I also did a Podcast Episode on this here.
The Following is a personal narrative of my own experience many years ago. Names were changed.
The Subway Encounter
“Ladies and gentlemen, there is an express train on the F line two stops away,” said the automated subway message. I stood on the platform waiting for my train ride home. Surah Yasin was playing on my iPod Touch. Ah, this Surah, so beautiful. It is the heart of the Quran, according to scholars of today. MashAllah, I thought. Allah truly gifted us with the Quran and its mysterious beauty. I hope I can understand this beauty some day.
I looked around restlessly waiting for the train to arrive. How magnificent, I thought. This entire subway system was built by humans, with an incredible brain that Allah gave them. Subhanallah. Allah truly is mysterious. There are so many details, wires, mechanics that need to align perfectly for these trains to work.
As I looked around, I noticed a girl. Astagfirullah. I had better lower my gaze. But I can’t help… Those jeans complement that body so well. But Allah is watching. I must fix my thoughts and lower my gaze. Why can’t she wear a burqa? This is why Islam is perfect. This woman needs a man to teach her proper Islamic values.
Well, that’s not my business. I should lower my gaze. This sister will InshAllah be forgiven for corrupting me. Hopefully Allah shows her the right path.
What if Allah shows her the right path, and I can marry her? That would be the perfect success story, and I would be rewarded with much blessings from Allah. And that smoking body. Goddamn.
Let’s move on. There’s no point in this. As my Grandmother would tell me, “the Prophet (PBUH) did not waste time thinking about or discussing silly things.”
As I kept my gaze lowered and continued listening to Surah Yasin and its beauty, I noticed from my peripheral vision the same girl was advancing towards me. I hope she doesn’t try to talk to me. Wait why would she? I am dressed baggy today and I have not done my hair.
She walks closer and closer and looks more intently at me.
“Hassan?” She called my name.
I look up and see my old friend Soraya! This conversation can’t be that sinful.
I can’t help but notice the outfit that complements her body so well. Man she’s hot. She’s my friend. Maybe I can reform her, and marry her, and guard her in Allah’s true path. What am I thinking? These are all silly thoughts. I don’t have any real romantic interests in her anyway.
But the idea of saving a girl from sin…… or committing the sin just a little bit and repenting later. Maybe I can look just a little bit. It’s just looking right?
Astagfirullah. Allah is watching my thoughts and Shaytan is exploiting my weakness to keep me from Allah. I can already envision myself in Hellfire just for this moment. I should make a note to repent to Allah about this later.
She looks at me with great excitement. “Oh my God, Hassan, it’s been a year! How have you been?”
I open my mouth to respond but the train arrives and muffles the sound. We wait for the train to settle, and we enter.
The train is fairly crowded. There are no seats available and we are left to stand. No problem, I thought. Subway rides home go by quickly in the company of friends.
“Sorry I couldn’t quite hear you earlier. How have you been? Oh my God!” She advances to hug me. It’s just a hug, I thought, no harm.
In the second of our quick embrace, I feel a friend’s assuring and loving warmth. There’s no harm in this right? It feels good. It’s a gesture of love between two friends. Our intentions aren’t bad.
Astagfirullah. Allah warns us against this. These are Shaytan’s words justifying my sins. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) warned against unmarried men and women holding hands. If men and women can’t hold hands, this hug must be worse!
As the friendly hug continues to linger, I abruptly push her off. She gets shocked at the abrupt nature of my push and gives me a confused look.
“I have been good Alhamdulillah. Just passing by life, as I get older. InshAllah it’ll all go well.” She looked at me funny.
“What? Did I say something wrong?” I asked her.
“No. It’s just… since when have you become so religious?”
Astagfirullah, how dare she compliment me? Nanu (grandma) told me that the Prophet always warned against praise because it can lead to arrogance. I can not accept this compliment. I can already feel Shaytan consuming my mind with absolute pride.
“Thanks! I’m not really religious. There are more who are way more pious than me. I could always do more to devote myself to Allah.”
She nodded, “I see.” Her facial expression changed to one with a grin.
“Wanna see something really cute?” She asked
“Sure,” I replied.
She went into her bag and took out a pink point and shoot camera. She turned it on and looked through the pictures attentively. “You sure you want to see it?”
“Sure,” I replied.
“Oh my God! Look!”
She showed me the picture.
My heart dropped.
It was a picture of her with a dog. Astagfirullah. “Is that your dog?” I asked.
“Well what do your parents think of the dog?”
“They’re the ones who adopted it!”
“Astagfirullah, you do know it’s haram to have a dog right?”
“No it isn’t! I knew you were religious! I hate when religious Muslims think they have a moral authority. I was just testing you to see how religious you are with your reaction to this! My father read through the Quran and Hadith himself and found that nowhere does it say that you can’t own a dog.”
“The Prophet (PBUH) claimed that wherever there are dogs, it is an impure location and prayers there won’t count.”
“Which Hadith? Which Verse? SHOW ME!”
“Well I don’t have the books on me now. But I can find them for you if you’d like.”
“Yeah and what next? You’re going to tell me to wear a hijab too?”
This may be my opportunity to help her see the pure path, I thought. I can already see it. I help her see the light, she reforms her behavior, and thanks me for it. Ah, the feeling of being a hero. I must be respectful in my approach!
“Well. The way you dress can be a reason for my sin and temptation. So yes, you probably should wear a hijab and all around looser clothing. But these aren’t my words. But Allah’s.”
“Nowhere in the Quran does it say that I should wear a cloth around my head!”
“Well look, the Quran says women should have a cloth around them. Prophet even had his wives and the Muslim women of his community to wear a hijab to safeguard themselves from harassment and tempting Muslim men.”
“Well this is my body. You can’t tell me what to do.”
“I can’t. But your brother, father, or future husband could. And they should. I have no say over what you do. I am simply telling you what Allah’s prescriptions for women are. This was meant to be perfect so you shouldn’t really question it. If you wore a burqa, you would get less sexual attention and men would pay attention to your personality not body.”
“Are you telling me you’re checking out my body?”
“Let’s just say I would have noticed your amazing personality more if you had not dressed a certain way. Dressing outside of Islamic norms takes away your humanity and turns you into a sex object. You don’t want that do you?”
“No. You turn me into a sex object by defining me by my clothing and potential for sexual expression. You don’t own me you know?”
“Well. I don’t own you. I can’t force you sister. But InshAllah look at the Quran Surah 4. It is a clear indicator that you are to be guided by the men in your life for basic protection. Allah only looks out for you InshAllah that’s why he put women in the care of men.”
As this back and forth conversation was about to continue, I noticed my surroundings. Old women, presumably non-Muslim, were looking at me with disgust.
Allah guide me InshAllah. Keep me safe from Shaytan who is tempting me with peer pressure to change my stance. Allah keep my values safe InshAllah. Please.
I began reciting Duas my family taught me to keep safe from Shaytan:
Audhu billahi minash shaitanir rajeem
Audhu billahi minash shaitanir rajeem
Audhu billahi minash shaitanir rajeem
(I seek shelter in Allah from the Rejected Shaytan)
I feel better. Allah has come and safeguarded me away from Shaytan’s temptations Alhamdulillah. Truly he is the most merciful the most kind to give us opportunities to refrain from Shaytan.
Allah will guide me.
Soraya’s stop came. “Well, this is my stop! We should hang out and catch up!” She said; this time without the excitement I had first seen.
“Sure!” I replied. We bid farewell.
As she went her way, I found seats clearing up. I sat down in the corner of an empty bench with nobody seated near me but an older man. The man next to me, a man with the beard and kuffi that Muslim men wear, looked at me.
“MashAllah brother,” he said.
“What?” I replied.
“You told that sister what her duties were, without disrespecting her. We need more brothers like you. You did not raise your voice. This is the way Islam will spread, through peace.”
I looked at him. “Thanks, I guess. It’s good you said MashAllah to avoid giving me evil eye!”
“Yes of course, InshAllah. The Prophet (PBUH) always said there will be more women in hell than men. We can see why. Have you seen today’s women?”
“Yes, I have. Astagfirullah. They speak out loud, dress nude, and are spiritually prostituting themselves. They make it hard for us men to be devoted to Allah.”
As the train ride went on, the conversation continued. We both began to reinforce each other’s world views.
This was a recollection of an actual conversation I had many years ago. I used to be very devout and genuinely convinced that Allah’s word was the superior authority. I was even genuinely convinced that we all needed to reform our own actions constantly to better worship Allah.
But you’ll see from this conversation that as I am convinced that I am spreading God’s word, I am policing how another woman expresses herself.
This recollection may not reflect on all Muslims (#notallMuslims) but a large portion of them. This kind of conversation is something many Muslim women go through. It is a subtle form of coercion justified by belief in God. Those who police Muslim women’s expressions don’t do so with malicious intent but with genuine moral convictions influenced by Islam. That moral standpoint that Muslim women should box themselves in with regards to expression is a problematic one that can be oppressive to many Muslim women around the world.