The 1001 Tales of a Hijabi II
Welcome back to 1001 Tales of a Hijabi. Last time I shared a few personal incidences that were inspired by xenophobia or orientalism. This time it’s a bit different…
Some people I come across have the misconception that guidelines or norms in Islam such as the hijab, praying five times a day, abstention from pork and alcohol, fasting the month of Ramadan, etc. are followed impeccably and wholly by Muslims who claim to follow those guidelines. This misconception especially applies towards hijab-wearing Muslim women. Just because an individual adheres to certain religious guidelines in the present, it does not mean that they have never “broken” or could never “bend” those guidelines in the future. This applies to individuals of any faith. In my personal experience, I find it difficult to be “perfect” when it comes to following guidelines, regardless of whether I break them intentionally or not.
I also think it’s worth noting that what are considered Islamic norms/guidelines differs from Muslim to Muslim. This is due to their level of knowledge, their upbringing, differences in Islamic scholarly opinions, along with cultural and political forces at play. I also believe there is much more to Islam than even what “core” guidelines outline. I find Islam to be a really vast space or realm where there is so much to know and to act upon. As a result, I don’t believe that any Muslim, not even a scholar, can ever gain complete, absolute truth on Islam, nor attain “perfection” in practice.
My overall perspective on Islam is the following: I acknowledge that despite what I think I know, there is still so much I don’t know and never will know because I am human. I also realize that what I consider guidelines and seek to apply doesn’t make my interpretations superior or hold more truth than others’ narratives or beliefs on Islam, and nor does following these guidelines make me “perfect”. Also that there are probably many other guidelines I do not know about. Lastly, I acknowledge that there are even guidelines I definitely know about, yet don’t implement properly or act on. To have knowledge and to act accordingly is always an ongoing process.
Below are a few personal experiences in which guidelines were “broken.” I can’t help finding them slightly amusing, so here they are…
Story # 1: The “Alcoholic” Hijabi
So I’ve had a few incidences where I mistakenly consumed food that contain alcohol. I’d say the incident that stands out the most is one that occurred a few years ago in the workplace. I was standing with a few other employees, when one of the female co-workers walked in carrying a container. Her face lit with a smile as she removed the lid off the container. Behold, there were delicious looking brownies. I love brownies.
[This is how I feel about brownies. Also, Sailor Moon will come up later on in this blog post….]
“I made them for you guys,” my co-worker said cheerfully.
“Yay, brownies!” I exclaimed excitedly. Other employees echoed enthusiasm.
“These brownies are special though,” she said enthusiastically.
I didn’t bother asking what was so special about them. I just assumed that they weren’t ‘special’ in the sense that they were marijuana brownies. So I grabbed one and took a bite. There was a strange, somewhat bitter taste mixed in with the regular brownie taste. There was also this distinct and odd sweetness that didn’t taste like sugar. It’s difficult to describe. I ate my whole brownie square anyways. With each bite I chewed slowly trying to discern what the bitter and oddly sweet tastes were.
[I wonder what this gazelle was chewing…]
After I ate my brownie, I asked her what extra ingredients she added. “hmmm….I taste something I’m sure I’ve never tried before,” I said curiously.
“I added a few extra secret ingredients, one of them is rum,” she said with a wink. “I accidentally put too much rum though, I may as well have called them rum brownies,” she continued laughing. Before I could respond, one of my male co-workers that stood nearby gasped. He looked at her apprehensively, his eyes wide, and said “You made Rana consume alcohol! She’s Muslim, so….”
[However, he wasn’t as dramatic as Joey (from “Friends”)…]
She blushed. “Oh, you don’t drink alcohol at all?” she asked me awkwardly.
“I wouldn’t say all Muslims don’t drink or won’t even consume foods that contain alcohol, but in my case I don’t due to both personal and religious reasons.”
She then apologized profusely. I told her it was fine she didn’t know, but that it would make my heart soar with joy if she brought in non-alcoholic brownies next time. She never did. That didn’t stop me though from eating brownies in general.
I still love brownies.
[Brownies forever and always.]
Story # 2: The Hijabi “Break-faster”
Okay, so every few years or so, I absent-mindedly break my fast, forgetting that it’s Ramadan – a month in the Islamic calendar in which there is abstention from food, beverages, sex and smoking (which is prohibited to begin with, and not only while fasting) from dawn until sunset for all 29 or 30 days of a month, depending on when Ramadan begins. It alternates every year since the Islamic calendar is lunar based.
[Good thing I’m not an angry bird….]
In the past I’ve broken my fast accidentally by swallowing a gulp of water or eating a piece of chocolate or fruit. I’d remember after the first gulp or bite that I’m supposed to be fasting.
Islamically speaking, if one breaks their fast due to forgetfulness, the fast is not considered broken if it was genuinely unintentional. One would simply have to stop consuming whatever it was they accidentally ate or drank and continue to fast until sunset. They are not required to make up for the day(s) they accidentally broke their fast on.
As a side note, only people without specific health conditions are permitted to fast. However, days not fasted due to health conditions (or even temporary, non-serious illnesses) are supposed to be made up for before the next Ramadan, but only if those health conditions no longer persist.
Other than particular health conditions and illness, there are various circumstances under which it is permitted to break the fast. One example is travel (depending on distance and duration). And believe it or not, but there are other factors that also break the fast other than food, beverages, sex and smoking. Two examples are menstruation and postpartum bleeding. Individuals who experience these can definitely consume foods and beverages as if it’s any other day. The only catch here is that the days they miss, like any other “breakin’ fast” scenario, are supposed to be fasted on any days before the next Ramadan…
[Every Ramadan I get asked by at least one guy about why I’m not fasting (during menstruation). This meme sort of sums up the face expression by a few dudes when I answered “I’m on my period…(insert further explanation)”)
Anyways, the following incident also happened in the workplace. This time it wasn’t water, chocolate or fruit that I mindlessly swallowed. It was coffee….
At this workplace one of the nicknames given to me by a co-worker was “The ultimate coffee maker” since I was the one that got the coffee maker running on most mornings. Once Ramadan began, I told co-workers I wouldn’t make coffee throughout the month and that I would avoid the kitchen at all costs. How very wrong I was.
Sometime during the first week of Ramadan, I cluelessly walked into the kitchen at work the moment I arrived and started coffee maker. Not only did I start the coffee maker, I even poured myself a mug of coffee and walked to my office desk. I only realized after I drank a few sips that I was supposed to be fasting. It was then that I walked back to the kitchen with the coffee mug and poured out the rest in the sink.
[Nothing is more heartbreaking than pouring coffee down a sink while I’m fasting and feeling coffee deprived….]
A male co-worker walked in just as I was pouring the remaining coffee down the sink. “Are you fasting?” He asked daringly. I turned around smiling. He had a smirk on his face.
“I’m supposed to be,” I said, suppressing my laugh. “But I forgot I was so yeah….”
“Sure you did,” he said teasingly.
“I honestly forgot,” I said laughing.
“So what happens now?” He asked tauntingly.
“Nothing. Since I forgot, I’m just supposed to continue fasting until sunset.”
“Aww, there’s no way out?” he asked laughingly.
“No. Since I have to continue fasting, I think I’ll take a nap during my break.”
I tried taking a nap later on during my work break but couldn’t sleep. At least the couch I lied down on was comfortable. My rumbling stomach really didn’t help though…
[Ramadan days are truly the real hunger games… ]
The end. Like, that is literally the end to this story. I just stayed awake the whole day and continued fasting until sunset. How action packed…
Story # 3: The “Hijab-less” Hijabi
So I began wearing the hijab at the end of tenth grade. Just to clarify, the term “hijab” in Arabic has many translations, among them being curtain, screen, partition or barrier. The term “hijab” can also be used in more than one context. Within the Islamic framework, the term “hijab” is definitely used in more than one context—one of which is used to describe the modest covering of the whole body except the face and hands. The hijab is usually worn by women only in the presence of “strange” or “outsider” men.
Only a male who began puberty can be considered “strange” unto a woman. This is usually the case if he is not related to her. However, Islam doesn’t just measure “strangeness” based on whether a man is a blood relative (such as brother, father, son, uncle, etc.) or not. For example: An adult male cousin (regardless if it’s first, second, third, etc.) is considered a strange man despite being a blood relative. However, individuals such as a step-father, step-son, father-in-law, etc. (along with other exceptions) are not considered strange men even if they are non-Muslim, or are non-related to the point that they do not share the same ethnic or cultural background as the woman in question. As for the husband, he is obviously not considered a strange man, but he does become one if divorce ever occurs.
Anyways, a few months after I started wearing the hijab, my parents told me on a summer evening that some guy from a plumbing/bathroom services company would come to our house the next morning to begin replacing the bathtub (since my parents had bought a new bathtub). At home (along with other locations) I do not wear the hijab unless there are strange men in the same area or room as me. Not only am I unveiled when I do not wear the hijab, but I also show my arms, legs, back, or upper chest area (depending on the occasion, location, and temperature), and I do wear form-fitting clothes. So since it’s summer, I went to sleep in a thin strap nightgown that went up to my knees.
When I woke up the next morning, I cluelessly walked from my bedroom to the bathroom and was about to step inside when I noticed the 30-something year old plumber/bathroom services guy. And yes, I was “hijab-less.” I was still in my nightgown and my hair was loose. He looked up and smiled. He said hi. I froze for a moment, then responded with a casual hi as if nothing happened.
[I definitely did not greet the plumber in this mood…]
I then walked back to my room and changed into a long sleeve cotton shirt and sweatpants, and wore a veil around my head. I walked to the kitchen but was forced to pass by the bathroom in the process. I am uncertain if he saw me when I walked by again, but I pretty much jogged across across the hall so he wouldn’t see me. I felt awkward if he was to see me first “hijab-less,” than in hijab mode during such a short span of time.
[It is moments like these that I wish I had Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. I would totally walk under it…]
So I got to the kitchen and began eating breakfast. I was hoping that I can finish fast enough to be out of sight when he leaves the bathroom. It didn’t go as I hoped it would.
I was almost done eating breakfast when he walked to the front door (which is close to the kitchen entrance) and began speaking with my mother. I felt awkward. Even though he was speaking with my mother, he kept glancing at me. It was very obvious he remembered who I was. He gave me one last confused, lingering look before he left.
[Definitely not as confused as Steve Urkel (from “Family Matters”) though…]
I remembered thinking how it would never happen again. Yeah, right…
It occurred at least a few more times that some guy would unexpectedly walk into a room I in which was “hijab-less.” Each “hijab-less” story has it’s own plot and twist to it.
To be continued…
[Only this dramatic chipmunk understands what I mean….]
Story # 4: The Excessive Hijabi
One of the guidelines that exist in Islam is the concept of not being excessive when it comes to food consumption and to not be wasteful of resources. It’s difficult to measure precisely on all matters as to what would be considered excessive or wasteful, but this belief nonetheless persists in Islam.
The following incident happened during my undergraduate university years. A friend and I went out to an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant. We basically went overboard. Like excessively overboard. We ordered so much sushi to the point that three plates of maki rolls arrived after we were already very full. After only eating a few more maki rolls, we both clutched our stomachs and groaned. “Why did we order so much?” I asked painfully.
[You don’t even need actual nightmares to feel like you are in a nightmare…]
We knew we couldn’t return the plates unless we paid for each uneaten sushi. We also knew that our stomachs could not handle any more. So we tried to get creative. I used the napkins on our table to roll up a few maki rolls and hid them in my school bag. My friend and I also forced ourselves to eat a few more. Even then there was around 35 sushis left. There were no more napkins in sight to roll them up. All the tables were full of people, so I couldn’t even steal napkins from other tables as I told my friend I would.
[How I felt as I stared at the remaining sushis…]
So my friend suggested that we digest a bit before eating some more. For the next 40 minutes, we took turns leaving our table and walking outside the restaurant, then return back to our table. I personally didn’t feel that it helped much, but mentally I was trying to convince myself it did. I forced myself to eat around another 15 maki rolls. My friend also forced herself to eat at least a dozen. When there was around six maki rolls left, I couldn’t take it anymore. I told my friend I didn’t care if we had to pay for them. Luckily though, the waiter said nothing and removed the plates without commenting about the remaining maki rolls. We paid the bill and left.
Once I stepped outside with my heavy school bag weighing me down, I could barely walk and breathe. There was pressure on my back due to the school bag, and there was pressure in my stomach due to having overeaten. As a result, I was practically suffocating as I walked back to the university. My friend noticed my suffocation and asked if I was alright. “No,” I had replied achingly. My stomach was so upset, I’m surprised I didn’t vomit.
[It was indeed a miracle that I didn’t throw up…]
For the next two hours before my next class, I lied down on a couch in a study area while taking deep breaths. Students walked by staring at me in silence, which wasn’t very surprising. I was the only person in that study area that took up a whole couch whereas other couches were shared by more than one student.
[I definitely ate too much rice because of sushi, but I don’t think it was Uncle Ben’s. Also, I wish I had a blanket while I lay down…]
[Just for the record, Uncle Ben’s rice is a real brand. Uncle Ben isn’t just a character in Spiderman.]
Since that sushi experience, I refuse to order as excessively as that time. I jokingly told my friend later on that the stomach pain I experienced was probably similar to hangovers, except I called it a “sushi hangover.” Maybe it’s not comparable. I guess I’ll never know.
Story # 5: The Obsessive Hijabi
So, it’s happened a few times where I’d go on an obsessive binge to watch every last episode of a television show. It’s happened where I’d waste a few hours in a row watching that same television show…
Islamically speaking, it is not sinful to watch or engage oneself in forms of entertainment. However, procrastination or even to deprive oneself of sleep due to hours wasted on watching entertainment…well that can be considered as breaking the “rule.”
Using time wisely and engaging in beneficial actions to oneself and surrounding society are important in Islam. To waste at least a few hours in a row on watching entertainment….well, you know…
One of my worst show binges was with the anime Death Note. It’s about a high school student named Light Yagami, who discovers a supernatural notebook that grants its user the ability to kill anyone whose name and face he/she/they know. It’s a pretty intense show. I got exposed to it during my undergraduate university years due to an anime-addicted friend that told me Death Note is so amazing that one doesn’t even have to like anime in order to fall for it. I have to say, I agree.
[Light Yagami is….well, you gotta watch and see. ]
Luckily, each episode is only around 20 minutes and there are 37 episodes in total. Due to my schedule, I didn’t have time to watch the show during the day, so I stayed up late for two nights in a row. It was a terrible idea. The first night I went to sleep close to 3:45 AM, yet had to wake up at 6:00 AM to get ready for school. Despite my exhaustion, I repeated the same mistake.
The next night I slept at around 4:00 AM. At least I got a bit more sleep as I woke up at 8:00 AM to get ready for work. I still felt incredibly sleep deprived and kept yawning all day. I was even asked by a co-worker why I looked so exhausted. I didn’t feel like confessing to this particular co-worker about my two-night binge on Death Note, so I merely responded by saying I didn’t sleep well. If my calculations are correct, I spent around 12.33 hours watching Death Note…
[If this workplace had couches, I would’ve totally taken a nap during my lunch break. Also, you should watch Death Note to find out what this scene was about…]
What can I say? Death Note is simply mind-blowing and just…wow. I’ve watched other anime series as well, but there was only one other anime show I shamelessly went on a binge for: Sailor Moon—I watched it in the 90’s when I was still in elementary school. However, I wanted to know what it felt like to watch it as an adult, so I obsessed over it during my first year in college. My obsession, though, was divided into clusters.
First, there’d be a cluster of sleep deprived nights in a row, for example. Then a few days would pass where I wouldn’t watch Sailor Moon. Then a cluster of another few days would pop up where I’d waste free time between classes to watch Sailor Moon. I even once forgot my laptop so I used one of the desktop computers inside the computer lab at school to watch a few Sailor Moon episodes in a row. Yeah, I was a little too obsessed….
[She definitely is amazing!]
Unlike Death Note, Sailor Moon has 200 episodes (around 20 minutes each). Among the 200 episodes is the last season that was never dubbed into English and which never aired in North America. As a result, I discovered new Sailor Moon episodes —I watched them in Japanese with fan subtitles in English. If my calculations are correct, I spent around 66.67 hours on Sailor Moon….
I think I’ll end my obsessive show binges here….
To conclude: Following guidelines “properly” (or following a religion in general) is an ongoing process. Always. Always. Always. Even “perfectly” following a specific guideline is not always possible due to unintentional or unpredictable circumstances. People also have the ability to change over time (due to change of heart or their beliefs/interpretations), or go through certain phases.
That is all for now for 1001 tales of a hijabi.
To be continued (as always)…
[Maybe Princess Leia (from “Star Wars”) would understand what I’m sayin’…]