wasalamu`alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakaatuh,
I have been wanting to say this for a long time, and yesterday I had that final push. That thing that happens that makes you wish you said something sooner.
There was an event at my University that was informing the masses about a movement to divest in a country that was oppressing Muslims. To make a long story short, the event became a huge controversy and some people had to wait in line for hours, in the cold, in order to attend. Metal detectors were set up. Protestors from both sides stood holding their signs and shouting their slogans. They were encircled by metal bars, with police officials surrounding them. There were news cameras left and right, and reporters were eager to catch a shot of the people waiting in line to attend.
Being one of the first people on the line and being very visibly Muslim, my friends and I were approached many times for an interview or a picture, etc. When we were asked, we thanked them for asking and politely refused. When we weren’t asked, we made sure the picture was deleted and the video camera did not have a shot of us (not quite as politely…). Later on in the day, when I had moved to another line (last minute change of rules), I stood with another group of sisters. I knew almost all of them from the college. They were my sisters in Islam and I felt comfortable standing amongst them. I was the only niqabi in the group this time. Usually that is of no import, but it is relevant to this story.
A man with a camera approached us for a picture. I immediately thought of what message he was going for (“a group of young Muslim girls waiting in line for the event”) and felt annoyed. To add to that, I experience instant annoyance at someone who is so eager to get a picture of Muslim women, being that the majority of us wear some type of obvious religious garb, because of the feelings it evokes (“I think you are strange looking, but oh so interesting!”)
“Could I get a picture of you?” he asked, drawing parentheses around five of us, outlining the frame of the picture with his hands.
My face, which he couldn’t see, immediately went straight and cold.
“No, not of me.”
I forgot everything around me. I forgot that I was standing with sisters and tuned everything out. I was focused on making sure he knew he wasn’t getting a picture of me. As I began to walk backward, away from his camera, one of my friends on my right shoulder spoke.
“I’m trying to remind you that you wear a niqab,” she said, smiling in an almost motherly-way.
I still couldn’t fully tune her in, I was focused on getting away. I continued to make my way to the back, while the rest of the sisters moved up to be in the picture. A second later, I leaned against the metal bars that surrounded the building and looked in, my heart breaking at the fact that these sisters had so willingly allowed this man to take a picture of them. Of their faces, of their eyes, of their smiles.
Later on I wondered why they did not stop to think to themselves, “if this sister whose face is covered is refusing to have her picture taken, there must be a reason.”
So this incident was the push. I need to get this message out there to all sisters.
I ask that Allah swt allow my words to enter your hearts, and that He swt protects us from the whisperings of Shaytan, who is an open enemy to man.
Sisters, regardless of what opinion you follow regarding the niqab, or of how you currently feel about abaya or hijab, regardless of what you think is correct or necessary in regards to a woman’s dress, regardless of what you envision your future to be (in terms of religion and dress), regardless of what you think of photographs; regardless of all of that, I advise you with the following:
- Don’t allow strangers (or even acquaintances) to take pictures of you.
- Don’t post your pictures on Facebook (yes, even if your profile is private).
- Keep track of who has pictures of you, and the best way to do that is to keep track of who is taking pictures of you.
- Be mindful of pictures that you have of other sisters, and what you do with them. If they are on your phone, put a pass code on it. Don’t post them up on Facebook, (yes, even if they give you permission to do so).
- If you already have pictures on Facebook, do what you have to do, but get them off of Facebook and any other social media site.
I’m sure more than one person reading this has already thought to themselves, “Wow, this sister has gone off the deep end.” So I hope that they will be open-minded, and that I will be given a chance to explain. This post is not written with the intention of convincing sisters to cover (if this is what you are looking for, you can listen to this); I have a different goal in mind today. I don’t know many of you who are reading this, but I love you simply because you have imaan in Allah swt and His Messenger, Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam). So allow me to begin…
Six years ago, I would have never thought that I would be wearing a niqab one day. Never. I was an average Muslim girl in high school. Picture-taking was no big deal to me; in fact, it was a disgrace to not have a lot of pictures in the Yearbook. Posting pictures online and on Facebook was the thing to do. If your profile picture wasn’t a picture of your face, either you were unhappy with the way you looked or you were too religious. This was the mindset. (You know it’s true.)
When I began to cover, it was a process that took place over time. First the skirts, then the abayaat (long loose dresses), and then finally the niqab. Taqabbal Allah (May Allah accept, ameen). During the time this change was unfolding, I had a Facebook. I may have deactivated it here and there, but for the most part, I was on it.
And I mean… I was really on it – my pictures were on Facebook. Old pictures, from before I began to wear niqab. Of course, I had deleted the ones that were on my account; may Allah swt forgive me, He is the Most Merciful of those who show Mercy.
And I don’t remember now how it happened, but I had deactivated my account for a long period of time and when I came back on it, I saw pictures of myself, pictures that I was “tagged” in, on other people’s accounts… My heart sank. There were still pictures of me out there. I was mortified.
I still remember the winter mornings when I would sit at my desk and make lists in my blue spiral notebook. I would make a list of names of the people who had a picture of me on their profile, whether I was in the forefront or in the background. I would find the album name, as well. And I would send them private messages, asking them for their email addresses.
I would email them (or private message them if it was easier), ignoring the social unacceptability of what I was doing – I was asking people that I hadn’t spoken to for years, to take down my pictures, and for religious reasons. Many of them were understanding and compliant, but not all of them. I remember one old “friend” who just did not want to take my picture down (it was a picture of me and her), and we went back and forth. I had even gave her alternatives: “Okay, what if I just crop myself out for you?”
Finally, she complied as well. Another one, even after earnest requests, ardently refused, because the album was “private.” It just goes to show you, that there is a possibility that someone may refuse to take your picture down when you ask them to!
And whenever a picture went down, I crossed it off of my list. Some mornings, I would dread opening up my blue spiral notebook, and I would dread even more, opening up my Facebook account. But I knew I had to do it. So I pushed through the discomfort and ignored that annoying knot in my stomach.
And as a disclaimer, I actually did not have that many pictures on Facebook; much less than any average Facebook user today. Yet, this is what I went through to have my pictures removed. So what will others go through? Do you think you could take them all down in a matter of minutes? Because mine certainly did not come down that quick.
Anyway, the pictures were taken down one by one, walillahil hamd.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about it: what about all of the people who had seen them? I knew that couldn’t be undone. And I could only hope that Allah swt would forgive me and have mercy on me, and cause those people to forget.
What about you, my dear sis?
Do you want to go through what I went through? You may be thinking, “but I don’t plan to wear niqab, or to cover, and it doesn’t bother me that my pictures are on Facebook.”
To that I would say: I was saying the same thing just a few years ago. You don’t know what Allah swt has in store for you. You don’t know, perhaps Allah swt will guide you to Him, and will guide you to wearing abaya and then niqab. You don’t know, maybe one day you will wish that your pictures were not plastered in so many places. On this person’s account, and in this album. In the front of this picture, and in the background of that one. But by then, it will seem like an impossible mission for to you to take them down, and you may find yourself giving up before you even try.
And by the way, I know Facebook was mentioned throughout this post, but I am referring to pictures on any online source (WordPress, Twitter, yes even LinkedIn!) because the world-wide-web is exactly that – it’s a WORLD WIDE WEB – an enormous mass of disentangled boundaries.
Sister, you don’t know who is looking at your pictures (yes, even if your profile is private; this is 2013, please wake up!) and with what intention they are looking at your pictures. As shaykh Omar Suleiman once mentioned at a class: “You can put up the most decent picture of yourself, wearing hijab and abaya…but now, what if a 50 year old man is looking at your picture lustfully?” (paraphrased)
I know this is something that is so widely accepted in today’s world, and that to some, this sounds like the rantings of an extreme Muslim woman. For the record, I don’t know of a single person, Muslim or NonMuslim, who knows of me personally, who would call me “extreme.” I am your neighbor, your classmate, your friend and your sister. And I am a Muslim, so please don’t add any qualifiers.
And I am writing this to save you from what Allah swt saved me from. No one advised me of this, ever. Even up until today, I have never heard of these words coming out of another sister’s mouth. Do you know why? Because those of us who wish to say it, are afraid that others will be offended and will not wish to listen to anything we say in the future. We are afraid that you will just brush it off as just another thing that the “strict Muslims” don’t want you to do; just another pleasure they are trying to take away from you.
Think about it. What will I get from you listening to this advice?
And have you ever stopped to wonder why Shaytan places so much animosity in people’s hearts towards “strict Muslims” (whatever that means). Could it be that he will gain from that? Yes. Do you ever stop to think why there is so much shamelessness in the media, and yet, at the same time, the hijab is being banned? Did you ever stop and think about how insane that is? Did it cross your minds that today’s society is heading in a very specific direction, one that is far from what Allah swt prescribed for His slaves? When I stop to think of what is out there in today’s world, in terms of fitnah, I become depressed, but then I put myself together and push forward even harder. Don’t just follow the crowd:
“And if you obey most of those on earth, they will mislead you far away from Allah’s Path. They follow nothing but conjectures, and they do nothing but lie.” Surah Al An’aam
Be a leader and make the change, in yourself, and in others.
* * *
I do not normally request for my posts to be shared like this, but I am asking you to please re-post this and spread the message as wide as you can (you don’t have to include a link going back to my blog, in fact I prefer you don’t). Muslims are in a humiliating place today. We claim that we want the oppression to end. If we want victory for the oppressed Muslimeen all over the world, then we cannot have that until we change ourselves for the sake of Allah.
For each (person), there are angels in succession, before and behind him. They guard him by the Command of Allah. Verily! Allah will not change the good condition of a people as long as they do not change their state of goodness themselves (by committing sins and by being ungrateful and disobedient to Allah). But when Allah wills a people’s punishment, there can be no turning back of it, and they will find besides Him no protector. (Surah Ar-Ra’d, ayah 11)
Protecting the honor of the Muslim woman is a big step towards that change, a much bigger step than you know.