January 27, 2000
Assalamu Alaikum Mr. Geib, (may peace be upon you)
...The first question you asked is can I be western and Muslim at the same time. Well, I am not sure exactly what you mean by "western". There are many things that are commonly considered "western" that we believe God has told us not to participate in. For example many students in college enjoy going to bars every weekend. They also like going to Atlantic City for the weekend to gamble, and they spend their summers in bathing suits. These are all activities that we as Muslims, avoid. But do I consider myself as "Americanized"? Yes, definitely. Both of my roommates are my close friends and they are catholic. Although our religions differ, we still have many beliefs in common. They believe in one God, who they pray to. They also try to be honest, not to gossip, or judge others and just generally act friendly and nice to everyone they meet. I think these are important characteristics for all people, especially Muslims. I think that sometimes people, may God guide them, get caught up in all the rituals and traditions of Islam. But that is not the focus. The focus of Islam in peace and unity among all people. It's important to be nice to everyone, we should treat everyone like brothers and sisters, because one God created all of us, right? So shouldn't we love everyone?
Back to your original question though about "Westernism", I think that there are many advantages to living in the western world, the most important being that the government does not involve itself in peoples lives. We all have the choice to live and act however we want. I think that some Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia, enforce their own view of Islam on their people, and I don't really think that is fair, because as you noticed, people accept and practice religion how they interpret it. But at the same time, I think the western world emphasizes many things that have no importance in this life, such as clothes. I remember being in junior high and worrying about what was "cool" for me to wear. Now that I am older I see how that is so trivial in our mission here on Earth. I remember that many girls at school would judge others as being "uncool" if they did not have the right clothes (we see this concept on television all the time: people concerned with fashion) But as a Muslim, I think this emphasis is wrong. Many kids that are poor end up stealing "cool" shoes because they cannot afford them. Why should these kids have to succumb to this pressure. Don't they wonder who the people are inside? We all know that is what is really important, right?
I think this is a good place to introduce the concept of hijab, the covering or veil Muslim women wear. Many have different interpretations of this, this is where your second question comes in--- the difference of conservative women vs. the more moderate ones. Well I think the emphasis is basically on being "modest", but this is not only described for women, because in the Qur'an it is told to us that: "Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and GUARD THEIR MODESTY: that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well-acquainted will all that they do. And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and GUARD THEIR MODESTY (notice Francine, it is saying the exact same thing as was said for the men) that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what ((must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands fathers, their sons, their husbands sons, their brothers, their brothers sons, or their sisters sons, or their women....(it says a lot more here Francine about who women can unveil themselves to, but that may not be helpful for you, but the ending of this verse is great).... O ye believers! Turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may attain Bliss."
So when women read this, they have different opinions of how they should cover. The VERY conservative women interpret this verse as meaning they should cover their entire bodies, and only their eyes should show. While others may think that this means they just need to be modest, by always wearing long pants and longs sleeves, loose fitting clothes and a covering on their head. I think globally though, the "beauties" God refers to in this verse is interpreted as hair and body, because these are the beauties of women, right?
The difference between the two of them though, Mr. Geib, is something that we as humans cannot assess, because the difference between them is their INTENTION. One women may be covered head to toe, but talks bad behind people's back, lies and steals, this person may not have the intention of pleasing God or being on the straight path, but rather just to fool people, and make themselves seem religious. But then there might be a Muslim women who chooses not to cover at all, but she is nice to everyone she meets, always prays sincerely and asks for God's help and guidance, donates to charities, helps the poor, elderly and homeless. So we really don't know what is in their hearts, that is only for God to judge. We can only try to be the best individuals we can be, and try to help each other realize the most important thing of all, that there is one God, who loves everyone of us, regardless of race, religion or color. So we need to remember him, and be the best we can.
I will say from my own person experience, that I only began wearing my scarf last year (when I was twenty years old). Because all my life I thought there were more important things I needed to improve about myself, like loving everyone in the world. But one day, after praying sincerely, I decided to go to school wearing it. And I think that by wearing it, it reminded me to be a better person. Every time someone was mean to me, and I began to think bad about them, I remembered my scarf and that reminded me that God was watching, and knows what I am thinking. So over all I think it has helped me improve myself, which I absolutely love. It makes me happy trying to be nice and good all the time, because God has given us all so many blessings, by wearing my scarf, I am constantly reminded to be thankful for everything.
I know this email has gotten really long, Mr. Geib, I just hope it is all interesting, and helpful to you to learn what Islam is really about, and not what television tries to make it, with all the terrorism and violence they emphasize to brainwash the American population.
Thank you for your interest, and let me know if there is anything you don't understand, or would like me to explain further.