i like pants.

December 3, 2014

Every Monday evening, my mother-in-law attends a Qur’an study group. This is almost exactly like an Islamic version of a Bible study group, and I’ve had the pleasure of sitting in on her group a few times when the meeting was held at our house. I didn’t understand every single thing, of course, since it was entirely in Arabic. But as I sat and watched the ladies chat and snack and sip cups of gahwa, my heart was warmed. No one talked about the permissibility of birthday cakes. No one worried about hearing music (one lady shared a funny YouTube video with music in the background, and the phone was passed around the room so everyone could see. Everyone laughed–or at least smiled–and no one “advised” her that music is haram). And then a teacher sat at the front of the room and read Qur’an aloud, and the ladies discussed the meaning of each ayah and how it could be applied to everyday life. I wanted to take pictures of the gathering and post them (although I never would, of course, because it was an abaya-free gathering), so that people in the States could see just how much this resembled an American Bible study group. I just sat there thinking, “How is it possible that there are people who cannot see just how alike we all are?”

But as alike as we all are, I know that there are essential differences in how many of us see the world. And that’s okay. Still, this can leave some of us feeling quite isolated a lot of the time.

See, I’m Muslim. (I mean, just in case you didn’t know.) But I wasn’t always Muslim. I grew up Catholic in the Bible Belt (i.e., surrounded by Protestants). I found comfort in my Catholic faith, and I honestly never envisioned leaving it…until I found Islam, which to me, embodied all of the comfort I find in sacred ritual while tying it up with a theology that actually made sense to me. Accepting Islam didn’t feel like the ridiculously huge step that it may seem like from the outside. It felt like a homecoming of sorts, which I suppose is exactly how converting to a religion should feel. It felt this way in so many respects, both big and small…even in the way I dressed. I never wanted to be a nun, but I always admired the very identifiably Catholic way in which many nuns dress, and I always wanted to wear a mantilla at Mass, although I never did out of fear of being judged for it. But as a Muslim, I could even wear a headcovering without others in my religious tradition thinking that I was a nutjob (as for those outside my religious tradition…well, that’s a different story).

But it’s hard to be a convert in any religion, and Islam is no exception. You have to learn to pray in another language. I mean, you can pray to God at any time and in whatever language you wish, but for the ritual of the five daily prayers, you need to know some basic Arabic words to perform them (just like until around 50 years ago, Catholics had to know the basic Latin words to pray in Mass). You can learn those words privately and at your own pace, but even outside of prayer, suddenly people all around you are using random Arabic words in everyday conversation and you’re struggling to keep up. It can feel like a secret club…one in which people throw foreign words at you like rocks in order to demonstrate that you should listen to them because they know more than you. Stir in the myriad cultural variations that inevitably color the practice of Islam, and it gets even more confusing and potentially alienating.

But when you join a new religion, more than anything, you want to feel that you belong. This leads converts to join what is affectionately (or at least, sometimes affectionately) known as the Haram Police–they spend an inordinate amount of time “advising” their fellow Muslims as to what is permissible and forbidden. (But always, always calling you “sister” while they do it.) I know that for some people, focusing on certain little things is what makes them feel like they are truly a part of the religion. I get that. But for me, that’s not what religion is about, and it’s not what enriches my life. For me, it gets exhausting, and it’s hard to find a community of converts to Islam that doesn’t fall into the trap of wasting time debating whether or not it is permissible to wear pants in public.

I don’t care about the permissibility of wearing pants in public. I don’t want to know what you think of my Christmas tree. I don’t give a fig about how you feel about having a dog in your house. I couldn’t care less about what instruments you think are permissible before the sound they make qualifies as haram music. And I don’t have any interest in what you think about parents who let their children watch Peppa Pig.

It’s not about the little things.

Nope, I just want to talk about faith. I want to talk about the big picture. I want to feel encouraged. I don’t want to feel alone. I want to feel closer to God. I trust myself to adopt and maintain the earthly rituals that make me feel closer to God, and pants have nothing to do with them. (Well, I mean, I guess they kind of do. I do wear pants. Mostly jeans. Jeans are my favorite.) Arguing about pants doesn’t make me feel closer to God. It makes me feel like God is rolling his eyes at me.

There are elements of Christianity that I love and miss and wish they were more a part of mainstream Islam. One of my favorite Instagram accounts currently belongs to a Christian college student who makes beautiful/adorable sketches in her Bible that illustrate important verses on the page; I want to highlight and make notes in my Qur’an without being scolded for desecrating it. I want to be able to admit that even though I don’t consider the Bible to be the unaltered Word of God, I do find wisdom and comfort in it alongside the Qur’an. (And I kind of want to commission that college student to make sketches in a Bible and Qur’an that illustrate the verses that are most important to me on each page.) I want to open a devotional book and read words that strengthen my faith, not present judgment on my plucked eyebrows. I don’t want to be on perpetual defense because I wear pants (yeah, I’m really sticking to the pants example). I’m already on perpetual defense because I’m Muslim.

I’ve thought about starting a Facebook group for other Muslim convert women who feel the same way, but in my experience, groups like this tend to implode on themselves because they inevitably devolve into a mess of bickering. If I did start a group, there would have to be rules. Like, no copying and pasting fatwas from Islam Q&A. No asking other members, “Do you think *insert mundane practice here* is permissible?” Figure out what works for you there on your own. You’re a grown woman with a brain that God gave you. I’m not going to waste my time typing out to you exactly why my conscience doesn’t trouble me when I wear pants.

I don’t know. If there’s interest, I may start a group. Send me a message or leave a comment if you would be interested. Maybe we’ll get something going. Although I can’t guarantee that it won’t go down in a blaze of birthday cake debate.

I guess I’ve been thinking about these things especially because it’s that time of year again…that time when my Facebook newsfeed is filled with pictures of Christmas trees, snow, twinkling lights, stacks of presents, gingerbread men, holiday music, all of which bring on pangs of homesickness and the occasional round of sobbing…alongside the reminders from my more conservative Muslim Facebook friends that Christmas is haram.

I don’t know if those folks realize what they are saying when they attempt to “enjoin the good” by announcing that any sort of activity related to the holiday season is haram. I know they don’t mean it this way, but to me, they are basically saying that my childhood is haram. My happiness is haram. The memories and the love and the warm fuzzies of a now-secular season (to me) that I cherish are all haram, because I am Muslim now, and that should erase all that came before.

Well, it doesn’t. It just doesn’t. And I don’t want it to. So there.

 

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  • doctor.in.the.making

    As a born Muslim I’ve never really questioned or debated certain aspects. Christmas was never given a second thought, we’ve never left the house in pants, music was a big no no, no birthdays, no nail polish, veiling at the onset of puberty etc. This was all fine for me while at school as all the other girls were just like me. (Speaking of school, it was only muslim females, the teachers were only females and there were no males at all, even fathers were not allowed) Anyway, this year I started university at a secular institution and have decided to major in medicine. The veil isn’t allowed, my partner is a Greek male, I’ve interacted with many males and I’ve had to leave my abaya for scrubs. It was a HUGE change for me and at first I felt overwhelmed. It was only now that I’ve truly realized that goodness comes from within. More than outer appearances, our hearts and intentions need to be pure and free from hatred, malice and jealousy. Religion is more than just doing certain actions or behsving in certain ways- it’s far bigger. May the Almighty God guide us all on the true correct path and make us from the good doers. Thanks for your amazing blog, I always look forward to the new posts :)

    • http://thesamerainbowsend.com Nicole

      thank you for your reply, thank you for reading, and thank you for your kind words, future doctor! :) <3 i appreciate your perspective so much. and i agree so much. i have no problem with people who choose to center their religious practice through certain actions or prohibitions. i do the same (it's why i love to wear hijab--it centers me as a muslim.) but when folks start telling me that i need to wear this or cut this (mundane) thing out of my life or allah will be angry at me, i can't listen.

  • http://kitabiyya.wordpress.com futuremutarjama

    I’m definitely in for the group. And once again, this post could describe my life … Except my favorite example is not pants, but finger rings. ” To put a ring on your index is haraaaam !”. The first time someone told me that, I thought it was a joke and I nearly answered “Yeah but I rule them all !”. But she was dead-serious.
    And this is all I got for a few months, along with the eyebrow plucking speech, when I craved having deep conversation about faith and world visions and comparisons between religions (comparison to talk about the common views and concepts and heritage, and not necessarily prove to the world that I chose the best religion on earth).

    I may already have expressed my views in one of my comments on your (definitively) awesome blog, but as 5 year old convert myself, I have always said to whoever was willing to listen that I always felt very much alone in this process. And yes, I am very fed up witht the Haram Police in new converts … I am very happy with my choice, but I terribly miss talking with people who approach all of this like you do. I might have met one or two people with whom I felt I could talk about the important stuff (my poor social skills don’t help in meeting people, so I don’t know if the Haram Police is just a noisy minority and all of us hiding somewhere or if there is really a majority of people who care and find solace only in the pants/rings sort of details …).
    Is such a group could be viable ? I don’t know, but it’s worth a try. Or something like a multi-author blog ?

    So yes, I’m muslim, and yes, I’m going back to my family to celebrate Christmas this year, because I have the chance to do it, and that’s the end of the conversation.

    • http://thesamerainbowsend.com Nicole

      a ring on the index finger is haram? well, that’s a totally new one for me! :) what’s the justification for that one?

      i honestly think that many, if not most, of the converts who join the haram police are the most unsure about their decision to become muslim. i have friends who are much more conservative than i am, both “born muslim” and converts–covering their face even outside of ksa, avoiding music and peppa pig, that sort of thing. but they don’t condemn me for my own choices, and they are the ones who seem most at peace with their religious identity. i get the feeling that the need to “correct” or “advise” others is frequently a symptom of insecurity.

      i think i do need to try to get this group going. when i woke up this morning, my inbox was full of messages from other women who feel the same way. it’s definitely the biggest private response i’ve ever received to one of my posts. i’ll post the information here when i do, inshallah. :)

      • http://kitabiyya.wordpress.com futuremutarjama

        Well, it appears that rings are a decoration of one’s body as bad as a tatoo or eyebrow-plucking. And if you dare put your ring on your index, it’s worse : it’s the finger of the shahada for the prayer. And even though my ring was on my left index and not the right one, it was not OK because “the left index is like the right one” (how convenient). And even then, I never saw what was so fundamentaly wrong with it. I could still move my finger, so …

        And yes I agree, I always felt acting “haram police” was a way of finding some security in a rigid practice when you’re highly insecure. And I daresay it’s for most people a phase that lasts more of less, but still just a phase they grow out of, when they find their own security within the religion and their understanding of the world.
        I met a few people who were very conservative and didn’t seem to mind my own ways, but sadly I never had the chance to talk of big subjects with them, except with one of them, and it was very interesting. We had a really different opinion on things, but the dialogue was possible, and he didn’t pay attention to my dress (which was mainly pants btw).

        Anyway, thanks again for your articles !

  • Risi

    Wow…this is weird! My daughters friends in KSA have snapchats of their birthday cakes,gifts,parties,etc. Really do look like American ones. The half-generation after you is forging new trails.

    • http://thesamerainbowsend.com Nicole

      oh, no, risi, birthday parties are totally common here! there are cake shops everywhere…tons of people celebrate birthdays, even if it’s just with a cake. our family does. (in fact, we sometimes even get cakes for hijri–islamic calendar–birthdays, too, lol!) but some conservative muslims do consider any celebration outside the two eids to be forbidden. and many converts become conservative muslims. or at least, many of the most vocal converts do.

      • Risi

        Thanks! I was just confused because you said in one post that your husband wasn’t even sure when his B-day was until he applied for school in the states…and your in-laws don’t seem to be that conservative. All my daughters friends there have parties.

        • http://thesamerainbowsend.com Nicole

          he didn’t know when exactly his gregorian birthday was. but yeah, in our house, we don’t really do parties other than for lavender (not out of religious conviction, just ’cause we’re old, lol!), but a cake usually appears for a birthday. :)

  • http://enajmah.wordpress.com enajmah

    Asalamu alaikum wa ramatullahi wa barakatuh Habeebti, maybe if you are craving for more deepness in the religion you should go for an islamic studies diploma ? Many things exist online.

    I am studying online with Al Ihsan Institute (with the Mufti of the British Columbia Province in Canada) for an “Islam Comprehensive” diploma and it has been the best !

    http://education.ihsan.ca/icomp/

    I imagine that you have even more opportunities in KSA, even in English.

    Also, I have an account at Bayyinah TV which I find so great.

    http://www.bayyinah.tv/sp/9942-bayyinah-tv

    You can also check (made by awsome Muslimahs) :

    – the Sila initiative

    http://silaretreat.org/author/thesilainitiative/

    – Rabata

    http://rabata.org/

    All of that is only a small part of what exist. So just get involved if it’s what you miss :) Many of my friends follow such courses while being mothers or workers or both.

    Another thing I wanted to add, I don’t see the problem in calling each others “sisters”. This is to increase the love in the Ummah, and being a revert myself that is a thing that always cheer up my heart. Because when I discover that a non hijabi is a muslimah, the first thing I do is to give her the salam and to call her my sister. Because when I was a non hijabi, when others did that to me, it helped me so much going on.

    For me, it is all about love and friendship.

    But that is just me.

    Wa salam,

    • http://thesamerainbowsend.com Nicole

      thank you for the links to those resources! i will definitely check them out. however, it’s really not as simple as “just get involved if that is what you miss.” it’s not just wanting to be “involved.” it’s that it’s hard to get involved without finding myself caught in the trap of debating things like how high a hijab can be before it qualifies as a “camel hump.” i have neither the time nor the desire to discuss the small things. and it often seems like other muslims fall into discussion of those small things more often than not, especially in forums meant for converts.

      i also don’t have any problem with calling anyone “sister”! it certainly wouldn’t bother me at all if it didn’t feel like the only time i get called “sister” is when someone is attempting to show me the error of my kuffar ways. :)

      • http://enajmah.wordpress.com enajmah

        Habeebti, when I said “get involved” I mean in studies. To leave the debate and go to the sources. To find deepness in the religion. To get the bigger picture. And peace. May Allah gives you ease. Wa salam

        • http://thesamerainbowsend.com Nicole

          aha! i see now. i’m looking into my options about that as we speak! thank you very much!

  • http://gravatar.com/momofmoon Mrs B

    Salammualaykum Nicole (so glad you kept your name instead of changing to Nour or something “muslim-y”)

    As a “born” Muslim, I too wish we as an ummah could have a real discussion on faith and how to become closer to Allah instead of the endless discussions on “trivial”issues. Oppression on women and children, corruptions, corrupt morality among teenagers etc are more important and needs to be eradicated. Although, I strongly recommend you to perhaps view some sisters’ advice as what they are-advices. There’s one thing about our ummah that is sometimes irritating but other times can be useful (depends on the adviser or advisee intentions) is that we have each other’s back. Meaning, we don’t live by the “live and let live” mantra, which by the way may sound sweet and all but I find this statement to be responsible for almost all the vices that exist in the post modern world. “I can do whatever I want as long as I am not hurting anybody” may sound all hip but is usually spewed by those in the wrong.
    Lastly, I still would like to elect you as the President of the world!

    • http://thesamerainbowsend.com Nicole

      hi, mrs. b! as always, thank you for commenting. :) i like the idea of “having each other’s back,” but it seems like that rarely applies (at least in convert circles) unless it involves telling someone what they’re doing wrong. or blaming someone for their afflictions (i’ve seen converts tell other converts that their clinically diagnosed depression is haram). more often than not, convert circles do not feel like safe spaces to me.

      i think it’s important to keep in mind that sometimes “wrong” is subjective. and therefore, it’s not about “live and let live,” but rather, “is this wrong really a universal wrong?”

      • http://gravatar.com/momofmoon Mrs B

        Depression is haram? There are two kinds of depression ie situational depression(sadness) and clinical depression (mental disorder). The latter cannot simply be willed away. Self harming is of course haram but clinical depression itself isn’t self harming. Rather it’s a change in the chemicals of the brains and needs to be attended by medical experts. The next time a sister comes up and announce depression is haram or studying secular education is useless, tell her that truly knowledge is power!

        About wrong being subjective, forgive me but I am not quite sure what u mean by that. Do you mean among Muslims and non Muslims or just among the Muslims? In Islam, there is an objective universal moral principal set by our Creator. If we were to say morality is subjective than moral judgements would be exactly like judgements of personal taste. The biased professor failing a student he despises because, well, he despises the poor lad. The incestuous couple getting delight out of their affairs while the rest of us would rather crawl into a cave. The consensual porn actors and actresses making millions of dollars simply by fornicating while the rest of us are dealing with disruption of the marriage institute and teen pregnancy. Herein lies the fact that the mantra Live and let live to be of utter balderdash.

        • http://thesamerainbowsend.com Nicole

          i think wrong is subjective among all people, and i don’t think this means that moral judgments would be exactly like judgments of personal taste. i don’t think i need islam to keep myself from being a biased teacher who fails students i don’t like, or to prevent myself from attempting to engage in incest with my brother, or to hold me back from acting in porn movies, and i think it’s a major leap to suggest that exposure to music or birthday cakes or peppa pig or pants has some sort of correlation with anyone’s desire to do any of those things.

          • http://gravatar.com/momofmoon Mrs B

            I did not say there’s any link between enjoying a cartoon character and being an adulteress. That was just an extreme example to showcase my point. I was pointing out that wrong and right have been set by the Creator. How we agree on His rules however, may differ. And you may not need Islam to abstain from fornication but you’d be surprised at how many people who had engage in so much sins finally found purity through Islam. The three vices I mentioned are outlined in Islam. However, a pig is a creation of Allah and the only ruling I am aware of is we are forbidden from eating it. As a mother, I made sure my daughter is aware that pigs exist and have its own function in our ecosystem. Watching pig related shows on tv, at the zoo etc are some of the ways I expose her to these magnificent but impure creatures.

          • http://thesamerainbowsend.com Nicole

            that makes sense. :)

  • http://wifeabroad.wordpress.com wifeabroad

    I think the whole, what can you/what can’t you do stuff goes on in all religion. I grew up in the Bible belt as well (Indiana). In that strict environment we didn’t even celebrate Christmas, because the church considered it Pagan. Now as an adult, I have celebrated in the past, but these past few years I just haven’t. I think its because I just don’t like the overly commercial aspect of it. Having said that,…I really enjoyed seeing all the Christmas lights in Bahrain this past weekend. I also enjoy the lack of TV commercials this time of year while living in KSA. I enjoy your blog.

    • http://thesamerainbowsend.com Nicole

      thanks so much for commenting, wifeabroad! :) i know there are some christian circles in which certain celebrations of christmas are forbidden…i haven’t encountered that much where i come from, but i do know a lot of folks who don’t celebrate halloween for that reason (“it’s pagan/satanic”).

  • Sarah w

    Sarah w- hi Nicole. I agree with your sentiment in the post. My English parents became Muslim in the 70’s so I’m a born Muslim but I always went to Xmas with my grandparents. If you love Islam you accept the Torah and the gospel as holy books worthy of respect and you can’t know Islam fully unless you understand other faiths. They’re not a threat- they’re part of religious evolution.
    Please include me in your Facebook group- no fatwas I promise.
    I’ve spent a few years in Saudi but am currently in the UK.

    • http://thesamerainbowsend.com Nicole

      hi, sarah! “you can’t know islam fully unless you understand other faiths. they’re not a threat–they’re a part of religious evolution.”<--thank you SO MUCH for saying this! this is exactly how i feel.

  • Risi

    Lol! Well hope this is not a can of worms….but I personally have historically had issues with the term ” religious evolution”… For obvious reasons. I usually end up on a theological/conceptual continuum on the ” bottom of the ladder”. But different people do use the term different ways. :-)

    • http://thesamerainbowsend.com Nicole

      not a can of worms on my end, risi! <3 i can totally see your discomfort with the term...but when i refer to religious evolution, i mean it in the abrahamic sense. islam may be the theological framework that makes sense of how i see the world, but i hate the idea of putting theologies on a ladder at all! 😉

  • http://hebahdwidari.wordpress.com hebahdwidari

    I grew up in a household, that forbade, celebrating birthdays and other holdidays other than the muslim holidays, and at one time, we were even forbidden from listening to music.

  • Umm S

    I’m just curious why you wouldn’t be allowed to highlight etc. your copy of the Qur’an? I have always done so with mine (whether it is with arrows, full notes along the sides and the spaces between the lines, highlighting, stars… whatever it takes to show myself why something mattered to me at a certain point, and how I react/think about it now). My husband also uses a hands on approach with the Qur’an he uses to memorize. And I think we would be considered ‘conservative’ muslims (whatever that means). As, even though I do wear pants whenever I want, if I am going to be around people, I wear them with a longer topic because my personal take on the issue is that if the shape is obvious, then it is not really covering your awrah. Palazzo pants are awesome because then you don’t have to wear a very long top LOL. (I only struck up the pants thing because you mentioned it so many times). It doesn’t change the way I approach my faith if others *choose* to dress or act the way they want. Religion is not about policing. And yes, in Islam, we are encouraged to advise our brothers and sisters, but there is also an etiquette and understanding and sound knowledge base that should go behind this. There are far too many internet “shuyookh” these days.

    So, yes, just wondering where this idea comes from? I’ve heard of the others and know of their origins etc (whether valid opinions or not) but, not this specific one of not being able to write on one’s mushaf.

    • http://thesamerainbowsend.com Nicole

      thank you for this comment! i apologize for using the term “conservative,” but i’m not sure i have a term that better indicates what i’m trying to say. like, i’m sure a lot of folks would consider me “liberal,” even though i would just call myself a muslim. i hate the term “wahhabi” (which, in my experience, tends to be used by non-muslims in a derogatory manner) and i’m not a fan of the term “salafi,” either (i don’t think it’s used entirely accurately). so i hope you understand that when i say “conservative,” i intend it in a descriptive, rather than derogatory, way.

      it’s nice to know that you write in your qur’an. it’s funny you should mention this, because when my husband read this post, he was like, “honey, why don’t you write in your qur’an? my mom writes in hers all the time.” but as it was explained to me at the masjid right after i converted, and in every islamic group i’ve been in thus far, the consensus is always that it’s best not to write in one’s mushaf, especially if it contains the arabic and not just a translation, lest you somehow desecrate it (i’ve seen it described as akin to sitting the book on the floor) or fall into the trap of considering your notes to be your own personal tafseer; rather, if you want to make notes, you should keep a separate qur’an journal.

      p.s. i love palazzo pants! :)