If I am not working, spending time with friends and family, or sleeping, I am either reading books or watching movies/shows. I have been a proud “bookworm” since elementary school and an avid movie-watcher since high school. Whether it be through television, my laptop, or mobile device for films or actual books or e-readers for books, these two things are forever accessible.
One of the important things that drew me to Islam is that its a complete way of life. The guidance of Allah Subhana Wa’Tala(The glorified and exalted) covers everything, and as Muslims, we should strive to bring the practice of Islam and the remembrance of Allah into all aspects of our lives. I have known for a while that the content prevalent in the books that I read and the films that I watch are not in accordance with the Islamic ideals of modesty as well the values guiding the way we live. A good 60% of the movies I watch are action/adventure/thriller while the other 40% are romance/comedy. This means that “bold gender interactions” aka ‘hypersexualized characters’ are the norm and it is rare to find a film that does not have intimate images/scenes.
JMuslimah and I were were recently discussing the fact that we often forget that the Islamic practice of ‘lowering your gaze’ (not intentionally looking upon or lusting after the opposite gender) does not only apply to people surrounding you, but also actors/actresses featured in films. I have repeatedly watched a film (despite mediocre ratings and atrocious acting) purely because “OMG the actor in this movie is so unbelievably hot! He’s got great abs!” Astaghfirullah! I am admitting that I am enticed to watch a film for the main purpose of “gazing.” The truth is that I am not alone in my thoughts and actions; many Muslim sisters watch movies only to talk about “how hot or sexy” a particular actor is.
The practice of lowering one’s gaze does not exclude films. It includes films! Films, TV shows, magazines, posters, paintings—anywhere the body is exposed for the purpose of enticing physical appreciation—these venues should be avoided or approached cautiously with a ‘lowered gaze.’ In the past, I have rationalized that “It’s not a big deal. It’s not like I am busy having haram interactions.” Recently, I had to face the truth. I am at the point in my life now where I am seriously preparing for the next step: marriage. And as a sister who is usually quite conservative when it comes to religious opinions, I know that I would not want a prospective spouse who actively watched films/shows with the intent to gaze, drool, and fawn over female actresses. Furthermore, I know that when I have children, inshaAllah, I would not even want my teenagers to watch such films. So I questioned myself: “If you know that what you are doing is not in alignment with Islamic ideals and you know that you do not want your future spouse and kid (inshaAllah/By the will of God) watching/reading such content. . .then WHY do you continue to do so NOW?
This seems to be the predicament many Muslims, both born and convert, land themselves in. Perhaps our reluctance in actively doing what we know in our hearts to be right stems from the misguided mentality of “I can rationalize what I want to do now, and I can do what is right later.” How do we know we have a later? We do not know! On the Day of Judgment, when Allah Subhana Wa’Tala is taking account of our sins, what excuse will be accepted by our Creator for why we continued doing wrong when we had clear knowledge of what was right? There will be no excuse. No amount of enjoyment or laughter from entertaining or captivating films/shows will help us evade the eternal fire.
A tiny voice in my head is like “Halimah, aren’t you being a bit dramatic about this?” My responding thought is “No. If the Day of Judgment and risking an eternity in hell fire instead of Jannah(heaven) is trivial to you, then surely you are among the foolish. When you sideline the importance of reflecting on the Day of Judgment, then you sideline the importance of Allah Subhana Wa’Tala and our purpose as creations which is to to worship and please our Creator.”
Now that I have identified my problem and I have reflected on it, what I need is a clear strategy for improvement!
THE VISIBILITY OF CHANGE
If ’you've read my short bio in the ‘About’ section, you already know that although I was born Muslim, besides the very basic tenets(salah, Ramadan, Jummah), I was not taught any other actual Islamic practices. Alhamdulilah, I was able to begin learning on my own and adapt this knowledge to my life. Many people who have watched me grow, believe that I have ‘found God’ and therefore going through this immense spiritual journey. There are even some people, family included, who believe that this is all just a phase and are constantly waiting for the day where I trade in my scarf and jilbab for a mini dress. inshaAllah, that never happens. Personally, I don’t think I've ‘found God’, mainly because I've never lost Him. I have always believed in him. It just took me gaining knowledge to fully embrace Him.
From a young age, I've always been excited about Islam. I remember looking forward to the “Middle East” section in Social Studies class because they always spent like a chapter talking about Islam. While I obviously covered my hair when I went to the masjid and when I prayed salah, I didn't really know much about covering, modesty or hijab, I do remember always admiring it. One instant that I can think of is when I forgot to take my scarf off after leaving the masjid one day and went to a store. There was this little girl who was also covered and the instant we made eye contact she smiled. I always remember that day because simply by wearing the scarf, it seemed we shared something. As I got older(early teenage years), I began to look into Islam more and believe it or not, it was also around this time that I received my first English Qur’an. I am not sure why but before then the thought of actually knowing what the Qur’an said never really came to me. As I began reading and learning, I started wanting to adapt more things to my life. Unfortunately, due to certain circumstances, I couldn't practice as much as I wanted but I did make it a point to perform salah and read more Qur’an. By the time I finished high school, I decided that I really wanted to start taking my deen more seriously. I wanted to be a pleasant, respectful, Allah-abiding Muslim. No, I did not start covering right away. I did start with changing my behaviour to align more with proper Islamic adab. Understand though, that I was not this horrible, rude, loose child, I just had the habit of being very short with people and engaging in activities that did not align with the proper mannerisms of a Muslim.. Throughout my first year in university, I probably was not the best example of a Muslim and did many things that I am not necessarily proud of, Alhamdulilah though, none of my ill-actions had lasting effects so I have been able to move forward.
Although I knew that I wanted to be ‘a better’ Muslim, I wasn't sure about how to go about it. I am a person who does not like much attention so my main worry was not so much about people judging me or not liking my changes but more so that I didn't want to have to deal with explaining these changes. This reluctance to explain myself also stems from the fact that I think people expect this deep profound explanation when really, for me, it was very simple- I believed in God, I believed that all the things He said in the Qur’an were right, so therefore why I shouldn't I abide by them. When I started university, I lived a bit far from home so I was able to maneuver without anyone really knowing who I was. By the end of my first year in undergrad, I decided to start wearing the scarf. While I did cover my hair, I was not observing proper hijab at all. I wore short skirts, mini-dresses, etc. I honestly didn't know what I was doing at all but I did know that that was not appropriate, I just wanted to try it. At the end of that year, I went back home for the summer holidays and stopped covering because again, I did not want to deal with the questions. Mid-way through the summer, I accepted a job back at the university and was able to move back on campus and reinstated the wearing of my scarf. I loved it! I loved praying my prayers on time, I loved the sense of slight modesty that I felt. At the end of the summer, I chose to switch schools and therefore moved back home-this of course meant no scarf. It was interesting, you always hear about girls who observe hijab when leaving home then take it off right before they get to school. Well I was the opposite of that. I would leave the house in my spring dresses and then throw on a scarf and sweater when I got on the bus to school. Eventually this became really difficult and I was literally ALWAYS TERRIFIED that someone would see me and tell my family, so eventually I gave up and stopped wearing it. A couple of months later, I realized that I hated not covering more than I disliked having to hide it so I just started covering again. I didn't make an announcement of it I just did it. Overall, things went well. Family wise, the only awkward moments were when I was expected to uncover for parties.
The "Muslimah Worries" section of Striving Clarity is dedicated to discussing the things that Muslimahs often worry about from hijab to marriage to how to remain spiritual when you're unable to pray. Join us!