“A Universal God”

 

When I was asked to write an article about religion, I initially underwent a serious case of anxious feelings like breaking out into a sweat, rapid heartbeat and stress. I thought ‘Me write an article about religion… Oh Gosh!’ But here is why I was so fearful. Firstly, I am not the most religious person on the face of the earth, and secondly I feared coming across as authoritative in one way or another … something which I certainly do not claim to be. 

 

After my panic attack I thought about it a little more rationally. ‘The approach is where the key is’ I calmly reassured myself. So I thought about my beloved religion … Islam. I thought about how my religion forms the foundation of my life, how dear to my heart I hold it and try my best to follow it on a daily basis.  But what struck me the most was just how much of an influence my religion played in my decision making process and my relationship with my non-Muslim friends.  

 

This realisation came recently after an online flyer for World Hijab Day was brought to my attention. The initiative was for February 1st, 2013, where veiled Muslim women invite both Muslim (non-veiled) and non-Muslim women to participate in a worldwide event by embracing the hijab (veil) for a day.  The aim was to raise awareness, create a better understanding and produce a more peaceful world. I gave the concept some thought and after a couple of days decided to put a call out on my Facebook to my friends encouraging them to support the initiative. To my surprise three of my non-Muslim friends emailed me almost instantaneously informing me of their interest and eagerness to take the challenge on. One of these friends was a young woman by the name of Jess who I had met in the UK while I was on student exchange. She emailed me saying “Not only do I want to do World Hijab Day; I want to do it for a month and blog about it”.

 

I was overcome with sheer excitement and a feeling of whole-hearted appreciation towards my friends but more importantly towards God, that He blessed me with loved ones who had such open hearts and minds. I offered my support to three of the women and told them what was required of them – that they wear the hijab and dress modestly on the day and document their experience in some form, they all agreed.  The following day I awoke to a first blog entry by Jess who had just finished the first day of wearing the hijab. I excitedly clicked the link and began reading through her experience.  I read about the all too familiar suspicious gazes she encountered and the awkward quietness in public spaces – something I warned Jess about prior to her adorning the hijab. When I reached the end of her blog it read, “…a woman said she thought that people like me who wore the hijab were “brave” because of the statement we were making and even made the point that “it’s not something like a cross that you can hide in your shirt, it’s something you wear on your head”, which was a really pertinent point. Muslim women cannot hide the fact that they are Muslim – it’s out there for the world to see, especially if they wear the hijab – and nor should they!”  A shiver ran through my body and a smiled appeared on my face because of what Jess had done and what the woman had said to her. Here was a non-Muslim woman who not only was voluntarily changing her life for a month to experience a taste of what women like myself undergo on a daily basis, but who had just enabled an honest discussion regarding the hijab between two non-Muslims.

 

But not everybody shared mine and Jess’s excitement, nor could everybody see the benefit of this initiative. Jess received mixed feedback from readers who were now following her journey. Some congratulated and encouraged her to persist with it, while others condemned her and her efforts along with the purpose of World Hijab Day. Some claimed it was reinforcing stereotypes about what it means to be a Muslim woman or that it takes more than a day to know what it’s like, while others argued that the day is not representative of all Muslim women as many do not adorn the hijab.

 

All of these points were valid in their own right, because let’s face it one day of wearing the hijab in reality is nowhere near long enough to gain a sound idea of what it might be like for a Muslim woman. However, I felt that many of the critics had completely missed the point of the initiative and its objective. It’s simple – the idea is to raise awareness and provide mutual understanding or at the bare minimum tolerance of our differences. A sense of disappointment and frustration consumed me when I realized that some of my Muslim veiled friends held similar views towards World Hijab Day. Needless to say, the critics couldn’t stop Jess nor discourage me from encouraging her.

 

The second day I checked up on Jess’s progress, and to my shock and awe she told me that she had borrowed a Quran from the library because she wanted to know more about not only why women adorned the hijab but about the religion that it was based on.  After telling her the cleansing practices of how to handle the Quran when reading it, I couldn’t help but shed a tear. My friend who had previously had limited knowledge about Islam was now reading the Quran voluntarily. I basked in the overwhelming feeling of closeness to God and a strengthened love for my dear friend Jess.  I didn’t feel as if my friend was reverting to Islam, nor was that the aim of why I encouraged my friends to participate and it was certainly not the purpose of World Hijab Day. It was my friend’s mere curiosity and willingness to learn that instigated her to further seek knowledge about Islam – a curiosity that God had bestowed upon her.

 

Five days into her hijab journey Jess released her fifth blog about her experiences. She revealed that although she will not be converting to Islam (nor did I expect her to) she has taken away valuable Islamic fundamentals- dressing modestly, believing in the oneness of God, that Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), Jesus, Moses etc were all Prophets of Islam, and the consumption of halal meat and no alcohol.  Jess wrote, “Islam has taught me that I am not the person I thought I was. I am a creation of God and I am a good person.” Her words echoed in my ears and found that my eyes had glazed over, yet again. Jess’s words remain with me as a reminder of the beauty my Lord has shown Jess. Jess’s conviction, persistence and honesty taught me that my religion is so pure and universal that even a non-Muslim can find benefit in its abundance of knowledge, wisdom and way of life.

 

I later realized that Jess’s journey with the hijab not only taught her valuable lessons about religion but also taught me more about mine. Islam is not just about following a set of obligatory rules; Islam is a spiritual journey. It is about the cleansing of the soul, heart and mind. Islam is about understanding, compassion and love. It’s about sharing the relationship between yourself and God with others to help, inspire and motivate them to achieve what they doubted in themselves.  God granted me the privilege of being his servant and the ability to share and encourage people like Jess. This experience illustrated that regardless of where one comes from, where one lives or even how one lives, the message of God, the message of Allah (Subhan Wa Talla) is universal and applicable to each and every individual that occupies this temporary world.

 

So the critics can continue to harp on and write their arguments, they can condemn and contest the initiative behind their computer screen, but if World Hijab Day means people rediscovering themselves and God and if it means reinstating the powerful teachings of my Lord then that is enough for me because as Jess rightfully put it, “God does not care about what other people think of us. He is only interested in how we behave. Whilst other people’s opinions are important, they do not define us and have no real impact on how we live our lives.” Jess’s journey and actions reminded me of a saying a friend once told me, that Islam and the spirituality of Islam is something that should animate our acts in our everyday lives with both Muslims and non-Muslims.

 

Widyan Al Ubudy 

As published on VIBEWIRE 

BBC story on Jess: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21283301 Image

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~ by widyanalubudy on February 1, 2013.

2 Responses to ““A Universal God””

  1. in surah 2 verse 2 of the Quran, it says “this is a book of Guidance for the mutaqeen”—-or the “one with Taqwa” and Taqwa means to have awe/love for God—-and I think that sums up the Quran and Islam in a simple and concise way.

  2. I agree 100 per cent.

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