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The so-called hajj of Scheherezade Faramarzi, AP reporter and fraud -Ruth Nasrullah

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“Hajj intimidating for secular reporter.” That’s the headline for this article.

When I read that headline I was confused, uncertain why hajj would intimidate anyone, let alone a journalist. Unfortunately, the reference is to the hajj of Associated Press reporter Scheherezade Faramarzi , self-described “secular journalist,” who is actually participating in hajj rites simply in order to report on them. Nowhere in this article does she describe herself as a Muslim, and she acknowledges not even knowing how to pray:

But it’s hard to concentrate — not only because I don’t really know how to pray, but also because of the shoving of other pilgrims trying to get to the front of the line.

The layers of white fabric around my head and neck were suffocating and distracting — I don’t normally wear a head scarf — and I looked with envy at the men praying next to me with their bare arms and necks.

Glancing at other worshippers, I tried to follow the prayer movements: standing straight, bowing with hands on the knees, placing the forehead on the floor as in yoga.

Based on her self-description as a “secular,” I have to assume that she is not Muslim. A secular person by definition does not practice a religion. Faramarzi does not even style herself as a “progressive Muslim.”

This brings up a couple of troubling issues – first is how she was able, as a non-Muslim, to enter Mecca, but presumably there is no test of belief required for the hajj visa, and a name alone suffices. (Which is especially ironic given that Muslims without “Muslim names,” devout though they may be, must provide the Hajj Ministry with a document attesting to their being Muslim.)

The second, more important issue is that this non-Muslim is not just reporting on hajj, but is actually participating in it.

But it was difficult to get into the state of spirituality that many secular friends promised I would reach, despite my skepticism and doubts.

I am saddened and disturbed that the Associated Press dispatched this reporter to participate in a religious ritual which they know she is not qualified for and which she approaches from a distinctly non-spiritual angle. It belittles the majesty of hajj and degrades the integrity of religion reporting.

Here’s a parallel to consider: as a Muslim, I could cover a public mass at the Vatican. With the proper education and knowledge of context, I could do a great job of it. But if I were to participate in the mass, it would be insulting and demeaning to Catholic ritual. Why would I cross myself if I don’t believe in the trinity? Why would I accept a communion wafer if I don’t believe it’s the body of Christ? Why? Because I have no respect for the fact that people believe these things. I can just do them casually, just to see what it’s all about. And you can bet that wafer will taste like no more than a cracker to me, and if I follow Faramarzi’s lead, I’d complain about the flavor.

Faramarzi’s assignment seems like a perverted attempt at “undercover” or “investigative” journalism…Let’s get in those white robes and see how it feels – and what she opts to focus on is having a man’s rear-end in her face and being distracted by construction cranes over the high-rises near the Haram.

Shame on the Associated Press for putting a fake Muslim reporter in fake ihram to perform a fake tawaf and then claim before the world that she knows firsthand what hajj is about.

30 Comments

30 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Ruth Nasrullah

    December 20, 2007 at 11:41 AM

    Update: Faramarzi’s half-hearted hajj continues.

  2. Avatar

    Hidayah

    December 20, 2007 at 11:44 AM

    Ya Subhan’Allah…

  3. Avatar

    iMuslim

    December 20, 2007 at 12:05 PM

    Ok, now i understand your reservations, Ruth, and agree that for a non-Muslim to participate in the sacred rites, does undermine the sanctity of Hajj. IMO, you still need to confirm that she really isn’t a Muslim though. I am confused by the term “secular”, because that could mean she believes in Islam, but doesn’t follow it, or at least, doesn’t let that belief affect her reporting – or that she is not a person of any religion.

  4. Avatar

    Anon Muslim

    December 20, 2007 at 12:39 PM

    I had seen this article in other various websites and wasn’t happy with the article. I am glad that this fake Hajj is being criticized.

    I’m guessing along with the rest of you that the reporter is a non-Muslim or a non practicing Muslim participating in Hajj. I’m not sure what’s worse, a Muslim going to Hajj so woefully unprepared or a non-Muslim purposely breaking rules about their participating in Hajj.

    But the article even on a journalistic level lacked substance. The gist of her article seems to focus on the crowds, which is nothing new, and how this is affecting her ability to concentrate on faith.

    The crowds are nothing new and if a person is barely learning the rites of Hajj basically hours before needing to perform them and doesn’t even know how to pray, how can one focus on faith when the basics aren’t even grasped?

    A poor piece of “journalism” that serves no real purpose.

  5. Avatar

    Ruth Nasrullah

    December 20, 2007 at 12:41 PM

    @iMuslim – Weeelll….I don’t know how to confirm her religion if she doesn’t call herself Muslim. A couple online papers called her a “secular woman from a Muslim family” – but if she does not identify herself as Muslim, how can I?

  6. Avatar

    Amad

    December 20, 2007 at 1:06 PM

    Yup, she is obviously aware of her fraudulent make-believe Islam and seems to be deliberately fuzzy about her Muslim identity.

    But let’s see— she never prayed her life self-admittedly. For most Muslims, that is sufficient proof that she isn’t one. Even then, we’d give her some room if she claimed “Muslim status”, but as Ruth pointed out, she didn’t.

    I really despise this whole series… it’s like someone going into my house without my permission and then telling me how messy it is!

    When you have 2-3 million people in a very tight place, from nearly every country in the world, speaking nearly every language that exists, many educated, many not… then, it isn’t as simple as putting signs and hoping people will follow. In fact, that is part of the test of our will… to not argue or fight or curse and swallow your frustration despite the pushing and shoving and all the other non-pleasantries that may go on. Just a look at the Kaba’ or the Prophet’s Mosque makes your heart fill up with faith and love for Allah.

    Also I found it interesting how she was “jealous” of the ihraam (the two sheets that Muslim men wear) versus her having to wear the scarf and clothes! IF there was an ever an ignorant comment, then this was it. She has no idea how uncomfortable and difficult the ihraam can be for men… how you get skin burns on your thighs, and how you to be always careful about covering your awrah (private parts). I would much rather be in a nice shalwar kameez, even with a head-covering (cap of course)! Again, just shows how someone WITHOUT a clue and WITHOUT proper research (which she could do just as a journalist) can totally destroy a story!

    How dare you AP for flirting with the sacredness and sanctity of this blessed Muslim worship? Would you send a Muslim Christian-make-believe reporter to cover a Vatican Catholic event, even if the Vatican forbids non-Catholics for it?

    I hope that somehow the Saudi government sues AP for fraud or if Muslims can protest about this to AP (in a civil, polite manner of course). Is there an email that we can send our protest to? Can we snowball this protest?

  7. Avatar

    kd

    December 20, 2007 at 1:30 PM

    “The idea of communing with God at sunset on Mount Rahma, a small rocky hill at Arafat, seemed inspiring, even exotic.”

    inspiring, great. exotic? how very orientalist…

  8. Avatar

    Moiez

    December 20, 2007 at 2:07 PM

    Im with Amad on this one give an email address or something

  9. Avatar

    Faraz Ahmed

    December 20, 2007 at 2:12 PM

    I completely disagree with her article BUT lets be careful not to call someone non-Muslim.

    She might not know how to pray or perform hajj but that doesn’t make her non-Muslim. Even if she doesn’t claim to be Muslim in the article, it doesn’t matter.

    The fact that she attended hajj, a ritual that is only for Muslims, testifies that at some level she considers herself Muslim. Until she makes an explicit statement saying otherwise, lets not harm ourselves by getting involved in such a dangerous exercise.

  10. Avatar

    Amad

    December 20, 2007 at 2:37 PM

    Well, Faraz, I know many fuqaha consider someone who doesn’t pray 5 times non-Muslim. Even if we assume the “easier” opinion in this matter, I wonder what the fuqaha who say that such a person IS a Muslim– what they would say about someone who has never prayed in their lives.

    Imaan is both belief and action. And if you have never done an Islamic act of worship in your life, then how are you a Muslim?

    If you or anyone can find what other ulemah have said on this matter, it would be great.

    This is what Shaykh Yasir said (distinguishing between the occasional praying person and the one who never prayed):
    “It is my opinion that one who does not pray at all (meaning that he never once lowered his head in prostration to his Lord) is not a Muslim. This does not include the ‘occasional’ musalli – his affair is with his Lord. Also, ignorance is an excuse in this regard and Allah allows into His mercy whomever He pleases”.

    More here: http://www.muslimtents.com/aminahsworld/Strict_orders.html

    *Even if we ignore everything about salah, I think the fact that she consistently distances herself from Islamic practices and has yet to mention her own Islam… I mean we’d be hard pressed to make any other conclusion that she doesn’t want to be known as a Muslim.

  11. Avatar

    Ruth Nasrullah

    December 20, 2007 at 2:52 PM

    Actually, Br. Amad, I don’t know if she says she’s *never* prayed, only that she doesn’t really know how to.

    I simply don’t see anything in her articles that would make me think she’s Muslim.

  12. Avatar

    Solomon2

    December 20, 2007 at 3:03 PM

    Many pilgrims talk of the physical arduousness of hajj as a test of faith. But, as I found, it also makes keeping your mind on faith difficult.

    At first I thought the criticism was too harsh, but even I am pissed off by this reporter. Regardless of whether she was born a Muslim or something else, the woman denies she has any faith of her own, and refrained from reporting on the spirit of those who did in favor of her own feelings. Yet in this one statement she purports to speak for everyone. Deceiver!

  13. Avatar

    Amad

    December 20, 2007 at 3:15 PM

    Solomon2, I am glad that you have similar feelings on this. Reading your comments, it confirms to me that this transcends just being a Muslim issue.

    As Ruth mentioned in her article, this could be said of any person being thrown into a situation where he/she is judging the rituals and spirit of worship of others, while the person himself/herself is not a believer.

  14. Avatar

    MR

    December 20, 2007 at 4:58 PM

    She sounds like she’s unhealthy and weighs 20 lbs. She made Hajj seem so impossible for herself. She’s got to be physically and spiritually weak.

  15. Avatar

    Danya

    December 20, 2007 at 5:05 PM

    “and I looked with envy at the men praying next to me with their bare arms and necks.”

    From what the men in my family tell me, they envy the women… uh, she’s not wearing a nothing but a towel….

    And it’s not hot in December… it’s actually quite cool or at worst, warm.

    She needs to stop whining…

  16. Avatar

    docmk27

    December 20, 2007 at 5:11 PM

    Assalamu alaikum,
    I was very shocked by how she demeans the sanctity of the hajj by trivial and irrelevant remarks…it’s a very pathetic attempt to be ‘Muslim’ and sad that it is only for the sake of a story….May Allah guide her to the Right path….
    I came across a better personal account of the Hajj by Imtiaz Tyab of the bbc….very moving.

  17. Avatar

    Organic Muslimah

    December 20, 2007 at 5:14 PM

    Let us focus on the content of the article without referring to the author’s faith. It doesn’t matter to me if she is a Muslim or non-Muslim. The author makes her point clear, she didn’t like her trip to hajj for many reasons–all of them being materialistic, of course!

    I’ve never performed Hajj myself, but from what she describes, it’s pretty accurate. Yes! It’s crowded, hot and people are rude–but it pays off for a devout Muslim, at the end of the day. The spiritual compensation is invaluable to a believing Muslim, regardless of how many earthly struggles they have to face to get there. The key is to believe–and obviously the undercover journalist doesn’t.

    I really like how Ruth parallels the actions of the journalist in Mecca with a Muslim in the Vatican. The journalist simply didn’t ‘get it.’ It’s important to understand, not every Muslim who attends Hajj ‘gets it.’ Accomplishing Hajj, i.e. purifying your soul, is a privilege from Allah (swt). when your Hajj is accepted and fulfilled, the signs of your accomplishment are manifested in how you feel inside, nothing you can prove physically.

    I can see why the reporter views Hajj so negatively, she was left to roam around 3 million Muslims, in the hot, with no spiritual reward at the end.

  18. Avatar

    Amad

    December 20, 2007 at 5:29 PM

    I can see why the reporter views Hajj so negatively, she was left to roam around 3 million Muslims, in the hot, with no spiritual reward at the end.

    That’s one quotable quote.

  19. Avatar

    Ahmad AlFarsi

    December 20, 2007 at 5:49 PM

    I can see why the reporter views Hajj so negatively, she was left to roam around 3 million Muslims, in the hot, with no spiritual reward at the end.

    So true subhanaAllah. If someone fasts, but is not Muslim, all they get is an empty stomach and low blood sugar! The Muslim expects reward from his Rabb. Likewise, all she could have possible gotten out of her “Hajj” is crowds, heat, and confusion… even if she was Muslim (and there is no reason for us to believe that she is Muslim), she didn’t seem to be hoping for any reward whatsoever! A Muslim knows he is pleasing his Rabb, and the Muslim is hoping for the reward of an accepted Hajj: Paradise.

    I believe Sh. Salih alFawzan said, “The good deeds of a disbeliever (one without iman) are nothing but a burden for him in this life and a means for regret in the next (when he sees that they amounted to nothing since he had no iman).” … so true…

  20. Avatar

    SaqibSaab

    December 20, 2007 at 11:59 PM

    And you can bet that wafer will taste like no more than a cracker to me, and if I follow Faramarzi’s lead, I’d complain about the flavor.

    Zing!

  21. Avatar

    Umm Zaid

    December 21, 2007 at 8:20 AM

    Salaam ‘Alaikum

    I made my comments on FB already, but one thing… since I first read it, I keep reflecting on the fact that she did make an intention (or at least one of several) that God accepts her Hajj, so far all we know, Allah subhannahu wa ta’ala is already working on her heart and mind through her journey. Maybe the results won’t be apparent today… and will happen in spite of her snark.

    Also, who told her that the Hajj was going to be without problems and difficulties? Isn’t that the whole point, to persevere and find your connection to God in spite of the problems? Hujjaj have it much easier today than at any time in history (no highway robbers, for example) but it’s still a trial. So is life, for that matter. Wait for “another season” for communion with God, and you’ll be waiting in your grave. No one is promised tomorrow.

    I found the whole thing annoying, and wondered if there wasn’t a single religious or semi-religious English speaking writer in the entire world that they couldn’t send instead. If this is how we cover religious events, I hope they send a staunch atheist to report on Midnight Mass at the Vatican on Christmas. (Of course, they won’t…)

  22. Avatar

    DrM

    December 22, 2007 at 12:41 AM

    I long ago gave up any hope that western media would do justice to any news/issue regarding Islam. This piece only solidifies my view.
    I read it the other day, and found so many errors I was utterly disgusted by the inaccuracies. “Advanced purification & training”?! Nonsense. By sending in a person who doesn’t even follow the first and second pillars of the deen, how can you expect them to present the fifth?

  23. Avatar

    Azeem

    December 22, 2007 at 10:25 AM

    I feel pity for this reporter for her ignorance regarding Islam. Let us all supplicate Allah to guide her and to learn about Islam and to follow the Islamic way of life, practice all the pillars of Islam. At the same time let us hope she makes a strong comittment to perform haj for the second time after thorough preparation for the same. Insha Allah she will be a good practising muslim.

  24. Avatar

    ExEx Blogger

    December 22, 2007 at 6:02 PM

    Her hajj is nothing

    Allah says in the Quran:

    Deaf Mute & Blind and They Don’t Comprehend.

  25. Avatar

    AnonyMouse

    December 22, 2007 at 6:33 PM

    Should someone not contact AP and express our disgust at their pathetic journalistic skills?

  26. Avatar

    Salafiya

    December 26, 2007 at 6:28 PM

    The link is not working. Anyhow, the greatest jihaad for a Muslim woman is Hajj. How about someone who does not appreciate it, as some of the comments have mentioned as well? I went for Hajj 2 years ago, and I had it easier than the men. I got to wear 2 layers of socks and sneakers whereas my father and brothers were barefoot. They weren’t complaining and neither was I. We were there to worship Allaah, not for our comfort. And honestly, just the sight of the Ka’aba and the serene atmosphere in Madinah was well worth ANY hardships. I hope that she, too, will have another opportunity to perform Hajj…and this time the correct way. May Allaah guide her and us all. Ameen

  27. Avatar

    Amad

    December 26, 2007 at 8:35 PM

    Sr Salafiya, which link?

  28. Pingback: muslimmatters.org » Tarek Fatah (and…) Does NOT Represent Me: Muslims 101 for Media

  29. Avatar

    Lazlo Toth

    October 1, 2009 at 8:11 PM

    This is why most of the world’s religions sensibly do not forbid the use of alcohol. If you’re getting this upset over such a trivial symbolic matter, the only healthy and humane response is to start drinking until you no longer care, and can find something better to do with your time.

  30. Avatar

    Wesley Brault

    March 22, 2016 at 9:47 AM

    It was great to stumble upon this post. I was searching for a service to merge PDF files and found a great service. I mostly use AltoMerge to merge PDF files. You can easily merge your documents here http://goo.gl/Dvo9CE

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#Culture

Fitnah of Our Times: Never Ending Debates and Drama On Muslim Social Media

Mufti Muhammad Ibn Adam Al Kawthari

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It is extremely sad that the only excitement and enjoyment many Muslim youth get from the deen – and for some, their only involvement – is by getting embroiled in controversies, polemics, debates, seeing people argue, refutations, etc… I am referring to the general masses and not those that are directly involved in polemical dialogue.

Rather than spend time in worshiping Allah, perfect one’s prayer, fulfill the rights of Allah and the creation and engage in productive activities, so many of us today are hooked on the quarrels and disputes that take place between different groups/sects/religious leaders. We love the drama that takes place, we can’t wait for the next episode of the debate, we get excited when one person challenges another about some matter of religion. Get a few brothers or sisters together, and the only discussion that takes place these days is who won the debate and which scholar refuted which other scholar, and so on and so forth.

Stop being an Audience: Deen is Nasiha Not Entertainment

Anyone who talks or writes about polemics gets a big audience, whilst there is very less interest in listening to someone who avoids such things and teaches you your deen. It’s the same type of enjoyment – in a sense – that people get from football rivalries or boxing matches, but with a religious flavour to it. Social media is amass with such controversies.

One scholar posts something about his dispute with this person or that group on his Facebook page and his followers all comment and even argue amongst themselves in relation to his post. The followers of the refuted group/individual then start attacking the person who refuted and they also argue amongst themselves. This soap opera just continues and never seems to end. Many of us sadly thrive on this. We enjoy all the bickering and argumentation, such that being a Muslim would be boring without it.

When I was growing up, we didn’t have the internet and social media, and Al-hamdulillah it saved us from much fitna. These days, what someone thinks on one side of the world is debated and counter debated several times within a matter of hours. The harms of social media are increasingly outweighing its benefits.

The debates of today are not munadara- these were supposed to be cordial discussions.

My sincere advice to especially young Muslims is that please do not let your precious time be wasted in such matters. Let those that are arguing and debating fight it out amongst themselves; you do not need to get involved. Avoid giving them ammunition or pouring oil on fire. Instead, identify those who you trust and learn your deen from them and then get busy in beneficial things – and avoid the others. We seriously need to reconsider our priorities.

May Allah guide us, Ameen.

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Top Read Muslimmatters Posts Of 2018

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What the Niqab Taught Me About Myself As A Muslim Convert and a Latina

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Niqab Journey

The year 2019 is only few weeks in and already has its very own social media challenge, the “How Hard Did Aging Hit You Challenge,” with its accompanying hashtags, the #10YearChallenge, #2009vs2019, or for the more seasoned veterans, #1999vs2009. The goal? Compare how your appearance has changed over the past decade or two. Have you aged gracefully or are you a hot mess compared to when you were younger? Simply find an old picture of yourself and place side by side with a current picture, post on social media with the appropriate hashtag, and voila! Let your followers comment away and tell you how gorgeous you are, lie about how you haven’t changed a bit, or laugh at the photos of you with no facial hair or loads of acne.

I have only started sharing pictures of myself recently on Facebook as a means of rekindling relationships with distant relatives, but the temptations to cave in to the latest social media trends pop up every now and then. I was thinking of finding a picture from 2009, but then it dawned on me that a lot more than my appearance has changed since that year. In fact, there would be little benefit in trying to compare a picture of me from 2009 with a picture of me now on Facebook, because back then my face was covered. I was wearing the niqab (the Islamic face veil). It has been so long since I stopped wearing it that I had almost forgotten.

In 2009 I was just returning to the US from Egypt, still high off an increase in iman (faith) after being in a Muslim land surrounded by towering minarets, the melody of a dozen adhans, and the sight and smell of the street markets where smiling Muslims sold warm flatbread and falafels. I started reflecting on why I had chosen to wear a face veil, and then later remove it. To me, that has more weight than how many wrinkles I have gained in ten years.

A little background… Prior to moving to Egypt to study Arabic for a year, I had been living in Northern New Jersey with my family. We were attending a predominately African-American mosque in Paterson which strictly adhered to what they described as the “Salafi” methodology, taking guidance mostly from a list of “approved” Saudi scholars. As such, most of the women who attended the mosque dressed in all black and wore niqab. Some of them wore niqab “full time,” while others only wore it to and from the mosque and at Islamic gatherings. The male congregants often complained or inquired (for marital purposes) about the sisters whose faces were uncovered, causing newcomers to often feel awkward and uncomfortable, myself included. Most sisters opted to bring along a niqab to wear to the masjid rather than deal with unwanted attention and unsolicited marriage proposals.

Before you, the reader, make any assumptions about this masjid based on the above, I want to express that I still consider it, at that time, to be one of the most welcoming centers I have attended. There was a warm, family atmosphere that I have only found in few mosques in the years that I have been Muslim. The sisters helped each other in taking care of the children, they never reprimanded anyone for bringing their young children to the mosque, they hosted regular classes for free (up to three or four times a week), the imam was approachable and relatable (a convert, himself), and they were very meticulous about following the Sunnah to the finest detail.

Nevertheless, as the Spanish saying goes and the Prophetic hadith confirms, Dime con quién andas, y te dire quién eres (Tell me who you hang out with, and I will tell you who you are), you are on the religion of your close friend (At-Tirmidhi), so I believe my decision to don a niqab was prompted by this environment. As a convert, I was even more inclined to follow the people around me. I would not say I was completely ignorant; I had converted about seven years prior to attending this masjid, I had read about the reasons why women wear niqab, general ahadith about hijab, and different scholarly opinions. I counted on the fact that my husband and I would be moving overseas, and I thought it would be easier to wear it in a Muslim land. Why not get a head start? What I failed to grasp was the lifetime commitment that it entailed, and how much it would change me.

One thing that I was not willing to do was disclose this choice to my parents. As a Latina, Puerto Rican, and ARMY brat, there was no way that my family would accept such a thing. It had been challenging enough to get them to tolerate the headscarf. Telling them that I would be wearing all black and covering my face would either enrage them or give them a heart attack, or both. Likewise, some of my husband’s family, like his 90-year-old grandmother, would probably not take it well.

Being Latino and Muslim around non-Muslim family is, for a lack of words, crazy hard. Aside from some aspects of our cultural traditions that need to be tweaked to make them halal, we tend to be very affectionate, family-oriented people, and that includes with extended family. Forget navigating the corporate world without shaking hands with a woman as a Muslim man, try not kissing all your 50 male cousins on the cheek at a family gathering! Women from Latin America also tend to be obsessed with taking care of their appearance. Some of the conversations that I have had with my mother, even as an adult, go something like this:

Mom: Why don’t you just wear the scarf with a pair of pants?

Me: Ma, I have to cover my figure.

Mom: But you look like a vieja (old woman). You’re so palida (pale), put some make-up on.

Me: I did… er… put a little bit.

Mom: Don’t listen to your husband, :::closed fist in the air:::  you don’t have to be submissive to him! Here’s some lipstick (pulls out red lipstick from purse and begins to smear it on me).

Me: Gack!

I couldn’t even imagine the telenovela type of drama that would unfold if I tried to cover my face. The compromise was that I would wear the niqab as much as I could, but never around my parents or other family. I stocked up on black abayas and long khimars, along with the Saudi niqabs that tied in the back and had an extra thin veil that flapped over the eyes for extra coverage, should I feel the need. I later realized that wearing this style of all black or even very dark colors was more of a regional thing, than a strict ruling. I could have just as easily, and comfortably, covered my face with one of my colored scarves. But, alas, as the saying goes, we live and learn. When anyone asked me, “Why do you wear all black?” I used to respond, “It makes me look thinner!”

Contrary to popular opinion, the niqab was not restrictive, it was empowering. As an introvert, I welcomed the sense of privacy and complete ownership of my personal space. If I cried, I could do so without displaying my vulnerability to the world. If I smiled, I could do it from ear to ear without being self-conscious about something being stuck in my teeth! It also tamed my Latino non-verbal communication methods of exaggerated body language and hand gestures that I had been told by some “born Muslims” were not compatible with the modesty and manners of a Muslim woman (I stopped believing that after living in Egypt).

But, of course, with this empowerment came great responsibility. If before, with hijab, I was a billboard for Islam, now, with a niqab, I was a billboard for oppression. On the one hand, non-Muslims looked at me with disdain or pity, and on the other, fellow Muslims either saw me as an extremist or looked up to me like I had vast amounts of knowledge, like the niqab and abaya were my cap and gown and I had just graduated with a PhD from Islam University.

There is something about the niqab that brings out other people’s insecurities. Either they feel guilty because they put you, the niqabi, on a high pedestal of understanding and spirituality (even though you do not deserve it), or they are envious for not having the courage to also wear it (giving more importance to a piece of fabric rather than their relationship with Allah), or they hate niqab with a passion, think you are absolutely crazy for wearing it, and they constantly lecture you about how it’s not obligatory. This added stress, ridiculous accusations, and false expectations make wearing niqab a real test of faith, in which one can easily fall prey to arrogance, self-aggrandizement, religious doubt, exhaustion, or even depression. I felt like the best way to avoid these issues was to isolate myself from people.

I wore the niqab for two years mostly on, but sometimes off. I found it easy to wear in New Jersey, especially surrounded by other sisters who wore it, and in Egypt, where it provided the extra benefit of filtering the sand, dust, houka and exhaust fumes. I felt comfortable and well-protected. However, it was when we returned from Egypt that I started noticing the increasingly negative attention I was getting from strangers for the way I dressed.

In one incident, a couple of Latina women began speaking about me in Spanish, not knowing that I could understand their conversation. I was standing behind them in line at a store in the mall with my 2-year-old in a stroller. They were saying, “Poor kid, having to be raised by ‘that’ in that horrible culture.” They shook their heads and looked at me condescendingly. Rather than be confrontational, I simply turned to my son and started speaking to him in Spanish, making sure they overheard. Both women turned away embarrassed. I thanked Allah for the niqab, because my cheeks were burning red out of anger.

Similar incidents occurred to me whenever I would go out, but it was when I moved further south that I felt afraid for my safety and that of my children. At that point, my eldest was 2 and a half years old and my second was a baby. The verbal abuse came more frequently. I was called a terrorist by Walmart employees in front of my children. I was also violently confronted at a gas station, while my children were in the car, by a man who thought I had been staring at his wife, even though I was not even looking her way (I guess he couldn’t tell because my face was covered). A gentleman who worked at a grocery store where my husband and I would frequently do our shopping stopped us and demanded to know why my husband forced me to “dress like that.” Again, in front of our children. These hate-driven incidents grew until I could no longer go outside alone out of fear.

I started to realize the niqab no longer offered me a sense of closeness to Allah or protection, and it became a burden on my own children. Not only was it a physical veil, but it had also begun to obscure who I was as a person. Dawah became more difficult, because people were no longer willing to see beyond the piece of fabric covering my face. My own people, Latin-Americans, did not see in me, as they had in the past, a similarity to the Virgin Mary, which made Islam more familiar and appealing to them. This was the same reason why I knew I would never wear niqab in front of my family, and why it could never be part of me 100%.

I went through a period where I questioned why I was wearing niqab, and I questioned why I was questioning it. I read and reread fatwas, articles, and books about hijab, and made du’a for guidance and strength. I no longer had a community of niqabi sisters around me, and as I read more about niqab, I saw that things were not as black and white as some people make it seem. I realized eventually that I was guilt-shaming myself for something that I had never considered obligatory in the first place. Unfortunately, for convert sisters and some who are raised Muslim and finding their way, learning that there are varying opinions on certain religious matters is a long process. I have known of some newly converted Muslims who rush into the Deen, and overburden themselves with unnecessary practices, only to then abandon Islam altogether. Likewise, there are others who take baby steps and their faith grows gradually over time, like a firmly rooted tree.

Once I resolved to remove the niqab for good, I started worrying about what people would think. At that point, I told myself, if I were to keep it on, it would no longer be for Allah, but for people, and that was scary. Alhamdulillah, I sought advice from a friend about my struggle and surprisingly, she shared with me her own failed niqab story. She (a South Asian “born Muslim”) had also worn it and stopped after years for the same reasons, and although some people in the masjid shunned her for some time, she felt it was the best course of action for her and her family. She reassured me that it was my decision and advised me to seek comfort in the mercy of Allah.

When I removed the niqab, I started to find myself again. Now, ten years later and almost two decades into the Deen, I feel reconnected with my culture and have long accepted that I can be Puerto Rican while being a Muslim, and that I can be modest while maintaining my identity. The process of converting and then really “owning” your faith take time, and we will hit many bumps along our journey. Wearing the niqab was part of my learning curve, and I appreciate both the good and the bad from it. So, for those who want to compare how they looked ten years ago to now, I challenge you to instead reflect on how much you have learned about yourself.

Note: This reflection is by no means a criticism of the niqab. Many sisters, some Latinas, wear niqab with pride, and the beauty of Islam is that we are free to decide what works best for us. May Allah make your personal journeys easy. Ameen.

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