Islam For A Beginner – Part Two

Women and Islam

My curiosity about Islam mainly focussed on a woman’s place in the Islamic world.  The way a Muslim woman dressed was something I wanted to understand more about.  To me I felt as though women were being controlled and oppressed because they did not have the freedom like I do to wear whatever they like.  However on reflection I realize that this was quite an ignorant view to have.  There is nothing wrong with ignorant occasionally as you still have the capacity to learn, which I did.

On a visit to a Mosque I was given some literature to read by my guide and by now good friend Mohamed. He asked me to read them and not throw them away as they are religious books and you should keep them out of respect. Perhaps this gift of knowledge was also to put an end to many of my questions, which were always answered kindly and sometimes with a I can’t believe she just asked me that look on his face.  For example, me ” Mohamed, are Muslim women encouraged to work and have careers?” met with a look that said seriously? and responded with  “Of course they can some of my friends wives even have better jobs than their husbands”,  me “Oh”.

One of the brochures named ‘ Secrets of A Muslim Woman’  certainly stood out for me as I found myself  looking at my original view. In the introduction the author made a statement regarding what people may be thinking when they cross paths with a Muslim woman.

Burkah clad victims who hide their bodies away out of shame, forced marriages and honor killings, suppression and oppression of women, things that Islam totally condemns but some crazy Muslims are guilty of.

This piece of literature was written by a Muslim women who is a busy mother of four and Journalist  based in London and felt it was about time that we herd a Muslim women’s perspective from a Muslim women.  I really liked the passionate way in which she talked about Islam and the influence it had on her life and as a women.  It was well written and honest even to the point to acknowledge that yes there are some crazy Muslims who do things that contradict the teachings of Islam.  Like many other religions there are always some crazy people who take their faith to a dark place by extreme actions.  Google a religion and the word extremist and you will find that each one has it own dark story of violence against women.  It is so important to understand that the actions of a minority do not define the majority.

The covering up and loose fitting dresses for women is about modesty and similar rules also apply to men. It was interesting to learn that not all Muslim women cover their hair or cover themselves completely, it’s a choice.  Perhaps a choice that is not widely accepted in all Muslims societies but it is still a choice for some and the same choice I have about what I want to wear. Just because the choice is different to mine or yours doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it’s just different.

Another piece of literature named Women and Islam was given to me that day and had a different effect on me.  It talked about peace and equality amongst men and women and shared verses from the Qur’an to support these teachings which was great. However what left me disappointed was the way the author chose to strengthen his message about peace and equality by comparing Islam to Judaism and Christianity.  My religion is better than your religion because… is the tone he took and unfortunately is how arguments tend to start.  The previous day I had visited the Egyptian Museum and came across an exhibition about religious tolerance in Egypt named ‘One God, Three Religions’.  On display was a document of the Prophet Mohamed’s deed explaining how to deal with people from other religious faiths through applying the principle of religious tolerance.  It would seem that the author of Women and Islam had missed that completely.

I have found that taking the time learn about something completely new like Islam has helped me to have more respect and understanding for the different religions that people embrace.    I may not surrender to any particular faith as I go through life but appreciate and I am thankful for lessons and experiences of other faiths that people have shared with me.

To be continued…….

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Covering up is also required for men

Islam For A Beginner – Part One

The Middle East was a truly wonderful experience and so much of my blog is about the wonderful places I have visited.  Now I would like to take the time to write about my experience with Islam.  A religion that I had rarely been exposed to or understood but was ever present throughout my entire journey. 

Ramadan & The Call To Prayer

My introduction to Islam began with me arriving in the Middle East  in the last three days of Ramadan.  On my morning flight from Amman to Cairo I watched as the flight attendant’s offers of breakfast were continuously declined as they moved down the aisle.  I had read a little about Ramadan before my trip, mainly about fasting and considerations foreigners should show for people who are observing it.

On my second day in Egypt I travelled to Alexandria,  my guide for the day was a lovely man named Mohamed who was fasting for Ramadan.  I felt a little self conscious of eating or drinking in front of him, so much so that I barely ate my lunch. He was very considerate and didn’t have to sit at the table with me to keep me company while the waiter brought out multiple dishes of food, yet he did.  From sunrise to sunset for an entire month he and millions of others in the Muslim world would sustain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual relations, life’s simple pleasures that some of us struggle to go without for even a day.

Fasting  is one of the five pillars of Islam and is observed annually on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar in conjunction with the sightings of the crescent moon.  It is a time of spiritual reflection and growth by going without worldly comforts to gain an understanding and empathy for those who are less fortunate.  This kind of spiritual reflection and empathy for others was something I didn’t expect to be associated with Islam, it was the first of many lessons.

Eid marks the end of Ramadan with celebration and family holidays which were in full swing at the hotel I was staying at. It was quite lovely to see so many families enjoying themselves, laughing together and playing with their children in the  pool.  Also quite refreshing was to see so many people celebrating and having a great time without the need for alcohol as a stimulant.  It was a lively party with everyone high on life and so much love and gratitude for one another.

The call to prayer would become a daily reminder of where I was and the presence of Islam.  It would call out from the many Mosques in the cities and towns in unison, strong and clear.  Even as I sailed down the Nile on my cruise boat it would drift across the lush green fertile Nile valley from the Mosques that dotted the shore line.  My favorite time was at sunset, with the sky on fire  and the call to prayer echoing out  across the valley as the red sun slowly disappeared on the horizon.

I was intrigued and as time went by I was to learn more about Islam and the people who embrace and live by it.  An unexpected spiritual journey to compliment the amazing places that I would see on my travels through out the Middle East.

I welcome you to comment below and tell me about your experiences with religion when traveling through different countries, I would love to hear your story too.  Were you curious to learn more and how did it influence your travel experience ?

To be continued……