It was Yusuf Islam who once said “I’m lucky because I met Islam first, before I met Muslims.” As a born Muslim, I can definitely relate to this. Islam is perfect, but let’s face it, us Muslims are most certainly not. Sometimes after I’ve been to too many consecutive Islamic events I need to give myself a detox, not because I’m sick of learning about the deen, but because annoying Muslim behaviours are coming out of my ears. It’s not individual Muslims who grate me; it’s the features of us as a community. The following things drive me absolutely bonkers about the Muslim community:
1.) Nosy Nellies
No one seems to know how to mind their own business in the Muslim community. If you’re a convert, people feel entitled to ask you about your reasons for converting as a conversation starter, not realising that this may in fact be a deeply personal question. Then there are the endless questions about people’s marital status. When, who, why, why not, it never ends. I’m particularly guilty of this one, and I hate myself for it afterwards, but somehow I get caught up in Muslim marriage fever and get right in on the interrogation.
2.) Secrets, secrets and more secrets
I know that in Islam we are meant to keep our sins secret, but number 1 ensures that they often don’t remain secret. So many times I’ve known things about people I don’t even know well enough to say hello to, and I can’t even remember how I found them out. I meet X and already know that they were once getting to know Y but now Y is seeing Z. (The pool of people who actually attend Islamic events regularly is small, and Chinese whispers ain’t got nothing on Muslim whispers.) If I know things about people I barely know, it’s a pretty safe bet they know things about me too.
Then there are the ‘secrets’, except they’re not really secret but we all have to pretend they are so the people involved can keep up the illusion that they have a secret. We’re all guilty of this one because we all have these not-so-secret-secrets. We pretend not to know about other people’s not-so-secret-secrets so they will do the same for us, and so we all get by, thinking things we’d never say out loud.
3.) The Silent Competition
No one is immune from this one. The non-hijabis look at the hijabis and think they should really try harder since they’re wearing the hijab, and the hijabis look at the non-hijabis and feel better about not trying harder. Both of them look at niqabis and think they shouldn’t wear as much eyeliner, and the niqabis think the hijabis and non-hijabis should both buzz off.
Then there are the couples who compete about who can keep it the most ‘Halal’. The ones who only chat occasionally on Facebook feel better than the ones who only talk on the phone and the phone-talkers feel better than the ones who meet up in public. It’s all an exercise in validation. We focus and hone in on a crappier Muslim than us, and this deflects attention away from our own shortcomings. The problem is that this sort of judgment is so inherent we don’t even realise we’re doing it. So many times I’ve seen someone wearing a certain type of clothing and immediately jumped to conclusions about them. The ironic thing is that I hate it when people do it to me, and yet I still need to consciously stop myself from doing it to them!
4.) The Mask
Because we’re all trying to put our best face forward, this can mean a lot of pretense and a lot of saying things we don’t really mean. A lot of ‘mashAllahs’ and salams and air kisses when we really can’t stand the sight of each other. I know that you know that I have a boyfriend, but I keep up the mask of the perfect hijabi who won’t even look at the brother’s section when we’re at a lecture. Brothers keeping their heads down at events but secretly messaging girls on Facebook after it. The kinds of things going on behind computer screens would make a shaykh blush.
5.) The Juvenile/Instant Adult Phenomena
One of the rather hilarious byproducts of segregation is that a lot of us get stuck in a permanent adolescence when it comes to the opposite sex. 23 year old girls moon over guys they see across the room without ever having spoken to them; it happens all the time at events. But then the flip-side is the instant adult syndrome, where people much younger than myself talk about marriage in only the most serious terms and deem giggly mooning as immature and frivolous.
As soon as someone gets married in the Muslim community, they are treated as an adult; marriage lends people instant social credibility. Marital status becomes a way of defining maturity, which can annoy older single people to no end. As someone who writes a relationships blog, I can hardly complain about people being obsessed with marriage, but at least I’m obvious about it 😉 People who pretend they don’t think about this stuff at all when they’re involved in the Muslim community are either in self-denial or in public denial.
6.) Having to pick a side
Above all else, I hate this one. I’m not into cliques or groups of any sort, and when it comes to Islam I’m no different. I’m happy to attend any Islamic event and just take the good and leave the bad. But there’s just so much pressure to be of a particular persuasion and be exactly like everyone of that persuasion. If you mention you listen to music amongst certain crowds, you’ve immediately marked yourself as ‘liberal’, but then if you mention you’re pro-segregation in certain circles you’re too ‘extreme’. If you wear pants at some events you feel immediately out of place; mention the K word (Khilafah) and people will automatically pigeonhole you as HT. It’s so hard to just be.
But despite all these things, I have to admit that I absolutely love the Muslim community. I love the crazies. I love that we’re all marriage-obsessed. I love that we all care about each other’s business and that there’s no privacy whatsoever. I love the fact that we compete and judge and drive each other bonkers, because that’s exactly how families operate. When it comes down to it, as much as the different groups in our community rip each other to threads, we’re still family. Sure, we need our space from each other at times and we’re all under a lot of pressure to think and act a certain way, but everyone knows that family is for life. Besides, we’ll never really be accepted anywhere else, so we might as well stick with this flawed, dysfunctional but very loving one that we have.