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The Joys of Being Visibly Muslim

by in Culture & Lifestyle on 22nd July, 2022

We all feel it, when the thing you cherish most – your faith identity – is used as a political football by an eccentrically-haired Eton-mess to score a few points in the opinion polls. That feeling catches so deeply both because our faith is used in such blatant, crude and unimaginative ways, and because Islam is such a precious entity to us as a community of Muslims. And it’s that starkness between how great and noble it is to be a Muslim, and how much it is denigrated in the everyday that means it is easy for us all to get caught up in the negativity of news cycles. Particularly when you wear your faith so optically, and have to bear the brunt of others’ ignorance. But very often I’m reminded of how much we have as visible believers that so far outweighs that. How being seen as a Muslim women, as many column inches and opinions as it garners, actually contains more dignity and honour than anything else I have ever visually assigned myself to, al-hamdulillāh.

Having dabbled in emo and indie aesthetics – not the greatest of contenders, granted – claiming a visual stake in being a Muslim has been the most natural and fulfilling transition for me. In doing away with all the superficial layers, and putting a flag on the very core of my being. The public declaration of faith that I carry with me wherever I go is one of the things I cherish most about being Muslim. This unabashed, unashamed admission that I’m a worshiper of Allāh, that I belong to a faith that is so singularly dedicated to doing and being the best we can as believers is something I wholeheartedly love. It doesn’t carry any of the affectations that dressing for the world does, it is forged entirely with the intent to please Allāh, the most genuine and pure of its kind.

And the pride it imbues far outweighs any of the negativity the political climate might generate. We become so accustomed to speaking about the reality of having to carry our faith as a hijab or beard wearing person in an Islamophobic world, that we forget the purpose behind it massively exceeds the detriments. Knowing fully that Islamophobia is such a deficient and sorrowful position in itself, because it speaks so much of how bereft those that advocate it are, how perversely inverted it is as a belief system. And like everything to do with Islamophobia, a prejudice based entirely on insecurity and projection, it’s not our baggage to hold. So we walk without the ugly burden of it.

The word deen in Islam, as we know, has no direct translation in English. And this is because, as we are also well aware, Islam is more than ‘just’ a religion.

This idea that we are bringing our religion into the public domain by honouring religious principles in our physiology or dress, and therefore it is open to questioning and rebuke, relies upon the idea that Islam is a kind of detachable accessory to our being, as though it’s an optional part of who we are. As though it’s necessary for it to be. It is also dependent upon the idea that Islam isn’t fit for public life, that it’s something shameful, needing to be hidden. When in reality, Islam is the truest understanding of who we are and an endeavour to live up to our individual and collective potential. When we wear our deen on our sleeve, we do away with those misconceptions, one instance at a time. We bring our love of our faith, our whole self, onto the bus, supermarket and work place.

We champion the idea that Islam is true and a legitimate part of modern existence, we defy those prejudices and root them out of our public spaces.

As the day of Arafat passed this year, I was once again reminded of how privileged we are to be in possession of our faith. How the air feels different on that day our fitrah were created; the day we attested to our purpose as creation. That seed that was planted during the inception of our ethereal beings, reverberating to current day, and finding expression in our physical and public-facing being is undeniably special and breathtakingly grounding. The promise of Allāh’s rehmat hangs heavy in the air for those of us that are blessed with the absolute gift of being able to see it. And we are constantly reminded of how humbling this realisation is – it doesn’t foreground the self, it doesn’t speak of any merit on the part of the individual, it is entirely bestowed upon us due to our complete inability and weakness and the unimaginable magnitude of His Kindness and Mercy. It is a privilege that must be earned and for which the credit lies totally outside of the self. To feel so reassuringly small, and in your rightful place. To not have the pressure of assuming anything other than that position of being many and the same, plenty and unremarkable. Adopting the dress or appearance of our faith enables us to attest to the collective sacredness and individual humility of man. It is dressing for beyond our material self. It is beautiful.

“Guide us to the straight path – The path of those upon whom You have bestowed favor”[al-Faatihah 1:6-7]

That reckoning between a Muslim and our Creator, that we are by our very humanly nature so mundane and there is no pretence otherwise. There is no veil of bravado or delusion when you are reminded of your relationship with your Maker, you go back to the nucleus of yourself without all the other obfuscating masks we wear for the rest of the world.

The closest I have to describing how it feels to be visibly Muslim to those that will never experience it, is it’s like a force-field, a fortifying layer of barakat that follows you. This barakat is connected to and reinforces a kind of consciousness that protects you from the worst parts of yourself and others. It consolidates and strengthens you and gives you the moral armour to address everything that comes your way with the patience and understanding of a believer. It contextualises who you are, why you were created and what your worth is. It is honouring a promise we made before we came into material existence. To be so truly aligned with our purpose as creation is the only way to achieve a modicum of contentment, peace and joy in an otherwise senseless world.

And if we can acknowledge the camaraderie and connectedness of consumer subcultures – if we can read articles on what it feels like to pass a fellow air-pod or Yeezy clad person in the street – then I think as Muslims we can start to think and talk about how much more wholesome it feels when you pass a Muslim in the street too. This is especially the case because these signifiers of Muslimness – the beard, hijab, thobe, or abaya – are socially intelligible to Muslims in a totally different way than they are to the rest of the world. While they may be alien and threatening to some segments of society, to fellow believers they hold a special weight. They are part of a secret visual semiotic that we share as a community of Muslims – we acknowledge our presented faith as our own subterranean code of communication. The value and worth in these symbols of faith are only visible to those of us who invest in them, so they become our ciphered and precious language.

Bukhaari (12, 28 and 6236), Muslim (39), Ahmad (2/169), Abu Dawood (5494), al-Nisaai, (8/107) and Ibn Hibbaan (505) narrated from Abd-Allaah ibn Umar that a man asked the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him): What is the best thing in Islam? , He said: Feeding others and giving the greeting of salaam to those whom you know and those whom you do not know.

When you see a fellow Muslim and you exchange that knowing smile, offer or receive a salaam – itself an exchange of blessings – or extend an act of solidity; those instances which punctuate your day that remind you of your place in relation to His creation.

An unspoken bond that transverses any social contract. That sense of duty you feel to a fellow Muslim, to go beyond civic responsibility, it simultaneously anchors you, and reminds you of your individual and collective power as someone that proscribes to a belief system with such pure and incorruptible intent. That we are part of something so much greater and better than ourselves, that we are not alone. The responsibility you carry as a visibly Muslim person is unparalleled because you have the ability to make another Muslim feel seen, heard, supported and appreciated. To fulfil your duty to them – with a smile, salaam, a helping hand – so spontaneously drawing on the best parts of yourself, the most generous version of you.

And Muslim (2162) narrated from Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “The rights of one Muslim over another are six.” It was said: What are they, O Messenger of Allaah? He said: “If you meet him, greet him with salaam; if he invites you, accept the invitation; if he asks for advice, give him sincere advice; if he sneezes and praises Allaah, say Yarhamuk Allaah (may Allaah have mercy on you); if he falls sick, visit him; and if he dies, attend his funeral.”

One of the dangers of being a beard or hijab deploying Muslim, is it is easy to become complacent and forget why we adopt these religious rulings. It can be easy to get trapped in your religious identity without consciously putting the effort into doing it with that love and obedience to Allāh, not recognising it’s divine purpose. It’s when you catch your reflection as a Muslim through the eyes of another, that you’re reminded of your worth as a believer, and which reinforces that love and affection for a truly beautiful element of our faith. Your outward marker of Muslimness is the reminder, the kind word, the support to another Muslim.

Extending this conversation outwards, it’s clear how necessary it is for us to speak more about the positivity of showcasing your Islamic identity. Hearing how it feels to Muslims, at all stages of their lives, to be publicly acknowledged as a fellow Muslim is deeply inspiring. How certain idiosyncrasies that can only be found in the Muslim community add to the sweetness of that exchange – meat as a social currency being my favourite amongst Muslim quirks.

The joy of being seen as a Muslim is contained in all of this – the sense of context we carry outwardly in our being, knowing where we stand in the global, historical and social context and what assurance and peace that brings into our thinking. In being a reminder to ourselves and others that He is watching, listening, eager to hear our Dua. In the order and beauty it brings to our lives. And so, I hope to once again remind you that the spiritual and social flight that comes with being visibly muslim far outweighs the political weight of it, al-hamdulillāh.

Mariya bint Rehan

Mariya bint Rehan

Mariya is a 33-year-old mother of two young girls with a background in Policy and Research and Development in the voluntary sector. She has written and illustrated a children’s book titled The Best Dua which is available internationally and in the UK. IG: @muswellbooks