Tuesday, December 10, 2013

We Do It, Too


When I was a younger Muslimah, starting college and finding my way, I once scoffed at a non-Muslim friend who asked about Muslim male dating habits.

"We don't date," I explained to him. Or, at least, I tried to, before he got angry at me for "pushing" my religion on him. Whatever.

He was taken aback that I could have liked a Pakistani man over a black man. Rather, he wouldn't admit it, but even though we were "just friends," he wanted me to be attracted to him as he was not so secretly attracted to me. Oh well.

He didn't want to hear the explanation because every time I explained how I was Muslim, that was less of a chance for him to make his way into my life. We didn't date, I would have explained to him, and I would have described some of the more halal methods of courtship, as I had only recently come to understand them. We didn't date and we didn't have sex before marriage. That way, we could use birth control sparingly, while married, and then we would bring forth what God willed. And what better way to bring forth what God wills than in a marriage approached prayerfully and for His sake?

So even though I liked this brother, I would never be truly heartbroken because I wouldn't have gotten unnecessarily physical with a man who I was not bound to marry, because I would not get physical with a man I had not married. My non-Muslim friend thought I was being a prude. Whatever on him.

And I thought that was the way it was with all Muslims.

Fast forward 9 years. In that time, I graduated from college, from medical school, from public health school and have been a resident physician for 1.5 years. I have lived my life and I have lived alongside many challenging and beautiful patients who have taught me valuable lessons as I learn along with them and attempt to be a healer. Here in the Pacific Northwest, I have been blessed to work with a large population of Muslim patients, more than I had the privilege of working with while a med student in Boston. And although it did not take this experience to make this realization, it did give me real stories and real faces to put with what had just developed as anecdotes.

We do it, too.

We do what? Whatever you may say, "Muslim(ah)s don't do." We do it, too.

We have sex before marriage. We get pregnant as teenagers. We have babies, still unmarried. We get abortions for unplanned pregnancies when we're unmarried. We get drunk and use drugs.

I think what some Muslims do, and I say this because I once did it, is consider these Muslims somehow other. They are either "so-called Muslims," they are "nominal Muslims," they are "not practicing Muslims," they are "actually disbelievers," or at best they are "not striving." Perhaps struggling, later to find their way. Maybe they were born to Muslim families and have not actually taken their shahadah or taken it seriously. But they are not considered properly Muslims.

Then one feels comfortable falling back on "Muslim(ah)s don't do."

While protecting the privacy of my patients, I will say that the majority of the families impacted by issues above are actively practicing the five pillars and are visibly practicing with hijab, jilbab and beard.

And I do all of this not to noise about "evil," because I don't believe in that. That's not my point.

I used to believe that "real Muslims" didn't do certain things, that because of our approximation of the perfect faith, we were immune to certain life mistakes, missteps and choices. And I believed that anyone who made those certain choices were no longer real Muslims and therefore not part of my imagining of the ummah. At best, those who participated in those activities had strayed and, God being merciful, they would probably find their way back, someday.

But imagining the ummah this way creates a lot of instances of "not my problem," that should be our problem. They should be taken into our consideration. They should be made part of causes that we champion in our communities. These are not things that simply happen to somebody else.

It reminds me of my father's church. As many of you know, my father is Christian. His pastor and his wife were unmarried when they got pregnant and they were quite young when they married as a result. Because of this, the pastor understood the importance of having a ministry for single mothers, recalling the challenges he and his own wife faced. The proposal was met with a lot of resistance from other Protestant pastors who felt like having a ministry for single mothers was enabling and encouraging premarital sex.

So I suppose they would sooner not support these women, part as punishment and part as "encouragement" for them to form an acceptable family unit soon.

Even if that were the primary goal of the ministry, how do you expect single woman to form "acceptable" family units if they are believing woman shunned from congregations?

I applaud the pastor for forming the ministry and recognize that this point of contention exists across conservative faiths.

Real Muslims, in my practice, face many of the same problems that all of my patients face, if at a smaller volume for some. We do all of these things, but ultimately (and most importantly), it is possible for us to do okay on the other side. We recover. I have seen married women who had terminations prior to marriage now happily married to men who respect their wives and are eager to start their families with her. Men who do not hold this over her head. Men who are not emasculated by his wife's prior sexual experience. I have seen loving parents standing by the side of their teenagers struggling with early addictions to find the best health care. Parents who do not cast these young people out. Parents who are just as frustrated and scared for their children as non-Muslim parents.

My practice in medicine has always been consistent, regardless of religion, orientation, gender, ethnicity, etc, but I believe what I've learned as a clinician has impacted my worldview. I think of us Muslims less monolithically now.

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