Silent Muslims; why Islam needs to be on the agenda
(This article was originally written for and published on The HuffPost)
Silence is only golden if all parties have had an opportunity to speak. However, when a group of people are collectively silenced, for a consistent period of time, it becomes less gold and more like bitter copper in your mouth. When it comes to Muslims and the topic of Islam, it has been coated in silence for so long that we now have a demographic with a mouth full of old pennies, their voices of little value and iron clad. I’m not just talking about the orchestrated islamophobia that has been whipped up in the Western hemisphere, but also the guilty silence that has blanketed Muslim communities, enforced and policed by their own members. I know this silence too well, have received too many microaggressions, disapproving glances and reprimands disguised as ‘helpful tips’ from my own people to mistake it for anything else.
I’ve been told, while praying in my local mosque, that my worship wouldn’t be accepted because I had nail polish on. Or being told that I wasn’t a ‘real Muslim’ because I wore short dresses and bikinis. I’ve been told I’m going to hell more times than I can count and always by fellow Muslims, and every time I mention men, sex or dating, it’s as if I’ve single handily tried to destroy Islam. There is something about my outspoken attitude, my discussions around modernity and Islam and my willingness to publically live as a Muslim outside of cultural traditions and accepted norms that infuriates the Muslim community, leaving me forever on the periphery.
It’s an uncomfortable space to exist in at the best of times, and at the worst, makes me impossibly angry at the other members of my faith and my fellow Muslims. Oppressed and marginalized groups band together for comfort and strength, but when your own people are calling for your silence there’s nowhere to turn to. I was briefly accepted into the clan when I wore a hijab, the visible declaration of my faith acting as a soothing balm, even if I was whipping it off every evening to spend the night in my boyfriend’s arms, but once I decided not to wear it and the dresses got shorter, I was promptly kicked out of the club.
But the problem with kicking people out of things is that it doesn’t fix anything, and nor does it give us the opportunity to evolve. We’re merely stunting our own growth, which is why Islam needs to be on the agenda, and not just from those outside the faith, but from within our own communities as well, if not more so.
As Ramadan begins and we all readjust our lives for a month of spirituality and fasting, I hope this year brings with it the time for more conversation, more openness and a lot more honesty. We’re living in a time that finally favours loud voices, and if this year of turmoil has taught us anything, it is that we are desperate for conversation. I want this month to be one of openness rather than closeting ourselves away. Islam is not a private members club, but an open-door policy that welcomes others into our mosques, our community centres and our homes. A commitment to shared experiences is the thing that will heal us, not the barriers and walls we’ve constructed between opposing sides.
I hope Muslims across the UK invite their non-Muslim friends, colleagues and peers to break fast with them, share iftar and show them the beauty of our religion in a month that is so adamant on bringing people together. I’m no Christian, and nor do I care about Christmas, but my friends who do celebrate invite me in, without question, and I am able to understand their traditions and become part of their joy.
On the other side of the equation, I hope this Ramadan gives the Muslim community an opportunity to practise a little more understanding and a willingness to discuss Islam in our current, modern, context. I have a Muslim friend who isn’t fasting, despite wanting to, because she thinks not observing any other religious practices for eleven months of the year disqualifies her from doing anything during this one holy month. She feels like a fraud and the shame she’s experienced from her own Muslim community means she shy’s away, skulking back into the shadows feeling unworthy.
That’s the thing about shame, it’s debilitating and gives us no options, so I’m begging my fellow Muslims to stop playing with it so carelessly. The saint or sinner dichotomies we’re currently operating within are not benefiting anyone and I watch more and more young people, faced with age old interpretations of Islam, that are namely informed by a patriarchal scholarship, drift away from a faith in which they don’t see any spaces for themselves. I hope there are mosques welcoming the faces they only see once a year. I hope imams are telling guilt ridden youngsters that if they can only manage a week of fasting, that’s absolutely fine. I hope we are able to tread softly with one another, be a little gentler, and in a month that is all about patience, I hope we start to practice it with one another a lot more.