Muslim women already have it hard as we struggle every day trying to get through societal expectations placed upon us. On top of being subjected to gender stereotypes, we also have to deal with criticism from our own community, watching our every move, waiting for their opportunity to call out, “Haram!”
Sure, it’s easy to say, “Don’t worry about what other people thinking or telling you,” but the truth is, the need for acceptance is part of our hierarchy of needs. While it may not be necessary to survive, it sure does make a person’s journey easier. From debates about skinny jeans to eating halal meat, at the end of the day we should be putting our energy in trying to perfect our own faith first — not the lady’s standing next to me at the mosque. Sisterly advice is great, but there is a huge line between advice and trying to impose your own personal beliefs on others.
This brings me to a memory as a child I had, where my mom was purchasing a lasagna with meat frozen meal from the local grocery store for dinner. A lady came up to my mom and told her that she shouldn’t eat “haram” meat. Seriously? This was not advice, it was an insult. She made it seem like Islam was one-sided, as if there was only one way to worship. Even to the extent of how my mom decided to feed us was not acceptable.
And then there were those many moments as a young hijabi struggling to find myself. Instead of getting support from the community, I would get unsolicited advice and opinions — from how I should act to what I should wear.
Once, when I was 14 years old, I was at the masjid hanging out with my friends. I remember vividly my friends and I would meet up every weekend and hang around an area with we called “the benches.” Why benches? Because the basketball and volleyball courts were always occupied with males, the playgrounds were always flooded with kids, and there was just no place for us teenage girls.
There was a member of the community that was always on our case. Since we were females, he was always trying to get rid of us for some reason. He didn’t believe that we should be hanging out on the benches since men occasionally walked past that area. He was the ultimate definition of “haram police.” Suppressing his ideas on us with no given authority. One day he was so frustrated with us, he yelled, “Go inside, women are not supposed to be in this area, this is not a club.”
The next weekend, I hesitated to even go to the masjid because my friends and I were afraid we would have to be confined in one area. We just wanted a safe place where we could meet up and have a good time. Slowly, going to the masjid sadly became very uncomfortable because that uncle was always over our shoulders. Slowly the group of teenage muslim girls got smaller, and there were days where I was alone trying to find someone to chill with. It’s moments like these that we have to reflect. He should have been thankful we chose the masjid to be our hangout spot, where we were surrounded around religion, which helped stay out of trouble.
Instead of making us feel welcome, he pushed us away. It made it more difficult to find peace and faith within myself. Every time this would happen, a fire would ignite in my heart and it only made me want to rebel, because quite frankly, I did not agree with any of the advice given.
For me, Islam is a way of life. Not everyone is going to be in line with the exact same way I practice because we all live differently. Our childhood experiences may influence how we choose to practice as adults. Surely, our youth plays a major role on what’s important on the spectrum of religiosity, and what we make sure to implement verses what we may choose to ignore.
Having said that, I’m making a plea here. Please stop the judgmental comments and policing of our actions in a way that is not constructive. We need to be comfortable in our own community — and that’s hard to do with the side-eye glances and comments under your breath, let alone the straight-up-in-your-face patrolling. This not only affects us as adults, but our children as well. They don’t need to be subjected to the haram police and develop guilty conscious because you feel it’s your duty to put people down. Let me be my own child’s teacher on faith. Stay in your lane with your own kids. It’s bad enough the world is doubting us and our actions — don’t jump on the bandwagon, too.