Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Muslim Girl Problems: Putting your foot in it & not letting your pants fall down

There's something about getting caught with your foot in the basin in the ladies bathroom at work that conjures up images of a deer caught in headlights. How do you explain what you're doing while trying to brush off that "you're weird" glint in the oppositions eye? But I'm getting ahead of myself...

As Muslims, we are required to pray 5 times a day. We bow down to The Almighty to acknowledge Him and what He has bestowed upon us. It's about always staying in a state of God Consciousness and really, it isn't half as strenuous as it sounds.

I'm not your average Muslim female. For one, I don't wear the headscarf (no excuses - I should be doing it - I just don't). And while I dress very modestly (mostly covered), I'm what they call very modern.

Now, in the land of Muslims females, the majority tend to fall into one of two categories: the traditional-headscarf-wearing-praying-five-times-daily kind of girl and the non-traditional-I-wear-and-do-anything-I-like-and-not-very-religious kind of girl. Then there is a minority third group: the Yes-I-follow-and-practice-Islam-but-I'm-also-fairly-modern-in-many-ways kind of girl.

And I fall into the third category. Well sort-of.

A few days before Ramadan began, one of my colleagues asked me if I'd be wearing the scarf in Ramadan (like some of the female Muslims at work do). I replied "no" and told her that for some reason, I just can't seem to get there - to that point (of wearing the scarf). And besides, I don't feel comfortable with the idea of wearing the scarf specifically for Ramadan and then removing it afterwards. It's like, what does that say about me? And while I don't have any issues with others doing it (many members of my family do it), it just doesn't sit well with me. All she said in her heavy Spanish accent was that "people grow and they grow in their beliefs too".

So headscarf aside, I am still a practising Muslim and I adhere to the five pillars of Islam. However, many people would never believe it. Because I wear a suit, and my hair is piled up into a sophisticated chignon or is usually blowdried to Heaven, and I stomp around in my heels; to others I couldn't possibly worship Allah SWT. I couldn't possibly be as sincere in my prayers as they are in theirs. I'm supposed to be some kind of heathen as it is.

These thoughts amuse me and I'm never bothered by what other's think because for me, prayer is a very intimate thing. It's my one-on-one time with The Lord. So in many ways, I try to be alone (even though it is recommended you pray in groups) and I will go to the office that is our designated Prayer Room at times when I'm sure that no one will be there.

On this particular day, I woke up very hungry. I spent the entire morning vacillating between hunger, exhaustion and thirst and I briefly contemplated not performing my Salaah as usual. I was so exhausted and thinking of all the reasons it wouldn't be a good idea to pray at work. I could always do it at home, make up for the day I thought to myself.

But something wasn't right. I felt restless, anxious and a growing need to just go and do it. Unfortunately, I had procrastinated for a little too long to avoid any run-ins with fellow Muslims who would also want to pray, but I braved myself for whatever was to come. The growing need was now a fully fledged obsession so I gathered whatever strength I had and went to the bathroom to perform the ablution. Rinse the hands, mouth, nostrils, face, arms and end with the feet. Two minutes was all it would take.

And that's when two unsuspecting females walked into the bathroom - with my left foot extended in gymnastic proportions to get into the high marbled basin. It was slightly embarrassing, but I was too concerned about doing what I had set out to do to care. After making my apologies, I set off to the Prayer Room, still starving and ready to eat the door off its hinges.

I got there just in time, I thought. Praying would be a challenge on this day because for one I was slightly late and forgot my burqa (long head-shoulder covering not to be confused with the burqa/niqab that covers the face). And secondly, while the waist of my pants was too tight to prostrate in, undoing the button would guarantee that my pants would fall down and I was expecting a barrage of men coming to pray at any moment and the last thing I needed was for them to see me in a borrowed burqa and with my pants around my ankles.

Thinking as quick as I could, I enlisted the help of a safety pin and strategically pinned the pants in such a way that I could move freely whilst ensuring that it stayed on me at all time. In a frenzy, I tried to get started so that I'd avoid any people and just as I was about to begin, in came Asif, a colleague from Britain. Fortunately, he had no qualms about praying in the same room with a strange woman, and both of us late and in a hurry, we didn't have time to talk it over. We just left the office door open and went about it.

Initially I felt a little uncomfortable with Asif there - and then two Moroccan guys joining in later - but something happens when you focus all your energy into one solid place. Everything else melts away, all the anxiety, frustration, hunger, pain and exhaustion just melts away and you find yourself in a calm peaceful space.

I like to contemplate The Almighty in that time. I think of Him as belonging to the very fibre of the fabric of my being. In those moments, I see Him everywhere... in the carpet I'm sitting on because He created the man who made it and bestowed upon him the knowledge and skill to create it... I see The Almighty in myself, "closer than the jugular vein", in every heartbeat, in the walls, in the building, in the people I'm surrounded by, in the entire world.

And in those moments I realise that I'm still physically hungry, but my soul is full.


  1. Your soul is full... that's a feeling I wish for everyone. Thanks for sharing your viewpoint - it is, after all, what makes you you

  2. it's a beautiful post. prayers and meditations are soul food, and it's wonderful that you are able to reconnect and find peace through it.

    btw, i was just imagining your leg in that basin. lol. sorry. must have been quite a sight. in most buildings here, we have an area so Muslims could wash themselves before prayers.

  3. Oh wow, your faith in the power of prayer is very, very admirable.

    The girls in my workplace are very fortunate in that case. They actually get a special room for praying.

  4. Erm . . Is it insensitive to ask whether there are any videos of you on YouTube stomping around in a suit?

  5. rooth
    I also wish that feeling for everyone - in whatever way they choose to achieve it :)

    It was quite hilarious, I can just imagine what the other person must have thought. We also have certain areas that we can perform ablution at certain institutions and malls etc. but not everywhere :)

    Terra Shield
    The office we pray in is quite large, so it can accommodate quite a few people - so we're lucky in that sense :)

    Haha, not it's not insensitive and unfortunately, there aren't any videos on Youtube of me stomping around in my suit LOL!

  6. Azra, Inspired by your tale, i need you to come and work with me on a new - and different - sitcom called "Muslim Girls". Which should make me a lot of money and you possibly dead. But, hey, you have to suffer for your art . . . . .

  7. Washing your feet in an airplane lavatory will stain them blue. And contorting yourself to wash them in the impossibly tiny sink is only good if you're a gymnast or under the age of 12 (sort of the same thing).

    Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all.

  8. insightful and beautiful post. Yes, it's interesting how we judge how people should and shouldn't do things if they are x or y. You're right, how you do it doesn't really matter- it should be your connection to the Almighty!

    Love how you're always keeping it real : )

  9. 'to others I couldn't possibly worship Allah...' Yeah, as if the Almighty would ever care about you wearing high heels or not. People are so funny and self-centered when it comes to religion, Az.

  10. P.S. I once drank some water from a tab and I swear I smelled feet... ;)

  11. It'a always interesting to hear how people with religious beliefs feel about their faith. My wife has walked in on some Pakistani ladies washing their feet during Ramadan but here in the North of England we have a large Pakistani community and is now part of the British culture.

  12. Colin
    LOL! I wouldn't mind doing a sitcom of that sort. I recently watched an episode of "Little Mosque on the Prairie" about Muslim Canadians and found it hilarious - it's everything that we can identify with :)

    I wouldn't dream of doing anything in an air plane lavatory. In fact, I even try to avoid having to go at all. I've heard terrible stories of people being vacuum-sucked and then stuck to the seat :)

    Thanks. I definitely believe that everyone has their own path to walk and that no one has the right to dictate how that path should be followed. We should do what's right for us, as long as it doesn't hurt others :)

    Haha! Are you sure it was feet? And not something else? ;P LOL

    I also find it interesting how people go about connecting to the Divine :)

  13. Your soul is full but you could still eat the door off it's hinges! I don't think it matters what you are wearing but that you are actually practising. You are a stronger woman than me Azra!

  14. "I think of Him as belonging to the very fibre of the fabric of my being. [...] in the carpet I'm sitting on because He created the man who made it and bestowed upon him the knowledge and skill to create it [...] 'closer than the jugular vein', in every heartbeat, in the walls, in the building, in the people I'm surrounded by, in the entire world. And in those moments I realise that I'm still physically hungry, but my soul is full."

    Beautiful. BEAUTIFUL.

    It warmed my heart reading this. (How mawkish, I know, but it's true!)

    Also, you say re. the headscarf, "no excuses - I should be doing it - I just don't." I'm curious why you think you SHOULD be doing it if Islam doesn't demand it from a woman, if it's optional. Do you think you "should" because it's what's expected of you by the community? After all, it won't make you any more or less a Muslim than you already are; it won't make you a better one. If your heart and faith are pure (and it's obvious they are) and you abide by the five pillars then you're already on the right path, and I imagine that He sees this and wouldn't want you to wear the headscarf out of a sense of obligation or anything else. And, as with anything else, there are a lot of people who on the surface do everything "by the book" but aren't really living their faith, be it in Islam, Christianity or whichever religion. I think that your approach is great because it's your own AND it's in line with the beliefs of Islam.

    ...if all of that makes sense. :-)

  15. Just listen to Jules and moi and everything's gonna be just fine. ;) Now, if you will excuse me.... it's time for me to grab a bite to eat. Yes, I'm a sinner, I know. ;)

  16. I salute your courage...wudu in an office bathroom would be a very scary thing for me. Fortunately, I haven't been faced with that challenge.

  17. RCB
    I just had some amazing Pizza Randy, don't you wish you were here now *evil laugh* LOL!

    I'm no different to you or anyone else. We believe what we believe and we do what we do - but we're no more or less of the people we are because of it :)

    Pretzel Thief
    Yes, you make sense and thank you for your kind words. I am required to wear the headscarf / to cover my hair under Islamic Law. It is required for women to do it. However, the niqab or face-covering is not compulsory and has its roots in cultural practices amongst the Arabs). I will let myself grow into my beliefs. And take it from there. God is the only Judge :)

    It really isn't that bad - it just requires timing and planning on my part :)

  18. You should write a book, you know that?

    I used to meditate when I was in high school, whenever I would take yoga classes at the Jewish center. I loved the end of every yoga class - the teacher would guide us in meditation and I'd float away and feel at peace with the world. Prayer is kind of like that. I pray to the universe, and before I know it, I'm meditating and I feel in my gut that everything is as it should be, and that everything will turn out alright.

    I'll take a full soul over a full tummy any day. ;)

  19. Michi
    I think I lack the discipline to write a book :) And I would never be able to stick to one storyline LOL! With a full soul, the tummy is no longer hungry. And empty soul is destructive.