Misconceptions of Muslims living in western countries

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As you might know by now, I live in a western country, in Cape Town, South Africa. Firstly, I think living in South Africa makes it a bit easier for us Muslims, as finding halaal food is not a problem at all!!! We have a large Muslim community in Cape Town, so I never experienced what Muslims in other western countries experienced.

Growing up as a Muslim in a western country never affected me. It was only quite recently when I saw posts of the struggles of Muslims in western countries that I thought, I never experienced such inequality or being judged or starred at because of my hijab. Here, it is quite normal to walk around in hijab and non-muslims don’t react to it, since Cape Town is very diverse in religion and culture and everyone embraces each other’s culture and enquire about your religion with genuine interest.

How did you know that?

What I struggle to understand though is the perception people in Muslim countries have of Muslims living in western countries. I had a personal encounter where I greeted someone with the complete universal greeting of peace, which is Assalamu-alaikum-wa-rahmatullahi-wa-barakatuh. The person’s reaction shocked me and till today I still laugh about it! The person was shocked to be greeted with the complete salaam. When I asked why, the reaction was “I thought you greet in African” ha-ha! I couldn’t stop laughing. This was a reaction of someone living in a Muslim, eastern country. I then explained, it doesn’t matter what part of the world you’re from, the greeting remains the same. Just to clarify, we know all there is to know about the religion, we attended madressa classes as the rest of you, we can recite the quran and we perform salaah and fast during Ramadaan. We are regular Muslims living in a western country, there’s really nothing different about us.

The cultural aspect

I also discovered that because I live in South Africa, people think I’m African. I am Indian, with grandparents from India. I was only born here, but my cultural background is Indian. This is a problem westerners often face. People think because we live in a western country, we don’t actually know much about our culture or practice it and they are shocked when they realise we are exactly like them, only living in another part of the world 🙂

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Muslims in Cape Town

Thankfully, we have a MJC (Muslim Judicial Council) and have a seat in parliament. Halaal food is not a problem and there are many halaal franchises. Mosques (I know, you’re going to say Masjid, but I grew up saying Mosque…) are found in almost every residential area, which normally is 10 minutes away from your house or even a walk over the street. Yes, businesses close for Jumuah and non-Muslims completely understand. We also have Kramats/Dargas which many visit throughout the year. We do a yearly visit on Christmas Day, as it marks the death of my late grandfather.

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Monturu Kramat on Robben Island.

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Masjidul Quds in Gatesville.

The questions you get asked

Here’s a list of questions I got asked over the years by non-muslims:

Why don’t you wear pardah?

Don’t you get hot in a scarf?

Do you bath with the scarf on and do you sleep in it?

Can you take the scarf off when you get home?

Do you wash your hair?

Can’t you even drink water when you fast?

Come with us for drinks, you can have ginger ale or something?

Did you never drink alcohol, not even a drop, not even to taste it?

Modest dressing in western countries

Okay, this is one section where I’d think living in a Muslim country would be best. Clothing found in our retail stores is not Islamic and you can NEVER buy an outfit without altering it or buying an undertop or a longer jacket. I can’t remember when last I found a top with sleeves!!! The only time you’ll be lucky is if you buy an eastern outfit, but these days even they have revealing sleeves 🙁 Oh well, that’s where we learn to improvise and that’s how all these modest fashion blogs started, Hijabiworld included 🙂

Where to from here?

Well, I hope the rest of the world can be more open-minded and realise that it doesn’t matter what part of the world you’re from, we are all Muslim and in the end, that’s all that matters. May Allah make it easy for those experiencing difficulty, Insha-Allah. Do let me know what your experience has been living in a western society as a Muslim. Peace and love from Cape Town 🙂 Assalamu-alaikum-wa-rahmatullahi-wa-barakatuh.