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Finding the Middle Ground


In our community there is a predominance of conservative Muslim families.  Approximately 75% of the women wear hijab full-time, and of those 75%, 50% wear abaya or jilbab out and about in daily life.  The ladies who wear niqab are few and far between, but they are here.  The men vary in their dress just as much.  They wear a dishdash, or long slacks.  They will wear Ed Hardy to Ralph Lauren, shorts, sweatpants, windpants and a kufi or none.

From outward appearances, it is difficult to determine how the families follow hadith.  What is cultural tradition and what is Islam.  There are families that will only eat certified and labeled ‘halal’ meats.  They will not consume anything that contains gelatin unless labeled ‘Beef or Fish gelatin,’ and will not eat at any restaurant owned by a non-muslim.  They will not eat anything cooked in a wine sauce, or take any medicine that would alter you mentally (like sleeping pills, depression meds, St. Johns Wort.)  Their daughters are committed to wearing hijab by their 9th birthday.  They are not allowed to have sleepovers, and even with the presence of the kitab ceremony, will not allow the engaged couple to go out in public without a chaperone.

There are holiday Muslims, just like there are holiday Christians.  They only show up at the Masjid during Ramadan or the Eid.  There are Muslims that are all flashy away from the Masjid – blending perfectly into ‘American’ society, wearing ‘Western’ clothing and fake nails and then are soo pious when it suits them.  They will buy ham at the deli and a little sip of the cooking sherry when no one is looking.

Then you have the families that do their best to find a happy medium.  They do what is logical, what makes sense.

During Ramadan this year we were invited over to the home of a family that I understood to be a little more conservative than my own.  Because we had never been to an Iftar at someone’s home, I didn’t know what to expect.  When we were invited, the invitation just said Iftar.  I didn’t know what time to arrive, how many people would be there, or how long we would be staying.  I assumed that we would eat family style.  It is a given that we would bring a contribution to the feast.

When we arrived, the men were greeted at the end of the driveway, and led through a walkway to a completely different part of the house.  The women, girls and male children under the age of 9 were welcomed into the kitchen and the satellite rooms.  When the men were ready to leave, it was expected that they called our phones to meet them at the car.

WHY?  What is the reasoning?

Do people really belive that sharing a serving spoon, a table or a meal is soo sensual that they must not ever be tempted lest they leap over the table in a fit of passion?

You may argue that it is not acceptable for men and women to intermingle with those who are not mahram unless necessary, but I pose this question to you… Based on the norms of polite society, is there ever any instance where something inappropriate would occur?

You may also argue that inappropriate things happen all the time, but given that there are people of all ages present, from small, young children to grandparents.  The people invited are of such strong moral fortitude that they would note even run a red light at 3AM when the only other being around is a stray dog – but they cannot break bread together.  They cannot share a meal with each other.  They cannot make small talk with the spouses of their friends.  They cannot make small talk with former classmates or the adult children of friends.

Polite conversation is an art form, networking and small talk is a delicate spiderweb to weave, and when platonic conversation is halted and when you do not have the opportunity to practice with members of the opposite sex, you become socially awkward.  What happens then when you are ready to marry and don’t know how to talk to your spouse?  Do you ever form a close bond with that person, or do you remain close with your family only and closed off to a truly close, intimate bond?  What if you decide to enter the workforce but you’ve never spoken with a member of the opposite sex outside of your family?

Somewhere in the middle of the road, where people believe that any meat slaughtered by people of the book (Muslims, Christians and Jews) is Halal; gelatin in any form is soo processed that it no longer contains DNA  from the originating  source; food cooked with alcohol will not damn you to hell, and you can, in fact, make wudu while wearing nail polish!   We believe that it is possible to share a meal with the families of our friends and other members of the ummah without being tempted to do something unforgivable.  Why? Because it makes sense.

So, where was I going with this?  I don’t know anymore.  Since the event happened, and I read this post from Imam Khalid Latif from ICNYU during Ramadan about Dating, Marriage and Relationships between the sexes…its just been bothering me.  I sat on this post for a while…I thought maybe I needed to get some perspective, but I see these things that I’m talking about every day.  I come across quirks and traditions and reasons that things are not permissible every day, and they just don’t make sense to me.

Khaled tells me all the time that Islam is a religion based on what is logical, and if it doesn’t make sense, then that thing, that tradition or reasoning has been twisted into something different from it was originally.  This is the heart of the reason why I keep questioning.  I don’t want my people to grow up with a distorted view of  their beliefs.  I want it to be easy for them, so they can focus on their relationship with God.  Not all that other stuff.

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