SPIRITUALITY & MOTIVATION / LIFESTYLE ⎯⎯⎯ 25 OCTOBER 2016
Deciding to wear hijab can be an overwhelming lifestyle change for a Muslim woman. Dealing with the social and spiritual consequences of this decision is more than enough to keep us busy.
Unfortunately, this new spiritual development can come at the cost of one’s physical well-being. Wearing hijab is not simply a fashion modification; it is symbolic of a shift in focus from the Dunya to the Akhirah. This shift can be even more overwhelming for new Muslimahs due to their additional lifestyle modifications. So it can be difficult to find a balance between femininity and practice.
Yet Islam teaches us the importance for women to take care of ourselves while being balanced in this.
For fear of sin, going overboard and falling into that which is not Islamic, our community falls into a trap which affects how we balance our lives. Some women often choose to neglect themselves as a result whilst others can't strike the right balance and go overboard with their choices. With the ever changing social environment, trends and our constant exposure to social media (i.e Instagram, Twitter and Facebook etc) we unfortunately feel the need to live up to this lifestyle. Whether it is the latest fashion, beauty or lifestyle trends, we often find pictures and videos on social media which motivate our choices. This sometimes leads to us trying to include these social trends into our lives, which are sometimes not suitable for our hijab and our values as Muslimahs. At the end the choice is often made to either push the boundaries, forget about it and sometimes forget ourselves. You can find very often that whilst complying with hijab, lifestyle choices such as hairstyles, skincare, exercise and a balanced diet, can be neglected and this too can be unhealthy for a Muslimah as it can be conducive to weight gain and a sedentary lifestyle.
It is important to understand that with our spiritual change, our definition of beauty must also evolve. This is also one of the dynamic of Islam.
After careful reflection, it occurs that our self-confidence and self-worth are directly tied to the reinforcement we received from others about our appearance. Our tight clothes, shiny hair, beautiful make up and attention grabbing party personality is not “who we are” but a way to satisfy our inner desires to be loved and feel attractive.
Although wearing hijab made me a more spiritual person and shifted my attention from certain worldly vices, it did not solve my cravings for attention. Aside from this attention that we receive from others another difficulty arises: finding that balance at all costs.
I have myself experienced this search of balance between my femininity and my practice when I started wearing the hijab.
It was a real change for me being a "fashion addict". So I had this moment of transition which was necessary to undertake and return to the essentials after that I was properly able to balance my femininity and the importance I have for clothes to my new lifestyle in the best way possible. Then the blessed month of Ramadan started and I continued on this path of simplicity with ease.
But it is still important to insist on the fact that this point concerns all of us (veil or not). This period of transition is certainly beneficial, but it needs to be motivated by the search for balance, not laziness. Over time it is also possible if we do not pay attention that this same transition lasts too long to turn into laziness and a habit that is harmful to women, her well-being and on a larger scale for her practice.
People are misguided to believe that a Muslim woman’s physical appearance is irrelevant because she does not exploit or showcase her beauty.
Despite my earlier focus on appearances, the connection between our previous values and the sudden self-imposed neglect of our physical appearance is made.
Before Islam, before starting to wear hijab or/and before any introspection, being noticed by others was something through which we valued ourselves. Something we never considered was what would happen to our self-confidence if we could no longer depend on the validation of others.
It sounds silly now, but we never realised that caring for our body was important whether or not anyone sees the fruits of that labour. Similar to the student that does not see the value of an ungraded assignment, we only saw value when an evaluation was given by someone other than us.
Despite the fact that reversion to Islam is a spiritual and intellectual experience, it is not healthy to neglect the physical aspects of life.
Islam teaches us to remain on the middle path and to not exist in polar extremes. A vital aspect of this balance is the maintenance of an amanah (trust) given to you by Allah : your body.
“Thus We have appointed you a middle nation.”
[Quran: Surah 2, Verse 143]
Although maintaining one’s physical self and properly caring for one’s body is an important responsibility of a human being and a Muslim, it is one that is rarely discussed in the Muslim community. Physical fitness and proper nutrition for Muslim women is another topic that is also disregarded, sometimes for cultural reasons.
Contrary to some cultural beliefs, the physical maintenance of Muslim women is extremely important and does not require the sacrifice of any religious convictions or modesty. In this modern age, there are plenty of halal ways to enjoy keeping healthy and to prevent weight gain.
Here are my tips to reversing what I call “Muslimah neglect”
SET YOUR INTENTION
Your physical health is a blessing provided to you by Allah . You must guard and protect that blessing in order to preserve it.
“Truly, We did offer Al-Amanah (the trust or moral responsibility or honesty and all the duties which Allah has ordained) to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, but they declined to bear it and were afraid of it (i.e., afraid of Allah’s torment). But man bore it. Verily, he was unjust (to himself) and ignorant (of its results).”
[Quran; Surah 33, Verse 72]
INVEST IN A SCALE
Although weight is not a sole measure of health, it is a valuable way to keep you accountable.
Dress up once a month, even if you are not going to leave the house. Spend a day at the spa. Take a bubble bath. Do whatever makes you feel special and desirable. It can be too easy to be lured into a daily routine of sweatpants and pyjamas after spending all day wearing hijab. It is easy to feel unattractive and frumpy in your Dad’s old ripped t-shirt and pyjama pants. Although not the main focus of keeping healthy, feeling attractive can be a great mood booster and motivator.
EXPLORE HOME EXERCISE
Exercising at a gym or spending lots of money are not requirements to stay fit! A five minute YouTube video search will generate countless exercise videos available from the privacy of your own home, as well as the vast number of apps with exercise regimes and plans to track your progress. If you do not have a computer or find the videos difficult, an old school solution to fitness is available for little cost: a skipping rope. Skipping is a fabulous exercise that is portable, cheap and accessible anywhere. Hop to it!
START AN EXERCISE GROUP
Making healthy habits stick is easier to do with the help of a partner or support group. If your community lacks a women’s exercise group, start one! Walking and hiking are great exercises and social activities that can be enjoyed for free. The extra doses of vitamin D you will get from the sunshine is a delightful bonus.
ORGANISE A “HEALTH AWARENESS DAY” WITH SISTERS
Organise a “Health Awareness Day” with sisters at the masjid or with your local Muslim service organisation
Too many people in the Muslim community are unaware of the importance of proper diet and exercise. Due to cultural preconceptions, some might even believe that it is haram or simply superfluous for women to engage in such activities. If no one is talking about it, things will not change.
“O ye who believe, fasting is prescribed for you…so that you will (learn how to attain) piety.”
[Quran: Surah 2, Verse 183]
Aside from the spiritual aspect of fasting, there are many health benefits to fasting. Fasting shifts our focus away from food as an indulgence and source of pleasure and forces us to observe it as sustenance.
It is also a Sunnah to fast on a Monday and Thursday as the Prophet Mohammed (saw) did. These fasts are voluntary and have also recently been scientifically proven to help weight loss. Despite the approval of science our Prophet (saw) prescribed this more than 1400 years ago so there will inevitably be other benefits that are yet to be discovered.
EAT TO LIVE,
DO NOT LIVE TO EAT
Too often we rely on food to serve as our halal entertainment and pleasure. It is good to focus on the 80/20 rule. At least 80% of the time, eat foods for their nutritional value and benefits. Limit indulgences to less than 20% of the time. Of course there is no magic formula for health, but as Muslims it should be our focus to remain in balance.
DO SOMETHING ACTIVE
Instead of going out to eat with friends, take a hike, kayak, ride bicycles, engage in a new fitness class or go old-school and play tag. Mix it up and be unafraid. Simply walking around the mall with proper shoes can be exercise; no excuses!
Your body is a trust from Allah . He has provided you with only one; appreciate all that it can do and its utter uniqueness.
These reminders are by no means all-encompassing or the only ways to maintain health. They are also not limited to those who wear hijab. All Muslim women, whether wearing hijab or not, need to be aware of their bodies and how to respect them.
Too often women are weighed down by obligations and equate taking care of themselves to indulgences. Investing in yourself will not only make you a better mother, sister, daughter and wife, but also it will make you a better and more capable Muslim.
Taking care of our bodies and souls is the only way to true balance and success.