06/29/2015 12:41 EDT | Updated 06/29/2016 05:59 EDT

My Struggle to Dress Appropriately During Ramadan

woman wearing a head scarf sitting at a table
Purestock via Getty Images
woman wearing a head scarf sitting at a table

I am confident that anyone who meets me or even those who know me "casually" does not think of me as a "religious" person. Muslim women are supposed to dress modestly in public, covering their body including arms, legs, cleavage and hair. The face, hands and feet do not need to be covered, though some Muslims believe the face also has to be covered, though in my humble opinion, I think this is a minority view. I know others judge this style of dressing as oppressive, but every single Muslim woman that I know (personally) that has chosen to wear a head scarf/hijab and dress in "Muslim" appropriate attire has done so of their own free will. It's no different than choosing to wear a maxi dress for fashion, or an orthodox Jewish women wearing longer skirts and covering their hair, or wearing a long gown and hat when graduating. It is just a matter of choice.

Like other women, I wake up to the same clothing dilemmas. Is my dress too short? Are my pants too tight? Is my bra visible under my shirt? Is my neckline too low? Is my outfit flattering? Do my arms look flabby in short sleeves? Should I wear panty hose? Does the maxi dress "drown me"? These dilemmas exist for women of all different belief systems, regardless of how conservative they dress.

My physical appearance is not very Muslim at all. In the summer, I am almost always caught wearing a dress or skirt that sits just above my knees or capris/shorts with a t-shirt. I have thin pink streaks that run through my hair, and the only time my hair is covered is when I am praying, in the Mosque, or when wearing a hat as a fashion statement or to keep me warm. I do not wear a hijab or dress in Muslim appropriate attire, and yet, among other things, I pray five times a day, eat only halal meat, never drink alcohol, and never miss a fast in Ramadan (unless for an exempted reason).

Many of my Christian friends have expressed that Christmas brings out the better in them. They want to go to church, spend more time with family, donate to those less fortunate, and reflect on who they are and what is important to them. Ramadan brings out the same in practicing Muslims. With the additional factor of fasting, fasters are more focused and aware of their actions and behaviour. After all, how can you not be when your day is so different from a regular day?

Every Ramadan I choose something about myself that I want to improve. The hope is that I can work on it while fasting and then carry it forward after Ramadan ends (otherwise, what's the point right?). I would be lying if I said I have always been successful carrying it forward thereafter, but for the most part, it stays with me. One year, I decided to be more compassionate, even when I felt that it was not warranted. It is still work in progress, but over time I have become a more compassionate person and I feel good teaching the same values to my children.

The one aspect I constantly struggle with every Ramadan is my clothing choice. I feel that if I am fasting, I should dress closer in accordance with the Muslim dress code. So I try my best. I put my "short" skirts and dresses away and wear my long skirts and maxi dresses. I tuck my capris and shorts to the back of my closet and wear my soft (summery) trousers. I still wear short sleeves, even though arms and legs are not that different, or are they? Does any of it make sense? I don't really know to be honest. I think, at some point, we are all guilty of doing something that does not completely make sense.

I wonder if other moms, Muslim or non-Muslim, ever wonder about how their dressing style impacts their son or daughter. I wonder if my length of skirt/dress choice will be too short or too long for my daughter when she gets older. How about if she wants to wear something super short and when I say "no" she responds back with "well, what's the difference if it is a few inches shorter!". I wonder if both my son and daughter will think it is hypocritical of me to dress more modestly during Ramadan. Those practicing other religions often dress differently when visiting their place of worship (church, temple, synagogue, etc.). As a Muslim, I do the same, though I recognize that is different than changing your style of clothing when outside of being at a religious institution. Is my ultimate goal that one day I will leave Ramadan dressing more conservatively for the rest of the year? I am not sure, but maybe.

When I started writing this blog about clothing I hesitated. Unlike my last post, it is tough to write about something that I am unsure of myself, and it is even tougher to write about something that is already highly criticized. Being a part of a religion that is widely misunderstood is tough to say the least. Prior to these blogs, I personally have faced discrimination as a Muslim only once and it ended up being a positive experience, but that is a story for another day. Religion is like racism, one person from one religion can be judged so harshly for their actions, but someone from another religion carrying out a very similar act goes unnoticed. In fact, I think people turn a blind eye to the similarities because it is easier to insult then be kind, to hate then love, and to be ignorant then to be knowledgeable.

It was interesting to read the comments that followed my blog posts last week. I believe everyone is entitled to their opinion. Humans are hypocrites and quick to judge others, and I have accepted that completely. One person said that I am a horrible parent for raising my child part of a religion. I laughed when I read it, and it reminded me of the time I had a mom (a stranger to me) tell me that she questions my parenting skills because I pierced my daughters ears as a baby. I can confidently say that I am not a bad parent, in fact, far from it. I am not a perfect parent either, and again, far from it. I am also far from being a good person, but I try to better myself regardless of what others think of me. Ramadan gives me the yearly "push" that I need.

Ramadan is not just about abstaining from eating and drinking from dawn to sunset, it is far greater than that. It is about reflecting who you are and who you want to be, and this journey is never ending. I am committed to taking this journey for myself and the two little munchkins that look up to me. After all, don't we all, regardless of religion, race or culture, strive for the same -- self-improvement.


Quick, Nutritious Ramadan Recipes