I remember when I first became a Muslim, like so many us who reverted to Islam, I went through the whole “change your name”, change your look, and essentially change who you naturally, culturally are, as a person nonsense, and so-on. After my little street-life/party & drug-scene stint, I decided that I needed to be more religious. So, after High School, I dived head-first into the Salafi-Movement. Honestly, the Salafi-Movement, initially, was a very positive thing for me personally, mainly because it propelled my religiosity, my general pursuit for Islamic knowledge, and compelled me to take Islam a lot more seriously than I had been taking it previously.
However, like so many others, who got swept up by the religious glamour & grandeur of the ideals of the Salafi-Movement (which are actually valid when properly implemented with justice), the problem was that I had begun to change in ways that were contrary to the very fundamental teachings of Salafiyyah (The Way of the Salaf: following the religious examples of the Sahabah, the Companions of Prophet Muhammad [May Allah be pleased with them all-together] & the two generations of the Tabi`in, the Followers of the Companions [May Allah mercify them all-together]). I began to acquire this superiority-complex, which was encouraged by many of the so-called “Salafi Scholars” & popular Salafi-Propagators & “Students of Knowledge”, (the likes of Rabee` ibn Haadee `Umayr Al-Madkhali, and his subordinates, like Dawud Adib, Mustapha George, etc.), to view other Muslims, who either did not make the claim to be Salafis (those who claim to adhere to Salafiyyah) or were just not Salafi-enough, as being less Muslim than ourselves.
Then, before you know it, I was just another, ignorant & arrogant youth, just running my mouth, insulting other Muslims & people in general who were not even Muslims, with the complete green-light given to us by the Salafi leaders in our respective communities. Not only were we taught that all Non-Salafis were off-track religiously, but also, we were indoctrinated with the monstrous fallacy that the only true persons of knowledge were the “Salafi-Scholars”, from Saudi & graduates from Saudi and/or Saudi-funded Universities, or scholars & “Students of Knowledge”, from other countries who were “Salafi-Sanctioned”, and that the only way to practice the Sunnah (Prophetic-Tradition) was to do it the way the Salafis said to do it, which became so extreme-Everything that was done, from the way that I thought, to the way that I walked, to the way that I wore my clothes & especially what types of clothing I wore, were all controlled by the teachings of the Salafis-This became staple/default indoctrination (i.e. if the Salafis/Saudis didn’t do it, it’s not from the Sunnah).
We were all warned to not be like Non-Muslims, so this whole “Not imitating the Kuffar” wave came into play (the word Kuffar is the plural of the Arabic word Kafir, which means Disbeliever [someone who disbelieves in Allah, or any other crucial Islamic core theological belief, or or someone who rejects any major theological and/or religious tenet of Islam]). We were told that this was necessary for us to maintain an “Islamic identity”, but in all reality, it was nothing more than a typical control-mechanism, which meant that anything that was not Arabized and/or Saudified was therefore “Non-Islamic”. So, I went from being a free-thinker to being a robot, from being a leader, to being a religiously manufactured follower, we went from wearing sneakers to sandals, from fitted-caps to Kufis, Kiffayahs & Turbans, from GAP jeans to Daffah Thawbs (Arab long-body/full-body garments for men), from shorts to Izars (male waist-wraps/man-skirts), from Puma socks to Khuffs (Arab leather-socks). From 2000-2003, I had went back-and-forth, between Arab-dress & my regular cultural-dress. It became more & more difficult to decipher which dress was really for me.
I had to make a very serious decision, whether to keep this new-found Salafi-culture, or to revert back to my regular culture. I then decided to actually investigate this whole issue of “Imitation of the Kuffar”. I found out that what I was being taught was not at all, what was being projected by the Salafis, the truth, when it came to “not imitating the Kuffar”. I ended up learning that when it comes to fashion, from an Islamic perspective, the regulations of dress for Muslim men are not as extensive or conservative as it is for Muslim women, mainly because the parameters of our `Awrat (Private-Areas) are not the same as the `Awrat of the women, the `Awrat of men are only limited to what lies between our navels & knees, whereas the `Awrat of women extend to every part of their bodies. In fact, as long as a Muslim man doesn’t wear gold, silk, images (things primarily with eyes), transparent clothing, we can realistically wear whatever else that we want.
So, after learning this, and with me being me, I said to myself, “Fuck dis shit…..Imma wear what the Hell I wanna wear!!!”. Then, all Hell broke loose in the Salafi-World for me. Just because I didn’t want to dress like an Arab, I was ridiculed, mocked, made to feel uncomfortable, unwanted, ostracized, and it wasn’t until these events (I’ll explain some of them in a minute) took place that I realized that the Salafi-Movement was just like Roman-Catholic Christianity. Instead of a Pope, you have the King of Saudi Arabia, who even though is clearly in his religious practice a Non-Salafi, and if not the King of Saudi Arabia, would most definitely be considered & called a Hizbi (Religious-Heretic), the de-facto top religious figure, by virtue of the fact that every religious edict that comes out of Saudi must be personally approved by the current King of Saudi Arabia, or it’s not a go.
Then, for the first time in a long time, I started to actually think about what I was doing and what I had allowed myself to get into. I began to realize that this was exactly the way that Christians taught us how to act, just do…..don’t question, don’t challenge, and if you do, you’re not a good Christian. Well, it was just like that back in those days with the Salafis, if you questioned anything, or question any Salafi-Scholar, Salafi-Propagator or Salafi “Student of Knowledge”, then you were no longer considered a good Salafi or Salafi at all.
Okay, here’s when things got hot-and-heavy for me: As a result of my new-found fashion independence, I was immediately black-listed as a rebel, heretic, and everything else a Salafi never, ever wants to be called. This got so bad, that I almost ended up getting into fist-fights, with several Muslims, over this whole fashion issue, and to add insult-to injury, Mustapha George (whom I mentioned earlier) had actually tried to call me out during a Khutbah (weekly Islamic-Sermon given on Fridays) no-less. He had named his Khutbah for that week, “The Ettiquites of the Mosque”, when he explicitly said, “A Muslim brother should not come to the Mosque, like he’s going to a party.” Now, it was very obvious that he was taking a clear shot at me, by virtue of the fact that I was the only person in the Mosque that day, not dressed as an Arab. So, people actually started looking directly at me. This is just one particular example of how people tried to handle me, just on the issue of fashion.
These experiences from my life as a Salafi (by the way, I officially renounced being Salafi back in 2007) taught me some important things: One, be Muslim, without trying to be other than your true self. Two, don’t let anyone tell you to believe, say or do anything, regarding the practice of Islam, without exclusive, explicit proof from the Qur’an & Prophetic-Tradition-That was the main problem among the Salafi youth, being indoctrinated to don a culture that is not only foreign to them, but also having no Islamic relevance, and unfortunately, it still remains a problem that has purposely not been fixed, because some people always want dominance over others, which is pretty damn sad.
Now, on to my clothing line that I had attempted to start: In spite of the Dark-Ages of my life as a Muslim, I acquired the intense need to express myself fashionably, as a Muslim first, but also as a man of my times, as an Urban-Dweller, as a Hip-Hopper. I love fashion, and since this is the case, I feel like I’m obligated to be a fashion trend-setter, for each & every Muslim, living in Non-Muslim countries, shackled to a foreign interpretation, understanding & practice of Islam, which brings Khaleeji Clothing Co. into play: Rashaan Rashid (the brother that I had tried to get this clothing company off the ground with) & I had seen the need for Muslims (Muslim men particularly/especially) to be able to be Muslim, and at the exact same time feel to dress as they please, without being made outcasts, for not conforming to a cultural dress that is not theirs.
It is so important for Muslims in the West (Non-Muslim countries specifically) to take ownership over their own practice of Islam, the first way to acquire authentic knowledge, in the context of the Arabic-Language, to free ourselves of being shackled to any peoples’ or country’s relative, subjective, culturally biased interpretation, understanding & practice of Islam (i.e. learning the Arabic-Language, so we will be able to equip ourselves with the tools to go into classic Islamic works, to gain benefit for ourselves, as opposed to relying upon biased/inaccurate translations of classic texts, or relying upon biased/inaccurate translated lectures & classes) which takes a little more time, and another way is to free ourselves from being unnecessarily & unjustifiably fashionably shackled to any foreign peoples’ or foreign country’s clothing.
And, this is exactly what Khaleeji Clothing Co. had aimed to accomplish at the time: To give Muslims in Non-Muslim countries the confidence to dress the way that they want to, without scrutiny from those who don’t even live among us, yet have influence/control over us. We want Muslims to know that as long as whatever you’re wearing is Islamically-Compliant, then no one else, Muslim or Non-Muslim has the right to have an opinion about whatever you choose to wear, period.
When my business partner first approached me with the idea of helping him with starting this clothing line, I was honestly very apprehensive. I’ve seen a lot of Muslim clothing companies in the past, and those coming up, and I wasn’t very impressed, because I just saw that a lot of Muslim clothing designers were just revamping and/or modifying Arab-style trends. I wanted to be as distant from Arab-clothing, as well as Arab-style fashion influence as possible.
But, then I started to let the whole idea of me becoming a clothing-designer grow on me. I began to envision that I would have a perfect opportunity to display Islamic-Fashion, in a suitable context, for Muslims outside of the Arab-World. It became very important for me to speak on behalf of Muslims, who want to be Muslim of course, but don’t want to feel that they have to be Arabs, in order to be Muslims. In fact, I remember having a tense discussion/debate/argument, with another Muslim, about the whole idea of Islamic-Fashion. He had asked me, “Hey, when did Muslims stop wearing Kufis?!!!”, and, of course as only I can responded sarcastically, “When we found out that Kufis are not religiously required!!!”. That started this long, drawn-out talk, between two brothers & myself, basically they were double-teaming me about this issue, they were clearly pro Arab-domination, while I wasn’t. It even got to the point where one of the brothers said, “African-Americans don’t even have a culture.” (keep in-mind that he himself was an African-American). This literally knocked me off of my feet!!! I was so disgusted by his statement, which intensified the already deep-rooted tense conversation between the three of us.
The more that I gave the idea of being a part of this clothing company a thought, the more I began to realize that I could push a completely different mindset, that is very revolutionary. This new mindset would compel Muslims outside of the Muslim-World/Arab-World to accept the obligation & opportunity to define themselves in an Islamic context, instead of having foreigners defining them. The last thing that we as Muslims in Non-Muslim countries is to be told how to dress.
As Muslims in the West, we need to be defined by our current condition, which is not only unique in the history of Muslims, from among the Ummah (Nation/Community) of Muhammad (Peace be upon him), but also unique to our own outlooks about the world & life, outside of the Muslim-World/Arab-World. Yes, we are all Muslims, but we don’t have to think the same, talk the same, walk the same, act the same, or dress the same. Being unique is very important for a Muslim, and a Human being generally. Our individuality is what makes us who we are, and our uniqueness has value, and that uniqueness must & should be celebrated, not denigrated, by ethnic/cultural dominance, which has absolutely nothing to do with the tenets of Islam.
This is why Islam is my life, and Fashion is my passion: My existence in this Universe & my life on Earth, as a Human being, is predicated on worshipping Allah, the Lord of the Universe, and Fashion is something that helps me, as a Muslim, to acquire the freedom to express myself as an individual, without being worried about whose approval I have to seek. I no longer worry about how people view my fashion-sense, and I no longer wait or seek the unnecessary religious scholarly & not-so-scholarly approval of anyone: If I wanna wear jeans & tees, then Imma wear jeans & tees; if I wanna rock a two-piece or three-piece suit, then that’s what I’ll rock; if I wanna sport a cardigan or track-jacket, then Imma sport a cardigan or track-jacket.