East and West

I am writing this towards the end of September, as I sit on the beach with my mother-in-law, watching my husband cast his fishing line out into the sea. The lights from the city are reflected in the water, and a soft breeze carries the ‘isha athaan into my ears. There are a couple of drops of rain falling on my page as I write, but it is a warm, end of summer kind of rain.

I am truly blessed to be where I am right now.

I hear the athaan five times a day, I don’t have to worry about finding a “halal” shop for food, I am not persecuted for wearing my hijab. I don’t have to explain myself when someone catches me sicking my feet in the sink, I don’t have to find somewhere to celebrate Eid with other Muslims, when I tell people I am fasting I am met with “mashaaAllah” instead of barely concealed horror.

When I first converted I was always a little bit jealous of those who had grown up in Muslim families and Muslim countries.

And now here I am, living in a beautiful city that is by all appearances in a Muslim country.

So I can’t help but be a bit sad as I begin to wonder, where is all the Islam?

Hardly anyone greets me with salaam here, and when they meet me for the first time the first thing they say is often “Are you a Muslim?” (No, I am dressed this way because a black abaya is super comfy in 100 degree heat, not to mention highly trendy these days.)

If you can get someone here to stop fighting with people in the streets, shops, markets, and parks for long enough to ask them what time the afternoon prayer is, they will likely have no idea. And shout at you for asking.

Not only are cars driven and parked willy nilly according to the drivers every whim and fancy, but there is also rubbish strewn about even in what could be some of the loveliest nature spots I have ever seen.

Everyone wants to argue here, and if someone is being nice to you it often times means they want something from you, or are about to try to cheat you out of a lot of money.

Hijab is widely practised, but so little understood that I actually find it more difficult to retain my modesty here where it has become so infused with cultural practise. Mahram and non-mahram has become family/friend and stranger, and nobody at all sees a problem if brothers, uncles and cousins are walking in and out of the house all day long while I’m not covered. Not to mention everybody and their father wants to shake my hand when they meet me.

Plus, the implicit knowledge that every woman in the city is watching and/or talking about you at all times…

I compare the way I feel and live here to how I felt and lived in California—yes, I was pretty much a vegetarian because I had no access to halal meat. Yes, sometimes people shouted at me or spit on me in the street because they were ignorant (this, I am sure has become worse since I wrote this pre-election). Yes, I had to wake up to my blaring alarm clock rather than the beautiful athaan.

But for the most part people respected me and left me alone to practise my religion as I pleased.

My male colleagues and co-workers gave me my space; they never tried to hug me or tell me things like “hey there sexy” when I got to work like they did with their other female friends. If I had a slight scarf slip they would all keep their eyes averted until I gave the all-clear that I had fixed it.

My housemates understood that they shouldn’t come into my room unannounced and my mother always gave me a good hour’s notice if any man besides my grandpa was going to be coming over.

At the time of prayer my family would turn off the TV and not raise their voices above a whisper (good luck with that here!).

People in California never threw trash in the ocean, or blocked an entire road with their VW Golf because they needed a sandwich NOW.

I still don’t quite know how to process all of these feelings, especially now that the election has occured. And I am feeling a great deal of uncertainty as to where I will be in a year or even a month.

Here, I have the blessing to be in a Muslim country. Halal food, athaan, mosques on every corner. Places I can buy modest clothing at less exorbitant prices. And for sure there are some wonderful, warm and kind people here, but often there is no Islam in the peoples’ hearts.

In America, it is not a Muslim country. My hijab is often misunderstood and despised, halal meat is hard to come by. But there I live my life simply and practice my religion freely. There are more Islamic manners there than I have ever seen here.

I guess I can only hope that some day I will find a place that is a perfect blend of both of these things, where I can live my life and practice my religion to its fullest, and where everyone else does the same.


14 thoughts on “East and West

  1. The issue you explored is one of the biggest problems of today’s Muslims which needs much attention. It is very sad that people don’t really understand Islam here if that would be then they would implement it in their Life as far as huquuq ul ibaad (rights upon fellow brothers) is concerned which is very rare. People in general don’t actually know what Worship is, which is for clarity divided into two parts. First one is the rights of Allah (huquuq ul Allah) and the other one ,the rights of fellow humans (huquuq ul ibaad). And it is the second one where the Muslims are lagging behind that’s making the whole thing worse. The root cause I think is lack of Islamic knowledge and lack of good teachers. In madrasahs children are taught only how to read Qur’an, very few go into studying their meaning and their implications in life. So there is a damn need to start institutions where Islam would be taught in its totality.
    I can totally relate to your feelings. I’m also confronted with such situations.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ashleybounoura

      Thank you for your comment! I hadn’t thought about it from the point of the two different parts of worship, so I am glad to have that new perspective! But yes, I agree there is much emphasis on Arabic and Qur’an and very little to no education on implementing Qur’an and sunnah in daily life

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I could have written exactly the same article! It’s been nine years now that I live in Morocco (I’m French/Belgian) and it’s still difficult for me to deal with all those contradictions. I’ve even gone through depression for some years and am still struggling with it some days. Always feel like an alien and live a very lonely life in the end, because I couldn’t find people with the same state of mind outside of my close family! But when I see what’s going on in the West, I begin to think maybe it’s not so bad to be here. We will see incha-Allah.


    1. ashleybounoura

      Yes, unfortunately I think it is just the choice between two compromises-in the west you may have to compromise on your beliefs because of persecution, in Muslim countries you may be expected to compromise on your beliefs because of culture…inshAllah we will see how things go in the future!

      Liked by 1 person

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  5. As-Salaamu A’alaykum wa Rahma tullahi wa Barakathu,

    does it make you feel better at all that I feel the exact same (or worse)? haha… I am from Scotland however I have never practice there as I converted in Egypt and I have been living here for 5 years. There are pro’s and con’s of both parts of the world but most definitely I agree with you that there are Muslims without any Islam i/e the East and Islam without any Muslims i/e the West… but saying that I most definitely feel better in a Muslim country with other Muslims despite their lack of practice or commitment. There is just something refreshing about being able to talk about Allah, religion, use Arabic words without judgement.
    In my experience, I find that even the *worst* most un-practising Muslim has sooooo much more in common than any Westerner/disbeliever I know. That’s the thing about the Ummah we are one, whether we like it or not.
    May Allah guide all of us.
    I often dream of moving to Saudi/Madinah but I’m not sure if it’s just a fascination more than a reality. I guess our perfect home is with Allah swt may Allah grant us Jannah. Ameen.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ashleybounoura

      Wa alaikum salaam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
      Yes I know what you are saying. I hadn’t thought about it from that point of view, but I think in Egypt they might be a bit better off in that respect. Sometimes if I try to quote a Hadith or ayah or something here, they look at me like I am malfunctioning! 😛 unless you are talking about all the haram things that the neighbor does, they don’t want to hear about religion. No one here likes to remember that someday they will be dead and buried. But I can at least say Arabic words without judgement!
      InshAllah your dream will be fulfilled of moving to Madinah!
      Such a beautiful last sentence, our perfect home is with Allah 💕 alhamdulillah and ameen!


  6. Maybe Allah placed you there to guide those around you and show them once again, what Islam really is. Don’t be afraid to follow the sunnah, eventually in the end they will respect you for it and always say how you feel. That’s what I do to survive, I cannot follow wrong for the sake of anyone, regardless of who they are. If you are wrong, you are wrong whether you are related to me, old, rich, young…

    p.s I found this beautiful quote I thought you would like, “Home is not where you live, but where they understand you.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ashleybounoura

      InshAllah He will use me as a source of guidance to those here 🙂
      I always just have to keep that in mind when things get though!
      And that is a beautiful quote, thank you for sharing!!


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    1. ashleybounoura

      Wa alaikum salaam-Yes indeed. I am trying to look at it from a point of dawah while I am here, maybe I can set the example for those around me and they will eventually begin to come closer to Islam, inshaAllah!

      Liked by 1 person

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