At this point, I think that my take on religion may require three parts. This post will focus on my experience as a Muslim. My intention is not to knock this or any religion; I think in their purest forms, all religions have truths to impart in their tenets. It’s the people, though, that ruin everything. This is hard for me to write because my entire life has been devoted to the pursuit and contemplation of religion in some form or another–more accurately, to religion secondarily and primarily, to love, which I also threatened to talk about in an earlier post, and I will, but this first.
I didn’t become a Muslim simply because my future husband was (he was new convert himself) but because I really bought into it. The Quran, which is written in poetic verse, is beautifully melodious in its original Arabic language and translates quite well. We were Sunni Muslims as opposed to being members of the Nation of Islam, with the former being religiously strict and the latter politically militant (if you need more explanation than that, I respectfully suggest you Google them).
African-American Sunni Muslims thumb their nose at the man by being holier than thou. In short, the main reason I could not stick with being a practicing Muslim is the gender inequality and the infrastructure for hypocrisy. As for the hypocrisy, there are so many rules it is difficult to comply with them all, let alone know all of them, and as a result, it is almost impossible to be a perfect Muslim without qualifying as an android. In order to fit in, you have to hide your failings.
As for gender roles, the most obvious feature of being a Muslim women is the dress, namely the long overgarments, head covering, and if you are really pious, the covering of the face. The rationale is that by covering her beauty, a woman is protected from the lusts of men, since we all know that men can’t control their own behavior nor do we as a society require them to do so. From that, the rest of the subjugation follows. Honestly, as I think about it, Muslims just take the construct to its ultimate conclusion, but non-Muslims are not much better; it is still far more accepted for men to follow their sexual desires than it is for women.
For the American Muslim, the outward appearance is everything, not only in the dress but in specific behaviors and even in knowing how to incorporate the Arabic language into everyday conversation. The worst part is, everyone scrutinizes one another to determine who’s a true believer or a hypocrite. Although the pure teaching is that all humans are equal to each other, it appeared that some people at the mosques thought they were more equal than others.
Of course, as you may guess, I was never as equal to anyone else because as other women wore their head pieces long to cover their necks, I would tie mine into a turban with the knot to the side. It was no different then than it is now: as soon as I see the pattern of conformity, I look for ways to stand out as an individual. As an example of trying to keep it real, the first thing I would do when leaving the mosque after prayer was to light up a cigarette in full view of everybody, whereas others would jones and scratch their arms until they were out of sight. Could I have waited a few extra minutes? I don’t know, I guess not. Some would say I was impulsive and only slightly better at that now. As I write this I wonder, if that’s the way things are in the mosque, particularly at that setting, or anywhere for that matter, is it really other people’s fault if they frown upon my nonconformity or is it mine for trying to squeeze my roundness into a square hole?
There is so much more to it but to make a long story a little shorter, suffice it to say I tried to do what I could to be comfortable within the system for the sake of my family, but after about 10 years of it I realized that I needed to save my human soul. Not much writing was getting done during this period. Eventually I decided to stop wearing the Islamic dress. Gradually and ultimately, I decided not to set foot in the mosque again.
© Sweepy Jean and Sweepy Jean Explores the (Webby) World, 2010.