- Basheera Kamal and Simra Hanan
Where Do I Draw the Line? | Expressions with ELEVEN
She looks at herself and then she looks at them. Wearing all these stylish clothes, flaunting themselves while enjoying a night out with friends.
Is she betraying everything she has ever learned right now? Because a good Muslimah wouldn’t think this way. No. A good Muslimah would not be bothered by such worldly desires. It should not matter that she does not dress like the fashionable non-Muslims around her or join in on the fun. But why does it bother her so much?
If only she knew. If only more Muslim youths knew that desires like these were normal and valid. And it was okay that they had these thoughts. It’s all part of growing up after all. The only thing that was supposed to matter was their actions and not their thoughts. As the Messenger of Allah said: 'Allah, the Mighty and Sublime, has forgiven my Ummah for what is whispered to them or what enters their minds, so long as they do not act upon it or speak of it.' (Sunan an-Nasa'i , Book 27, Hadith Number 46)
Islam has always had clear rulings on modesty. A woman should safeguard it, and should not wear revealing clothing. Yet, she often struggled to contend with this fact. By looking at how her friends dressed, or what she saw on TV, it was easy to get tempted and feel left out. Modern designs and styles often included short skirts or crop tops, making them inaccessible to her. As someone who struggled with their identity and way of expressing themselves as a teenager, she often was influenced by her surroundings. She used to worry about how ‘unstylish’ and ‘uncool’ she looked when she had to wear pants that reached her ankles or shirts that were too baggy.
Now, as an adult, one thing she wishes she had been told by her parents or teachers when she was younger, was that it was perfectly fine that she had the desire to dress this way. That it wasn’t wrong that she wanted to dress like the ‘cool girls’ she saw in movies- with short skirts and sleeveless tops. Her parents and teachers always emphasised that dressing like this was ‘haram’, and that she was not being a good Muslim for wanting to. It felt like she was a villain. That she was betraying her religion and being ungrateful for all the blessings bestowed upon her by having these ‘haram thoughts’.
But how was wanting to fit in wrong? Why was she criticised for just being a kid? It would have been nice if her feelings were validated. And if someone had just kindly explained to her why covering her awrah was important. That having such whisperings from within are normal. That overcoming them is a constant battle that Muslims do to attain the ultimate prize - Jannah.
However, the dismissive attitudes surrounding this matter is one of the reasons she still finds it difficult to change the way she dresses. The constant insistence on the ‘right’ way of dressing without any acknowledgment on progress to achieve this modesty, made it feel like all her efforts were in vain.
She yearned to have the freedom- to join in the ‘fun’ her friends used to get up to. She was tired of making up lame excuses that would help her run away from reality. Should she just tell the truth? That she did not want to join them that night because she did not partake in those activities - that it was unacceptable for her. As a Muslim. No, that’s too risky. Will they think she’s too religious, boring, or not worth even being friends with?
Standing at this crossroad, she looks at her two stark options. One of supposed freedom and liberty and the other with the regulations that were drilled into her as a little child. Either one that she chooses, she will still not be enough. She will never be cool enough to fit in with the kids her age, nor righteous enough to safeguard her from her parents' nagging.
If only there was more empathy towards her struggle. She wishes they understood that not everyone was tested the same way. She wishes they knew that this desire to fit in and engage in the lifestyles of people her age was Allah SWT’s way of testing her. She wishes they appreciated that despite how much she wanted to, she never once did.
Why couldn’t they have just reassured her and highlighted the fact that she was doing her best? These thoughts were just that- thoughts. So why was her self-control and determination rarely appreciated? A dismissive attitude only made things worse. It made her feel like she was the only one with these dilemmas, and since it was only her dealing with these thoughts, she definitely wasn’t a good Muslim.
This is where the perception of Islam makes a huge difference. Instead of viewing Islam as simply a set of rules to adhere to, Muslim youths should be taught by their parents and teachers that Islam is a way of life that protects them and nurtures their soul. They are more likely to internalise religious guidelines and behaviours when they understand the benefits associated with religious obligations and the harms associated with prohibited behaviours (Saafir, Umarji, 2022). By equipping them with knowledge they need to make wise decisions, youths will feel a stronger sense of autonomy over their actions. As a result, Islam becomes less of a religion they practise out of compulsion, but rather a lifestyle they practise out of their own volition.
Additionally, critical attitudes towards the behaviours of youth can result in a stronger aversion towards Islam. For example, if they are constantly berated for their attire, or told that “Allah will punish them” for praying late, they may begin to view Islam as a rigid religion, with a lack of freedom. Hence, more Muslim parents and teachers should get into the behaviour of asking more constructive questions, such as “Why did you miss your prayers today?” or “Is there any other clothing you can wear before going outside?”. Calmly discussing these questions gets at the process behind the inaction, which in turn suggests actionable solutions. Allowing individuals to arrive at their own solutions further fulfils their need for autonomy (Saafir, Umarji, 2022).
The concept of fun or leisurely activities should not be viewed as contrary to the teachings of this faith, as Islam encompasses all facets of our daily lives. The concept of earning good deeds in Islam stretches beyond just the prescribed prayers, fasts, and giving charity. For instance, Islam values keeping good ties with people in our lives - be it family, friends, and neighbours. Can you imagine, if a youth made such an intention, a family game night would be a means of earning Allah SWT’s pleasure. Alhamdulillah how beautiful is Islam that it allows us to carve out good deeds from every nook of our lives.
Before we part ways, dear reader, you must know. That your words can help Muslim youth break free from the shackles of their internalised struggles. So, please adorn your words of advice with kindness and compassion, steering clear from even the slightest hint of aggression. As the Prophet SAW said, “The deen (religion) is naseehah (advice, sincerity).” (Sahih Muslim, Book 1, Hadith Number 103)
Saafir, J., & Umarji, O. (2022, October 24). How to Raise Religious Teens: A Self-Determination Theory Approach. yaqeeninstitute.org. Retrieved December 23, 2022, from https://yaqeeninstitute.org/read/paper/how-to-raise-religious-teens-a-self-determination-theory-approach