I preferred to be shot to death in Kashmir than be cheated to death in India
I am an English lady who converted to Islam in Kashmir in May 2017. I am travelling by myself and one of the problems I have encountered is my lack of any accompanying (maharam). I have previously written about one aspect of this - the fact that as I am without na-maharam, in the UAE nobody will speak to me.
This applies only to the Emirati people. In Kashmir, people used to talk to me, and in UAE workers who are always from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Philippines may speak to me in the course of work and service - in a limited fashion of course. But there are many problems other than enforced silence of traveling by oneself without a maharam.
Islam forbids a woman to travel by herself. Narrated in the hadith is:“No woman should travel without a Maharam and no man should enter upon her unless a Maharam of hers is present,”Al Bukhari (1729) and Muslim (2391).
The commentary approves the wisdom of this because travel involves hardship and exhaustion and because of her weakness a woman needs someone to help her and stay by her side.This is indeed true and I have often wished I had a male companion for support.
Islam is concerned to take care of women, protect their honour, respect them and regard them as precious pearls that must be protected from evil.
As a lone woman traveller both before and after my conversion to Islam I didn’t find this to be the case. As a lone woman traveller, Muslim or not, I was regarded as a money tree whose leaves were ready to be freely picked.
I first went to India before coming to Kashmir. I was ill. And I had the misfortune to meet a Muslim travel guide in Jaipur, India, who proceeded to overcharge me for every possible thing. He was very fond of preaching the virtues of zaakatto me and very liberal in his donations to the beggars who swarm everywhere in India but somehow he never had any spare money to give them and harassed me to do so in his place.
He and some Hindi friends took me to Ajmer which I was told was a very holy mosque in Islam. I was told it was a place of miracles and people made pilgrimages there from all over the world.
I was doubtful because I knew only about the hajj to Makkah and Madina. And Ajmer is very redolent of a Hindi shrine with offerings and garlands everywhere. There is none of the quietude of Islam in these places. I since learned shrines are not part of Islam.
Apart from the noise and confusion and crowds typical of any Indian temple I was continually struck by the demands for money from the Muslim tour guide.
I was instructed to give a large amount of money to feed the poor but on behalf of himself and his friends. I now know zaakatcan only be offered individually. Such was this person’s greed for money that he never even bought me a bottle of water. If I didn’t have the necessary change I had to produce it as soon as possible.
On another occasion this same Muslim tour guide introduced me to a Muslim friend of his who lived in Spain. He was a very rich man. A number of people went to a restaurant with me as the sole and bewildered woman in tow, not understanding a word. They got up to leave and I followed.
Suddenly, my way was barred by a waiter who pushed me down onto the chair and roughly indicated that I must pay for the whole group. I was in tears. This I came to see as the ‘White Woman’s Burden’. It didn’t end in 1947 with Independence of India but continued and thrived in today’s India as well.
As a white European traveller, even though a woman, I was expected to pay for everything, regardless of the wealth of the other people with me.
Other Muslims, including a travel agent based in Patna, India ripped me off unmercifully. They grew rich and I grew poorer. This was before I became Muslim. I had thought Muslims to be honest or more honest than Indians. I found this not to be the case.
In India, everybody made outrageous demands on me. They clamoured that I should build them a house, pay for their sister’s wedding, educate their brothers, buy cars, rent hotels in a partnership where the investment was to be all mine and the profit all theirs. The demands for money were shameless and unending.
I was a lady travelling by herself with no home of my own, no car or little of anything. And most of all lacking a male companion. Then the opportunity arose to go to Kashmir. I seized it. People told me it was a very dangerous place and my safety was at risk. I felt it preferable to be shot to death in Kashmir than be cheated to death in India.
So I went to Kashmir where I converted to Islam in May 2017. People there were different to those in India. They looked after me and treated me kindly. I was protected and not cheated. But of course I had no relative or friend with me, male or female and because I had arrived in Kashmir as a European, local people often treated me as if I was still European.
They argued that it was acceptable for me to stay alone on a houseboat, a proposition I recoiled from in horror. I wouldn’t have stayed alone in a houseboat under any circumstances, especially when I found the male caretaker expected to sleep in the houseboat as well. Now I was Muslim I was horrified.
When I became Muslim, I at once put on niqaab and abaya. I did so in accordance with the injunction in the Qu’ran: “O PProphet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (veils) all over their bodies (that is screen themselves completely except the eyes or one eye to see the way). That will be better, that they should be known as free respectable women) so as not to be annoyed. And Allah is Ever Oft-,forgiving, most Merciful,” (Al- Ahzaab 33.59).
So I wear niqaab and abaya because I am a Muslim. And because Allah ordained this clothing for my protection. And for a long time I felt safe and happy. I was unaware that even in a Muslim country there is a risk inherent in wearing Islamic clothing.
I feed stray cats in a local shopping mall. After the first time I fed them they recognised me even though I am just one lady in black niqaab and abaya among many. My shoes make no sound either. But the cats instantly know me and come running to me with cries of joy. After they have had enough to eat they sit around me and next to me on the bench and one little one snuggles on my lap.
People also recognise me and smile at me and the cats and make remarks of appreciation. Muslims bless me for feeding the cats.
In Islam a good deed done to an animal is as meritorious as a good deed done to a human being while an act of cruelty done to an animal is as bad as an act of cruelty done to a human being.
An English lady smiled at the sight and when she saw my smiling eyes stopped and talked to me about cats then she held out her hand and told me her name is Charlotte. I said I am Aliya.
Charlotte saw only the Muslim woman in black niqaab and abaya. She didn’t know that until May 2017 when I converted to Islam I was,like her, an Englishwoman. I dressed like her, wore my hair uncovered. She knew enough of this Muslim country and Muslims to respect them. But this is rarely the case.
People in the West fear and hate Muslims. We are one and all regarded as potential “terrorists”. I knew all about this. I know if I go back to the West I will suffer persecution asa Muslim. But it has already happened to me - and in a Muslim country and not in the West.
It didn’t happen to me in Kashmir. I spent five months in Kashmir.
I saw the Indian Army presence everywhere in Kashmir, but it never troubled me. Cars I travelled in were frequently stopped for checking. But no Indian soldier asked about the lady in niqaab and abaya.
Kashmir is Muslim, part of a Hindu majority India but nobody saw the Muslim lady as a threat. I went to Uri and asked permission to go to Salamabad to see the Pakistani trucks which come on certain designated days each week.
The Indian Army officer asked my Kashmiri companion for ID but nobody asked for mine. Checking ladies was not compulsory. So I grew to accept and expect respect for being a Muslim woman as my right.
And then in a Muslim country, an American citizen saw this small figure in black abayaand niqaabcheck into a hotel by herself. So he complained that he felt threatened by me - that my very Muslim clothes made me a “terrorist”. My crime was solely being a Muslim woman in Muslim female dress as ordained by the Qu’ran in a Muslim country.
I was lucky this incident didn’t occur in the West. There I would have been immediately handcuffed and led away for brutal questioning. I would have been strip-searched. I might have been held indefinitely. I might have been tortured. My crime - just being a Muslim.
But I was lucky. The police were extremely courteous. I never felt threatened or afraid. I was given water, juice, offered food, taken to the washroom. And finally they apologised to me.
But all the time, I held thisbeein my right hand and my fingers silently told Subhan Allah, Allahamdullilah, Allahu Akbar. My questioners were also Muslim, they understood, but to the West my holding the thisbee is a threatening gesture.
I now know that I am myself a threat in my Muslim clothes. My questioners were also Muslims. They understood. But I know now that I am myself a definite threat to any Westerner just by wearing the clothes of Islam.
Before this episode, I understood that by wearing the niqaab and abayaI was ensuring my safety and protection as Muslim woman. I realise that in the West these clothes instead of protecting me it may lead to very unpleasant consequences.
After this incident, I went into deep shock for days. I was a woman alone without maharam to help or protect me. I feel deeply the correctness of the prohibition of a Muslim woman travelling by herself. But I also know that this will always be my fate. I will always be without any maharam. I was alone as a European woman and this has not changed when I embraced Islam.
When I lived in the West I never liked Western culture, Western life, the unclothed bodies, the swearing, the shouting, drunkness, nightclubs, violence, the lack of courtesy, the huge egos, the total lack of any grace or refinement that runs as a constant thread in Muslim life and culture.
In the West, they regard Muslims as otherand fear them.
In the aftermath of my awakening to the danger of being a Muslim, I tried to find some common ground with these people. They love animals - I also love animals. I joined online groups but I found that though some people were genuine others were full of lies and other things alien to my life and beliefs as a Muslim. The gulf looms large.
I was once an Englishwoman from the West. But now I fear the people I formerly lived among. I am afraid to go among them. I can’t go back now.I am Muslim.
The Qu’ran states: “O mankind, indeed we have created you from male and female and made you into peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righetous of you,”(Surah Hujarat #49/13).