Over the last two years, I’ve been on a jihad of deep emotional and spiritual exploration. The culmination of which can be best expressed with my complex relationship I have with the niqab. I come to Islam as a white English person with that cultural background. Yet, despite the anti-niqab Western propaganda, despite the apprehension, and despite the conflicting internal feelings; I yearn for niqab.
People, the general public, ‘others’, for too long have had access to this body. It’s my right to decide when and how I want to grant access to this body, and I no longer want to grant the public or any other person that access. This body is between me and Allah.
I actively hate having to put my body before others, I hate that they can see me, and I hate they can see what I look like. It’s not the body that irks me so, it’s that people take for granted that they have access to this body. When they don’t have that right, I didn’t consent to them observing it, and I don’t want them to observe it.
So why not wear niqab? If I loathe so much this performance I act for others and their gazing upon this body, why not? Simple, society doesn’t want me to. Socially, there is potentially dangerous consequences for wearing niqab. Especially for me, someone who doesn’t fit into the binary, someone who can’t fake being cis, and to be honest, someone who’s white.
Fellow white people make that latter point the most true. I don’t fear anyone as much as I do fellow white people in regard to niqab and displaying ‘muslimness’. I’ve said thus no less than one hundred times to friends; the day I converted is the day I lost my whiteness, and white people will never forgive me for it. Indeed, since then I’ve been accosted with countless microaggressions and subtle reminders that I’m no longer accepted in their in-group anymore. Which has pushed me into a corner, where I only feel safe displaying Muslimness in ways that aren’t obvious. Such as wearing a turban-style hijab instead of a more conventionally styled hijab.
Then the second largest issue; the niqab is completely gendered. Another reason I wear in the style in which I wear it is that it’s not entirely masculine nor feminine. However, the niqab is synonymous with women and being a woman. When I’m not a woman. There’d be an expectation for me to fulfil a woman’s role. Which is a role I can’t and don’t want to fill.
There’s no on-boarding process with Islam, one can simply join by reciting and swearing by shahada with witnesses. It’s one of the things I like most about Islam, the focus on earnest and honest intention. However, Islam does not exist in a vacuum, when one joins Islam, they join a family of cultures. And there is no tutorial to getting to grips with the various Islamic cultures. Especially here in the west, where it’s assumed that Muslims already have the cultural knowledge for their faith.
The niqab is tied to said cultures. When one picks up the niqab, they’re also picking up the cultures that it belongs to. With that come cultural expectations which may be ignorantly trespassed by a fresh niqabi. Discard gender and Islamophobia, I don’t want disservice the cultural meanings of the niqab.
I’ve spoken with quite a few Muslims who have expressed interest in wearing niqab, but don’t due to social pressures and expectation. However, in the Islamophobic, post-9/11, propagandised, western world, the niqab is synonymous with disempowerment, imprisonment, and exclusion. A way to keep a woman isolated from society.
I want to isolate society from me. People expect, have had, and demand too much access to this body. For the first 26 years of my life, they’ve had unmitigated access to it, and they’ve done nothing but abuse it and take advantage of it. Now you’ve all lost that access. You’ve all lost the privilege.
Maybe I can’t wear niqab, maybe it’s not safe to, but this body is between myself and Allah.
When I started this blog, I knew I wanted to talk about humanity. Not the species homo-sapiens, but humanity. An identity. During my reflection on myself and the world I grew up in, I realised that this identity is fluid. Humanity is a social construct that some are granted great roles in, some, on the other hand, are denied access.
Ambitious, that’s for sure. But I want this to be raw, and a plea to you, reader, that you may understand what I, and people like me, experience.
So, then, if we don’t define humanity as being a homo sapien, then how do we define it? Many media have tackled this subject. My favourite video game of all time, SOMA, discusses this at length – as well as themes of structural dissociation, personality, loss, coping, adaptation, existentialism, and trauma. Another classic example is Bladerunner. Then more modern media such as Detroit: Become Human.
After experiencing such media, one’s mind can be racing with fantastical ideas. Perhaps humanity is the ability to rationalise? Think? Our ability to feel emotion? Maybe it’s something more spiritually focused, is humanity unique in that it possesses a “soul”? Respectfully, I disagree with these opinions. Not that they’re wrong, not at all, I agree with some of the points here.
But, I believe there is a underlying theme to all of this; humanity can only exist in relation between humans. Without humans, humanity as an identity cannot exist. Obviously. Right? However, humanity is an social construct, and that can only exist within a human society.
Think back to our media examples, they are all about humanity as identity. Specifically, how we define humanity. They discuss what the qualities are that are unique to people, which give them humanity. Smart, loving, philosophical, and introspective.
Without people and this desire to discover humanity, these ideas, wouldn’t exist. Perhaps, on some far distant planet or otherworldly dimension, there are other beings who discuss similar ideas. But, it will not be humanity. It will be their own unique identity that belongs to them, and them alone. They won’t be calling it, or identify it as, humanity. That is unique to us.
I grew up in the North West of England, Liverpool. “Thank you very much!” Someone said to a young me, he was white, with a smile across his face. He had put on an accent, and he bobbed his head from side-to-side with a grin. I laughed, I loved it when they did the ‘funny voice’. Colonialist England claims another victim, Indian-English relations at an all-time low. Then I tucked into my tandoori. Delicious, I love this food.
Humanity is not a guarantee. For so many people this humanity is denied. I have had a hand in that, through racism, homophobia, and intense othering, that’s on my guilt. That’s something I constantly try to improve on. Yet, this intense debate on what it truly means to have humanity is constantly on-going. It can be found in the important form of entertainment; the news.
For sake of ‘balance’, we often see frustrated consultants shouting at each-other as they argue opposing views. In this unhealthy act lay a fundemental truth; humanity is increadibly subjective.
Objectification. The term is extremely blunt and honest. The process of separating people from their humanity. It’s something I’ve experienced. As an openly out trans person, I’ve had experiences, specifically with cisgender men, and their sexual facination with this body.
See, for trans people, perhaps for those on HRT or who have gone through surgery, the body isn’t simply a body. It’s a project, a fruit of labour, a work that has taken considerable effort. Trans people, those that experience dysphoria, find themselves imprisoned inside of a form. To change that form requires a lot of mental, emotional, and physical labour.
Hence, when these men objectify and sexualise my form, specifically, for all the work I’ve put into it. They separate me, and my work, from the body. They only see me for the body I’m in, and are disinterested in my feelings, thoughts, or personality. Indeed, this is one example of denying humanity.
All bigotry stems from this dehumanization of others. Xenophobes, homophobes, and transphobes, to name a few, are clear and obvious examples of this. Why, though? Having experienced, and sometimes partaken, in these acts of dehumanization. I have spent the last few years reflecting on this.
Fundamentally the issue is thus; humanity is subjective, can only exist between humans, and is based on shared experiences with those around you. If, as I did, you grew up around in a very white area. When you meet someone if a different race, you may not perceive any shared ground. This creates a fertile ground for racism and bigotry.
“Ur trans?” The message caught my attention immediately. New profile. Default icon. I knew exactly who this was. I don’t reply. I wait. He’s typing. Three images load onto my screen. Blocked. I sit in silence, swept away by the tide, and into the past.
This chapter is going to shed light on some of my experiences. Most of my experiences come from trauma, so, going forward, we need to respect that.
I think back on the conclusion reached above; humanityis the shared experiences we have with others. I agree with that. Some people will use their lack of ability to recognise the shared experiences in other people to dehumanize. However, what happens if this message becomes internalized?
I don’t disasterize, and I gravely dislike the message of “Oh woe is me!” That I feel I sometimes exhume. But. I have a trauma disorder, caused by human hands. Trauma does not inherently mean human-caused, but here, in my case, it does.
Childhood is crucial for our development as people. I don’t think that this is controversial, but, what most people don’t understand is how important it is. Indeed, there is so much happening in a young child’s brain at any given moment. It is learning about the world, what is safe, what isn’t, and how to behave.
One crucial lesson I think the brain learns during this period, is what defines humanity. We play and build shared experiences with our family and friends. Through this, we learn and understand our place within humanity.
However, trauma changes the brain, its development, and what it learns. Growing up, I had unique experiences that my peers did not have. The brain was forced to amnesia away trauma and make me forget about it. Still, on the subconscious level, it always knew what had happened.
Looking back at my childhood, the signs of a traumatized brain were always there. From what tiny bit of childhood I can remember, I acted strangely and differently from the other children. This led to ostracization and othering by the other children, especially in high-school. What I didn’t understand, nor had others bothered to figure out, is that the brain was working over-time to keep itself safe.
I have had such unique experiences since childhood, experiences that I can not talk about. This blog is honest, yes, but I’m no fool. I won’t talk about what I’ve experienced in anything but broad strokes.
Trauma, sometimes explicitly, tells you that you do not belong to humanity. You don’t share experiences with others, it changes how your brain works, at least in my case, to such levels that other people are fundamentally unrelatable.
This week alone, twice I’ve demonstrated this by guiding friends through an exercise. In this exercise, we would raise our hands in front of our own faces, then wiggle fingers in order and squeeze their tips. Then I asked if it felt like what they did involved their hand. Unassured, they affirmed that it did. I say, for me, it didn’t. It involved a hand, but not my hand. This is depersonalisation, I am disconnected from the body, numb to it. It’s not dysphoria, simply, the brain has put up a wall, disconnecting me from the body. I have been this way for as long as I can remember. It’s caused by this trauma disorder.
Chances are you, the reader, and I have such fundamentally different brains with radically different ways of understanding the world. Which of us has humanity? Logically, we both do. However, decades of humanity being defined by people who don’t experience these issues. My experiences. It leaves me disconnected from humanity. I am painfully aware of the gap between me and others, myself and humanity, between my mind and the hand.
I caught a glimpse of a stranger through the window. They look back at me. Pull a confused expression. We stare at each other. Then start tilting our heads. We get close to the glass and examine each other. I look at their eyes, their lips, their hair. I press my hand against the glass, they do the same. I sigh. Step back. I walk away from the mirror and turn on my computer.
Allah and the Qur’an are intrinsically related to justice. Allah, through the Qur’an, and in Islam, constantly guides us towards justice. Here, in the Qur’an and Allah’s divine thought, we can find humanity.
35:27 Do you not see that Allah sends down water from the sky, thus We produce with it fruits of various colors? Of the mountains are peaks that are white, red, or raven black.
35:28 Among the people, and the animals, and the livestock, are various colors. As such, only the knowledgeable among Allah’s servants reverence Him. Allah is Noble, Forgiving.
Yuksel, Edip. Quran: a Reformist Translation (Koran, Kuran in Modern English) (p. 285). Brainbow Press. Kindle Edition.
In numerous places, Allah via the Qur’an reminds us of one fundamental truth; Allah created every person of any type. As a result, we are all connected via Allah, we are also connected to all things. In that, we have a baseline shared experience. In those ayah above, those who are knowledgeable will understand and appreciate this shared “createdness”.
As we’ve seen, including some of my personal examples, that this denial of humanity is a fertile ground for bigotry. As I look into myself, I see most of my negative and hurtful behaviours stem from this denial of humanity. Sometimes, it’s not a strong feeling, merely a quiet voice which hints at the lack of feeling or thought in others, but it is enough to kickstart this denial.
This downward trajectory, I believe, is one of the crucial points behind Allah’s insistence that this shared humanity is understood.
Such messages of acceptance in shared humanity are found in hadith and stories about the prophet Muhammad (ﷺ). In his last sermon, Muhammad made a clear point of talking about this shared humanity. Pointing out that we are all from Adam and Eve, no person has superiority over another, and we all contribute to the same ‘brotherhood’.
All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor does a black have any superiority over a white except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves.
Most interestingly, Muhammad ends this part of his sermon by commenting that refusal to appreciate this shared humanity would be “injustice to yourselves.” Attention must also be brought to a simple fact; this is the Prophet’s last sermon.
All people, all Muslims, I read from the extract above, fundamentally share this ‘brotherhood’. Most importantly, each Muslim contributes to this brotherhood – shared humanity. As we understand now, denying this humanity is harmful to the self and others.
Honestly? I’m not sure if I can regain that connection to humanity. The modern day, 2022 England, is not the environment for a openly transgender, neurodivergent, isolated, young, chronically traumatised Muslim, to heal in.
I can attest to the loneliness that comes with losing that connection to humanity. For it isn’t they, as humanity, and us, as disconnected from humanity. Each person with this disconnection is place inside of a cell alone. You cannot talk to anyone else, nobody can talk to you. Simply, you do not have shared experiences.
Is there a way forward for people? People who have been shunned from humanity. Yes. There is a path forward; surround yourself with people who will affirm your humanity. That is, people who understand how you feel and think. People who can relate to your situation. People who you can relate experiences with.
This is how minority communities are formed. Where groups of people who have been denied humanity by the majority, come together and seek humanity amongst each other. Through this, new friendships, romantic/sexual relationships, and found-family can be forged. This new shared humanity.
But. That has not worked for me. I don’t know if it ever will.
Being a chronic trauma survivor changes you and your brain. Fundamentally, the experiences that have been extremely influential on me. They cannot be shared. They are utterly and entirely unique. Not that people can’t have similar things that happened to me, happen to them. However, the context, persons involved, and the response will all be unique to me.
The PTSD and hypervigilance makes it nigh impossible to lower my defences. Especially out in public. Typically I find myself suffocating in a ocean of diverging wants and needs. Each pulling me towards their self-determined point of safety. Each slowly pulling me apart as my social energy burns itself away.
Healing is extremely difficult, and painful. I recognise that the above is something I must do. It’s something I try to do. This year I started going to virtual classes at the American Islamic College. I have surrounded myself in queer Muslims who are interested in gender & Islam. Queer and Muslim being my, at the moment, two (of three) most prominent identities. Some people, I continue to talk to outside of class.
Perhaps, on a small scale, there will be individuals with whom I can start to build some humanity. Though, I think any grander scale is not going to happen. At least not for the immediate future. The other aforementioned identity, arguably the most impactful identity, is that of a chronic childhood (and onward) trauma survivor. It truly impacts every element of my existence.
I sense, perhaps within myself, this frustration. Haven’t I just spent the last two and a half thousand words talking about how important this humanity is? Trust me, I know, as someone who has seen the real-time decline of their connection with humanity. But, this brain, which has been damaged with neurobiological disorder. I can’t give consent to it, the brain will simply do what it wills. Whatever it feels it must do to keep me safe.
Insha’Allah, with therapy, friendships, and a lot of healing, I’ll be able to get there. But for now? Here I am, Micah, disconnected from the sense of humanity. Fostered by unique experience and encouraged by repeat external messages, pushing a narrative; me and them.
Ya Allah, irrahman, irraheem. To you is all in the heavens and on earth, all in the East and the West. To you is the spirit of our existence, in this is our true shared humanity. O’ Lord guide us to understand this sharedness, that we may appreciate ourselves and each other. Ameen.
I arrived at my destination a little later than intended. As I walked into the building, registration quickly pointed me towards the meet-up. And for the first time since I had converted, I was surrounded by, not only friendly faces, but fellow Queer Muslims.
I had taken the train from the town I live in, to the centre of Manchester. From there I navigated toward my goal; a pre-Ramadan Queer Muslim meet-up. This is hot off the heels of an essay I published on my professor’s blog about trauma and Islam. Clearly I knew my angle and what I’d talk about; disability and Ramadan. Therein I spoke about the challenges of being not only disabled but an isolated Muslim. It’s from this experience I want to write this essay you’re reading now.
An honest, truthful, and frank discussion about disability, specifically mental health & disorders, and Ramadan.
Content warnings for; dissociation, disorganised eating, trauma disorders, and trauma as a topic.
I have a diagnosis of C-PTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), which I got when I was ~20, due to childhood trauma, and epilepsy which I was diagnosed with when I was a young teenager. However recently, I feel like this C-PTSD diagnosis is not accurate. Again, check the essay about Islam & Trauma for more information about this.
Let me be blunt, fasting is difficult. Even for people who have no disability, fasting is difficult. It’s supposed to take something that requires extra effort. That’s indeed why Allah makes clear so many exceptions for fasting during Ramadan. It’s supposed to impose and extra difficulty onto our comfy lives that makes us appreciative; appreciate what Allah has given to us and to be closer to Allah.
Obviously, our lives are not necessarily comfortable.
For me, food has always been an unhealthy coping mechanism. When I’m overwhelmed, or especially dissociated, I learnt growing up that overeating sometimes helped with this. It replaced my dissociated self with a content one, or perhaps, a manic one (after consuming much chocolate as a teenager).
Naturally, my connection to food is a tenuous one. A to-and-fro. On one hand, I must eat to survive, on the other overeating is unhealthy, yet helps sate my dissociation. There’s a balance that must be maintained in order for healthy eating; a balance I’ve rarely been able to achieve.
I’m fortunate to be much lighter than I have been at my heaviest, alhamdulillah. But I have gained weight over the last 2-3 years. Due in no part to extremely stressful and traumatic experiences. Since those events, I’ve found it nigh impossible to get my eating back under control.
So this, combined with the dissociation, and also the pre-existing disorganised eating, creates a complicated relationship with Ramadan.
2021, I, like almost everyone, was deep into lockdown. Though for me, it was a relatively painless experience. I graduated during lockdown, finished my dissertation online through lockdown, and I got my first career job during lockdown. No, instead, my greatest challenge would come with The Holiest Month. The year prior, before I took shahada, I had quasi-attempted Ramadan; I had misinterpreted what was meant by a fast and kept drinking. So this year, 2021, would be my first true shot at it.
Roughly 6 days into Ramadan. I wake for my suhoor, a hefty bowl of porridge and some fruit, alongside a large bottle of water. I message my partner, “I’m awake.”
“Awake”, however, is a generous way to describe my shape. I was extremely tired, barely able to focus on my prayers. Then I dragged myself back into bed. I tossed and turned, my eyes were heavy but unable to close. Lo, as I glared at my phone yet again, 04:45 had turned to 05:45 without any sign of sleep. Eventually, I relent. Get up. Open my work laptop. And log in.
Ramadan, by its nature, disrupts the regular flow of the day. This, I interpret, is by design, Allah designed the rotation of the Moon, Earth, and the entire universe. So She knew that Ramadan would come with shifting fasting times throughout the month. This movement within The Holy Month makes it impossible to have two identical days, thus giving us the opportunity to reflect on and engage with the status quo of our lives.
Allah through the Qur’an constantly challenges us to betterment, and this can only be achieved through re-thinking the norm.
38:3 How many a generation have We destroyed before them. They called out when it was far too late.
38:4 They were surprised that a warner has come to them from among themselves. The ingrates said, “This is a magician, a liar.”
38:5 “Has he made the gods into One god? This is indeed a strange thing!”
38:6 The leaders among them went out: “Walk away, and remain patient to your gods. This thing can be turned back.”
38:7 “We never heard of this from the people before us. This is but an innovation.”
38:8 “Has the remembrance been sent down to him, from between all of us!” Indeed, they are doubtful of My reminder. They have not yet tasted My retribution.
Yuksel, Edip. Quran: a Reformist Translation (Koran, Kuran in Modern English) (p. 293). Brainbow Press. Kindle Edition.
The Qur’an, as shown in the ayah above, warns us about becoming stale in our ways. We’re in a constant state of change, whether that be emotionally, culturally, socially, and/or physically. As such, Allah via the Qur’an is challenging us; change. See our change, encourage our change and growth.
Fundamentally, change is scary. The Qur’an is littered with stories of people who, ruined by fear, were ultimately their own undoing. We must be open to change and new ideas, for ourselves and to appreciate as many of Allah’s signs as possible. For we’re not perfect, by design, and a part of this life is recognising what we need to change within ourselves, and within society, in the direction of justice.
Each day of Ramadan greets us with innovation, change, and we should embrace that. This is The Holy Month, when our connection with Allah is at the forefront, and with Their help we can achieve real positive change.
However, with this designed change creates problems. Especially for people with disabilities. Allah through the Qur’an lays out clear, and generous, exceptions to fasting. Namely that exception of being exempt due to illness.
Allah, fundamentally, does not need anything from us. We, mere humans, are in constant need of Allah and Allah’s guiding hand. Yet don’t I deserve the right to fast Ramadan? Disabled I may be, but I deserve to experience that closeness with Allah.
Programming is something I’ve done for as long as I can remember. Like speaking English, it’s something I don’t need to think about. Where others see lines of code; I see relationships between data, and the manipulation required for them. However, at 10:20, the Java I have been writing has lost all meaning.
Like the Meroitic script of the Kingdom of Kush, the once deeply meaningful text has since had its reason lost to time. Much effort was going in to attempting to read the code. However much I tried to focused my mind, it failed to move beyond the 1st gear.
I’ve never been able to stick to a routine. I constantly find myself in a state of exhaustion, but unable to sleep. My trauma disorder eats away at all my mental energy; like oxygen to copper, the symptoms corrodes away at my infrastructure. I, Atlas, damned to hold up this world for my sins.
4:132 To God is all that is in the heavens and all that is in the earth; and God is enough as a Caretaker.
Yuksel, Edip. Quran: a Reformist Translation (Koran, Kuran in Modern English) (p. 98). Brainbow Press. Kindle Edition.
Yet everything on Earth and in the heavens belong to Allah. So there is meaning in a Ramadan for people like me. People for who the fast, disruption, and obligations add so much on to their already heavy shoulders.
To understand what Allah is teaching me, I turn to my original thoughts; Ramadan is about change and appreciation. Change can take many forms, if, for others, the disruption to their status quo is that change. Perhaps my change will be routine.
Routine is, despite how poorly I keep to mine, vital for those with disabilities. This is what I am going to change this Ramadan, insha’Allah, with Allah’s help. Specifically around bed times, this Ramadan I am going to create a schedule and routine. I will probably fall out of it here and there, but that’s okay. So long as I try towards betterment, that’s all that can be asked of me.
Though despite my meditation here, I’m still dissatisfied; dissatisfied with this limitation. This ambivalence is disturbing and unpleasant but, insha’Allah, this Ramadan it will fade. I will learn my own Ramadan, my own tradition, my own way of expressing my faith.
While others will be fasting, I will be trying to look after myself. Try to unwind, try to perform healthy self-care. I will be giving up take-aways, something I am too reliant on, I will be trying to pray more when I can, and I want to write dua. Whilst I may be limited by this body and this brain, my mind is a wonderful tool of expression. It is a gift, and I want to use it this Ramadan.
For the first hour and a half, I rarely spoke. Instead absorbing the words of my fellow Muslims and absorbing what they had to say. At some point, I knew I’d have to talk about my Ramadan experiences.
“I look at Ramadan, and I think; what is Allah trying to teach me? I am disabled, severely so. And I’m proud. Yet what does the Qur’an start with? Bismillah, irrahman, irraheem. The Most Gracious, The Most Compassionate.
The Most Compassionate doesn’t want me to suffer, They do not need anything from me. So why would I suffer? It’s not for my betterment. No, instead, Allah is telling me to be humble. That I need to accept my humanly limits. I’m not responsible for my disability. Allah loves me and I love Allah in return. We all deserve to have the holiest Ramadan.”
O’ The Most Knowledgeable, if thought were a needle and language the thread. Then by Your grace is creation in a quilt of expression and meaning. As Your Guiding Quilt lay over mankind, it actions within us the knitting of our understanding. With You, we may achieve the most clean of edges and most dense of weaving, that we may cover our children and warm them from the chill of the night. Ameen.