by Tamara Schmerse
Part 14 of 17.
While I had been sniffing around the adherents.com website, I could not help but notice the next most populous group. 1.5 billion people in the world followed the teachings of Islam. And while I had been brought up to believe that the reason their religion was growing so fast was because they converted people – usually whole countries at a time – with a gun to the temple and a gruff “Accept Islam or die!” – I had been through enough eye-opening experiences over the previous year with my search through other odd religious groups that I wondered if my preconceived notions about Muslims had been wrong as well.
Such was the pliable state of my mind when I woke up one night at 2am to discover that my husband had yet again fallen asleep on the couch with the TV still on. As I dragged him by the feet to the bedroom, I noticed a British accent on the television, and being as ever obsessed with the Motherland, I thought I would take a few minutes to see what the program was before I turned it off.
To my fascination, it turned out to be a British reality show called “Make Me a Muslim”, where several “normal” British citizens from different walks of life were taken in my Muslim families for a determined period of time, I’d be guessing a week, and shown the ins and outs of daily life according to Islam. The part of the show I saw that night was about the cleanliness rules that Muslims live by, and how they dictate seemingly insignificant things, like which hand to use when going to the toilet as opposed to which hand to use when eating, according to the great importance they place on hygiene. A small issue I know, but I guess it was enough to present me with a different view than what I had always held of these people.
The next day as soon as time allowed, I jumped on Google and Wikipedia’s “Series On Religion” articles to learn more about this culture. There was one facet of Islam that had always fascinated me, usually in a negative way: why their women were always completely covered up from head to toe.
For some reason I had always taken it personally, and the sight of a woman in a full niqab (burqa) had made me angry, as I believed that the women were being forced to wear those clothes by their husbands and fathers, so I was angry at the men for forcing such restrictions on their women, and I was angry at the women for allowing themselves to be pushed around. I had guessed it was a jealousy / possessiveness thing:
“no one else is allowed to look at her because she belongs to ME.”
There were probably television shows that helped perpetuate that view in the west as well over the years.
So the concept of women actually wanting to cover themselves up had never occurred to me. I could not comprehend the reason why anyone would want to wrap themselves up in a tent for their whole lives. Didn’t they get hot in summer? Didn’t they feel restricted? How did they go hiking or swimming? How could they live a normal life like that?
Wiki articles told me that the concept regarding women’s dress in Islam was called hishma, which corresponded to the English word modesty. A Google search of the word hishma brought me to a wonderful website called Ilovehishma: The Blog – and it was written by a woman!
Pixie taught me that women actually want to cover themselves up, because this was what they believed God wanted them to do. Her well-written articles covered all manner of topics relevant to western women in today’s world, and as an adult convert to Islam living in Canada, her opinions and experiences struck chords with me. She also wrote about the hijab regulations given to Jewish and Christian women in their Scriptures, and how they had over the years discarded them due to fashion, and how Muslim women were urged not to follow their example.
That did stick out in my mind. There was one thing that Islam seemed to have that Christianity, and also Judaism, did not: dedicated followers. You could look at a person from a mile away and tell that they were Muslim. But how can you tell if someone is a Christian these days? By being so close to them you can see a tiny gold cross around their neck? How do you know that’s not just a fashionable piece of jewellery? I thought back to the time I was in the COC and noticed the tight top and miniskirt on the young girl singing on the stage, and how the front two rows were taken up by enthusiastic teenage boys. I remembered thinking at the time that not all of those boys could have possibly been focused on the words in her songs alone.
Studying Pixie’s blogs brought home to me the importance of modesty in the worship of God. I came to realise that in my own life, a lot of the problems I encountered with my faith slipping away and my focus shifting from trying to be good to trying to be cool, were logical conclusions to the path of fashion that I had set myself on when I first came to Queensland. My appearance had brought me attention, and the more I got the more I wanted, so the more I focused on my appearance. Before I knew it any trace of religion had gone completely out of my head and my days consisted solely of spending enough time on the beach to deepen my tan, spending enough time on the dance floor to exercise my abs, and catching every possible glance in every possible mirror without letting myself be seen as being vain. Which really, especially in light of the concepts I was now learning, was exactly what I was.
I realised that what these women were doing was sacrificing their appearance, their vanity, to God. They would never have fallen into apostasy in the way I had. They would never have had to deal with the temptations I did or fail in the way that I had failed. They showed their faith in God by submitting to him their entire being, so that when anyone looked at them, all they would see was a faithful servant of God.
This was the opposite of the way I had conducted myself and my life up to that point, and it seemed to me to be the answer I was looking for. By sacrificing my appearance and vanity to God, I was ensuring that I would never be tempted away from Him as I had been before. Also, it would have to be a good thing for my marriage, as my husband, who had confidence issues of his own, had always been uncomfortable with me wearing “attractive” clothing, and was always paranoid that other men were looking at me. When I began to dress modestly, he was overjoyed.
With my eyes being opened to the honest love for God that Muslim women had, I began to seek and study Islam more earnestly. I spoke with the Muslim girl at my husband’s work, who had just moved here from Pakistan. She gave me literature about the outlook of Muslims and the respect they had for their neighbours and their desire to spread their message of the love of God. I was shown where the local Muslim women bought their hijab, which was unsurprisingly in the centre of my city. I purchased for myself some modest – but not so different that my husband would be alarmed – clothing from there, and an English translation of the Qur’an.
I studied it with the fervour I had previously applied to the Bible. At the same time, as per the custom I followed when studying any new religion, I also studied articles about Islam from Christian, Jewish and Secular sources, to get a fuller picture. And for a long time, the picture I was seeing was a nice one.
I watched videos of young girls crying over the state of war in Muslim countries, and saying how Islam was a religion of peace. I read the reports of spousal and family abuse of women in Muslim countries, and statements from women begging people to understand that it was not Islam that caused these atrocities; that the Prophet Muhammad would never have wanted women to be treated like that.
I was close to being convinced. There was one nagging little thought though that would not seem to leave my head:
“You will know them by their fruit.”
I had begun to wonder if I had found the answer to my painfully long search – the True religion of God. This was certainly one that was taking the world by storm, and all who belonged to it were most wholehearted and passionate. But the rule of thumb that I had always held to, when searching for anything from a new religion or a new diet, was the simple guidance that Jesus gave us in Matthew 7. We will know them by their fruit. People cannot pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles. Evil will always eventually show through. And when you step back and look at the Big Picture of Islam, for all its dedicated young women who want only to love and serve God, what do you see? A plane full of hostages being flown into an office building.
Muslims say that the terrible attacks on the World Trade Centre were orchestrated by one madman and his small band of crazed followers, and were nothing to do with honest Islam. But when you look back through history, what stands out from this religion is the war, the violence, the hate, the oppression, the injustice, the cruelty. Yes, there are some lovely people who are Muslim. There are lovely Atheists too. But the religion of Islam, when judged according to its fruit, is a rotten vine of evil.
I put my Qur’an up on the bookshelf.
Phew, that was close!
Part 15 will be published on Monday.