The muslim mums were gathered in a living room belonging to one of their own, discussing issues and events that recently have affected their lives.
"..I just want my children to wear muslim clothes, you know...to be proud to be muslims.."
Everyone agreed and nodded of course, except for me. Well, I was nodding too but only because I was a little impatient to make my point.
"Saying that.." I began, indicating that I see the merit of what she had said or I understand her point. However...
"Saying that," I began again, "what is really 'muslim clothes'?" I had asked. She had obviously meant the jubah for her children and of course the kopiah (although of course, she had other names for them).
I went on, "I mean, I come from a predominantly muslim culture as well, but our clothes are not like that, but they still cover the aurat- we don't need to wear something that symbolizes anything, as long as we cover what we're supposed to cover..."
Everyone was quiet for a few seconds - until one mum - an educated French muslimah - said, "But I think it's important for our children to understand that they're different than everyone else..."
And I understand what she wanted to say. That in a non muslim country like England, we need to instil in our kids that WE are not the same as THEM. WE do not celebrate Christmas or Halloween or Easter even though everybody else celebrates them. And WE do not believe in Father Christmas or Jesus or the tooth fairy even though they are frequently mentioned at school and on the telly.
So, the clothes that we wear may be the first 'signal' for our children.
But still, just like the saying that the clothes don't make the man, to me, the clothes also don't make the man muslim. Or more precisely, they don't make a man a good muslim.
I wanted to elaborate on the matter further with the muslim mums but they went on to talk about other stuff so I decided to just keep quiet.
I remember I used to be young and quite blind to my faith. I used to think exactly that - if the man wears a jubah or a kopiah, then he must be a good man. A good muslim man. But I was disillusioned at a very young age, just before I turned 18, when I was 'sexually harassed' by a smiling and good looking man in a jubah and a kopiah too.
It happened in Mekah.
And ironically, it was in a JUBAH shop. Two men manned the shop, one young, the other older. The older man looked pretty 'arab' to me, but the young man looked chinesey. I guessed that he's from one of the ~stan countries where they sometimes look pretty chinese like. They were many of them around in Mekah, I had noticed.
It was like a ritual. After prayers we made our rounds to the shops and bazaars to look for jubahs and what nots to bring back home to Malaysia. Mak was choosing and pointing at the jubahs hanging at the back, completely covering the wall - they were folded nicely so that the pattern around the neck could be seen clearly and they were neatly hung there for all to see.
My two younger sisters were also there, if I am not mistaken - I can't really remember, but at least one of them certainly was there, I think. But they were both a few years younger than I and a lot smaller in size - so I don't think anything happened to them.
At least, I hope not. I never did asked them.
The shop was small and there were a lot of stuff about so as I walked about the shop, looking for anything that caught my eye, the younger man (who was also walking about the shop like any normal shop assistant) and I had to press our bodies to the wall or the piles of stuff on each other's side so that we can move without touching each other.
But somehow, each time I passed by him, his jubah only slightly touching my telekung, I bumped into something else.
And somehow, THAT happened quite a number of times in the few minutes that we were in that shop.
I remember the confusion I felt - apa benda tu?
It felt hard but at the same time it was soft because each time I passed it, it bent and brushed against me, before 'bouncing' back to it's initial position, under the man's garb.
At first I thought it must be his belt jutting out in front of him under his garb...I wanted to just ignore it but it kept bugging me because it happened a few times, almost like the man was doing it intentionally - bumping me with it, I had thought...
Could it be..?? !!
But it couldn't be..!!
Only on the way back to the hotel it struck me. After all, I wasn't a complete innocent - I had started reading those Sidney Sheldon novels from the age of 12 and finished most of them before I turned 15...
I felt my hands, feet and face turn cold and my heart raced loudly in my chest. I was feeling numb and scared but I did not tell a soul. I kept thinking, can't my mother hear my heart beating like timpanis and didn't she notice my face turning white as sheet? But I would never have told her even if she had asked me and until now she doesn't know..
And THAT experience, in Mekah, no less, taught me about how one's clothes do not mean ANYTHING, especially I think, since it happened in the Holy City - where everyone, I have always thought then, is surely more God-fearing than anywhere else.
The experience changed my whole perspective of men in muslim garb, coz seriously, anything can lurk under that jubah...
And since then, pious looking clothes never meant anything to me.
They're just what they are.