Thursday, October 29, 2009

Breaking Stereotypes

Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem

Breaking Stereotypes:
By Abu Muawiyah Ismail Kamdar

While listening to Zain Bhikha and Adbul Malik Ahmed’s new song “Who I am” ( from Zain’s new album “1415:The Beginning” I thought about the social implications of this song so I wrote the following article based on the song with lyrics from the song in between. This song can refer to us trying to imitate the disbelievers and live up to their expectations, but I wrote from the point of view of us trying to live up to the cultural expectations of many Muslims:

“Social expectations drown us all inside, what you have should be what I want, because what I have just ain’t alright,” (Zain Bhikha – Who I am)

All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of the universe and we ask Allah to send his peace and blessings upon his final messenger Muhammad and all those who follow his way until the Last Day.

If you study the lives of the pious predecessors, you will find that each of them was unique and had their own special qualities. Looking at the prophets (peace be upon them all), Musa was strong and hot-tempered against evil, but he also had a speech impediment. Eesa on the other hand was cool and peaceful. Each prophet had unique qualities that separated them from the others, be it Ibrahim’s sacrificing attitude and soft nature, Shuaib’s eloquent speech, Yusuf’s beauty and patience, Yaqub’s beautiful patience and loving nature or Muhammad’s amazing endurance and his legendary trustworthiness. Peace be upon them all, each of them were unique.

The same goes for the companions, Abu Bakr was soft, cool yet firm upon his principles. Umar was hot-tempered, harsh yet soft towards the poor and oppresses. Uthman was patient and would not raise an arm against another Muslim. Abu Dhar preferred solitude while others preferred being part of the community. Khalid Bin Waleed was a fighter, was Hussain Bin Thabit was a peaceful poet. Each of them was unique.

The same applies to the great women in our history. Aasiyah was exceptionally brave and outspoken against her husband the Pharaoh. Maryam was the perfect example of piety and modesty. Ayesha was outspoken, learned and intelligent. Nusaibah binte Ka’ab was would sacrifice her life in the battlefield. Once again each of the great women of our past was unique.

The point I am trying to emphasize is that none of the pious predecessors fitted into a stereotype. There was no stereotype of practicing Muslim like how we have today. As long as a person fulfilled their obligations, stayed away from sin and contributed positively to the world, they were regarded ad righteous Muslims.

Today our cultures have set so much high expectations of what they perceive to be piety that Muslims get lost in two ways. One group looks at piety as impossible to achieve without losing his or her self so they choose to stay away from the road to piety so that they can be themselves, while others submit to their cultures and forge a fake shell of piety losing themselves to their cultures and living for the people instead of Allah.

“He did, she did, they all did, what’s expected of them all. To get to the top don’t matter, if somebody’s got to fall,” (Zain Bhikha – Who I am)

For example, in my society, a pious man is perceived as a man who has a long beard, always wears a hat and long-sleeved kurta or Thawb, never smiles, laughs or has fun. The result, many people choose to live this lifestyle, making life unnecessarily difficult for themselves and others, while others stay away from piety because it seems boring to them.

It’s the same with women, when a sister decides to wear niqab, she is expected to have no personality, role in society and is expected to live a boring life of only worship. If a Muslim woman in Niqab is spotted laughing or having fun, she is treated with disapproval and people shake their heads at her “hypocrisy”. As a result women choose not to wear niqab so that they can be themselves or they choose to wear it and end up oppressed by culture and social expectations.

“They tell me this is the way that I need to reform, if I continue to stray I will start up a storm, wear this, drive that, like this, not that, don’t there lose track or you will fall way back!” (Abdul Malik Ahmed – Who I am)

In reality, none of this counts as piety in Islam, a man with a short beard, who does not wear a kurta or hat, yet does the five pillars, is good to people and stays away from evil is a righteous Muslim, and having fun is permitted in Islam and at times recommended as long as the means are permissible. The same applies for a woman as long as she covers everything except her face and hands in front of men that she can marry (Ghair Mahram).

All these extras that culture and society attach to piety are unfounded (like the kurta or being boring) or differed over (like the length that a beard should be or whether niqab is compulsory or recommended) and cause unnecessary inconvenience to those of us who want to please Allah but find society turning against us for not fitting their stereotype.

Allah has create each human unique and has revealed the perfect was of life that fits with human nature as a result Islam is a religion which caters for our different personalities and lifestyles yet provides boundaries to keep us away from destructive elements. There is nothing in Islam that is forbidden unless it is harmful and there is nothing in Islam which is recommended or obligatory unless there is benefit in it, and everything else is permissible.

Allah has made Islam easy to follow and our time on this earth is short, if you wish to please Allah and earn His Paradise then you have to stop worrying about what people will say and stop trying to please them, because your reward is with Allah, not with the people. You can be a practicing Muslim and still maintain your individuality, your personality and still have a fun life. Islam caters for all this so do not stay away from practicing Islam out of fear of not meeting people’s expectations or losing yourself and do not worry about what people say.

In the end, each of us will die and meet Allah individually so let us be the best Muslims we can be for Allah even if it means breaking people’s stereotypes and cultural expectations in the process. Maybe being yourself would be a means of opening other people’s eyes to what Islam really teaches and the true meaning of piety. Let us be the best of Muslims and educate others to show them how easy and fun Islam can be.

“But if my Lord loves me then my soul is free, you can say what you want just let me be! I know if I’m real and it’s not a disguise, you’ll love who I am if you open up your eyes,” (Abdul Malik Ahmed – Who I am)

“This is who I am, this is me! Nothing everything can’t you see! Who I am, just let me be, cause all that matters is that God loves me!” (Zain Bhikha – Who I am)

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