Sunday, 27 December 2015

Living in a Society Covered in Niqab

'Shock and Awww'
Recently on my social media outlets whereby I connect with family and friends, I posted my first Selfie, alongside my cute little daughter, just outside Masjid al-Haram, Makkah. I was somewhat reluctant at first, because I'm not really a selfie person, but mostly because I was wearing the niqab (face veil) - and I thought, will my friends and family understand? But, because I like to be quite daring at times I thought oh well, let's just see how they react! To make it less or more awkward I captioned the image 'Shock and Awww.' alongside the following statement: 

Friends and family - the images of the niqab/burka has become synonymous to the view of extreme Muslim or oppressed women. And I'll be honest I came with the view that saudi women may be of the latter kind. From my own personal observations, living in a saudi residential area where it is common to wear the face veil - it doesn't stop them from coming out to the parks, picnic-ING with their friends and family. Some lift it up in female gatherings, or completely take it off when eating in restaurants.
HONESTLY once you get to know anyone who wears the niqab in England especially when you put your judgements and feelings aside you will realise they are just human like us emoticon
BIG Respect to all those who choose to wear the emoticon

I was surprised by the positivity I received from my family and friends. It all started to make me think of the women I already knew in England, many of which were my own friends who wear the face veil - and I was just amazed at how they continue to do so in England where it isn't even common. Going with the majority is so much easier - ie wearing niqab here because it is the custom of many Saudi and non-Saudi women to do so. Whether it is a religious obligation to wear the niqab -  I will not be going into this because of my lack of knowledge on the subject. It is a lot common in the residential areas of Makkah. Of course in the Haram [by that I am referring to the Ka'bah masjid] it is so international that I think the international community outnumber the locals by a huge margin that niqab wearers seem a minority. The verses from the Qur'an that commands women to cover are seen here:

O Prophet! say to your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers that they let down upon them their over-garments; this will be more proper, that they may be known, and thus they will not be given trouble; and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. [Surah al-Ahzaab, v59]

And say to the believing women that they cast down their looks and guard their private parts and do not display their ornaments except what appears thereof, and let them wear their head-coverings over their bosoms, and not display their ornaments except to their husbands or their fathers, or the fathers of their husbands, or their sons, or the sons of their husbands, or their brothers, or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or those whom their right hands possess, or the male servants not having need (of women), or the children who have not attained knowledge of what is hidden of women; and let them not strike their feet so that what they hide of their ornaments may be known; and turn to Allah all of you, O believers! so that you may be successful. [Surah an-Nur, v31]

Is it compulsory for all to wear the niqab in Saudi Arabia?
In Jeddah, the lovely coastal town of Saudi that is just over an hours drive from Makkah, it isn't as common to wear the niqab. The only thing that is made compulsory to wear here in Saudi Arabia for all Muslims and non-Muslims alike, is the abaaya - which is basically a like a long flowy dress or open front jacket for a society that wants to ensure modesty. So non-Muslim women wear the abaaya, some not even in the black colour but do not cover their hair. I like that they are given that choice especially as it is not even compulsory in their religion to cover their hair. Some of you may be wondering, well why should they have to wear the abaaya? To be honest, they could really just wear anything that was loosely modest but I think this uniformic way just makes it easy, perhaps? These are just my own thoughts.

So what is it like wearing a niqab here? 
How did and does it make me feel? This may sound strange, but I feel FREE and less image conscious. As I reflect on it more, I feel as a society in England we are as women quite conscious of how we look. I feel we are building this culture more and more because of the images that are thrown at us in the Media, on adverts, billboards etc [annoys me more to find many of these images are photoshopped!] In the work environment we want to appear presentable and professional. When going out, we want to dress up a little more than our uniformic work clothes. At home we want comfort, so we happily settle for lounge-wear or even better the bathrobe. We are always dressed according to the occasion, or so I say from my own experience! 

Slave of Allah OR Slave of 'what will people think'?
However, when wearing the niqab - it's a face veil. Covering my face means I don't have to think about what people will think if I haven't worn make up or concealer covering the bags under my eyes. Not that I usually would care but, whenever I haven't worn make-up in the past, I have had friends, colleagues, family say oh you look tired! :)  Whilst they most likely don't mean to ruin your day by saying that, they make you conscious of that little effort you didn't put in to cover-up that look of tiredness! Make up makes us all look great, and yes it makes us feel great too. So good and so great, that the day we cannot be bothered to wear it or forget to wear it, we are reminded somehow! Also, the time it takes to decide what to wear to look 'presentable' or feel good is just crazy! You should see me getting ready for a friend's wedding for example. I am not saying the niqab is the solution to our image conscious behaviour - but that it really helps reduce it. But that doesn't mean to say I haven't stopped wearing eyeliner or make up! What I'm saying is at least when I'm trying on my pop red coloured lipstick, I won't have the whole world staring at me as I walk down the street :) The niqab for me is a reminder as someone who already wears the hijab to ensure modesty. Modesty isn't simply how we dress, it is much deeper. But the actual hijab which represents modesty for me, It is a reminder to not be afraid of what people think. For me, it has always added to my self-confidence alhamdulillah. So whilst some people find hijab and covering synonymous with modesty I find it empowering at the same time too - as do I am sure many others who wear it! As soon as we fall in to this trap of what will people think? We crumble and become weak and we are defined by society's ways. 

Some personal reflections on Saudi life:
As some one who has worn the hijab [head scarf] since I was a teen, and having lived abroad in Pakistan and wearing the niqab there as well, you would really think adopting the niqab in Saudi Arabia wouldn't be as difficult. To be honest, I was never against the idea of moving to Saudi Arabia because of having to be in niqab, but I assumed that because it is a society in which women wear niqab, they probably aren't allowed out! I know! I as a Muslim woman thought that! Clearly, being born and raised in England and knowing nothing but England, I really didn't know. But, it really isn't the case here. Yes it is a segregated society, by that there are separate entrances to the mosques for example [we have that in England too]. But the men and women work together in places like hospitals, [I visited one yesterday for my medical test to obtain my residency card]. The doctors from Pakistan and China were intrigued by my being from England and what it was like living there etc. The women, who I saw in the reception area, some in face veil, some weren't worked alongside male colleagues of different nationalities. Life was just normal, normal hospital without long waits - that's what stood out more than how the women were dressed. 

*This image is taken from Google - not my own.
To finalise, I feel the image of the black niqab has been abused so badly in the media that even I thought women in Saudi Arabia are oppressed! But they aren't oppressed as a society - these are from my own observations as an outsider. Ok, they can't drive here, I probably wouldn't want to either with the crazy drivers on road here [not that I enjoyed driving as much in the UK anyway!] however, if you could really catch a glimpse of the family time which can be seen in their park picnics, their men at the forefront, ensuring all the kids get their drinks, their ice-creams etc. And they sit for hours spending time after work together on weekdays! Yes picnics and family time is not saved until the end of the week  - they spend this time together in the evenings in the outdoors in the nature, away from the technology that is tearing up parts of our society.

Any drawbacks of the niqab? It's not easy to wear with an 8th month old baby who thinks its a game but isn't it cute that she still knows who her mama is amongst a group of women in niqab holding her! I used to find it difficult holding her and trying to keep the niqab on at the same time at first! It definitely isn't easy to eat a burger when wearing niqab either - so in some restaurants where the seating is in the family section, I simply remove it. It is fine, I don't feel guilty. Most of the time in Jeddah  I don't wear it. For the women that can wear it and eat at the same time - I salute you! :)

Monday, 21 December 2015

One Body, One Ummah

This post is a reflection of the Muslim ummah [Arabic word for community/nation], which in the past I only got to witness and felt a part of at Islamic talks and seminars in the UK or sometimes virtually online, but, now alhamdulillah I really get to see it when I visit the Ka'bah. For me it adds to the blessing of being there. We are the ummah, the nation of our blessed Prophet Muhammed pbuh! When you really reflect on that, you really feel honoured! 

I see pilgrims in their hundreds and thousands! So many nationalities and cultures, it really warms my heart to see the reality of our amazing religion that can supersede yet encompass all those cultures and their traditions to unite us into one body, one ummah. 

Yes, I am in awe when I see groups of Malaysians circulating the Ka'bah with the women dressed in their uniform pink head scarves so they don't get lost in the crowds. I don't even have to turn around whilst making tawaf [going around the Ka'bah] to know the group behind me that recites the prayer out loud after their one appointed reciter is a possible group from Iran or Afghanistan, because I can hear that beautiful Persian accent coming through. You certainly can't miss the Turkish if you've been to any Turkish restaurant or have happened to visit Istanbul, the fair skinned, dark haired men surrounding their women all dressed in purple head scarves [a lovely shade as well!]. I notice the women from the far east and how practically they drape their hijabs with an elasticated band that sits behind their head putting it all in place - the no pins needed scarf -genuis!

View of the Ummah & clock tower
Then you notice the age ranges, from the elderly to the little babies strapped around their mamas or dads. Many families take advantage of the wheelchair for their children, but especially for their elderly. So, when you are ushered to make way, you turn around and catch a glimpse of the noor [light] in the old gentlemen's face. You can see his determination to complete the tawaaf and Umrah [lesser pilgrimage] - it really is amazing to see.

In the case of gender, there seems to be more men, perhaps because of the visibility of the 2 pieces of cloth draped by the men, you notice the pilgrims performing their umrah straight away. However, there is a good presence of females as well as children, mothers, daughters, wives, sisters covered in black or colour coordinated scarves if they have travelled from abroad specifically for their Umrah. 

And then you marvel at the beauty of the Ka'bah and the people that walk and pray around it and think, this is the ummah  that the Prophet pbuh prayed for. This is on the largest scale I have seen it and I feel honoured and proud to be a part of this religion regardless of what anyone else thinks of it.

It was narrated from Anas ibn Maalik (may Allaah be pleased with him) that the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: 
“Glad tidings to the one who believed in me and saw me, and sevenfold glad tidings to the one who believed in me but did not see me.”   

Over the past few weeks I have felt part of a greater sisterhood here in Makkah and on the on-line sphere, connecting and being part of something amazing. From the kindness that friends and new friends have shown, surely no good deed is ever wasted especially when you are unaware of the impact it can have of on your fellow human. Feeling part of something and knowing you are helping others for the sake of Allah feels so rewarding. The encouragement I get from friends is beautiful. Their voices and words fight that satanic whisper that tells you you cannot achieve or do anything, or you are simply worthless! The following verse comes to mind and when it is seen in practice, in reality you really do see Allah's verses of the Qur'an in everything, if only we gave ourselves time to reflect.

So my advice to everyone is do not isolate yourself from the ummah; you are a part of it! Together we can make positive change when we are united. Think good of your fellow Muslim and non-Muslim alike. Don't hold grudges, excuse people for their short comings and live each day in progression. Be better than you were yesterday, do more than you did yesterday and together as you hold on to this Rope of Allah, you will find life more beautiful by the will and power of Allah. :)

Monday, 7 December 2015

Allah is with the Patient...

And seek aid in steadfast patience and prayer: and this, indeed, is a hard thing for all but the humble in spirit [2:45]

The beautiful greenery around our local park, Makkah
When I found out we were finally moving to Makkah - upon reflection, I felt two things helped me most - Patience and Prayer. Although I really felt I struggled with being patient, even Allah says it is a difficult thing for all [2:45] except for those who are humble. THIS is what I was and probably still am being moulded into - a more humble spirit by Allah's will. May Allah keep this verse a reminder for us all especially with the current climate of the world and the backlash on Muslims and people of faith.

The mountains of Makkah surround us - such beauty mA!

I want to share this important reminder of something that took place right here in Makkah which has some striking parallels to what is happening to Muslims today. So in Makkah, there was a group of people who were despised by the elders [You could say their Government then] so much so that this very 'Government' plotted to kill their leader because they were different, because they believed something new, something unheard of to the 'Government.' Luckily for this group, their tribesmen and those who knew them [some of whom hadn't even adopted their new faith] vowed to protect them.  Instead the 'Government' agreed to boycott this group, ensuring no one traded with them, none would marry them, or have anything to do with them. A pledge was drawn up and signed by the 'Government' and hung in the Ka'bah. For days, weeks and months this group endured patience, they did not retaliate, they remained patient, even though there were some that died because of hunger as food eventually became scarce - they did not demand justice and take action against that 'Government' - only because their leader had advised this. However, even during these years of torment, many MORE people joined this group. This group was being strengthened and cleansed by the hardships they suffered and were being tested in their faith. As the years went by, the pilgrims came to the Ka'bah and saw the harsh cruelty of the 'Government' towards this group that the 'Government' themselves became ashamed. When they decided it was time to end this boycott and they went to tear up their pledge that was hung inside the Ka'bah, to their surprise they found it had been eaten up by worms, all except the words 'In Your name O Allah' which was written at the top of the pledge. SubhanAllah! This group was none other than the early Muslims lead by their leader and our beloved Prophet Muhamamd [peace be upon him] and the 'Government' or elders was none other than his own people, the Quraysh.

Look at the many lessons we can derive from this story alone:

1. The Prophet [pbuh] did not retaliate to the torment by his own people, the Quraysh, but remained patient and advised his followers. This not only displayed their good character, but helped to strengthen their faith and increased their followers.

  *The same can be applied in our lives today - While the Media continuously tries to cause a rift for Muslims - know that this is the time to practise your faith even more. Show people the reality of Islam through your good character by adopting the tradition of the Prophet pbuh. Speak out with wisdom and leave the rest in Allah's hands.

2. The Prophetic Sunnah was that our beloved Prophet Muhammad [pbuh] did not give up on his mission even though he and his followers had much hardship to face - they didn't give up, nor did their non-Muslim supporters give up on protecting him.

 *During this difficult time today, know that we mustn't give up on practising our faith even though fear can overcome us - but seek help and pray to Allah. Don't for a moment think that every non-Muslim person will read into the Media bias that Islam promotes terrorism. I have read some beautiful stories on-line, of how non-Muslims have come to the defence of vulnerable Muslim women, in particular on buses and the underground in London when they were faced with verbal or racist abuse.

3. Justice will prevail whether it takes months or years or a lifetime - we just aren't in control of it. It took 3 whole years before the Quraysh themselves felt ashamed by their actions that they themselves decided to end their pledges of the boycott. The early Muslims even though they had gone through hardship, were seen victorious when the pledge itself was eaten by worms, except for the name of Allah.

 *Alhamdulillah for Muslims, our belief in the hereafter gives us conviction that Justice will surely prevail, whether in this life or the hereafter - so even as we wake up with a heavy heart to the constant handful of terrorists all over the world including people indulging in war and killing innocents for worldly gains, and those who retaliate on more innocent people - know that the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth is well aware of what we do and what is in our hearts. 

So I want to end this with another reminder of being patient from the Qur'an. Allah has not abandoned his creation no matter what injustices take place in the world. In fact He is with those who are patient!

O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient. [2:153]