Wednesday, May 7

Absolute Distance

I've written before about how I find it strange to criticise someone for practising Islam. Stated in those terms I'm sure you'd probably agree, yet so many people still do it - the latest example being to comment on how a passing woman wearing a headscarf was also wearing a revealing top and tight jeans.

It's a stance I need to challenge, seeing how I recognise a similar behaviour in myself - I practice relatively thoroughly, but at times am known for the odd rude joke or ogling behaviour. In fact, since no Muslim is perfect we could all be accused of acting in this misrepresenting way.

Yet for some reason a woman in a headscarf always seems to warrant extra attention and that, funnily enough, usually by ladies who choose not to cover their hair at all (and if I was mean I'd accuse them of insecure self-justification). The reasons for their focus vary, but don't usually hold up to much scrutiny. So for a random girl walking with a headscarf and not so modest clothes:

  • She's being hypocritical. Well not really since she's not telling anyone else to do anything, be it wear a headscarf or dress like she is. She's just living her life.
  • She's passing herself off as something she's not. But if that was the case why would she give anyone such an obvious reason to criticise her? It's unlikely that she slipped up and accidentally wore what she did.
  • She's a role model and should be acting as such. But she didn't ask for that responsibility and more than I have by praying regularly. In fact I reckon it's the fault of others if they want to assume she's some kind of super-perfect Muslim to be imitated, and even more so if they copy her immodest dress. And besides, as mentioned above, most Muslims claim to be Muslims; does that make them role models too?
  • It's a half-hearted attempt at practising the wider practice of hijab. But isn't that better than no attempt at all? And since we're never going to be perfect, doesn't that make all of us trivially half-hearted too?
One significance of the headscarf is that it's a constant thing and so occurs at the same time as bad practice. But I don't think that the temporal order of things is the point here, otherwise we wouldn't expect anyone to don a headscarf until they're perfect.

I always try to avoid talking about headscarves - although I think that people can have an opinion on situations not applicable to them, it's tough to talk about women covering up without appearing to judge or command. But as I touched on above, this isn't really about the headscarf itself, but about all of us practising as much as we're able to.

I would agree that this poor girl would probably be in a better position if she covered up, but then so would someone who dressed the same without a headscarf. The point is that she can't be in a worse position than before by putting on a headscarf. In an absolute sense she's now closer to the God, not further, and I'm not sure you can criticise anyone for that - after all, would someone really be better off removing their headscarf?

While on Hajj, my imam/guide was asked how to fulfill the obligation of prayer when a job wouldn't let you. Although it was clear the questioner was trying to get out of praying at all (it's unbelievable that any office wouldn't let you pray today), the reply was pretty surprising.

In short, it was to do what you could: so if there was no time for wudhu, then skip it. If you couldn't leave your seat, then pray in your chair. If you couldn't move at all then just close your eyes and do it in your mind. Back then I was totally taken aback by how easily the imam advised us to compromise our prayer, but now it just makes total sense. The conclusion was that it was better to do what you could than to do nothing at all since even the smallest positive act brings you closer to a perfect Islam.

Would an alcoholic be better off not fasting at all? Should I stop praying just because I have some dodgy behaviour at times? Of course, we cannot use the good we do in order to justify the bad (so you can't steal in order to pay charity) and similarly we can't rest on our laurels just because we do some good at times, but this discussion assumes some level of honest intention.

The opposing attitude is one that discourages people to practise as much as they can, something that would probably increase for them as time goes on anyway. No one becomes a perfect Muslim overnight, and if people are left to think that they can't do as much as they can (or want) without doing it all, then I fear that many won't even bother making a start in the first place.