“Practicing Islam in Short Shorts”: A passionate response to its critics

Published: March 4, 2015

Here was a young Muslim woman narrating her spiritual journey of how she transcended hollow religiosity, liberating herself from the chains of organised religion. PHOTO: TRUE STORIES.GAWKER

If you haven’t already read “Practicing Islam in Short Shorts” by Thanaa El-Naggar that went viral last week, now would be a good time to do so. The article is so well written and so meaningful that it was nothing short of a breath of fresh air; it was like her voice was speaking directly to my soul, almost as if applying cold balm to my wounds.

Here was a young Muslim woman narrating her spiritual journey of how she transcended hollow religiosity, liberating herself from the chains of organised religion. Previously being a conservative minded Muslim myself, I felt like patting her on the back after I finished reading her piece. After all, you don’t find many religious people who can really put their faith to test, and carve out their own spiritual path as compared to conveniently following what their parents or society teaches them.

It was no wonder though that many concentrated more on her wearing short shorts, drinking whiskey and smoking weed – causing quite a bit of controversy. And when critics started popping up on the blogosphere, I decided to respond in her defence.

Criticism is healthy, so long as it is constructive and not just for the sake of it. Unfortunately, in the couple of critiques I read, none of the analysis had anything truly substantial to offer, and it seemed that they had failed to grasp any real idea of what she was trying to convey. Instead, they interpreted the article to mean some sort of an endorsement by the author for wearing short shorts and consuming intoxicants in the name of Islam.

And here is where I beg to differ.

Nowhere in her piece does she argue or even hint that these choices of hers are Islamic, even in her own liberal interpretation of Islam. What she advocates is religiosity that “lives and let lives” instead of excommunicating people due to a difference in opinion or practice. What was ironic to observe was how some of the criticism was in the same self-righteous “I-know-it-all, let-me-save-you” tone that the author seemed so fed up with!

For example, one read,

“The fact that she is a Muslim is true; no one can take that away from her. She is a Muslim, but not necessarily a mo’mina (true believer).”

As well-intentioned as this sentiment may be, it feels completely out of place. Let’s face it, at the end of the day, we’re all human and all of us make mistakes. For a mere mortal to decide who qualifies as a ‘true believer’ in itself is absurd. You may think I am not a ‘true believer’ and I may think you are not a ‘true believer’. If failing to practice each and every tenet of Islam leads people to not being “true believers” then I guess none of us really are.

Do we never lie or gossip?

Do we stand up against oppression?

Do we not consider ourselves superior to those from other religious backgrounds?

The list is endless. So, ultimately, it is pointless to even make such a suggestion.

Sure, striving to practice the teachings of the Holy Quran as much as possible should be the ultimate aim for a Muslim, but naturally, very few of us attain that level of spirituality. Striving for perfection should not mean that one should feel remorse for a shortcoming here and there. If anything, it should enable us to appreciate the humanness of one another and make us humble enough to focus on our own spiritual path, instead of throwing stones at others who slip.

Furthermore, and I’ll say it again – we’re human, not God. Let us be humble enough to internalise that fully. It is simply not in our domain to decide who is a “true believer” and who is not, unless this person’s actions results in the oppression of others.

The dumbing down of religion, which Thanaa talks about in her article, and restricting it to only the rigid do’s and don’ts devoid of any spirituality has created a void that has led many people away from religion altogether. Those that stay, at least a good majority of it seem to practice a very superficial form of it.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Why do we forget that the Holy Quran is not only concerned about modest dressing and avoiding intoxicants, but that it is concerned about spiritual evolution, social justice and unity of humanity? If it helps to put this into perspective, references to modest dressing and avoiding intoxicants in the Holy Quran are not even in the double digits. Of course, not to suggest for a second that these topics aren’t important, but are they more or equally important as the other tenets mentioned above?

No!

It becomes increasingly frustrating to observe that it is only outer behaviour that seems to captivate the attention of so many Muslims today. The “right” way to perform our rituals, the “right” way to dress, the “right” way to this and the “right” way to that! Why does our discourse focus primarily only about these things?

We seem to be more concerned about our identity as ‘religious people’ by dressing and speaking a certain way than we are about making that inner transformation happen. It becomes a classic example of confusing the means to an end with the end itself. And that makes me question, aren’t all of us not terribly missing the point?

Essentially, what it all boils down to is this – is wearing short shorts and consuming intoxicants really a priority over the rising sectarianism, dogmatism, the erosion of moral values, poverty, illiteracy, corruption, and the alarming abuses of human rights that seem to plague Muslim majority countries today?

I wouldn’t think so.

This post originally appeared here.

Rohail Waseem

Ro Waseem

The author is a Muslim who writes about Progressive Islam. He runs a weekly blog on Patheos (www.patheos.com/blogs/quranalyzeit) and has contributed some of his articles to Huffington Post, Onfaith, & Tikkun, among others. He tweets as @Quranalyzeit (twitter.com/quranalyzeit)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Adeel Abbas

    Excellent writing. I fully refute these greedy of “Heaven” masses without knowing what should be the priority.Recommend

  • Queen

    The inner transformation is important than the outer one. If you have love for your religion within your heart, it will automatically reflect in your personality. But sadly in our society we gauge someone’s ‘religiousness’ through his/her outer appearance.Recommend

  • Nauman

    well saidRecommend

  • kickass

    Trash.Recommend

  • Ahmed

    The priority is and should be what is said by God.He is the judge. You or anyone cannot dictate or put your own opinions

    She cannot be religious with short shorts. Her salah will not be accepted. This has been told to us. You wana do it, it’s up to you. But don’t try to justify it according to Islam or project it in that was as this girl and author is doing by using “done by Muslim”. Covering of the legs is as important as stopping sectarian violence.

    I would suggest the author to please stop writing about religion. No matter how poor we get, or how illiterate we are. You will be held accountable for every word you write.Recommend

  • Alina Anjum

    I understand the intention of the article was noble, but the writer clearly missed the point. “striving to practice the teachings of the Holy Quran as much as possible should be the ultimate aim for a Muslim, but naturally, very few of us attain that level of spirituality.” By saying stuff like that, the writer passively denounces all of us who fail to do so as Muslims. Fact is, prayer and covering yourself is not what makes us Muslim. It’s more than that. It’s character and morality that matters more than practicing teachings. An ISIS soldier prays more than I do. I do not feel the need to further explain what i mean. I like the article, it just comes off to be a little bigoted. Recommend

  • Rebellious

    well i personally liked her idea and how she delivered it towards the readers. I was hoping for a review.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    I don’t get it. one one hand you say that she is not claiming that her choices are Islamic and on the other you are saying that they are.
    To be honest I don’t get the meaning of this blog. you claim that intoxicants are banned as per the Quran but there are other things mentioned in the Quran therefore we should first concentrate on those then come to intoxicants. this is one of basic logical fallacies. Use google to learn more about it. An example is “you cannot help the poor of Palestine so its no use helping your poor neighbours”.
    Frankly speaking You are doing a poor job of “defending” her. her blog speaks for itself. I read it and I knew where she was coming from. So did many others.Recommend

  • Sa

    She is making a strong point at the end by quoting a verse from from Holy Quraan (Surah Kafiroon) but see the irony at the start telling about drinking she forgets that drinking is a gross violation of another verse of the same Book.Recommend

  • Qarib Mukhtar

    I read her article and she does appear humble to me.You took her words literally.I am not much of a practising muslim either, but at the end of the day its between me and Allah, you are no one to walk up to me and dictate me, YOU DON’T HAVE TO PLAY GOD, or as i would rather say, Muslims SHOULD not play GOD, Let Allah be the Almighty judge instead of us acting like pious hench men.Recommend

  • Reema

    Probably the only piece of writing I’ve come across that’s defending the original article. This reflects the mind set of our society, how people cling on to the ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude. Brilliant writing. Get ready for hateful comments. Recommend

  • Nazar

    These are just exuses to do what you like while calling yourself a muslim and saying ‘I’m getting there. Dont judge me.’ There’s no such thing as a progressive Muslim or a Liberal Muslim as there is no such thing as a progressive Islam nor a liberal Islam.
    Islam is a way of life. How you interpret it is totally up to you. But you cannot forget the guidelines and perimeters that are allowed.
    I totally agree with the fact that no one can take your Islamic identity away from you, but you. But please do not have the audacity to claim that drinking and wearing revealing clothes does not count as a sin because you’re ‘getting there.’
    People like our writer friend here confuse the principles of Islam and make it hard for everyone else to follow it. Recommend

  • breera

    excellent waseem ur blog is thought provoking i read it once and i’ll read it again i’ll share it tooRecommend

  • mazharuddin

    those girls who do not wear burqa should be kicked out from PakistanRecommend

  • SamSal

    Sure,. But we will not throw you out of Pakistan. You know why? Because we believe in co-existing. And we believe in diversity and acceptance of differences.Recommend

  • SamSal

    Ok, so you say “There’s no such thing as a progressive Muslim or a Liberal Muslim as there is no such thing as a progressive Islam”.
    All right. Now please enlighten us on this. Because Islam is not progressive (as you said), do you believe that Islam is, perhaps, ‘regressive’ and orthodox?Recommend

  • SamSal

    Who are we to judge whether anyone’s salah will be accepted or not? Isn’t it all about neeyat, more than dressing?Recommend

  • Aaish

    Islam is a complete way of life. You can not add things into it saying it is ok to do certain things while having imaan in your heart. ITs not it, Your heart’s empty if that imaan does not reflect in your personality. Imaan is the most beautiful thing, Once you taste it, you just transform with its sweetness and then you yourself wont like to give any excuses for the forbidden things you did. And its true that our Lord is most Merciful and he might forgive us for our mistakes but why on earth denounce Our Lord’s Words and Commands who loves us so dearly.
    One more thing, its never OK to commit sins…. we should ATLEAST have this believe what we’re doing is a sin.. if we dont but instead start giving excuses for more ppl to believe its not a sin and just OK….then thats a greater sin.Recommend

  • Saqib

    We have to give space to such people to enter Islam fully if we refute them instantly then we close doors on them by putting label that you do not qualify to be a true Muslim. In fact by doing this we are denying our own duty to again and again go to such people to change their way of life, This is what is called “Amr bil Maruf wa Nahi anil munkar”Recommend

  • yousuf

    Excellent reply.Recommend

  • Uzair

    agreedRecommend

  • Zarrar Khan

    This piece is a desperate attempt to boost vulgarity under the garb of “moderation”. It’s about time that hypocrisy be abandoned as a whole.Recommend

  • anon0912

    First of all,I should inform everyone i am an atheist and have got nothing against religious people but being a former Muslim,i can tell you for a fact that you just cant pick the stuff that you like and disregard the rest,that’s called being a hypocrite.Sure you can lose your way,i mean everyone does but accepting drinking and smoking pot as a part of Islam is just plain ridiculous.Sure the religion allows freedom in some matters but not the ones mentioned above.The gist of what Thanaa El-Naggar was trying to say was people are too stern on some matters but forget the ones that matter like the spirituality of religion which is the very essence of it and I commend her for it.As for people criticizing Thanaa El-Naggar,everyone has their opinion but ultimately it is her own god who will judge her but seems to me like she is a better Muslim than most who just go through the motions without ever questioning why.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    rajneesh.mohan.7

    This is this mans facebook ID. He is a hindu from bihar. His page is filled with hindutva propaganda. His entire wall is full of Anti-muslim posts, some of them in clear violation of FB TOS. I have reported many of his posts.
    Anyway he is masquerading as a muslim while he is not. What an utterly shameful attitude. Devoid of ANY shame, mean and wretched. Is this what India is producing? Indians who try to masquerade as muslims so that they can spread hate?Recommend

  • Talha A.

    Progressive Muslim is fine. In fact, I think it’s the right way to go about it. Even Islam as a religion was not revealed at once but in stages. But sir/ma’am, there definitely is no such thing as a “Liberal Muslim”.Recommend

  • Talha A.

    You are correct. Having a hostile or derogatory attitude towards such people while correcting them would move them even farther away from Islam. But I guess he is arguing that if a person is committing sins and is currently on the way to embracing Islam perfectly, he/she should at least acknowledge that so and so of the activities would be counted as sins. One shouldn’t claim that it’s fine to follow a “Flexible Islam” or even worse, that my version of Islam is the true-spirited one. If you do this, then what’s the difference between you and the TTP (who also claim their version of Islam to be the truest).Recommend

  • Talha A.

    Exactly, but one can always try to correct and enlighten his/her fellow Muslim in a humble and welcoming manner. Don’t you think so?Recommend

  • Charle Chappatti

    I suspect that inside the author is probably an agnostic who wants to maintain a spiritual connection and to be a more compassionate and tolerant human being. I get it.

    The only thing I would suggest is that there is no need for her need to label her faith at all.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Agree with your view point.
    Simple question : who does more harm to the religion, the girl in short shorts OR the guy who kills in the name of religion ?Recommend

  • Aimon

    Those who don’t wear a burqa should be thrown out of Pakistan? Please first of all look at yourself, are you a practicing .
    Muslim? I bet no because if you were you wouldn’t state your views like that. Its a girl’s choice to wear a burqa or not, one should dress modestlymodestly and cover her head but wearing a burqa is not compulsory. Who are you exactly to enforce Islam? Allah is enough for guidance for everyone. In the long run, everyone will be accountable to Allah, so let’s just leave this matter for Allah to decide every one’s faith.
    Recommend

  • Aimon

    Agreed. I just realized we have so close and narrow minded people here in Pakistan.Recommend

  • thriftysmurf

    If there is a God then do as religion says…”dress modestly”. If there is no God, then there is no point in morality.
    On that note, I know many hijab wearing “modestly” dressed women who have sex lives that would make Kim Kardashian blush. So, no point in teaching dress code, you are better off teaching ethics.Recommend

  • sana

    he never said that her choices of dressing up in short shorts and drinking are Islamic. Nowhere is he encouraging this either. Did you even get the point of this article? This is a good time to realize where we stand today. We are in our dark ages and in order to survive and progress we need to let go of our arrogance and start thinking about how we can make social reforms.Recommend

  • sana

    She is not giving excuses. If you think she is then it is your fault not hers. She never claimed her dressing up to be Islamic and neither her drinking. She is not promoting it either. Who knows maybe she will given up drinking and start dressing up in Islamic way someday. God is the most merciful indeed and who knows she may enter the Jannah and you may not (God forbid), but we need to make this world a nicer place for people who are different than us. You have no authority to claim that she doesnt have enough Imaan. She could say the same about you …Recommend

  • A. Khan

    As it is, us Muslims are more interested in external displays of religiosity rather improving the inner being. HIjab, namaz etc. are outward shows of your convictions. Do the same convictions apply to your inner self like respect for others, humility, generosity etc.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    If he says hey choices are un Islamic them he is against her not on her side. How does a person defend another while being against them? She clearly says that she identifies herself as a Muslim. How can he call her choices unislamic and still claim to be defending her.
    Secondly. I pointed out the logical fallacies in his argument. How does an argument sans logic be worth anything?Recommend

  • Faulitics

    Yes. Longer beard, more “pious”. Proven fact.Recommend

  • Manahil

    Because those choices ARE unIslamic. But the point is, it doesn’t make her a non-Muslim, because all Muslims commit sins, yet most of conveniently forget what are sins are. For example, people are vicious to each other verbally and never stand up for the rights of the week, but the debate never arises whether they are Muslim or not. However, if someone drinks, yet fights for the rights of others, that person is immediately cast as a bad Muslim. People pick and choose what constitutes are a true Muslim or not.Recommend

  • Rebellious

    i dont know why people just hate burqa also i dont know why some others just try to impose it… no body can impose any thing on you only your religion can … and burqa is not compulsory but “Pardha” is…. and also dont be too harsh on someone your words freaks me out :D :) …Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    Unislamic choices don’t make you a non Muslim? What’s the difference between a Muslim and a non Muslim. Apart from un Islamic choicesRecommend

  • sana

    so what ur implying is that if someone gossips or lie or abuses the rights of others then that person is a non muslim? who decides upto what extent someone carries out unislamic way of life until he or she is called a non muslim who are we to judge how can we judge?Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    Then why are you calling them unislamic?Recommend

  • sc lady

    I am a Unitarian Universalist in SC. Our denomination is trying to put together congregations that thrive on diversity. Muslims who join our church would be UU Muslims and can continue practicing their faith. We are the church that can change the world.Recommend

  • RJSS

    Endless discussions and rhetoric…..Everything relies on “Amal” The doing. From simple and famous history look at Pharaoh and his wife and we all know which one is cursed in the holy book – although she was his wife but her “Amal” was different vs. Pharaoh and she is praised but not him. This is just 1 example out of TRILLIONS. Please let us move on from this petty matters e.g. short shorts, etc….bla.. bla…Writer was right in saying:

    Do we never lie or gossip? Do we stand up against oppression? Do we not consider ourselves superior to those from other religious backgrounds?

    The list is endless. So, ultimately, it is pointless to even make such a suggestion.

    I agree.

    “You work for your heaven and I will work for mine – you dont have the power to take me to the heaven only God has”

    Kindest.Recommend