Do Not Touch

Last week, I visited a sister’s house and as I was leaving I noticed a small sign in front of a little knick-knack that read “Do Not Touch”. This object that I had not noticed when I entered the room and would not have cared much about had I seen it, now held a strange allure.

I wanted to know what was inside, I wanted to touch it, and I asked her about it. She said that she made the sign for her grandchildren because they loved to go in her room and play with the items on her dresser. So I said, “Then the sign is not for adults”, and she opened the container to reveal its rather mundane contents for me.

From childhood, I have rarely cared for warnings from others to keep away from this or that. When I was a kid, I was definitely afraid (and perhaps I’m still afraid) of my parents, older relatives, and my parents’ friends because there was no concept of not disciplining children.

In church, we knew we did not mess around or make any noise, we sat there quietly sometimes through 4-hour plus services so I’ve never quite understood why children run around crazily in the masjid but then again I don’t have any kids yet.

Our parents used to tell us not to go down to this one gas station in the neighborhood but we would sneak down there with our pennies and silver coins put together to buy some candy and there was always the extra added delight of knowing we didn’t get caught.

As I got older, any book that was banned or controversial or warned against I wanted to read it. I felt that clearly those that have warned against it must have read it or read extracts from it and if they could read it then I felt that I should also be able to read it. My dad has an extensive library of books in our house and I used to read those books both nonfiction and literary classics and benefited immensely from them.

I’ve read many books that were at times banned in one school district or another or boycotted by religious groups, or just have been historically controversial and in general do not feel any worse for the effort. I would much rather have people warn me against reading poorly written literature (I never read anything Oprah has recommended, I made that mistake once) than to warn me because they fear my naive and innocent mind would not be able to cope with the material.

It was a rare occasion that our parents used to send us out of the room if they intended to watch an R-rated movie. So then for us, watching R-rated movies became highly desirable and by this I mean the R-rated films edited for television so that we still were not getting the full haraam aspects but we felt a bit like rebels for doing so.

In school, we were always warned about the dangers of cigarettes, drugs, and alcohol so of course we wanted gum that looked like chewing tobacco, candy cigarette sticks so we could pretend to smoke, soda in bottles particularly in Nigeria or non-alcoholic drinks that came in bottles so we could pretend to drink. We mocked the drug commercials i.e. “This is your brain, this is your brain on drugs”.

It seems to be a little spoken about fact that kids that grow up in the suburbs with lots of easy disposal income and lax parental supervision find that the gates to all haraam are open to them. When I was in high school, we saw the movie Traffic and had to laugh through much of it because it was so preposterous that rich kids from the suburbs would have to go into “the city” to satisfy their street pharmacy needs when no doubt drugs are easily available in and around well-to-do schools and suburbs.

I read the Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie before I became Muslim and loved it and read afterward and indeed it was offensive but I would never say that anyone should not read it if that is what they have chosen for their edification.

I tried to watch the film Submission by Ayaan Hersi Ali and Theo van Gogh but could not even with my gaze lowered on mute just reading the subtitles and on fast-forward. It was obscene and disgusting and melodramatic and ridiculous so I just shut it off. It wasn’t worth it. Now if someone asked me about that film, I would say don’t watch it because it’s filth but I’m not going to start a campaign against it or try to kill the director or screenplay writer.

When I came into Islam, I had the opportunity to mix with Muslims from many different ideological backgrounds. I found some people calling themselves salafi that warned against just about everybody so much so that I could not take them seriously and many of the people that were warned against were people that had benefited me in my Islam and my emaan. When I look at the person warning and the person warned against I remember the quote of one shaykh to think of the opinions of laypeople as if they are small children.

I remember one distinct lecture by Hamza Yusuf where he warned against reading anything by Fatima Mernissi, I did not know who she was at the time, but made a mental note to read some of her works, I haven’t gotten around to it yet but it’s there in my mind to do so.

I have heard many people warning against reading Irshad Manji or Asra Nomani (a former AlMaghrib alumni) but I don’t see any benefit in that either. I find Irshad’s voice annoying and her arguments weak as I read or listened to interviews with her so she is not on my reading list. As for Nomani, there are parts of her story that resonate with me so I may read her book but she also isn’t high on the reading list when there is so much good Islamic literature out there like Ibn Qayyim.

In general, I think it is counterproductive to warn against people, books or ideas because it only serves to increase the publicity for it in the minds of people that ordinarily would not have given it a second thought.

I do not think most people are stupid and I hold them to a very high standard, a standard similar to the one I hold for myself i.e. Allah has given us an intellect not so we can let it atrophy but to exercise it regularly in the process of filtering out the good and beneficial from the harmful.


  1. I have Mernissi’s Dreams of Trespass (her autobiography) if you’d like to borrow it. I’ve read Islam and Democracy as well as The Veil and the Male Elite, but they didn’t stick around.

    When I studied abroad in Morocco, the academic director was pushing her ideas hard. She reminds me of Leila Ahmed, who was loved by a certain college’s MSA and Religion Department.

  2. Actually, I was thinking of Amina Wadud, not Leila Ahmed, though we read both in college. Quran and Woman was carried around by some as if it were the Quran itself, subhanAllah.

  3. As-salaamu ‘alaikum wa rahmatullaahi wa barakaatu,

    I read Dreams of Trespass as well… I liked it, actually – it was interesting to see what her childhood was like.
    I tried reading another of her books, something about the hijaab, but didn’t finish it completely because it was a wee bit too intellectual for me – she brought up lots of sources and stuff about which I had no knowledge to judge or form an opinion for/against, so I just left it.

    I agree, getting up in arms against literature and whatnot isn’t very helpful; it just gets them more publicity.

    Your little sister in Islam,

  4. I would much rather have people warn me against reading poorly written literature…Yep! I take great delight in throwing away my kids’ Scooby and super-hero junk that finds it’s way into my house, BUT I do let them read them..before I let the baby tear ’em up…hehehe.

  5. SubhanAllah, I don’t remember myself being like that when I was younger…maybe once or twice in odd cases.

    I just remembered this funny story…so i’m a candy fanatic (as you know Apple) and once when I was like 8 or 9 (at the max) my parents bought this humungous jar of bubble gum candy. I was told I can only eat it after school or if I behaved…but I couldn’t resist it…so I tried to be sneaky and I woke up at like 3am (I guess I was dreaming about the gum balls) and went downstairs into the kitchen, climbed up on the cupboard and opened the cabinet above the fridge and alhamdulillah I got a handful. I was actually proud of myself, but then i’m leaving the kitchen and I see my mom at the stairs…”_______ what are you doing?!” And what was my answer?? OH it’s 3 am…I thought it was Tuesday.

    lol subhanAllahi wa bi hamdihi, I guess Tuesday was the day I could have the gum. That took me a while to live down in my house.
    But yea, when someone says a book is “controversial” or “potically incorrect”, I don’t see a need to read it.

  6. Subhanallah I remember too when we were young and wanted to imititate others cause we ourselves were prohibited from them. Like once I remeber when baseball was popular and the world series was just the in thing. My brother, sister and I used to get that shredded gum and act like it was tobacco and we started spitting too…lol. Yeah now when I look back at it I find it so silly but I have to say those were the days. Ahhh the joys of childhood.

    I remeber the fustrations and urges to want to see and do things that we were prevented from…that’s why I became rebellious too. Alhamdulillah I didn’t get too rebelliuos though…and at a young age I found Islam all over again. I thank Allah everyday for Guiding me back to Islam before anything got out of hand.

    All I want is to go to Jannah and make my Lord pleased with me. There’s just so many obsticles to go through before you get there.

  7. Asalamu alaykum,

    Anonymouse: Mernissi isn’t that high on my reading list but in sha Allah, I’ll borrow one of her books from Zaynab.

    Brooke: SubhanAllah, I refuse to suffer through poorly written works especially Islamic pamphlets any longer, I just refuse.

    Ya Amatullah: That doesn’t surprise me with you except for the bubble gum on Tuesday part, that’s too cute.

    Umm Luqmaan: I remember that shredded bubble gum, we thought it made us look cool, I don’t know who were thought we were fooling, I guess I understand a bit more why our parents laughed at us so much. In sha Allah, we will all meet up in jannatul firdous. I can almost see it.

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