The Future Of Secularism: Chapter 17

THE SULTAN'S NEW CLOTHES

The next day was Saturday, the first day of the week, and that meant back to classes again. The thing I figured out about having the same dress inside and outside of the mosque really got me excited. I wished it was Monday, not because it was closer to the weekend, but because we’d have Islamic Law class. Then again, what the hell would Prof Murat teach us? His Islamic Law class, I knew, was not the real potential of it.

I started paying attention to little things. I noticed what Khattab wore. He was always dressed nicely, and always wearing Western clothing. Here and there, on holidays, he’d wear some pseudo-traditional cultural dress, but he was just at home in jeans and shirts. The girls I would see in shopping areas wore hijab (1) assertively, without clothing themselves in seas of black. Sometimes they clothed themselves in a sea of tight blue denim and a hijab on top, an interesting, intriguing mix. I guess I didn’t mind.

This made me decide to change my dress. That is, my reflections on the whole — not seeing girls in hijab wear really tight jeans.

I think, at bottom, it was a desire not to get lost. After all, human beings need to feel unique, loved, special — we hate the idea of being swallowed among the faceless masses (2). I had become closer to Islam, in some ways, but also closer to my culture. I began to love all things Turkish. I began to obsess about our language and our food. I wanted to spend time with Turks and only Turks. I think many people in our world, cut loose as they are by globalization and modernization, end up seeking refuge in ethnic identity. 

New clothing stores sold stylish, ethnic dress, which some of the upper class occasionally wore. I bought several outfits like that, so I looked sufficiently modern and nationalist. It reflected where I was, emotionally and intellectually. I blurred the line towards Islamism, but at the same time, I could’ve been mistaken for a nationalist.

Nationalists and Islamists tended to have an uncomfortable relationship. The die-hard nationalists didn’t want Islamization: they wanted muslimization. It was kind of like our version of Zionism. I wondered if the nationalists would steal other people’s land and then oppress them, just like good Zionists did. 

Khattab completely rejected nationalism... from his clothes, at least. His traditional clothes were kept to a minimum. He noted I wore the new style of clothes, and he sounded worried. I enjoyed the fact that he disliked my slow descent into ethnic pride.

My parents, too, were unsure. Nationalist groups were also looked at with suspicion by the government, but they were certainly safer than Islamist groups. 

I ate at ethnic restaurants. I talked to Sophia and we read classical poetry. She felt it was a bit odd that I was so into it, but I think she enjoyed it also.

But now, you’re wondering: ‘He said she didn’t wanna talk to him, didn’t he?’ Well, she did. My story doesn’t make sense at this point. But I’ll blame the inconsistency on her, and say it was her weird moods that swung her back my way. Plus, it’s my story, so I can do whatever the hell I wanna do with it 

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1. Hijab refers to the veil a Muslim woman draws over her head. Though there has been debate on what exactly this means, it is mandatory for Muslim women to cover their hair and to expose nothing of their bodies excepting the face, the hands and the feet. Furthermore, hijab requires loose, non-transparent clothing. Between cultures and eras, there has been a great degree of variation, representative of the flexibility of Islamic Law and its eagerness to adapt to local circumstances. Islamic Law demands such physical dress codes because Islam does not separate the internal and the external. However, what must be kept in mind is that the Muslim must also act with modesty. The purpose of modest dress is to protect the family and the structure of sexual relations it supports, preventing chaos, immorality and damage to the society and the individual as well. This is pointless, however, if it stops only at dress. Muslims must also act with modesty (I try, oh how do I try, in this book!). I would also like to say that there is a dress code for men. I am sickened that in countries like Saudi Arabia or Iran, women are made to wear only a certain style of clothes (which again is choice, not demanded by Islamic Law - Islamic Law demands certain requirements be met and that is all), whereas in these same Muslim countries, nobody bothers to notice how men dress. Islamically, men also must dress and act modestly. Just because they don't have to cover as much does not mean they can wear shorts or extremely tight clothing. It is mandatory that we, as Muslims, end this over-emphasis on women's dress while completely ignoring how men dress and present themselves.

2. Paradoxically, the evil Western advertising/consumer culture urges us to buy and buy to be "distinct". Liberation, by this logic, comes through slavery to desires (which are in reality insatiable). All we do by buying ourselves into a frenzy is sell our souls. We are made to think that possession of goods is independence, whereas independence from these goods is true independence. This makes me think of the Rage Against the Machine song, "No Shelter," where lead vocalist Zack de la Rocha points out: "They got you think that buying is rebelling/ What you need is what they're selling."

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