Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Practicing Islam

As I was getting ready to move to Holland a few weeks ago, I began thinking about how my relationship with God/Islam would change, or if it would change at all. Would it be more difficult to be a Muslim in a non-Muslim country? What would Dutch Muslims be like? Would I have a more distant relationship with God, or would it become closer?

Now I can see that it's neither easier nor harder. Not because Holland is the ideal place to be a Muslim, but because Egypt wasn't the easiest place to be a Muslim in either. In Egypt you get judged by other Muslims - constantly. In Holland you get judged by non-Muslims - sometimes. Which is worse? Muslims judging you, when they know it is wrong to judge and when they know that everyone has their own PRIVATE relationship with God, or non-Muslims judging you, who just haven't made the effort to understand Islam better? Hmm, I'd say option number 1.

One thing I do miss though is hearing the adhaan. I knew I'd really miss that. I think the next time I hear it I'm going to cry or something. Another thing I miss is having lots of fellow Muslims to talk to about Islam, something that makes me feel a lot closer to God.

I feel like my connection to God has gotten slightly less closer, simply because I'm not surrounded by Muslims here and because there aren't reminders everywhere, like mosques, the adhaan, or Qur'ans. However I think by reading the Qur'an more often and thinking about God more, I can make the connection even stronger, inshallah. I hope I'll be able to meet Muslims here soon, I'm sure that'll help, and it should also make Ramadan better. I remember the connection being strongest during Umrah, because your life literally changes to revolve around God. Now that was amazing, but sadly not practical in the long-term.

How do you feel - do you think it would be easier to be a Muslim in a non-Muslim country, or in a Muslim one?


Purekrystal said...

What is adhaan,please?

It sounds like adhaan effects you like my electric man affects me,whom I adore and love so much.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Hi Purekrystal. The adhaan is the call to prayer, you hear it from a mosque before each prayer is about to start.

Saafir said...

I miss to hear the Adhan too....been 3yrs since the last time i had it been called in Megaphone Speakers...Alhamdullillah

Candice said...

For me as a person who has not been Muslim, it is more difficult in my home (non-Muslim) country since I need to change my whole identity and would not get the support I needed...

I can understand what you mean about it being hard in Egypt too, being judged by fellow Muslims... But just having mosques everywhere, hearing the adnan, having the other women cover and it being easy to just get up and tell people you are going to pray. It's more accomodating at work for prayers and ramadan...

These are things that would make it easier for me in a Muslim country.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Hi Saafir - wow, 3 years - I can imagine how much you miss it!

Hi Candice - those are great points. Here you can't really get up and say you're going to go pray and you also can't go to Friday prayers since it's a work day. It was also much easier iN Cairo in terms of prayer times - you hear the adhan so you know it's time to pray; here I have to constantly check online since the time changes from day to day.

Thanks for posting guys :)

Aynur said...

I miss hearing the adhaan as well ... even though I only visited Turkey for 3 weeks it was so nice to hear that. Plus, as we were leaving from Istanbul I was looking down at all the mosques and almost started crying in the airplane.
I think it would be easier to be Muslim and live in Turkey. Not necessarily be a hijab-wearing one (since it's not allowed on schools or govt buildings), but you can easily find halal meat, pray, and most everyone is Muslim even though are different degrees of how covered people are. If you were to cover, you'd be in good company as many women do. You would feel comfortable being Muslim in your own way.

Umm Omar said...

I'm not sure, espcecially since I've never settled in a Muslim country. I know that whenever I do go to Egypt, I think of God a lot less, probably because I'm so distracted with everything new around me-the place, the people, everything really. But it's interesting to think about.

I just read your last post, and WOW! That's a long fasting day! I was worried about fasting until 8:30. May Allah help us.

Faith in Writing said...

I found it easier to appear Muslim in Muslim countries, but in Australia I found it forced me to look for Islam, to remain close to it on purpose through reading and researching, so maybe I found myself feeling more religious in Australia, funnily enough. I did feel that i got carried away with acting Muslim in Musli countries and I didn;t have as much choice in my nactions, but that by searching Islam out on my own in Australia I felt closer to God.
? You know what I mean?

Muni said...

You've raised an important question, and I would definetely choose practising in an non Muslim country.

Living in Egypt (and especially Egypt, because UAE was more liberal believe it or not ---the only two countries with memories I can remember!--- ) for 7 years definetely confirmed that as a country, being a Muslim here is a stressful matter. I might not be the most dedicated and well informed Muslim out there, but I know one thing is for sure, IT IS A PRIVATE relationship (God and the person only are involved). Egypt and it's society make religion in general a public affair and I guess because it is largely a Muslim country, that is exaggeratted and pushed to its limits.

I would be more serene and comfortable while practising Islam as Muslim in non Muslim countries, or atleast countries which don't pressure people to exhibit their beliefs for branding and other reasons.

As for the adhaan, and discussing with other Muslims, I think the internet provides you with a wide range of options and ideas! Join forums, you're bound to learn and experience something extraordinary through them.
And perhaps even visit mosques for that special feeling only inside of those buildings.

Muni said...

I just wrote a long reply and it was deleted/lost...grrr!

Ok, grace!

I would definetely back up your options of practising in a NON muslim country. It's so much more private this way.
Living in Egypt and being part of this society that makes the very private God-to-worshiper relationship very PUBLIC, is extremely stressful. People seem to want to compare themselves even in terms of religion, which I think isn't a good medium for practise anyways. It is rather unsettling to say the least.

Visit mosques for that special feeling and atmosphere, whenever you can.

Join forums and try to interact with online Muslims. From what I hear, they are out there and practising online as well!

I think you're program and when you start university, things will get much better!

Jasmine said...

I agree on the Muslim-to-Muslim judgement and stress-spreading behavior, yes: some of our fellow sisters do make Islam much harder than it really is.

But non-Muslims love nothing more than to give you the third degree in Islam and offload all of their worries a fears onto you: this is fanastic opportunity to represent Islam positively and teach people. And I find on many occassions that the teacher learns more than the student a lot of the time.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Hi Aynur - that's true, if you covered I think you'd definitely feel more comfortable in a Muslim country. Also in terms of praying and finding halal meat etc, it would be easier. But when I think about the general atmosphere and the weird wave of fudnamentalism sweeping Muslim countries, I feel sometimes it's easier to be a Muslim in a non-Muslim country.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Hi Umm Omar - yeah I'm really worried about fasing for 19 hours! I usually have no energy after 6 or 7 hours of fasting :S

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Faith in Writing - that's very interesting, the fact that in Australia you had to look for Islam and that made you more religious. I feel the same thing might happen with me here in Holland. I agree that in Muslim countries you don't have much choice in your actions, whereas in a non-Muslim country you may have more say in the kind of Muslim you are. For me that is definitely a positive of living in a non-Muslim country.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Hi Muni - like you I would also choose practicing in a non-Muslim country. After 5 years in Egypt I realized that being a Muslim is hard when you're constantly being judged by other Muslims. Like you said, religion is private, and in a Muslim country it becomes public.

Thanks for the tips - I'm definitely going to donwload programs with the adhaan and visit mosques.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Hi Jasmine - I completely agree with you - it is a great oppurtunity to represent Islam positively and teach people. Whenever I talk to people here about Islam they are usually surprised to find out that Islam is nothing like what they see on TV (surprise surprise).
I haven't been in Holland for long so I guess I still have to see what it's like. But after the 5 years I spent in Egypt I was really put off the idea of having Islam be so public. I think neither situation is perfect, but I wonder if there's an in between?

Muni said...

I also encourage that you aim at educating people about the other face of Islam, the one NOT on their TV screens and newspaper headlines.

About the in between. It took me a second to realize this, some countries that are Muslim (with the Adan and Halal meat :) ) and also libral. I would say Tunisia and Morocco, but they are debatable.
What about Malaysia though. It's beautiful in so many ways, one of which is because so many cultures learned to live in harmony and respect each other's identities and beliefs. True bliss? Maybe, but we only get what's on the surface. I imagine it would be interesting to find out though.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Muni - I agree, it would be interesting to find out. Maybe Turkey and Jordan too. Or maybe a non-Muslim country that doesn't have a lot of anti-Islamic feeling (i.e. not France!).

Jasmine said...

I think Turkey is a good example of "in between" Islam - the majority of the population is Muslim and the government and mosque are seperate so you can represent your faith however you like.
I have not been to Morrocco, but apparently Morocco is similar and in-betweeny as well.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Yeah I think Turkey and Morocco are good examples. I've heard Jordan is nice too, it seems like an in-between country.

ellen557 said...

I really agree with Faith in Writing. I remember when I was in Malaysia I always carried a scarf with me, covered more than I usually would in scorching heat and avoided talking to men at all. There wasn't really any effort in it either. It was just something that I did so I didn't stand out.
This is different to how I am in Australia so if I were to do any of those things here, I'd be doing it seriously and of my own conviction - it wouldn't have anything to do with being guided by society.

I think you have been given a wonderful opportunity to learn more and more about God and Islam because now, you are more of a walking opportunity for dawah than you could've been in Egypt where your actions might have been more scrutinized than looked at with interest.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Hi Ellen - "This is different to how I am in Australia so if I were to do any of those things here, I'd be doing it seriously and of my own conviction - it wouldn't have anything to do with being guided by society."
That's a great point - a lot of Muslims pray and fast because they're in a society where that is the norm. If you're in a society where it isn't the norm, you need to really believe in these things to do them.

Thanks for posting :)

CooL MuslimaH said...


I live in India which is a country of hindus yet my city where i dwell is alhamdulilah a muslim dominated area..i personally LOVE living among muslims coz I JUST cant stand temples, and all kuffar stuff!! idols...etc!!

Its lovely to hear the azan resonating through the air...

I guess relationship with Allah can be made stronger all depends in your inner soul..If u remain detached from the world you would b close to Allah and muslim countries are atleast peaceful to live at..u dont give a second thought whilst wearing niqab and gloves + u have prayer rooms everywhere.. (am talking of Gulf (Middle East) where i am sitting rite now)....

In fact while writing i have become totally confused and dont

take care
~Cool Muslimah~

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Hi Cool Muslimah - there are some things that are definitely easier to do in Muslim countries, such as having prayer areas everywhere like you said. I guess it depends which Muslim country you're in too. Maybe if I had lived in Morocco instead of Egypt things would have been better!

G said...


I truly believe that practicing Islam in a non-Muslim country is more liberating.
I think so for a few reasons:
First of all like you said the judgment by other Muslims in the Arab world is horrific. You have to be covered from head to toe and pretend the only gender that exists is your own and ignore all forms of "westernization" to be viewed as a truly devout Muslim in this part of the world.
I am sure some people will disagree but honestly from what I have seen from living in the Arab world including the Gulf and Egypt for 21 years this is how it is.
I think one of the beauties of Islam is the true private nature of submission. Some religions need elaborate rituals and other outwardly actions and symbols to affirm religion, which of course has its positives and negatives such as everything else. BUT Islam is very personal in my opinion, you can have a relationship with God without a middleman. This is truly what Islam is about. You don't need anyone to help you along your path to God except if you need and ASK for some advice. However Muslims have forgotten about this. It is now completely normal to intrude quite rudely into people's religious lives.
I do not pray. Which I know is not the best thing obviously but it is still private. The amount of Muslims in my life, especially the older ones who try to force/manipulate/guilt me into praying is overwhelming. It just turns me off even more.
Which is also a consequence of how Muslims have become intrusive. Sometimes people so limit and violate your freedom whether literally like enforcing hijab in Saudi for example or by judgmental glances in other countries, to the point where your soul can't help but revolt and rebel. Subconsciously it is possible that over time if you are subjected to all this intrusion you will hate or be frustrated at the religion itself. This is because after all people now intrude in your life in the name of "religion". You know what I mean?

G said...



My second point for why a non-Muslim country would be better is pretty simple. Because by practicing Islam elsewhere you can really distinguish between what is really Islam and what is cultural "Islam." With the expansion of the Muslim empire there have been a lot of un-Islamic influences on behavior, rituals and culture. For example pre-Islamic Bedouin Arab culture, Turkish and Ottoman influences and Persian influences have formed and combined to make Islam today not only religious but cultural. Some times we grow up in the Arab world thinking THIS is Islam.
But this is not necessarily true. Much of the mindsets at the present time are in fact un-Islamic. By being abroad and in a culture that is void of the influences of Middle Eastern cultural characteristics you can study, learn and experience Islam without the backdrop of culture.
Finally abroad as a Muslim, you do not have to be a hypocrite. Let's face it anyone in the Arab world knows that at one time or another you are probably forced to lie or be a hypocrite because of societal pressure. You may be put in situations where you have to lie about your sexuality, your level of "taqwa", your opinions on religion...etc.
This is simply because people will NOT leave you alone AND you could get punished for this. A lot of women I knew in the Gulf used to wear the Hijab in front of family and in public and in private have a totally different life including promiscuity. Of course I am not saying this is right or wrong. All I am saying is that sometimes when you are forced to have a double life, you are way too exhausted to really discover what you relationship with God should be YOUR terms not everyone else.

Therefore I believe freedom gives you liberation in that you can CHOOSE to be a Muslim in the way YOU want to be without ANY one telling you, you should be a Muslim in a CERTAIN way.

Of course you could face discrimination and judgment abroad. Albeit for different reasons but at least in the CORE of the culture or society there IS an emphasis on freedom and understanding. With freedom to really chose you path you will truly be convinced of your lifestyle. And being convinced and loving of your relationship with your religion is the only way you will ever have a chance of breaking stereotypes and enlightening people's opinion.

G said...

I apologize for the long comment!
I just needed to share my opinion on what I believe is a very important question which you raised.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Hey G - great comments! I totally agree, Islam has become very intrusive in Muslim countries, where you are constantly judged about the way you practice Islam. The fact that Islam values a private relationship between a person and God is a positive thing, but apparently a lot of Muslims don't know about this.
There's also the issue of the state dictating what religion is, as happens in many (most?) Muslim countries.

I would rather face discrimination in a non-Muslim country than face the hypcrisy and judgement I've seen in Egypt for the past 5 years. Seriously, I was so turned off Islam when I first moved there because of what I saw.

Thanks for the amazing comments!

nadia said...

I was born and raised up amidst Muslims whose faith intertwined with too much cultural beliefs and traditions; I was too young to distinguish right from wrong.

This is where I'd lived for a decade, my time mostly spent studying or working, amidst non-Muslims. I miss adhan, and finding decent halal restaurants was a struggle. I wasn't comfortable attending parties, where serving alcohol is a must, and I wasn't comfortable in public transports either, where men and women physically brush past each other. There was no concept of giving "space".

Returned home. Heard the adhan after a very long time and cried so much. Also learned that wearing the abaya usually equates to being illiterate and of belonging to the lower class. I refused to follow certain norms that are obviously baseless, or even forbidden, in Islam. For this, I was judged and labeled as an "extremist".

United Arab Emirates
Been living here for three years now, and loving every moment, alhumdulillah. I can hear the adhan and find mosques everywhere I go. It's very clean here and people respect your beliefs. And of course, halal food is served everywhere.

So personally, I've been the most comfortable and happy here in the UAE, alhumdulillah.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Hi Nadia - Egypt sounds pretty much like Pakistant. It's great that you've found the UAE - it sounds like a nice place where you are free to be the kind of Muslim you want to be, as well as a place where it's easier to be a Muslim due to mosques, halal food etc.

Yasemin said...

Finally here sweetie!

I really think it was easier and nicer to be Muslim abroad. When I visited Turkey for 2 weeks and heard the morning adhan, I felt more compelled to act in a Muslim way. It was hard though to be judged there. There were women who sat outside on the porch and said "where are you going, what are you doing" just had nothing better to do, and that would drive me nuts daily.

I think it's better to be Muslim in a non-Muslim country. It's harder, but it's necesary for the sake of dawah. Love you lots.