The Long-Needed Embracing of Islam in the West

Explaining the positive change in mentality when it comes to Islam in the Western world.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

March 11 marked the first day of Ramadan in 2024, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar for us Muslims. From sunrise to sunset for 29 or 30 days (depending on whether or not the moon rises), we abstain from eating, drinking, and doing other things we consider unholy, such as lying or gossiping. During this month, the Holy Quran was revealed. We’re encouraged to take this time to contemplate and rack up all our good deeds. As Muslims, we’re supposed to do charitable actions—like giving to the poor—but this month is the time to go the extra mile. 

Recently, as I received “Ramadan Mubarak” text messages from my non-Muslim friends, I found myself thinking about something I’ve noticed: the increased assimilation of certain Islamic aspects into Western culture.

     One example of this is the use of Islamic vocabulary in everyday life. Some of the more common Islamic words I’ve heard being used by non-Muslims are “Mashallah,” “halal,” “haram,” or “Walla/wallahi”. Here are the breakdowns of what the first three words mean: 

     Mashallah is a word used to praise anything you see or hear that is good. The literal meaning of the word is “because Allah [God] willed it.” For example, if I saw a sunset, I’d say “Mashallah.” Therefore, I am citing God’s role in the creation of all things good. “Mashallah” is also significant in many cultures associated with the Islamic faith, such as the South Asian and Middle Eastern cultures, and more. Furthermore, it can be used to ward off things like jealousy and the evil eye. 

      Halal and haram mean “permissible” and “non-permissible,” respectively. Most of the time, they’re used to refer to food or certain actions. For example, drinking and smoking are haram. Recently, people have used it to talk about others, using phrases like “She’s so halal” or “She’s so haram.” Though these phrases technically don’t make sense, they get the point across. 

As Muslims, if our non-Muslim friends said any of the words above—with good intentions—we’d probably laugh it off. However, the same is not to be said for the word “wallahi.” Wallahi translates to “I swear to Allah,” and is a word to be used in the most extreme situations. It should not be thrown around casually or seen as slang. Using this word lightly can be offensive, especially if said by a non-Muslim. 

Another example of assimilation is visible in the change of attitude toward the way Muslims dress. In the past, women who publicly wore the hijab were often harassed, ranging anywhere from being jeered at to having their hijabs ripped off. Unfortunately, this still exists today. However, it has decreased to an extent, and some people are starting to see this religious practice of modesty in a more positive light. For example, just about anywhere online, you can find videos of non-Muslim women willingly trying on hijabs. Contrary to the popular belief that this is an appropriation of our religion, most Muslims don’t see it that way and instead view it as a way for others to appreciate our faith.

      The same thing can be said about the uptick in modest fashion. A couple of years ago, fashion revolved around wearing things that flattered one’s body shape and emphasized certain features, and Muslim women would often be shamed for wearing loose and long clothes, especially in the summertime.  Now, casual comfort clothes and modest attire are seen as fashionable. Though modesty isn’t just for Muslims, it is certainly prevalent in our religion. One thing to keep in mind if you’re planning to try fasting a day with your Muslim friends or wearing an abaya—a long gown some practicing Muslim women wear—is to remember to give credit to the culture itself and not just do it for the sake of being trendy. 

Now, how can you give credit to a religion? The best way is to educate yourself on the origin of cultural symbols. For example, if people had kept an open mind from the start, Muslims would have never faced discrimination. Non-Muslims would know that the hijab, for example, is seen as a symbol of devotion to faith and a practice of modesty not oppression by the patriarchy. 

      Some Muslims may feel bitter that the religious practices they’ve received discrimination for in the past are now seen as something trendy or aesthetic. Though we deserved respect from the start, per Islam’s teachings and the spirit of Ramadan, it’s crucial that we think of the bright side. The perception of Islam by the West has come a long way. From being called “barbarians,” “terrorists,” and “oppressed” while being feared and hated to being acknowledged and appreciated, our religion is finally receiving the positive recognition it deserves. 

      None of this would have been possible without the rise of diverse representation in social media. The increase of classes that focus on Islam and informational resources to educate individuals have also helped to combat misunderstandings. Mindsets regarding Muslims have come a long way from when they first started. Of course, there is still progress to be made, but Alhamdulillah (thank Allah), it’s becoming easier and easier to live and fully embrace the Islamic life in the West.