Bare Minimum Islam

When someone tells me that I should or shouldn’t do such and such because it says so in the Sunnah, I have one of three reactions:

  1. What, another rule?
  2. How was I supposed to know that?
  3. What does that have to do with being a good Muslim?

When I decided to become a Muslim, I was told that all I had to do was say the Shahada.  Then I was told that I had to believe in  and abide by the Five Pillars. Fine, I can handle that. But when I get told that I have to eat with my right hand only or remove all my body hair, I want to scream. Muslims who inform me of these rules are dead serious; there’s no doubt in their minds that you have to do these things or … What? Go to Hell? Seriously? That’s what Allah cares about?

I get that we’re supposed to obey Mohammad. I even understand the value of following his example. And I realize that it’s from the Sunnah that we get our instructions about exactly how to pray. But it seems to me that we have to use both common sense and discrimination when it comes to choosing which ahadith are to be followed.

An argument could be made that Muslims don’t have to follow any ahadith. After all, the Qur’an is supposed to be enough. Giving the Sunnah the same authority as the Qur’an seems to me to be a form of idolatry. Mohammad was just a man. He was not divine. We are to submit to Allah alone.

And then there’s the issue of whether or not a hadith is even genuine. The Qur’an has a perfect provenance: it came straight from Allah through the angel Gabriel. But we have no such assurances about the Sunnah. Human witnesses are not infallible. I appreciate that great care has been taken to establish the strength or weakness of a hadith. But we still can’t be 100% sure the way we can be about the Qur’an.

The advice I usually see is to consult an imam about these issues. Well, I’m sorry, but imams are human. Their opinions can be tainted by their own prejudices and cultural backgrounds. And, besides, how do you know if a certain imam is even qualified to issue fatwas? Who do you go to if you have doubts? Do you just pick someone off the Internet? And what if you don’t know Arabic?

I’m not opposed to learning ahadith and following the Sunnah. But I have to have something to hold onto when I’m feeling overwhelmed by all the rules and regulations that are thrown at me. I need to know what the bare minimum is for being a Muslim. And I believe I’ve found that in the very name of our deen: Islam.

Submission to Allah is the key. If I’m truly submitted, Allah will show me the way.

Proud to Be a Hijabi

I was sitting in the airport, waiting for my flight, when the lady next to me struck up a conversation.

“I hope you don’t mind if I ask you a question about your …” and she pointed to my hijab.

“No, of course not. Go ahead, ” I said.

“Do you have to wear it all the time, like even when you sleep or take a shower?”

I grinned. “No, only when I’m in public or around men I’m not related to.”

“Oh,” she said. Then: “Do you have hair under there?”

I had to laugh. Where do people get ideas like that? It never occurred to me, before I became a Muslim, that a woman wearing a headscarf might be bald underneath, or have to sleep or shower in it. But I didn’t mind the woman asking me. Because at least it showed that she felt like she could talk to me. I’d rather have that than people who nurse crazy ideas about Muslims and don’t give you a chance to refute them.

I can understand the obsession about hair, though. It goes against the grain in this society for a woman to not show off her hair. It’s not called your “crowning glory” for nothing. I suspect that a lot of non-Muslim women (and even some Muslimahs who don’t wear the hijab) feel sorry for women who cover their hair. How can we stand to cover up something that would make us look more attractive?

I agonized over this issue when my daughter got married last November. I’m as vain as any woman and I worried that I would look bad in the wedding pictures with a hijab covering my blonde hair. I’m proud of my hair. I’ve been a blonde all my life, even if I’ve had to help it along in my adult years. But when I began wearing the hijab I started thinking that I might as well let my natural color grow out. No one would be seeing it anyway and I could save a lot of money. (I finally decided, a few years ago, that I was worth a professional cut and color job, but that doesn’t come cheap.)

I oversaw my daughters getting their hair cut and colored for the wedding, but made no plans to get my own hair done. Then, a week before the wedding, it occurred to me that I would know what I looked like underneath the hijab, and it would affect the way I felt about myself.

Most Muslim women I know who wear hijabs still care about their hair. They fuss over it as much as any woman. You’d think that they wouldn’t care since their hair only shows when they’re at home. But apparently that’s enough for a woman to care about how her hair looks, even if she isn’t married with a husband to please.

I’ve come to the conclusion that women do up their hair because they like to look pretty, even if it’s just for themselves.

Continue reading Proud to Be a Hijabi

A Close Encounter

I took my grandson to the library the other day and while I was thumbing through the movies, a boy of eight or so came up to me and solemnly said, “Asalaamu alaikum.” At first I didn’t realize that he was speaking to me, but then my brain put two and two together (me, wearing my hijab; he, speaking Arabic, equals Muslims!) and I answered, “Wa alaikum salaam.” Then I asked him, “Do you speak Arabic?” And he answered, “A little.”

“So you’d know what I’m saying when I say ‘Khayfa haluk?”I said.

He quickly corrected my pronunciation. “It’s ‘Khayfa hallak,'” he said. “But, yes, I know what you mean.”

Then he walked away leaving me with the warm glow I always get when I’m greeted by another Muslim.

Later on, when my grandson and I were using the self-checkout, he approached me again.

“Khayfa hallak?” he asked.

“Ana bikhayr,” I answered. “I suppose I didn’t say that right either.”

He grinned.”That’s okay. Not many people know Arabic.”

I introduced him to my grandson, and he nodded at him and said, “Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you, too.”

After he left, my grandson asked me how I knew him. “I don’t,” I said.

“Then how does he know you?”

“He doesn’t. He just knows I’m a Muslim because I’m wearing a hijab and he wanted to say hi.”

I wondered what had made a young boy want to approach a strange lady and greet her, Muslim to Muslim. Was he surprised to see me? Feeling a need to connect to another Muslim? Proud of being one?

All of these, I suspect. I’ve had a lot of people ask me if I’m Muslim, even though I’m wearing a hijab, probably because they can’t believe that a Westerner could also be a Muslim. They don’t trust the evidence that they can see right in front of them. I suppose that makes me a curiosity.

But when I tell other Muslims that I am indeed a Muslim, I’m rewarded with a huge smile and a “Mashallah!”

I wish I could tell them that I’m not a very good Muslim, that they shouldn’t be proud of me. But I know it’s not me that they’re proud of. They’re happy—no, thrilled—that a non-Muslim recognizes the beauty of their religion. Our religion.

And I do. Even though I know I need to improve immensely, I am so grateful that Allah guided me to Islam. I’ve never felt so close to Him. I have always believed that He exists, even from childhood. But Islam has made it possible for me to feel my connection to Him more strongly.

Sometimes, however, I don’t feel the same connection to other Muslims. But the other day in the library, I did. I wish I had asked the boy his name. But I will never forget his shy smile and warm greeting.

“Asalaamu alaikum.”

“Wa alaikum salaam.”