Today was a day full of determination and strength, as I have found that Islam has become very difficult for me to maintain. The reason Islam has become difficult is because 1) it does not always fit in with a frantically busy university schedule (trust me, I am always busy doing something!) and 2) a lot of people, particularly Muslim men, have decided to try and dictate religion to me. This does not apply to my Muslim friends as they know not to push me too far and to never dictate religion to me, but strangers have tried to tell me how to live my life from how to dress to how to pray.
The thing I dislike the most about Islam is how inflexible it has become. A lot of the time, people interpret it as "hard and fast" rules whereas I would prefer a more flexible approach - I am not one of these people who can be bound to a strict regime of "You must do this" or "You must wear this". I'm just a normal girl from the South of England who happens to be a Muslim, and I think that's been forgotten in my case. People see this 21-year-old woman who's been in the news a bit and think "Oh she must be a strict Muslim then" and they forget that I've only been a Muslim for 17 days and only took my Shahadah 9 days ago. Life as a Muslim is not easy, and for me to come into this as an outsider and then to be bombarded with rules, regulations and unsolicited advice is overwhelming and extremely off-putting.
My relationship with Islam has become very hard for me, mostly because the unsolicited advice has made me want to quit altogether. I wanted to find a religion where I could just be myself but have religion too, and I thought I'd found it in Islam. However, the publicity of my journey has made me miss my old life where I was anonymous, could practice my faith as I wished, and didn't have so many regulations on my life. A lot of people forget that, at 21, my ideas about life are pretty much fixed and, because of my Asperger Syndrome (and sometimes my own stubbornness!), it is very difficult to change my mind about something - particularly when I believe it strongly.
For example, I do not believe that Muslim women should wear baggy clothes that are shapeless. By that same token, I do not believe that they should wear skintight clothing. My belief can best be summed up by Marilyn Monroe, who once said "Your clothes should be tight enough to show you're a woman but loose enough to show you're a lady". I agree with this 100% - women should not look shapeless but at the same time, they should not look like their clothes are glued to them. Take my everyday outfit as an example: straight-legged jeans, T-shirt, long-sleeved cardigan or jumper. That is by no means an "immodest" outfit, but nor is it shapeless - it shows that there is a body under the clothes but doesn't mean that you can tell what size clothes I am.
I believe that Islam has become very antiquated in its interpretation, and this is largely down to the media and Muslims themselves. The media has painted an extremely negative picture of Islam by saying that women are "oppressed", "victims" and that men are "terrorists" or "zealots" or even "wife-beaters". Now I know that some men are all these things, and that some women are also all these things, but this is not the majority of the people. Did you know that only 18% of Muslims are from Arabic countries? The rest are all Europeans, Americans and the like - countries that are renowned for their democracy, free speech and free will.
Regarding Muslims themselves, the biggest thing stopping them from being more tolerated is their views. My biggest bugbear is the idea that a Muslim man can marry a Christian, Jewish or Muslim woman - and yet a Muslim woman is only allowed to marry a Muslim man. As a Muslim woman myself, this makes my engagement rather interesting as I am engaged to a non-Muslim man. My fiancé also has a female relative who is married to a non-Muslim man, and has been married to him for over 20 years (her husband still is not Muslim, by the way). This led me to a quandary - if Muslim women are not allowed to marry non-Muslim men, how did this female relative reconcile herself to the idea of bucking this trend?
I think that Islam needs to take a look at its regulations and reinterpret them. The only thing that Islam has against my fiancé is his religion, which is something I find ridiculous. If he were a convicted criminal, or a rapist, or a paedophile, I could understand (I also would not be engaged to him!) but no - the only boundary between us and acceptance in Islam is his religion. In Christianity, a woman can marry into any faith she pleases. The same goes for Hinduism, paganism and the Ba'hai faith to name but three religions. If these religions can allow for interfaith marriage, why can't Islam? I have been told numerous times that my journey with faith is a personal matter between myself and my God - so why regulate my marriage? If my journey is personal, why is my fiancé's journey not equally personal? Surely his religion is his business and not anybody else's, so why do people seem to think they can tell him to convert or tell me to leave him?
Today, as you may have guessed, was a day for a lot of thought (it all took place in the hairdresser's, would you believe!) and reflection. I am not sure whether I will continue with Islam because it seems to be a lot of hard work and inner turmoil for the promise of something that we will only experience after we die. Some might call me a traitor, others may abuse me, but as I have been told before, my journey is personal. Therefore it is not for anybody else to judge me or what I choose to do. If I do leave Islam, it will be because of personal reflection and thought - and if I stay, it will also be because of personal reflection and thought. What I do is up to me, not anybody else.