Our Islamic dress code inspires more people than it offends
A sight that perhaps stands out in Shia Muslim centers are the clerics that work within them. The SABA Islamic Center (Shia Association of Bay Area) which we find ourselves in is no different. We see clerics with elaborate robes and neatly wrapped turbans. For someone living in the West, these features stand out quite a bit.
Special clerical robes are not things that are specific to Shia Muslims only, but are worn by people of other religious faiths as well, including Catholic priests, Eastern Orthodox Christian monastics and Buddhist monks just to name a few.
It may be that given our current climate, Islamic attire such as clerical robes or the hijab might raise some eyebrows and even hostility, but for many others it is a source of comfort and inspiration as it is a reminder of their long forgotten need for God.
Take for example the experience of an acquaintance of mine who was visiting the US from the Middle East. At the San Francisco International Airport where he arrived, he had kept his usual Islamic clerical robe. You would have expected someone to shout a negative slur at him for daring to wear Islamic clothes at an airport, but the opposite ended up happening. A group of our Catholic Hispanic brothers who saw him greeted and bowed to him. In English, they asked the Shaykh to pray for them. The Shaykh smiled and agreed, and asked them to pray for him as well.
Now this story may appear to be unimportant, but I think it may resonate with some. Many of us who live in the modern world, both Muslim and non-Muslim, have empty voids that need filling. Whether we are wealthy, poor, healthy or sick, we all have troubles that eat us up when we go to bed at nights. Our flawed relationship with the divine exacerbates the problem for any problem, however big or small, runs the risk of being amplified if the inner tranquility that faith or iman gives us is missing.
In Islam, we are recommended to wear perfume. As most of us noticed, we become numb to the smell just after a few minutes. However, those around us continue to benefit from it. In this sense, perfume can be thought of as a sadaqa, or a form of charity and may explain why the Prophet, although very prudent and frugal in his spending, was much more liberal when it came to spending on perfume.
Wearing religious attire, whether in the form of a clerical robe or even a simple hijab may act as a reminder of the divine for those of us, Muslim or non-Muslim, who are heedless and forgetful of God. This reminder, although it may engender hostility in some, becomes a source of comfort and inspiration for others.
In my own personal experience, those who wear hijab have usually gotten more compliments than criticism in the secular sphere of their lives. As such, in outwardly practicing our faith, we should take into consideration some of the good that our difficult practices engender in the world and not just the occasional hardships and inconveniences they may cause us. Taking on a little difficulty in order to benefit our faith and brightening up the day of another is infinitely rewarding in the eyes of God and will, insha’Allah, strengthen our own core character and make us happier individuals and live more fullfilling lives. The happy life is not born through catering to our emotions and desires, but catering for the needs of others even if at times those people hurt us.
Dr. Nabi Raza Abidi
Resident Aalim of the SABA Islamic Center