Muslims are not always a good representation of their religion: Islam. This is why inside Muslim communities, you might refer to someone who is good at being good, knows the Qur’aan, and prays optional prayers as ‘Islamic’, while we ourselves are striving to be ‘good Muslims’. For me, at least, they don’t have the same connotations.
To be ‘Islamic’ is to be peaceful, educated, thoughtful, loving, charitable, while also doing the things that characterise a ‘good Muslim’ – that is praying and avoiding sin. To be Islamic is to be embody the religion, while to be a Muslim is to follow it.
If Islam means peace and submission of our will to God, then ‘Islamic’ seems to fit. But then comes the problem of terrorism and ISIS, i.e. the most awful physical manifestation of hypocrisy of religion and of language itself. As soon as ‘great’ came to be sarcastic, ‘fine’ to be an untruth, and ‘sick’ to mean amazing, we have descended into linguistic chaos. Society was suspicious before, but now concepts have come to mean their direct opposite.
Let me clarify my point: Islam does not mean violence. Islamic does not mean violent. I think we should remember that on the eve of Ramadhan. This month especially, we Muslims are striving to be more Islamic: more peaceful; more generous; more thoughtful; less violent in our speech, actions and thoughts; self-effacing; humble and ultimately aware of our privilege.
The Muslim lifestyle might seem alien in a world of self-love and body positivity. (Surely, Muslims are oppressed and they don’t see it?) But we advocate these ideas too. We appreciate our bodies as a gift – a functional and beautiful gift with which we can effect change, help others and help ourselves to be the most genuine, honest, kind and loving we can be.
And how do we explain modest dress and the like? Firstly, I’ll say we believe that both men and women should be dressed modestly, and secondly that our conception of self-love and body positivity is based on the idea that we do have the agency to choose what people see of us and that we are made beautiful. Everything we do or don’t do is a choice. We put personality above appearance because we cannot help what we look like, the colour of our skin, the shape of our nose, the size of our feet, everything. Your internal beauty overrides your external beauty. However, my case for external beauty is this: we share our body with planet Earth. Have you ever seen someone happy in a landscape photograph look ugly? We are made of the same stuff as Earth.
Internal beauty reflects externally, always.
Indeed, before the mass culture of photography and portraiture, people were rarely solely remembered for their beauty or looks, but for what they produced, what they did, who they were and what they left behind. And this philosophy is found in Islam, too.
But I digress.
Ramadhan is upon us. I’ve heard it described as an intense training session or detox for the mind. We are spending this time, this whole month, improving our personalities; our connection with the world and its people; and above all, the one we believe created all this. No matter your view, this month represents self-improvement of the most significant kind. If we can give up food and water for daylight hours, we can surely give up worse things: self-hatred, addictions. If we can be so motivated as to change our habits and improve ourselves, maybe, just maybe, we can also change and improve our world.