by Nevin Haque
Art by Nicole Zaridze
“You can’t wear that out of the house.”
“Your leggings are too thin.”
“Wear a cardigan over that.”
“Showing skin will only attract the attention of bad men.”
These are things that my mom has said to me countless times over the years.
Even though I don’t like what she’s saying, I understand where she’s coming from.
My mother was born and raised in Bangladesh as a devout Muslim. She prays five times a day, reads the Quran, slides her prayer beads between her fingers, and turns on the television to Islamic lectures everyday. To her, showing skin is incomprehensible. Non-negotiable. It’s against the rules. It would mean that I am committing a sin, which the angel sitting on my left shoulder would write down.
It would mean that I am not being a “good Muslim”.
But, I will probably change in the bathroom of a Dunkin Donuts to look nice in a dress anyways.
I am an American citizen born to immigrated parents. My values and morals are very different from my parents. We don’t see eye to eye on a lot of important, controversial topics.
Religion is the most important topic that I try not to get into with my parents.
“Religion is the most important topic that I try not to get into with my parents.”
I’ve struggled with the idea of being a “good Muslim” since I was five years old. In my kindergarten class, a clique of Bengali girls approached me. They asked me why I didn’t wear a hijab, a headscarf that Muslim women are required to wear. Traditionally, the rule is to begin wearing a hijab at the age of nine. This is the age where young girls achieve a point of mental maturity. That’s what my parents had planned for my future.
Those girls said that I wouldn’t be a “good Muslim” if I wasn’t wearing a hijab. They threatened me, saying that I would burn in Jahannam (hellfire). They didn’t want to be friends with someone that would burn in hell because then they would be associated with it as well.
Terrified, I went home that day and began to stuff my hijab in my backpack. My dad stopped me. He asked me why I was doing this. I told him what those girls said to me and after yelling at me for a little bit, he began to rationally explain that I would not be a bad person, or, more specifically, I wouldn’t be a bad Muslim if I didn’t begin to wear a hijab.
So I didn’t wear a hijab to school the next day. I told them exactly what my father had told me, and they laughed in my face. They told me my father had no idea what he was talking about because their own fathers told them otherwise. They weren’t open-minded, which is to be expected from five year olds. They made the next five years very terrible for me.
And they prided their selves over it, because they believed that they were being “good Muslims”.
I used to follow those girls on social media for a while after I left elementary school. They still are one big clique. They used to tell me that taking pictures were haram (against Islamic law), but I saw them posting their own pictures on Instagram. They told me cursing was haram, but they swore on a daily basis. I can go on and on about hypocritical things they did, but there’s no point in it, really. I’ve since stopped caring about the way they would carry out their own lives because I was too focused on making mine better.
But my struggles with religion did not stop there.
My parents put me in a private Islamic school for middle school which did not make me feel any better about religion. My teachers tried to force Islam into me, and it was very toxic for me. My father also made me go to a Bangla school, which went against everything that I learned in school. Singing is haram. Dancing is haram. Showing off talents to men are haram. They were teaching me a lot of conservative beliefs that did not reflect Islam positively.
Are they “good Muslims” for doing that to me?
“Are they ‘good Muslims’ for doing that to me?”
I was at war with myself. I didn’t know if I should stop following Islam, and focus on singing and dancing. Bangla school was also mentally and physically draining for me. I grew passionate about both but they went against everything I learned at school. I didn’t know what to do.
I eventually quit both, but I switched to a public high school first.
Aunties at public parties and events always commented on my hair, or my weight, or how my parents weren’t doing enough to make me the best version of me. Their whispers rang in my head for years.
This, unfortunately, isn’t just something that happened to me. This has happened to thousands of girls not just in the Muslim community. It irritates me that these older women tell us things that don’t need to be said, instead of guiding us to a better path. It bothers me that their lives are not perfect but they chide others to make their selves feel better. They don’t chastise their sons for smoking and drinking, which is also haram.
But that’s none of my business.
For years, I’ve wondered what it truly means to be a good Muslim.
I think being a good Muslim goes hand in hand with being a fundamentally good person. If your morals and values are correct, then your faith will eventually fall into place. It’s also not an overnight thing, it takes a lot of baby steps. No one is perfect, and everyone is on their own journey. I am not like my mother. I do not pray five times a day. I do not read the Quran every single day. I get distracted listening to Khutbahs (Islamic preaches). I sing at shows and I dance with my friends.
“I think being a good Muslim goes hand in hand with being a fundamentally good person.”
But I did fast all thirty days this year.
It’s baby steps that make you the person who you are.
I’d like to think I’m a good person. I try to always be kind and truthful. I treat the bad experiences in my life as a lesson. A lesson that will eventually, hopefully, let me regain my faith in Islam.
If it’ll happen, it’ll happen when it happens.
MEET THE WRITER:
Nevin Haque is Bangladeshi American and is currently an undergrad at St. John’s University. She is majoring in Education for now, but is still trying to figure out what to do with her life. She writes in her spare time in hopes of contributing something meaningful to society.
Follow me on instagram: @nebbani