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Is this not discrimination?!

8 Mar

I read in an article that Hema, a shop in Genk, Belgium, fired one of its staff members today. The sole reason for this decision? The woman in question wears a headscarf. The management of the shop received a number of complaints from (narrow-minded) customers about her headscarf, and decided to get rid of her.

The woman is Belgian, and when she first started to work there, she didn’t wear a headscarf yet. Then she decided to wear it (i.e nobody obliged her). She did ask the management of the shop first if she would be allowed to work there with a headscarf, and they gave their permission. But apparently some narrow-minded people took offence and complained. The management changed their mind and asked her to take it off. She refused. Then they fired her.

I read the comments on the article, and they were almost all in favor of the decision that the shop made. What kind of society are we living in? Is this not paternalistic and discriminating? Is this not other people deciding what a woman can and cannot wear? And all this happened on international woman’s day! Or is this day only to promote respect for Western, non-Muslim women?

Since she’s Belgian, it’s not a case of “racism”, and no organisation is really bothered by it. But wait until a woman gets fired because she wears a mini-skirt, then the public will scream and protest that we are living in the 21st century and that a woman can now decide for herself what she wants to wear.
It’s not because you don’t understand why a woman would want to wear a headscarf, that it’s impossible that she does it out of her own free will. It seems that Belgian, or should I say Flemish society is moving away from being tolerant and open-minded, to a place where it’s perfectly acceptable to fire a person based on his/her religion. It scares me, and on the other hand, it makes me more determined than ever to wear headscarf myself and to fight for my rights as a Belgian citizen and human being!



Beautiful Call to Prayer

3 Mar


الله أكبر
God is the most great
أشهد أن لا اله إلا الله
I testify that there is no god except God
أشهد أن محمدا رسول الله
I testify that Mohammed is the messenger of God
حي على الصلاة
Come to prayer
حي على الفلاح
Come to success
الله أكبر
God is the most great
لا إله إلا الله
There is no god except God

We have a voice!

2 Mar

I watched “The King’s Speech” yesterday, and felt inspired by it. I’m sure most of you know the story. It’s about King George VI of Britain, who has a stammering problem. He feels very unsure about speaking in public, and about finding his voice really. Luckily he meets a man, Lionel Logue, who can help him with his problem and who becomes a true friend.

Maybe the same can be said about us Muslim women. Some of us are still stammering too, as in that we feel unsure about speaking up. So many decisions are made over our head. So many people claim to know what’s best for us. Enforcing the veil, banning the veil, locking us up in the house, trying to westernise us and making us appear half-naked on the street,…
But we are not dumb creatures who can’t look after ourselves. We have a voice and we can look after ourselves! No need to restrict us or to pity us.
We know exactly what Islam is about, and it’s not about being a prisoner or being oppressed! So stop trying to tell us what to do, and let us make our own decisions. Most of us WANT to wear the veil, because we believe it guards our modesty and dignity, and we are NOT forced.  Some of us are treated unfairly, but that’s despite of Islam and not because of it. We feel the injustice of that as much as you do, and we want a change!
And do you think the West is so much better? My friend who’s a convert got a lot of job offers, until they discovered she wore headscarf, then all of a sudden they weren’t interested anymore. Is that not discrimination or unfair? They say they want to liberate us, but instead they force us to stay at home or to take on lesser jobs just as much! In most schools in my country, the veil is now forbidden, while miniskirts are all over the place. Why can’t we wear what we want? We don’t have a bomb hidden underneath our veil. Who do we hurt with wearing a veil, except the narrow-minded racists?
We have a voice, and we will use it more and more. We know how the Prophet (p.b.u.h) instructed Muslim men to treat their women, and we will not accept anything less! Not from our fellow Muslims, and not from the West! You don’t have to agree with us, and we are not here to force you to become Muslim too. All we want is respect and freedom to let us be who we want to be, and to let us develop ourselves in the best way possible.
Maybe we are still stammering now, but like King George VI, we will find our voice and we will resist all the hostile forces surrounding us.

The Prophet of Islam, peace be upon him, said, “Women are the twin halves of men”

Once a woman came to the Prophet, peace be upon him, with a complaint against her husband. He told her: “There is no woman who removes something to replace it in its proper place, with a view to tidying her husband’s house, but that God sets it down as a virtue for her. Nor is there a man who walks with his wife hand-in-hand, but that God sets it down as a virtue for him; and if he puts his arm round her shoulder in love, his virtue is increased tenfold.”

Converting to Islam: What to Look Out For

24 Feb

Prior to my conversion last summer, I spent a couple of years trying to find my bearings in this divers and often confusing world of Muslims and Islam. There are a few mistakes I made, and a few lessons I learned the hard way. It’s not always easy to see through all the trees of the forest to what Islam is really about. That’s why I would like to share my experience in finding my way.
So, what are the things you should keep in mind while navigating through so many opinions and you must’s?

1. Watch out for extreme opinions

In my experience, there are a lot of forums trying to lure you in with the message “everyone is welcome, come here to learn about Islam, it doesn’t matter if you are Muslim or not!”
They seem so friendly and welcoming, so why not go ahead and become a member?
But when you have a look at the content of their forums, you notice that the message rapidly changes from “everyone is welcome” to “only the people with my views are welcome, the rest will go to hell”. Often you find yourself ignored or told off when you dare to challenge their beliefs and opinions.
I used to be a member of such a forum years back, and it really put me off. “Is this Islam?” I thought, “So intolerant? So women-unfriendly?”
Such forums/views often promote that women stay at home, accept polygamy very submissively and without question and are covered from top to bottom. Anything else is not acceptable. They also frequently use the word “kafir” for a non-Muslim, which basically means a person who is ungrateful to God, a disbeliever. They constantly stress that a good Muslim follows all the details of their interpretation of Islam. They turn what’s allowed (halal) in what’s forbidden (haram), and that’s a very bad thing!
Then I discovered luckily, that what I read was only one opinion about Islam, no matter how much those people want to make it seem otherwise.
The lesson to be learned from this all is that you shouldn’t base your knowledge of Islam on what some people tell you. It’s just their opinion. If you get a bad feeling from what they are saying, by all means, turn your back and follow your own heart! You are still finding your way, no one has the right to put pressure on you.

2. Do your own research

Go back to the original sources of Islam: Quran and sunna. When you learn about Islam only from the lips of a Muslim, it’s possible that he/she will mix the teachings of Islam with his/her own culture and beliefs. Don’t be satisfied with what someone tells you, ask questions and do your own reading and research. Don’t be afraid to explore alternative interpretations of Quran verses and hadiths (traditions). Especially as a woman, know what your Islamic rights are in marriage and divorce. They say knowledge is power, and this is very true. Never be satisfied, always look to broaden your knowledge, to read, to ask questions.

3. Take your time

Don’t rush into things, whether it’s converting, wearing headscarf full-time or other important and life-changing decisions. Think about your motives. Is this what you want or what someone else wants? If you take too many decisions too fast, it will backfire. I know a lot of converts who started to wear headscarf right away, only to take it back off later. I’m not saying you can’t be ready from the start, but do take your time to make sure that everything you do comes from within, and not from what others say you should do.

4. Learn Arabic

Arabic is the language of Islam, there is no doubt about that. Make it your goal to be able to recite and read the Quran in Arabic. This will also enable you to read and study the original sources of Islam, without a translator’s view on things. Also, there are a lot of Arabic works about Islam which aren’t translated in any other language, and it would be a shame to let that chance for knowledge pass you by.

5. Know your rights

I know I mentioned this before, but I really want to stress its importance. It’s not because someone else tells you you can’t do something, that it’s actually based on Islam.
As a Muslim woman, you have the right to claim your rights when you get married. This is done by means of a marriage contract. Don’t let this chance pass you by, because you never know what life’s going to bring.
For more information on which rights you can claim in a marriage contract, I suggest you read this article:

6. When you’re lost, go back to the essence of Islam

Everyone of us goes through ups and downs when it comes to faith. We are only human. Sometimes we feel we just can’t do it anymore, to follow a belief that’s so different from the culture in which we were raised, and the people around us. We can’t be strong every day.
My advice is to not get caught up in details. If you are having problems with the idea of wearing headscarf for example, don’t let that get in the way of your faith. Concentrate on the five pillars of Islam:

1. Shahada: There is no other god than Allah, and Mohammed is His prophet
2. Salaat: praying 5 times a day
3. Zakaat: giving money to the poor and needy
4. Sawm: fasting during the month of Ramadan
5.Hadj: pilgrimage to Mecca

These are the basics. Although modesty is also very important in Islam, it’s not a pillar, and if you feel you are not ready to cover or wear headscarf, or whatever someone is telling you to do, that’s ok. Concentrate on the essence, so you get a feel of what Islam is really about. Also, while you are doing these things, your love for God and Islam will grow, your faith will strengthen,  and you will feel ready for things you didn’t feel ready to do before. Just give it time, and trust that God will guide you. Don’t feel inadequate or put down because you’re not ready for something. It’s your intention that counts. If you strife to be better, God will surely help you, for He is the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

If You Wish For Light…

22 Feb

If you wish for light, be ready to receive light.
Nourish your ego and be deprived of light.
If you wish to find a way out of this prison,
do not turn away;
bow down in worship and draw near.

– Rumi

If you want light, be ready for it. That’s what the great poet Rumi is trying to tell us. If we only think about ourselves, our life, our career, our needs and greed, we will not receive light, because as the Buddhists say, our cup is full!
We can’t see anything beside ourselves, and our thoughts are firmly grounded in daily life. We are all guilty of it, myself included. Life can be so hectic, and sometimes difficult, that I don’t have much energy left to think about “higher” things. I mean, hello, I have a paper to finish!

Still, Rumi warns us, do not turn away, bent down in worship and draw near.
How easy it is to forget our blessings, and to focus on what’s going wrong in our lives! If I only had more money, I would be able to buy this and this, and then I would be happy! If I only had a partner who’s here to take care of me, and to love me, my life would be great! If I only had more friends, I would feel so much better about myself! And the list goes on…

The truth is that peace, fulfillment and happiness, are not somewhere out there in the world, waiting to be triumphantly snatched by us. They are attitudes, a way of living. They come from within. If we are focused on always wanting more, we will never be satisfied, no matter what. If we are grateful with what we have, we will always find things to be happy about.  I’m sure you heard this many times before, but we forget so easily… Our culture is based on buying happiness, just look at all the ads on TV or in the magazines.
Me too, I’d buy a new cellphone, computer or eyeliner, thinking it would add something fundamental to my life. But the more we “nourish our ego”, the further we are from our goal, i.e. to find peace and fulfillment.

That’s were (for me) religion kicks in. No matter how busy I am during the day, I’m a Muslim, and it’s expected of me to bend in worship 5 times a day. This obligation is a mercy from God, to be sure. It helps to keep my focus on the important things in life, on what really matters. It helps me to grow a feeling of gratitude, as I thank God for my blessings. Gratitude leads to a feeling of contentment, and therefore peace. If we just take a moment to think about all the things we have in life: our family, our friends, a roof above our heads, education, food when we are hungry,… we realise we are very blessed indeed! If we forget to show gratitude, we can get caught up in a spiral of moodiness, feeling inadequate, and even depression, because the days can seem so dark! But all it takes is a shift in perception. There is always something to feel grateful about, even if we feel we are lacking so much. When we bow down in prayer, our perception changes, and we are finally ready to receive the light. And then, there is nothing that can’t be done.

Being a Muslim in the West

7 Jan

I was born into a Christian family, although only by name, since my parents aren’t really religious. After years of reading and research, I converted to Islam last summer (alhamdulillah). I’ve been familiar with the Islamic lifestyle for a while longer though, because I purposely started to spend time with other muslim girls. And in the end, I was so familiar with it that it seemed to become my own lifestyle. I still didn’t convert at that moment though, because I was thinking about my parents, family,…just everyone except myself really. I believed in God, and I felt at home with the Islamic lifestyle, but I was afraid of the consequences of my decision. I was waiting until I suddenly had the courage to tell my parents I wanted to do this. Courage that never came, and that still hasn’t come.
In the end, I came to the realisation that it was my life, and that I should live it for me (not very original, I know).

I converted in August, and something strange happened for a short while. All the things I hadn’t been doing voluntarily for a while, because of my interest in Islam, suddenly became compulsory for me not to do (not drinking, not wearing T-shirts, but long clothes, not going to parties, etc.). I don’t know about humans and their inclination to fight against any obligations, but I was starting to feel afraid I made the wrong decision, because of all this obligations that “suddenly” fell on me (while I had been living by this obligations for a year or more). Luckily, it was just a feeling, and it passed, when I started to look again at all the beauty that Islam is. I realised it was not an easy choice, but it was MY choice, and I felt proud of myself.

But I live in an European country, and the majority here has a very different lifestyle. I’m not complaining. It’s not because I’m muslim, that I think everyone should suddenly follow me. I also think the West has achieved a lot of great things, like freedom of speech, critical thinking, and democracy. But it does mean that it was my job to set boundaries for myself, in my dealing with others. I’m a student, and I’m staying in a student-house, where I’m the only muslim. There were going to be a lot of times I would have to say “no, thanks” to other people. Luckily I have friends who respect the way I want to live my life, and not press me to drink alcohol for example.
I developed this kind of compass inside of me, that pointed me in the right direction. It’s my guide in knowing what’s acceptable to me as a muslim, and what isn’t. And at times, when I ignore this compass, I feel it very strongly, because I end up feeling bad, and not wanting to repeat the experience again. It’s still challenging, and sometimes I find myself longing to live in an Islamic country, to not always feel like the odd one out. Maybe I will someday, God only knows.

More and more people start to know about my conversion, but I still haven’t found the courage to tell my parents yet. I’m scared of how they would react. They haven’t done the same research that I have about Islam. They only came in touch with it through the media, and I think I can safely say that that’s not a good thing. I’m also not very good at explaining things, like expressing the knowledge that I have inside of me, and I fear their questions and my inadequate answers.
I also want to wear headscarf, but I know this is impossible, until I’ve told my parents. They might never accept, but at least they would know.
It’s still a long way to go, but I don’t regret my decision, because I think this lifestyle really suits my nature. Religion is also very important to me, and I consider myself a religious person. Not as in conservative and strict, but a person who needs God in her life.
I just hope that one day I can live my life fully, as I want to live it, and not feel afraid of other people’s judgement anymore.