Hijabs and Modesty

By: Nermine Mohamed, Writing Intern 2015

11090958_10153701787980278_1405256105756384901_oI never like to talk about why I wear “Hijab”, even back in my own country, although it was not a big deal as I belonged to the majority. What’s uncommon is not wearing it. But after moving to a Western country, I become the uncommon, the different as I look and dress differently than others. It never bothered me being the “outcast”; on the contrary I feel more comfortable and at ease with myself here than back in my own country. But what does bother me is that I always get asked a lot of questions which always make me feel uncomfortable. Being a very private person, I don’t really like people asking me questions about my personal life or my beliefs, unless we are in a very close relationship to allow for such discussions. I understand that some people simply ask out of curiosity or interest to know more about a different culture and religion.

Although I know that this is not normal and religion questions are a red line for many people, yet a friend of mine once told me that by wearing a veil, I explicitly identify myself as a Muslim, which means I am open to discussing my religion and my beliefs. It is a valid argument, yet it completely ignores the other side who certainly would not like being asked these kinds of questions by random strangers or people I have just met or people who have no business prying into my personal life, my wardrobe or what parts of my body I am to cover or uncover.

Yet, I always know how to adapt and go with the flow and apart from the silly questions of whether I sleep or shower in it; mostly people ask me why I wear it. I always try to cut the conversation short and just give the standardized answer without going deep into the subject: It is out of modesty. One other time, my manager suddenly and quite out of the blue while working, came to me and asked me whether those who don’t wear the “Hijab” are considered bad and I am ultimately better than them. I was startled by the question and I told him definitely not and that it is a personal decision and has nothing to do with who’s better and who is not. This is why I decided to write about Hijab and modesty.

I first wore my Hijab when I was really young about 13-14, but not out of religious reasons or anything. I just wanted to look different as it was not that common back then. Being a childish decision, I took it off shortly after for more than a year. I wore it again, but this time was me trying to be more religious. I wore it this time longer for 3 or 4 years and then I started to feel uncomfortable, burdened, shackled. I could not do it anymore. Part of me kept on saying that I would be happier and freer once I take it off. And I did. I took the decision and told my family who was not really happy about it, but did not force me to do anything against my will. It was only for a day and actually no one really knew about it as I wore it again the next day. All I remember is that I felt uncomfortable and did not feel like myself. Now I am pretty much at ease with it. I decided to stick with my decision, to see it as something I am doing to be closer to my faith.

But, looking back at that time when I took off my Hijab for this one day and then decided against it, I know that part of me was afraid and not quite ready to face all the jaw-dropping stares, the whys questions, the go back to God-preaching and the you will go to hell-threats, which any woman who takes it off is subjected to. I know that while I had the freedom to decide for myself, others don’t have this leisure, and are being forced or pressured by society to wear what is seen as a sign of modesty and are being judged and measured by this scale of modesty that only a simple scarf on the head defines.

I decided to wear something that defines my faith and who I am, but faith never means the absence of doubt. As any human being, I have my own doubts. My mind is buzzing every minute of every day with so many questions that I don’t have any answers to and a continuous struggle to reconcile between my worldly views and my spirituality. And I cannot reconcile with how Hijab is seen as a sign of modesty, because all these labels and definitions always tend to single out something as the modest, the right, the good, the worthy and leave the rest behind or implicitly taunt and criticize all that’s different from the prescribed definition or image.  I know that my faith is not and should not be measured by what I wear. I know that what I wear is not by any means the ultimate definition of modesty. I know that a woman should be free to dress as she feels like, and people have no right to ask a woman why she is wearing or not wearing something.

That’s why I’d like to think of modesty (of any kind) as a decision. And there is never a clear-cut formula for a decision. Decisions are personal, a part of who we are and our personal journey. We should have the freedom to make our own decisions. We should have the right to doubt them, to change them without needing to explain or to justify our reasons. And we should never ever be judged or measured by others’ decisions.

Advertisements

What is Modesty for a Muslim Woman?

Since this month’s topic seems to have a lot of people stumped, we decided to have each member of our staff reflect on the question: What is Modesty?  Our Writing Intern, Nermine Mohamed, offers her perceptive today as  Muslim and as a woman. Her answer shows incredible wisdom and gives us all a touching image of modesty to consider. 

Our Writing Intern

When I think of the word “modesty” what comes to mind is not a specific appearance, dress, or behavior, but more like a combination of everything: a certain lifestyle, a certain aura that surrounds and frames a person. It is a tone that is never too loud or too self-assured, it hovers between confidence, uncertainty and accepting that you can always be wrong. Being ready to listen more than talking, feeling no need to stress your own ideas among a group, always thinking before speaking, making sure that what you say is of value and not just noise to fill in the silent gaps. It is knowing when to talk and when to be silent and also knowing that silence is not a bad thing at all! Not everything has to be spoken. It is being comfortable with oneself. The way we look, the way we talk, the way we behave among people. Modesty does not mean not drawing any attention to ourselves, but it means drawing attention to the right things, the meaningful things. It is how we behave as if no one is watching us, seeking no praise or compliments for being who we are: natural, unassuming, effortless, no need to be anyone but ourselves. It is like a breeze, caressing one’s skin. Always soft, nice, kind, and caring, it spreads out positive and good feelings and makes you feel at ease, never making a fuss, but simply passing by without you even noticing.

Want to share your ideas about what modesty is? Share them with us by submitting!

Desires and Prayers

By: Nermine Mohamed, Writing Intern 2015

Whenever I find my heart overwhelmed with desires; I seek solace in this prayer:

آلَلهُمَ لاَ تُعَلقٌ قَلبىٌ بمٌا لَيْسَ لىٌ واجعَل لىْ فيمْا أُحَب نَصٌيبَ

It means “God, don’t let my heart get attached to what’s not meant for me and make what I love a part of my destiny.”

There are times when I fear that what I desire is not good for me, when desires control me and blind me from what truly matters. Maybe we all have desires that drive us away from God, and maybe too we all have times when we lose hope and our hearts cease to desire anything. I think there are times when we all desire too much and give thanks too little.

So for all of us, and for myself, I pray:

God,

My heart is an open book only to You. You know what I desire.

My knowledge is limited and my sight is short and You know what lies ahead and what’s best for me, make my heart desire what’s good for me.

Help me not to cling to futile hopes and false desires, let my heart see what matters.

Make my desires a road that drives me closer to You and not further away.

Help me find patience when my desires are unfulfilled and my prayers unanswered.

Sow satisfaction and gratitude in my heart.

Help me restrain the anger and disappointment I feel about what I lack and what I cannot get.

Let me be grateful instead for the countless blessings I have and those that perhaps didn’t deserve, for I’m seldom thankful enough.

Let my heart always be full of desires, full of hope, full of love. Let me live and trust in You, in myself and in those around me.

Amen.

Introducing The Interns

Yesterday, we announced the addition of two amazing interns to the Searching Sophia’s Pockets team. Now it’s your chance to meet them for yourself. Their names will be popping up on posts through out their time as our interns and they will also be helping out with all the behind the scenes stuff that keeps this site so full of wisdom and love. They each have their own distinct styles, and interests, they come from different backgrounds and speak different mother tongues and yet their journeys share interesting points of overlap that we can’t wait to explore this year. So without further fuss, it is our pleasure to introduce…

Our Writing Intern

Our Writing Intern

Nermine Mohamed

Nermine is a Muslim from what she calls “the huge, crowded and contradictory city of Cairo”. Nermine currently studies in the southern part of Germany and here is what she has to say about herself:

I am a person who believes in possibilities, in alternative realities, in the so many different sides of the coin. I believe in contradictions and that logic is a myth. I love literature and I believe in the power of words, which can give hope to the hopeless, and power to the powerless. I like to think of myself as a spiritual and a religious person, although I have my moments of doubt and I do not always live up to my beliefs. But faith is always what keeps me going; it is what I hold on to amid all the injustice, all the hate, anger and violence in this world. It is this faith that keeps me going every day; the faith in a just, loving, caring, all giving, and all forgiving God. So, I still believe that there is order in all this chaos, and that there is still love and kindness. I totally believe that there is a bit of God’s light inside everyone and that one should always try to find it, in others and in one’s self.

Will O’Brien

Our Social Media Intern

Our Social Media Intern

Will is Christian, and member of the Disciples of Christ (Christian Church) denomination, although he says his favorite place to worship is Castlewood State Park near his hometown of  Manchester, MO. He will be spending the next several months studying in Morocco and here is what he has to say about himself:

When people ask me about my long-term plans or what I want to do for a living, I lie. I often deflect the question with a quick witted comment about humanities majors being baristas – a position I have held in multiple coffee shops – and tell them I plan to go to graduate school. These things are not inherently false; they do not however paint the full picture. I want to write the great American novel, own a craft brewery, refinish classic roadsters, set foot on every continent, teach, ride a unicycle, cook incredible food, taste better food, and make people smile. These are certainly not categories that I have found as college majors, don’t even get me started on graduate school. These goals cannot be summarized in an elevator speech, on a resume, or in a 500-word statement of purpose – but they encompass a passion for experiencing and influencing the world that is present in all aspects of my life.

The Ritual Of The Top Ten

We would be remiss to end this month of exploring the ever-evolving ritual of the “Top Ten”. As 2014 comes to an end we all want to look back at what the year has held. We have selected ten posts, not because they are the best, or the most popular, but because they have represented some important moments from 2014. Even though we have only selected ten, we have been honored by every post and every comment. We hope each of you has found lots of wisdom, love …and even a little lint on your spiritual journey this year. Happy reading and Happy New Year!

  1. A Prayer for New Beginnings— A prayer for anyone starting a new journey
  2. Millennials Strike Back with Professions of Love— A post from Jenni Taylor about the value of Millennials
  3. Ferguson: We Are Praying— A spiritual reaction to the racism in Ferguson and across the USA
  4. Fear Vs Self Worth— A post about bullying by a former Miss Arab America and a notMyKid volunteer
  5. The Choice of Leaving Syria–A post about one woman’s choice to leave her home in Syria.
  6. For the Love of ElephantsJenni Taylor thoughts on justice for all of God’s creatures 
  7. It’s Your Church Too— Patrick Cousins,a campus minister at Saint Louis University, writes about LGBTQ justice
  8. Secular Spirituality: Is That a Thing?–Hailey Kaufman’s eloquent post on atheism and spirituality
  9. Strength To Endure–a reflection on sexism and strength after the shootings in Santa Barbara by Autumn Elizabeth 
  10. Fear and Hunger for Justice–Hafsa Mansoor writes about fear and justice as a Muslim

Re-kindling The Magic In The Ritual

Today’s post comes from Nermine Mohamed, who like John Smith in his post on the prayer in ritual, and like Jenni in her post on the ritual of prayer, looks for the meaning behind rituals. Nermine gives us all great insights on how we must never take our rituals for granted, for they offer us a special kind peace and love.

I am a Muslim. “Ṣalāt” or Prayers are a cardinal doctrine in my religion; the second of the five pillars of Islam. It is a daily ritual that I am required to do five times. All my life I have been taught that I should pray, without knowing why I should. I would pray because I had to, I am obliged to, thus often I would just do it nonchalantly, absentmindedly, just to take it off my shoulders. I would recite the verses which had become meaningless because they have been said countless times without ever pausing to reflect on the meanings behind these words. My mouth would say them, but my heart never felt them. I would stand in prayer while my heart and mind are elsewhere.

Now I am trying to look at my daily prayers in a different way. It is true that prayers are a duty, an obligation you have to perform as a Muslim, but it is only for my sake, not a pressure or a burden, but a relief, a time-out from the big and stressful game of life. As Prophet Muhammed (Peace be upon him) has always referred to Ṣalāt as a relief from all the pain and worries of the world. Now I feel that I need to pray. I need to stand looking down humbly, for I am full of sins, full of flaws, yet God never pushes me away, God is always eager to hear me out, eager to direct me if I am lost or confused, and ready to forgive if I only ask for forgiveness.

I need to glorify God and give thanks for my countless blessings which are benevolently and bountifully bestowed upon me every single moment, even though I so rarely appreciate them and so often take them for granted.I need to kneel down with my nose on the ground, for I am always holding it up high, letting my human ego consume me, thinking I am smarter, I am better, that I do not need help. Thus it is a reminder that no matter how knowledgeable, smart, or successful I become, I owe it all to God.

I am constantly looking for peace, for guidance. I want to be more humble, more thankful and more compassionate. I found out that all of this is part of one single ritual that I was doing out of obligation without letting it affect and change me. That’s why rituals can be tricky. Sometimes, without even noticing, something very special, unique and spiritual can turn into a mundane habit, which often loses its meaning, its uniqueness, because it has been repeated countless times.

I am daily trying to re-kindle my spiritual connection with God through my daily prayers. It is not always that easy. It is a constant battle between the sounds of the world buzzing inside my ears and trying to listen to that voice within. Sometimes that voice fades away amidst all the noise, and sometimes it is not even there, but some other times I feel it, I hear it. Sometimes it is as loud as thunder, sometimes as low as a murmur. But when it is there, I find the magic in the ritual.

Afraid Of Liking Loneliness Too Much

 Last week Author in Chief, Jenni Taylor, wrote a post about not being afraid to be alone. Today, our guest post from Nermine Mohamed focuses on fear of liking loneliness too much. Nermine is a Muslim from what she calls “the huge, crowded and contradictory city of Cairo”, although today she is living in Germany. In her post, Nermine shares her wisdom on loving herself while having fears she might be alone too much.

Loneliness is one of the greatest fears of our era. People commit suicide, settle for less, and throw themselves in unhappy relationships just to give themselves the illusion of conquering loneliness. On the other hand, some people are not afraid of loneliness and it is quite hard for them to picture their life with others in it. So, there are actually two sides of this coin: the fear of loneliness and the fear of too much solitude.

I was once a people person. I loved to be around people all the time. It made me feel safe. It made me feel protected. People gave me a sense of identity, a sense of worthiness. I’m no longer that person.

Now, I know who I am and I won’t be afraid to say that I love and enjoy my own company. I never get bored when I’m alone. I think clearly in solitude. I like the sound of my own breathing; I find it soothing; it unlocks my mind; it unwinds my soul. I stopped giving justifications for my thoughts, beliefs or worldviews.

I’m happy with what I’ve become, yet I cannot help but feeling afraid. Yes, I’m afraid of this drastic and ultimate independence and lonesomeness and where it will lead me. Although lots of people fear loneliness, for me it is easy to be alone. It is safe and trouble-free. But is this the way things should be? Are not we made into this world to help one another grow and thrive?

I keep pondering the reasons why I turned into this lonesome soul… There are probably many reasons and fears still buried in my unconscious mind that took part in reshaping who I am. But I know the fear of being rejected, or being caste-out just because I think differently caused me to change. Maybe it is also the intense mental pain I feel when I try so hard to make myself understood and miserably fail at it. Maybe it is my need to justify myself to the expectations of others, no matter how unfair or unreasonable they might be.

Yes, it is healthy to learn to love our own company. Loneliness can make us appreciate good company more; it can unleash our creative nature and make us learn about ourselves in an unusual way. It can help us explore our capabilities, potentials, new talents, and new sides of our personality. It can enrich our soul and make us better people.

Yet, loneliness can also lead to a dingy path and that’s what I dread. I’m afraid too much loneliness might taint my soul and obscure my vision. I’m afraid I’ve been deluding myself thinking that I do not need anyone, because I do need other people. My life can’t be full without others who actually give it meaning and sense.

We cannot go it alone all the time, the road can be long, tiresome and full of stumbles and that’s why we need company; we need people to help us back up when we fall, to slow us down when we go too far, to put us back on the right path when we are lost and confused.

I’m not afraid of loneliness, but I am afraid of liking loneliness just a little bit too much.

I think it is good not to fear our own company, but now I also know that as much as I like my own solo song, every now and then I have to let in some other tunes and just listen to the sound of it all together. Only then I will surprise myself, only when I find harmony in the most unexpected of places, only when I am not afraid to listen to more than my own voice…