—Photo Illustration by Faraz Aamer Khan/Dawn.com
Note: An edited version of this article was first published here: http://www.dawn.com/2011/09/02/the-halal-police.html
On my recent visit to the homeland, I noticed something about Karachi that had never piqued my attention before: everywhere I looked and went, there were an unusual number of hijabis, and more bearded men than I had ever remembered seeing. When I asked “Is it just me or do more people now observe hijab?” I was told that hijab seems to have caught on with the people more than ever before. No wonder a smart marketing gimmick for a shampoo for hijabis has been launched!
Along with this development, I noticed something else too – the nagging presence of what I will call the ‘halal police’. The (self-appointed) halal police have been functional since centuries, but now you’ll find these ‘warriors of the deen’ everywhere. If a guy has a beard, he will give you a look that says, “You infidel! How can you not have a beard?” And if a woman covers her head, her eyes will burn a hole through your (uncovered) hair. I personally find this behaviour bereft of humility and kindness, and precisely the reason why people run away from Islam.
I am quite sure you’ve come across those types of people who tell you in no uncertain terms that it is haram to chew gum. Some others will frown if you pray namaz with nail polish on, while still more will tell you that you pray your salah wrong and sajdah should be made this way, not that. Now, I am not questioning their religious beliefs, or indeed, expressing my views about namaz with nail polish because I am no scholar and I do not know what’s right and what’s not. However, what I do know is that noone has the right to be self righteous and bossy in the name of Islam. Suggestions could be made in a civil manner, friendships should be nurtured rather than nipped in the bud and people should be loved for being who they are.
These newly returned to Islam people are full of their knowledge and ready to give you guidance, and they do so at will to anyone who has a shorter beard than them (or none at all) or a hijab that doesn’t do its job. An increasing number of younger people are learning religion via mentors and internet lectures, suddenly gaining the authority to tell their parents they’ve got it all wrong for the past 50 years.
Let me clarify – practicing your religion and wanting to propagate it is a noble act, something that the prophets (peace be upon them all) did. But to look down upon those who don’t follow the same religion as you (or none at all!) or don’t have a beard, or don’t cover their heads is about as far from Islam as you can get. For before you suddenly learnt it all, weren’t you the same? And what gives you the authority to judge someone? Who but the Creator knows what’s in a person’s heart? For all we know – a person we think is far removed from religion might be dearer to God than we could ever hope to be.
Where does the halal police get the right to say so and so is a ‘kaafir’ a ‘mushrik’ or a ‘bidatee’? Do people know God’s mercy is all-encompassing? You must have heard that story about Bani Israel – In the days of Moses (PBUH) there was once a severe drought. The prophet and his people raised their hands and prayed for rain, but to their astonishment, the heat intensified, with no hope of rain. It was revealed to Moses (PBUH) that there was a sinner in the tribe of Bani Israel who had disobeyed God for more than forty years of his life and if only that man would separate himself from the throng would the Almighty send down rain. When Moses told his people that, the man instantly knew it was him the Almighty was referring to, and now he was at a loss.
If he didn’t come forward, the rain wouldn’t come and everyone would perish and if he would, it would be a massive humiliation. So, quietly, in a few profound moments, he begged for forgiveness, and beseeched to God to hide his sins. The rain fell and the people rejoiced, and when Moses asked his Lord how it had rained even though no-one had left the congregation, God revealed that the entire tribe had been blessed with rain because of that one man’s perfect repentance. When Moses asked who the man was – God said “I hid him from you for forty years, would I expose him now?”
Just goes to show that the Almighty is more merciful than you and I can fathom and there is simply no way we can belittle anyone, be it a Muslim or a Non-Muslim. God could have easily embarrassed this guy, instead He chose to protect him. Some days back, a woman shouted at me in a mosque, so loudly, and in such an uncultured manner, that I never frequented that particular mosque again. All this because I hadn’t removed the shoes of my two-year-old!
If righteousness must be enjoined than it must be done in a respectful and acceptable manner, because remember that there is no compulsion in religion and that people with a holier-than-thou are the most loathed. Gentleness accomplishes far more than stating so and so does haram, because let’s face it, the Creator is the judge of what’s right and what’s wrong, not you and I.
The misconceptions about Islam rise sometimes because we as a people do not have tolerance, especially if we begin to learn the religion. We need to be humble and if we’re being critical, the first one we should aim to correct is our own self.