American Muslimaa: Bailey Varos

From the "Islamic Voice" * May '97

You may see me walk down the street or in the mall with a group of friends, giggling, laughing, bags in hand and having the time of our lives.

But, you notice that I am different, thoughts of “terrorist” ‘rag head’ or ‘slave’ may ring in your ears and you may even giggle and watch me, your eyes glued to me with wonder. Yes, I do notice these looks and I can imagine those thoughts. You notice my fair skin, blue eyes, blonde hair, fairly typical in America, then you notice the loose clothing and the long blue scarf (hijab) that covers my long hair and you feel ashamed of me and look away in disgust.

I am a 17 year old Caucasian American girl who happens to be Muslim, not by birth, but by my own choice, I converted from Catholism to Islam 2 years ago.

I am mainly writing this because many Muslims in America, myself included, feel that many of our fellow Americans associate our peaceful religion with hatred and the slavery of its women! I cannot say why I converted in this article because it could fill a novel! All I can say is after intense research for a year on all religions I felt closest to Allah (God) when I read the Qur’an and read about Islam, a feeling that Christianity could not give me! That is why I converted.

I must admit, it is very hard, going from the “free-wheeling”, typical American lifestyle to one of praying, modesty and spiritual freedom. Islam is a fairly simple religion, with a few rules, but the rules you must follow as much as you can.

All these rules about what is allowed (Halal) or prohibited (Haram) were all written down in the Qur’an or the “Hadiths” that Allah (God) gave to his last Prophet Muhammad (may Peace Be Upon Him) over 1400 years ago in Makkah in what is now Saudi Arabia. Unlike in many other religions there are no real conflicts over how the religion can be interpreted as it is all in the Qur’an. Islam, like Judaism and Christianity, is called the “religion of the book” because these religions are based on “books” or scriptures from God to his Prophet. As Muslims we respect and we believe in Moses, Abraham, Jesus (Isa) the virgin Mary (Maryam) and that the last Prophet that God has sent to the earth was Muhammad (may Peace Be Upon Him). In Islam we only worship the one, supreme God, Allah (God) who can be neither man nor woman. We highly respect Muhammad (may Peace Be Upon Him) but do not worship him, we also respect all the above mentioned Prophets before him.

Sadly there are many “false rumours” about Islam, for some reason or the other people tend to prefer these false rumours to the truth. As Muslims we see each other as “brothers and sisters” and many of us call our fellow Muslims as “brother David” or “sister Fatima”, like in Christianity. In the Qur’an, Allah (God) specified that when you see a fellow Muslim you should greet them with at least a ‘salaam’ (peace). In many “Islamic” countries, the system and following of Islam actually is not considered true Islam, its a “mixture” or the culture and the religion. In many Muslims countries, the government women have to wear the Chador or Burq’ha and are prohibited from working, education, or driving.

All these practices are cultural, in many of those countries the Chador was worn by the wealthy Persian, Christians, Hindus and Assyrians as a form of social snobbery, and again many of these practices that are now considered Islamic are not Islamic at all! If you read the Qur’an, or the Hadiths it is stated women, like as men must be educated, women can work, hold careers and keep any money that they make, have the freedom to be outspoken, worldly humans; In the past not many women in the Islamic countries were educated so they had no idea of all the freedom that Allah has given them, and had written down in the Qur’an. They were taught about Islam and its laws by men who were not very kind and felt that in order to be powerful they had to keep their women illiterate and dependent on their men for everything.

In fact Islam is one of the first religions to give women equality. Even though it was not practised in many Islamic countries as such until those Muslim women became educated in the recent era.

You are, may be, wondering why Muslim women wear the scarfs to cover their hair and dress in loose clothing. In the Qur’an, Allah wrote that girls past puberty should not wear thin clothing, and should cover them selves to keep from being assaulted by men. It is specified that a Muslimaa (women Muslim) should wear hijab, which basically means “cover”, which is basically a head covering that covers the hair, neck and ears and is opaque, such as a scarf or khimar (scarf that also covers the chest) and wear clothing that is loose, and only exposes the hands and face. It is up to the individual if you wish to wear loose jeans and a sweater and a head scarf or wear a Jilbab (loose dress that covers the whole body) and a head scarf or be extreme and wear niqab (face veil), gloves and chador (a sheet-like covering that you wrap around your body) and it also depends upon the women’s culture and ethnicity. Many Saudi’s think only the loose, long dress like outfits are acceptable, whereas others, such as Pakistanis, prefer the long loose pants under a tunic shirt (shalwar kameeze) I personally prefer the typical, wide leg jeans and sweaters and a colourful scarf. Of course not all Muslimaa’s wear “hijab” for some reason or another. Also, Islam requires Muslim men to be modest too, they cannot wear silk, gold, jewellery and be clothed fully from stomach to knee.

“Every religion has a characteristic, and the characteristic of Islam is modesty” (Ibn Majah) In the Qur’an, Allah has stated that “believing women should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; they should not display their ornaments except as is normal, they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their close male relatives” (Surah An-Nur 24:31)

Here are some basics of Islam. In Islam you must pray five times a day. When we pray we do many movements and say various prayers to Allah, we stand, we bow, we sit all to show that we are God’s humble servants.

We are also required to fast from dawn to sunset during the month of Ramadan. For the whole month we refrain from drinking liquids or eating foods during day time. Of course if you are sick or for some reason can not fast Allah does not make you fast, this is to discipline our minds and to understand how a poverty stricken person would feel who does not get 3 meals a day. We also are to give alms to the poor, we celebrate Eid-al-Fitr and Eid-al-Adha, these are big holidays for Muslims like Christmas. For the Eid-al-Fitr we have a 3 day feast after Ramadan is over and attend special services in the Mosque and give small gifts. Eid al Adha is a major holiday right after the time of, the Hajj. The Hajj is required at least one time in a Muslims lifetime (if they are able).

Did you know that the majority of Muslims are not Arab! Its a common belief that Muslims are all Arab. In reality a majority of Arabs are Muslim but many are Jewish or Christian. Indonesians and south east Asians make up the majority of Muslims, and Islam is one of the fastest growing religion in America. Many Europeans are traditionally Muslim as are many Africans and many Caucasian and Afro-Americans in North America are too. Islam is essentially a ‘global’ religion like Christianity or Judaism.

I sincerely hope that this has dispelled some common myths that almost everyone has about Islam. Islam is not a religion of terror, blood or hatred of its women, but a thoughtful, peaceful, modest religion that gets you closer to our Creator, Allah.

By Bailey Varos

Converts Around the World