module, to discuss taboo issues and to be able to share personal viewpoints openly. Our assignment task was to produce a blog post in response to our chosen article from The Guadian. I chose to respond to Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s article about the veil. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is a journalist and columnist for The Guardian and often shares some controversial views.
I have hyperlinked Alibhai-brown’s article for those of you who wish to read her work before reading my response. But I will also provide the direct link: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/20/muslim-woman-veil-hijab
Below is my response:
According to Yasmin Alibhai-Brown we are in a period of ‘bleakness’ because of Muslims and their inability to adapt to society. Under constant public scrutiny, it came of no surprise that yet again, Muslims were being used as the scapegoat. Brown uses Egyptian philosopher Qasim Amin to form the basis of this argument. In 1899, she mentions that he warned us that ‘unless Muslims embraced modernity and equality the future would be bleak.’ This is a highly problematic statement. What did Amin mean by modernity and equality and furthermore, on who’s interpretations were these ideals based on? Modernity and equality are subjective, so what exactly do Muslims need to ‘embrace?’ They need to embrace the Western ideology of ‘modernity’ by abandoning their beliefs and practices, that’s what. They need to abide by Western ‘rules’ which includes the governing on observing the veil because that is ‘equality.’ Brown does not hesitate to express her disapproval of the veil throughout her article but whilst doing so, she proves a weak and often flawed argument.
One particular example of this is her use of Quranic references regarding the veil. To some extent she is right in saying that the veil is often discussed metaphorically to describe ‘barriers between good and bad.’ However, in her attempt to elaborate, she displays a fragmented understanding of the Quran. Brown mentions two specific verses from the Quran which she then supports with a quote from Sahar Amer an associate professor at the University of North Carolina. After studying these verses Amer concludes that ‘Nowhere is the hijab used to describe, let alone prescribe, the necessity for Muslim women to wear a headscarf or any other pieces of clothing…’ This bold conclusion is unfortunately incorrect. The passages studied were verses 30-31 from chapter 24 in the Quran whereby God instructs men and women to lower their gaze and guard their modesty (cover their private parts). Here, the stress is placed on the protection of the eyes. God is commanding men and women to control their gaze in order to avoid lustful desires. So, yes, the veil is being referred to metaphorically here. However, attached to verse 31, is an explicit reference to the hijab as a means of head covering and quite conveniently both Brown and Amer seem to ignore this. Before we go on, it is important to clarify the hijab actually is. It simply means to cover or to screen. Thus, coming back to verse 31, it says ‘and they (women) should place their khimar (headscarf) over their bosoms.’ The word khimar here is used specifically to remove any ambiguity regarding the hijab. Khimar is the Arabic term for headscarf. Therefore, Amer’s statement is immediately disproven – Muslim women are required to wear the headscarf. The verse further clarifies Amer’s questions: ‘which parts of the body exactly is it supposed to cover? Just the hair? The hair and neck?’ In pre-Islamic Arabia, women used to wear the khimar over their head and tied at the back of their necks, exposing their ears and neck. Thus, the verse precisely specifies that the hijab should be ‘placed over their bosoms’ so that ears and neck are covered.
Moreover, Brown’s rejection of the veil is made explicit from the start. For her, the ‘hijab, jilbab, burqa and niqab’ all denote a ‘retreat from progressive values,’ and are preventing Muslims from ‘march[ing] forward.’ She quite bluntly states that the veil represents ‘religious arrogance and subjugation.’ Perhaps because it does not coincide with her orientalist standards. The veil challenges the modern culture that objectifies and over-sexualises women – a culture that quite literally encourages the “less is more” attitude and fashion trend. The veiled woman demonstrates ‘internalised messages about femaleness’ and these messages for Brown are not ‘rational’ as Sami in Robin Yassin-Kassab’s The Road from Damascus puts it. In contrast, Leila Aboulela’s Minaret presents the veil as a form of liberation. The protagonist Najwa is in awe of the hijab (headscarf) and in her desperate search for peace, she turns to Islam and embraces the hijab. The hijab allows her to escape the shackles of her past making her feel ‘dignified and gentle.’ So while Brown may think that we are in a time of ‘bleakness’, I say that it is only because veiled Muslim women do not adhere to her perception of ‘female dignity, autonomy and potential’ – they have their own versions.
So I’ve been going round in circles trying to decide on what to write as my first blog piece. I was trying to come up with all these fancy ideas about various topics such as food, fashion, beauty, literature but something just didn’t feel right. Every time I thought I was ready to start writing, I just kind of went flat – like completely flat. Something just felt a bit out of place and I would completely zone out. This went on for about a week until I finally decided what it was that I really wanted to write about.
I think deep down I knew what I wanted to write about but I just didn’t have the courage to – something kept holding me back. But I guess that’s the thing about true honesty – it exposes a sense of vulnerability and I didn’t want to seem vulnerable. I mean who does? Especially with a society like ours because who really wants to be perceived as weak? Certainly, not me. Somewhere along the line we’ve substituted the term vulnerability for weakness and that becomes our barrier. We are so caught up in trying to portray perfection, in trying to show the world how strong we are, how great we are, that sometimes we forget to live, to feel, to experience – all things that involve a sense of vulnerability. We crave honesty but ironically we are so afraid to open up. We are so afraid to get judged by society that we put up a front and begin to believe it. We have become masters at concealing our emotions. So, we almost live behind a façade determined to show the world that everything is perfect. That nothing is wrong, nothing is out of place, everything is going smoothly and accordingly. But somewhere along the line we’ve forgotten that we’re human, we’re allowed to feel things, we’re allowed to hurt, we’re allowed to be confused or even a little lost. We’re allowed to get it wrong. It’s totally and absolutely normal.
And that’s exactly what I decided to write about: feelings, emotions and life. I wasn’t too worried about making this piece too polished because I was more concerned about making it real and that meant being raw. I wanted to say it how it was. I wanted this to come straight from the heart because when you truly speak from the heart, it connects – and that’s exactly what I wanted. I wanted my first piece to be connecting. Not appealing or engaging or enticing, I mean all those things are brilliant but what I really wanted is to create is a bond and so I decided what better way to do that than being unapologetically and authentically myself (just as my bio states!).
So, there’s no denying that life only gets tougher the older we get, but in saying that, I think what really hits us is reality. The older we get, we are forced to face reality and that’s the tough bit. We begin to see things differently, we are introduced to new ideas and concepts, and most importantly we are forced to take on new responsibilities. All of this comes as a shock to us and we find ourselves wanting to turn back time. To be a child again, young and carefree. Suddenly we begin to question ourselves as to why we were so desperate to grow up… I mean we didn’t sign up to this?! But of course, like all matters it’s not just doom and gloom. Growing up is also a very unique and wonderful experience because ultimately it shapes us into who we are. We’re constantly discovering new things, new experiences and new versions of ourselves and honestly, it’s a phenomenal experience when you think about it.
However, at some stage in our lives we reach a point where things just kind of take a standstill. In particular, I think many new graduates (like myself) face this problem. The last few weeks of University are absolutely and utterly hectic. Then comes the excitement and anticipation of the graduation ceremony and it is definitely a day to remember. But soon a period of uncertainty follows where we’re just trying to figure out what it is that we want to do next. I mean of course there’s people out there who have this all figured out before graduating or know exactly what their next steps are, but the truth is, many of us actually don’t. For many people, this is the “I just don’t know” period. And this can be a really frustrating time and to top it off, we hear the endless “successful” graduate stories who have it all figured out, who’ve managed to secure a good graduate job and are loving life. You never really hear the stories about the new graduates who just aren’t sure what they want to do or are still trying to identify their paths because that’s just not ideal right? I mean we’re in our early 20’s we should know what we want to do. We should have a plan. We should know which direction we’re heading in. We’re not “kids” anymore. But that’s just it isn’t it. The 20’s are an awkward phase because we are bombarded by the pressures of society to have reached certain goals within that time frame. We become fixated on this idea and slowly begin to lose ourselves. We get lost in our dark thoughts. We feel low. We become our own worst enemy, certain that we are destined for failure. But that shouldn’t be the case because our life journey isn’t the same as everybody else’s and too often it’s so easy to forget that. We don’t need to compare our life to anyone else because we are uniquely us for a reason. Our journey is ours for a reason. Our successes and struggles are ours for a reason. It’s all a part of our journey, our story. Not his or hers or theirs, but ours. We just need to have some faith and patience because as long as we’re trying, we’re on the right path.
To end with one of my quotes ‘It’s ok not to be ok. We hurt and we heal, we are designed that way.’ It’s absolutely fine to not know what you want to do in life or where you’re heading. It’s ok to not have everything worked out. It’s ok to go through them “I just don’t know” periods and it’s ok to take a step back and just breathe. Sometimes we have to just trust life’s timing and let things fall into place.
We’ll all get there one day, I promise!