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Posted on June 7th, 2007.

Modernizing Islam in a Modern World

(Islamic standpoint on the dirty and filthy “Leavers’ Prom”)

By Shoilee S. Khan


Sometimes, us Muslims get an idea. We’re pleased with ourselves—it’s a “modern” idea. A modern idea for modern Muslims. We get excited about the future—modern ideas manifest in a brighter existence for modern Muslims! We feel bitterness about the past—it keeps haunting us with its backward, extremist ways—not at all modern. And so, we modern Muslims, with our modern ideas set off on a journey. Our mission? To change the “old” Islam into a new, flashy, attractive Islam!!! We set about to mould Islam to fit this modern world, our modern lifestyles, our modern ideas—to fit the modern Muslim!!!

Just one question—exactly what is a modern Muslim?

Ha! Ha! Ha! I tricked you—there is no modern Muslim!

It’s just us—dare I say pathetic Muslims pretending that Islam—a perfect way of life—isn’t actually perfect, that it doesn’t fit the way we live today in the Western world. We somehow think that Islam—a religion not limited by time— is suddenly old, backward, and extreme in this day and age. With this “modern” idea, we claim we have the right to “adjust” Islam to fit our lifestyle instead of adjusting our lifestyle to fit Islam.

This is done by Muslims everyday in every aspect of our lives. There are the little adjustments, say in high school. The Prom. The boys with their slickly gelled hair loitering in the halls laughing, joking about who they’ll ask to be their date. The girls applying lip-gloss in the bathroom, giggling about shoes, hair, The Dress, and their dream dates. And then there’s the Muslim on their way to Friday Prayer agonizing about what they’ll do.

“Are you going to the Prom Ahmed? There’s booze for the after party at my house!”

“Are you going to the Prom Fatima? We’re all renting a limo and posing for pictures with our dates at my house!”

Oh, oh, oh, what’s a Muslim to do!! The party of a lifetime, the pinnacle of everything high school was about! So tempting. And so we “Islamicize” the Prom.

“Yeah, I’m going to the Prom!” After all, I won’t actually be drinking. I’ll just watch the dancing. I won’t dance. I’m there to spend the last night of high school with my friends. It’s okay. Here’s the best part. I’ll be doing Dawah by being there—they’ll ask me why I’m not drinking or dancing!!

And poor Fatima.

“Yup, I’m going to the Prom!!” I’m just going to have a good time with my friends. I won’t really have a date. We’re all just friends having fun. Islam doesn’t say you can’t have fun!!

And voila, Islam has been modernized to accommodate the Prom.

But perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this modernization is when we Muslims begin manipulating—yes manipulating— the actual Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh). Though we’re slow to admit, many among us begin to consider ourselves as superior to the Muslims, the Scholars, the Sahabi and perhaps most devastating, even the Prophet (pbuh) who all came before us. We’re modern Muslims remember, and they’re not. We may not consciously say, “I am better than them” but our actions, as the cliché goes speak far louder than our futile words.

An ongoing debate both within and beyond the Muslim community concerns commandments in the Qur’an about hijab. There are many who question whether practicing hijab in the literal sense—actually covering the hair and body with a piece of cloth—is really a commandment in the Qur’an. Many claim fiercely that “it [hijab] has nothing to do with Islam” and is solely based on personal choice—a claim perhaps instigated from an inferiority complex when facing the Western ideal of “feminism” and “liberation”. The number of women wearing the hijab is a dominant, if not, the most dominant symbol of Islam in the world and for anyone to claim that “it has nothing to do with Islam” was beyond me. Supporters of this argument will brandish many reasons to explain why Muslim women wear the hijab since (in their view) it is not a commandment in the Qur’an. First, Muslim women think it’s a commandment and are smothered by male scholars who say it is. Secondly, they are smothered by male dominance and are forced to wear it. Thirdly, Muslim women for some reason, choose to wear it even if it isn’t a command.

Of course, they forgot the real reason—it is indeed a command clearly stated in the Qur’an, and Muslim women choose to follow the command—not because they’re male counterparts told them to, but because the reasoning behind hijab makes perfect sense. Of course no one’s going to believe me just because I want them to. So instead of fuming, I decided to go to the ultimate source of proof—the Qur’an itself.

Surah Ahzab (The Confederates), verse 59 and Surah Nur (The Light) provide clear commandments about hijab. A translation from Surah Nur follows:

And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their zeenah (charms, or beauty and ornaments) except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their khimar (veils) over their bosoms and not display their zeenah except to their husbands, their fathers …. and that they should not strike their feet so as to draw attention to their hidden zeenah (ornaments). (24:31-32)

Now, I know what many “modern” Muslims are screaming. Nowhere in these verses does it say to literally take a piece of cloth and wrap it around your head. Which means it doesn’t explain things in an idiotically literal way—it for example does not say, “Oh believing women thou shalt take a piece of cloth, tie it firmly around your head and pin it with a good quality pin to guard your modesty.” But guess what, it does say something just as clear—not as literal, but just as clear. In verse 24:31-32 above, the word khimar appears. Most translators of the Qur’an believe that khimar refers to a loose scarf worn by women during the Prophet’s (pbuh) that covered the head and neck. Verse 24:31 states that women are to also use the khimar to cover their bosoms. This would not mean to only cover the bosoms since the khimar already covers the head and neck. The verses from the Qur’an give guidelines for women to protect and guard their modesty—the verses are clear, definite and precise—there is no arguing that women have indeed been commanded to practice modesty in a very specific way.

But, in modern times, us modern Muslims pounce on any chance to justify our lifestyles within the boundaries of Islam. If it’s easier to not practice hijab in this day and age, then we seek moral justification for our actions. Hence if anything in Islam just doesn’t “fit” with the rest of Western society, we constantly seek moral justification in Islam to allow us to act the way we do. Many claim it is their right to interpret and practice Islam the way they see it, the way they like it. So if that means making the Qur’an and Sunnah and hence Islam a game of multiple choice, where we pick and choose the parts we choose to obey and skim over the parts we would rather leave “open to interpretation” then our individual faith is in serious trouble.

The debate over hijab and the “Islamicizing” of the Prom are just two examples among many that shows how Muslims are increasingly attempting to make Islam more “attractive” and non-threatening in our Western world when in fact, if we truly understand the essence and root of our own faith we would be blessed to know that Islam never was and never will be “unattractive” or “out-of-date” nor is it threatening when understood with a clear, open and intelligent mind.



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