What is common sense if not the middle ground between two different views? And what happens when that middle ground is built on the thin ice of fear?
Flashback to September 11 2001, a day I wouldn’t remember but the world would never forget. The twin towers fell and so did the idea of a middle ground. Islamophobia is not something new to the world, however rates of religious based hate crimes against Muslims have been increasing for decades. “In 2015, there were 159 hate crimes against Muslims reported to police, a 60 per cent increase. Then in 2017, an even larger spike: 349 incidents, jumping over 150 per cent from 139 the year before. Over 140 incidents were reported each year between 2018 and 2020.” Global News Reports.
I remember a time when all that I felt about myself was pride. Pride in my Hijab, pride in my religion and all the things that came with it. The great thing about being young is that the innocence of your soul finds no problems in connecting with God because that faith is unbreakable. Yet as you grow into yourself, sometimes you start to see cracks in the bond you have with religion, not due to a lack of belief, but rather a fear of society.
When I was young, I remember going to the Masjid to pray and learning the meaning of life from the perspective of peace. At that time, it was important to me to do good deeds and stay true to the teachings of the Prophet.
Yet being one of the only Muslim students in my class had me blending into the background, only trying to find someone who could understand life in the lens that I saw it through. My friend and I often discussed our cultures, not that we knew everything about it or were trying to find a wrong or a right, but these musings of second graders were only shut down by the barriers we created for ourselves.
“Let’s not talk about our cultures anymore,” she said to me after our heated discussion. I agreed with her at the time, not realizing how I had allowed myself to be entered into a Godless society where speaking of religion was so taboo.
From that moment on I didn’t talk about religion nor did I stop my classmates who made fun of the nasheeds that said Allahu Akbar in music class. I did it because I wanted to blend into the society that always had its eyes on me.
What else could I do? As a child, I was frail and unable to stand up to the playground bullies. Instead, I ran to God knowing that every problem has a solution– just that I had yet to find it.
“Opressed says the oppressors,” was something I’d always say to myself when watching the news or videos on people’s commentary on the Hijab yet I allowed myself to fit into the stereotypes of who a Muslim woman was because I didn’t know what else to do. It made me wonder whether the choices I made on how I shaped my identity were really my own choice or choices made by the peer-pressure of first world values and its dominant culture in this society.
To be a ‘casual Muslim’, to allow the boundaries that you set for yourself be crossed, to allow the walls of your Imaan to falter due to a lack of connection with God– and postponing the time which you have to make up for it– always made me feel as if I was allowing the gates of Jannah to be shut in front of my face. And soon enough, I forgot how to read the Quran and I realized that I never expanded my knowledge of the Deen anymore than the lessons I had learned in summer school at the Masjid. I didn’t even pray anymore.
I allowed myself to blend in, even when the Hijab on my head was a symbol made for me to stand out. To say I was here and I was Muslim. Yet even that lost its meaning.
I once even tried to take off my Hijab, thinking that maybe if I started fresh, I could find meaning in wearing it again. But my father told me, “What’s the use of going all the way through the backdoor when the front door is open?” And he was right, as he usually was— meaning can be found while on our journey. Even though I’ve allowed myself to stray off the path of life that I’ve always yearned for, realizations always come when needed. My father is very religious and whenever we would talk, he would find a way to quiz me or answer the many questions I had on Islam. I remember running upstairs and bringing my English translation of the Quran out from my bookshelf, and him telling me the stories of the Prophets and talking about the 10 Commandments. I remember how I would sit and be in awe of the things I learned every time and how differently the world would look to me afterwards.
I’ve learned that Islam is not just a belief but a system of living, one that touches all parts of your life, from values to food to greetings to money— to be fair and to be respectful to everyone.
I’ve realized that as a society we avoid difficult conversations around religion rather than having them which creates a dividing wall between us instead of connection. It’s especially hard when you don’t really know where to start learning or asking questions. So what do we do when this fear of not only religion but the fear of questioning and the fear of offending others is so prominent? You start by quelling your own fear because once you become grounded in yourself, you can start building a middle ground with others, though this is easier said than done. But we all need to start somewhere.
I had started taking an Islamic School class in which I was re-learning and reconnecting with religion with no judgement from the teachers and students. Through this experience, I realized that I was also allowing my own fear to get the best of me and never left my comfort zone. But as I’ve started to widen my religious lens of life, I’ve begun to understand the significance and meaning of our Deen and how Deen-ul-Islam is just a way of life.
I’m trying to find a way to level the playing field of life by drawing and enforcing my religious boundaries, whether that means expressing my need to take a break for prayer or being more comfortable saying MashaAllah and InshaAllah in public. It’s not very easy, but everyone has their own boundaries and I just need to be more clear with my own. This clarity comes from deepening my knowledge of myself and of Islam.
Deen-ul-Islam – The Debt of Submission, meaning there is a great debt to God due to the abundance of blessings we have in our lives and as recompense we Submit to Him and leave our affairs up to Him.
Imaan – Conviction
MashaAllah – What God has willed
InshaAllah – God-willing
Boynton, Sean. “Since 9/11, Islamophobia Has Been ‘a Constant Feature’ in Canada, Experts Say – National.” Global News, Global News, 13 Sept. 2021, https://globalnews.ca/news/8174029/9-11-islamophobia-canada/.