Growing up in a Muslim Asian household meant you had an upbringing that revolved around religion and culture, maybe more of one over the other. There were a lot of blurred lines about what was considered cultural and what was religious. That still stands now. I remember my mum telling me, when I was younger, to do certain acts like folding the corner of my prayer mat if it was not in use... Muslims you hear me right?! And I would ask why? And the answer would be, "because my mum told me". This then extended to, "why did she do it?" which was furthered answered by, "because her parents told her". And so, the cycle began. This was not her misjudgement but was rather taught not to question elders. This was a mark of respect in the yester days. I understand this but this blind obedience can have its shortcomings.
In the Quran, it was revealed, "When it is said to them: "Follow what Allah has sent down." They say: "Nay! We shall follow what we found our fathers following." (Would they do that!) even though their fathers did not understand anything nor were they guided" [2:170]. This clearly states you should not follow carelessly and should in fact research and educate yourself before embarking on any practise.
The wisdom of this is to prevent the initiation of actions which have come about as a result of a misinterpretation and to prevent new acts of worship being implemented which can result in a negative repercussion. One of the most detrimental things that as a Muslim we could be doing is practising certain habits and when we are asked why, we give the same response as those before us.
This is one of the reasons I had embarked on gaining my own understanding and knowledge. This was through the medium of attending lectures, Islamic circles, classes, online audio and video reminders and more. The process was steady and Islam was always in my heart and at the forefront. I always identified initially as Muslim before anything else. Muslim, Welsh, Bengali. In that order. The more I learnt, the more I submerged myself into religion and found comfort that I found in nothing else. The more I learnt, I wanted my outward appearance to match my inner faith. I started to wear my headscarf correctly, not with a fringe making a special appearance (we have all been there). I wore longer looser items of clothing. When people looked at me, I no longer felt self-conscious. I felt empowered and true to myself. I believe I was able to implement the new knowledge I gained combined with what I was taught as a child, to help attain a sound understanding and an unbreakable connection with my faith.
It was a literal overnight change. I was working in a surgery at the time and went to work with a headscarf on covering my hair, neck, shoulders and chest. I was apprehensive as the day before I had my hair displayed and then that day physically I looked totally different. My colleagues did question this, but I suspect they were more concerned whether I was coerced into it... and so did the patients I encountered. Some made no comment as perhaps they felt as though they may offend me or of fear of sounding judgemental. Others complimented me of taking such a drastic step for my own growth. But personally, I welcome questions. How else are we to correct misconceptions of Muslims if we do not open dialogue about it? That day I felt content and in control. I truly understood and immersed myself in Islam and felt a better version of me woke up that morning.
This journey is different for everyone, or maybe some Muslims may identify with this... but this is just my humble story how Islam centred me and defined who I am. We should encourage each other to be inquisitive to bring a better understanding within the community and therefore have a positive impact in the society we are living in. We need to be open to questions and be prepared to answer the "why". Until that doesn't happen, there will continue to be a divide between us and them. Them and us.