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by Sheikh Nazim Mangera
On Sunday, February 1st, 2004, across America and the world, the “wardrobe malfunction” incident of Jason Timberlake and Janet Jackson was beamed live on T.V. and viewed by 90 million people. Though not having witnessed it, I did get to read up on it through the internet some hours later. And sadly to say, I found my 7th Grade students discussing the deplorable incident the next day in class. But that was not the only “wardrobe malfunction” to strike home Super Bowl Sunday. Not so earthshaking, this next parallel incident received no news coverage what so ever at all. But I pray that by writing up on it, it will be eventually spread through the net across the globe. For many, the day of Eid is a day of happiness but for some like my self; it was not to be that way.
You might have heard the famous adage, "You are what you eat", but I came across a new one on the internet: "You become what you wear". How true is that statement? Do the clothes we wear and the attire we don really affect us spiritually and psychologically? Before I answer this question, let me tell you why I decided to take up this topic and hopefully create some awareness about this important issue.
This past Eidul Adha, I performed my Eid prayers in a suburb of Chicago. It was a cold Sunday morning-typical Chicago weather at that time of the year. As I was sitting there in the gym, one thing I saw grabbed my attention which eventually distressed me and alas saddened me. I noticed that 90% of the brothers had no sign of Islam on them. You could not tell if they were Muslims or not. If the males were sitting on chairs, you would most probably think that you were at a Sunday service at some church. What are the outward signs of a person being a Muslim? Either a person wears an Islamic cap or a beard or Islamic clothing. The Prophet Sallallahu Alaihe Wasallam perpetually wore a cap and a turban. If the turban is hard for us to wear, then at least we should be wearing an Islamic cap albeit only in the Masjid. Out of the male congregants, only about 2% had a combination of all three. Now before you start jumping to conclusions about my point of view on this issue, let me put my view across to you about this important issue.
It is not prohibited to wear a tie and a suit. It is not mandatory to wear Islamic clothing. As long as they are loose and they fit a couple of other requirements, it’s all good. Each Muslim country has their own type of clothing so we can’t say that this one type of clothing is Islamic to the exclusion of all the other types of clothing. So I am not advocating that it is Fardh and mandatory to don Islamic clothing.
But what I am trying to get across is that there should be some form of clothing by which if someone were to see us, they would realize that we in fact are Muslims. I understand that when a person is coming from work to perform Jumuah prayers, it is hard to change into ‘Islamic clothing’. But for god’s sake! This was a Sunday morning. 9:00 to be exact. There was hardly any one on the road. All we were doing was going to the High School gym and performing Eid prayers and returning home again. It was not like we were coming from our offices and had to go back to work or something.
I say the High School gym because in that area, regrettably, the affluent Muslim community has not built a Masjid as of yet. They are in the process of building it and I make Dua that Allah makes it easy for them to construct one as soon as possible. In that suburb, there are many Muslim families who live in houses worth over a million dollars. I know that because one of my students is from there and he told me that their house cost 1.4 million dollars to construct. Let me repeat that again. 1.4 million dollars! We’re spending so much money on building something which we will be not living in tomorrow. SIGH
Why on earth should people with a unique culture and civilization want to give up their traditions to become part of some homogenized mass? The suit and tie can really not be classified as “western” or “American” because the whole world is wearing them and we live in a world where national/historical dress is being lost to mass produced consumer clothes stamped with corporate logos. So we should be proud to wear the traditional Islamic dress especially when coming to the Masjid.
Alas, what are we transmitting to our next generation? Do we want them to remain on this faith of ours or not? Islam does not leave a people and a locality overnight. If we don’t make an effort to preserve Islam, it fades over a period of time. Our clothing changes gradually. Our food changes slowly. Our language changes in one generation. And next thing you know, our faith changes as well which is to be expected and inevitable. Interestingly enough, after the Eid prayer as I headed towards my van (in which everything makes a noise except the horn-lol), I met our family pediatrician who was well dressed- for work probably. So he said to me with a worried look on his face, “Shaikh. What should I do?” I replied, “What’s wrong doc? You’re sick?” Doc replied, “No. No. My two kids never listen to me any more. They are very disrespectful. They talk back to me all the time. Just last night, I cut the cable wire. I don’t know what to do now.” I was thinking that that is just the tip of the iceberg and that is just the beginning and it might be a bit too little too late. We discussed some solutions and as I walked away I was thinking to my self that it’s funny how the only time some parents get worried about their kid’s Islam is when they are disrespected. Disrespecting parents is a symptom of a greater spiritual disease. There is much more to bringing up a child Islamically than just respect for parents.
An Arab young poet says in Arabic, “Law takallamtu lisane ghayri wa labistu thiyaba ghairi Faqra ala qawmee minnys salama”, which is translated as: “If I speak the language of another tribe and I wear the clothes of another tribe then convey my Salams to my tribe and kiss goodbye to my tribe because I am not from them anymore.” I don’t agree with everything what the young poet says, but the general message I agree with.
These above couple of paragraphs are not a conjecture of mine and neither am I hallucinating. This has already happened in other countries like in South America and the Caribbean and some European countries. Muslims came to the mentioned countries many years before Muslims came to America in the past century. Many of their grand-children and great-grand children are no longer Muslims. They do not follow any other religion as well. Alhamdulillah we reside in a country which is very tolerant and which accepts diversity in clothing unlike the French. But I do feel for those roughly 100 men who were dressed in skirts, midis and even tutus who took to the streets of Manhattan to call for an end to the tyranny of trousers on Sunday, Feb. 8th, 2004. :) Therefore we should try our utmost to look Islamic at least when we come to the Masjid.
Speaking of tolerance, a couple of days after 9-11, our non-Muslim neighbors said to our family that if anyone ever troubles your family in any way, just come over to our place. That was so nice of them.
In the Muslim community, we find two extremes. Some only wear Islamic clothing irrespective of where they go and who they meet. I don’t want to make a comment on that, but what really bugs me is that some of them think that all those who do not wear the Islamic clothing are sinners or doing something wrong Islamically. I have come across people like that. That is so wrong. I personally prefer wearing the traditional Shilwar Qamees or the Thawb. One day I wore some loose pants and a shirt to my Islamic School for the first time and a student of mine said, “I guess it’s a sign of the Day of Judgment that even Maulanas have started wearing pants and shirts!” :) I know that student (who graduated from our Islamic School last year and is presently a student at Yale University) was joking but there are Muslims who think like that. I recall a story which I heard once that way back in the days when a car was something of a novelty in India, one Maulana was driving a car. So another Muslim said to him in a scolding tone, “Maulana! You drive a car as well? Astaghfirullah!”:) The other types of Muslims are those who don’t want to look at all like Muslims in their outward appearance. I think that is wrong as well. We have to lead a balanced and moderate life. When we go to work, we may choose to wear whatever we want to. But at least when we come to the Masjid, there should be some apparent sign of Islam on us.
Last year, when I went to Purdue University, I met a Muslim student. We were discussing various things and in the midst of our Islamic discussion, the student said, “Do you like my newly grown little beard?” So I said, “Yeah! Why?” So he said, “Well…..The main reason why I grew it is because many Muslims on campus and in the Masjid mistakenly thought I was a Hindu, so that is why I decided to grow it.”
Coming back to the sad Eid day, that same Eid evening, a bunch of family friends got together and I brought up this same -not so contentious- issue. One brother said, “My parents and grand-parents wore pants and shirts so I am just emulating them.” My reply was that there is a huge difference between living in an Islamic country and a non-Muslim country. In a Muslim country there is a very slim chance that the next generation will renounce their faith and religion. Whereas living in other countries, there is a great danger of the first generation renouncing Islam as it has happened already here in isolated cases for various reasons.
Once Umar (Radhi Allahu Anhu), the second Khalifah of the Muslims, proceeded towards Syria. Upon reaching Syria, when Abu Ubaidah Bin Jarrah (R.A.) saw the clothes that Umar (R.A.) was wearing, Abu Ubaidah said, “I don’t want the people of Syria to see you in this condition!” Umar was renowned for wearing simple clothes. We find in the annals of Islamic History that when Umar (R.A.) was given the keys to the blessed city of Jerusalem by its rulers without shedding a single drop of blood, he was wearing clothes which had over ten patches on them. Umar (R.A.)’s reply should be forever etched in our memories. He said, “We (Arabs) were the most despised people. But Allah gave us respect through Islam. So if we seek respect through ways other than how Allah granted us respect, then Allah will surely humiliate us!"
To conclude, I shudder to think that eventually some years down the line we are all going to end up looking alike and speaking alike and worshipping alike. Even a cursory reading of Islamic literature will show us the importance of looking Islamic outwardly. The issue of being distinct has been enumerated in various Ahadith. We have been advised to be distinct in our inner reality as well as in outward appearance, in substance as well as in form. Being progressive, for me, does not mean surrendering Islamic culture and Islamic clothing. When in Rome, you have to have the balls and the guts to be a non-conformist and not do as the Romans do. We don’t have to assimilate and melt in the pot when we don’t have to.
By the way, in that Eid gathering, after the English speech, I looked towards the sister’s area and I noticed that at least (Alhamdulillah) 80% of the sisters had some sign of Islam on them. And don’t you start thinking that…. Astaghfirullah Shaikh! What were you doing looking at the sisters! :) That is how it was organized in the gym. And because this was bothering me throughout the whole Eid prayer, I looked with the intention of surveying and it was only one gaze anyway albeit a little long. (Just kidding)
That’s the way I think anyway and I am open to constructive criticism.
Allah HafizNazim Mangera
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