How to Write Muslim Characters

بِسْمِ ٱللَّٰهِ ٱلرَّحْمَٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The Ultimate Guide on Writing Muslim Characters

In the last decade, there have been a great number of fiction books with Muslim characters. I appreciate that the media is trying to be more inclusive and diverse, but what they (still) fail to do is portray Muslims accurately (or they limit what’s shown of certain aspects of Islamic faith). The Muslims in media, whether they be in films, on TV, or in books, are ‘Muslim’ in name only and that is a gross representation of a larger group of PRACTICING Muslims like myself. And to be honest, no rep is better than bad rep, but it’s a little late for that.

That’s why I’ve decided to write this long (“ultimate”) post. To give writers a more in-depth look at Muslims and how you can craft your characters to be authentic, realistic, and practicing Muslims without offending anyone.

The best way to write an experience you’re unfamiliar with is to talk to someone who’s gone through that experience. But it’s understandable that not everyone can go talk to a Muslim (maybe there aren’t any Muslims where you live or because of one’s fear/lies/misbeliefs spread by the media).

This post is first a reminder to myself (since I write Muslim SFF) and the focus is on visibly PRACTICING Muslims.

Please note that some Arabic words have no equivalent English transliterations, so I’ll be using what’s approximate to it’s pronunciation.

Make sure to bookmark this for future reference!

have muslim characters in your story and need a sensitivity reader? Click here.

You’re probably thinking: But aren’t Muslims the same as any other non-Muslim characters? Except they just dress a bit differently? Or eat differently?

No. Absolutely not.

Why? Because a Muslim’s beliefs, morals, and the way they live are vastly different from someone who isn’t Muslim. There may be similarities, but at the heart of a Muslim character, they’re going to be different than those who aren’t.

And that’s the first thing we’re going to look at: what does a Muslim believe?

A Muslim’s Beliefs

All Muslims believe that humans exist to worship our one and only Creator, Allah. We also believe in the following:

  • Allah created humans and jinn (invisible sentient beings) to worship Him and thus, the two kinds of creations will be judged for their actions.
  • Allah created angels, who carry out all His orders, and there are angels with each human. (Two angels record your good and bad deeds respectively; other angels are assigned to us by Allah’s will.)
  • Allah has sent messengers (Prophets) throughout human history to guide people; they also received guidelines in the form of holy texts.
  • The final Prophet is Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the final revelation (holy text) is the Noble Qur’an.
  • Shaitan (Satan/devil) is a jinn (not an angel) who disobeyed Allah and thus, became the sole enemy of Allah’s creations—it’s he who leads people to evil and to disobey Allah.
  • Predestination: only Allah knows the path our lives will take and all that will happen in this world.

The “Pillars” of Islam

Muslims have five core beliefs that are the foundation of Islam:

  • Faith: Muslim must bear witness that there’s none worthy of worship except Allah and Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the Final Messenger of Allah. This belief also extends to the existence of the angels, jinn, all Prophets (peace upon them), the holy texts (Qur’an, Torah, Psalms, Old Testament), the Day of Judgment, and the afterlife (heaven and hell).
  • Prayers: Muslims must pray five times throughout the day to establish their faith and submission to Allah.
  • Fasting: Muslims must fast during the month of Ramadan (the ninth month of the Islamic calendar).
  • Charity: Muslims must donate to charity according to their wealth.
  • Hajj: Muslims must make a pilgrimage to Makkah called Hajj at least once in their lifetime (for those who are financially able).

The above are non-negotiable. The term ‘Muslim’ refers to one who submits to Allah and His Laws. To have a character say they’re Muslim, but not believe in any one of the fundamentals listed above, is erroneous.

Please note: There is a HUGE difference between culture and religion. Culture can contain parts of a religion, but not the other way around. For example, Indian culture includes music in weddings, but in Islam, music is NOT allowed under any circumstance. There are Indian Muslims who may not know this or choose not to follow this and may include music in weddings, but this does NOT mean that music is allowed in Islam.

You can have a Muslim character questioning their beliefs as part of their self-discovery of being a better person and learning about their place in life, but if they ultimately aren’t adhering to the belief system mentioned above, then they cannot be called a Muslim.

The 'Path' of Islam

In order to write Muslim character, you must understand that all Muslims are on a path. A path set by Allah, a path we follow to be the best version of ourselves, doing good and avoiding evil.

The very first chapter of the Noble Qur’an states this path (and it’s recited in every unit of prayer):

“In the Name of Allah—the Most Compassionate, Most Merciful. All praise is for Allah—Lord of all worlds (Lord of everything in existence including angels, humans, jinn, plants, and animals), the Most Compassionate, Most Merciful, Master of the Day of Judgment. You alone we worship, and You alone we ask for help. Guide us along the Straight Path, the path of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace, not of those who have incurred Your Wrath, nor of those who have gone astray.” —Surah Al-Fatiha

The Straight Path

Muslims are on the path of Islam, but no two Muslims are on the same point of this path. All Muslims strive to be like the best of creation: the Final Prophet, Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), by following the Sunnah (his example, the things he did, and how he lived) and Ahadith (his teachings and sayings) to attain taqwa (consciousness of the Creator; that all our actions are observed, recorded, and will be judged after our deaths). And this path is closely linked to taqwa.

Picture a straight line with two endpoints. The first endpoint is that we are from Allah and when we are born (all children believe in a higher power, but it’s one’s parents, environment, and circumstances that lead to a disbelief in the Creator) and the last endpoint is taqwa (striving toward pleasing Allah in the actions we do every day).

In order to get a better picture of a Muslim character, imagine where they are on this path.

image of a muslim woman walking in a straight line from the Arabic word for god, "Allah" toward "Allah."

But aren’t characters supposed to be flawed? How can Muslim characters be relatable if they aren’t flawed? How can someone who isn’t Muslim find a connection with a Muslim?

By connecting through what makes us human. Muslims can be stubborn, judgmental, arrogant, fickle, pessimistic, [insert other negative character traits], but the main thing to keep in mind is that they still remember they’re Muslim and they’re trying to be a better person (remember, where are they along the path of Islam?).

Things to keep in mind when deciding where your Muslim character is on their path:

  • Someone who avoids all that is forbidden by Allah is closer to attaining taqwa (closer to the endpoint) versus someone who doesn’t abstain from vices because they aren’t conscious of the fact that their actions will have consequences.
  • Someone who is learning how to pray is at the beginning of this path compared to someone teaching the Qur’an and ahadith in a lecture hall of adult students.
  • A person who reverts/converts to Islam much later in life will incorporate aspects of Islam as they learn them and/or when they’re able to (compared to someone who was born in a practicing Muslim family).
  • Younger Muslim children (usually before the age of 10) are eager to learn and adopt an Islamic lifestyle because they want to please both their parents and Allah.

Some questions to consider about your Muslim character(s):

  • Where along the path is this character?
    • Ex: A preteen girl decides to wear the hijab and begins to pray because she’s reached puberty.
  • What struggles are they facing in their current place on this path?
    • Ex: Parents discourage their daughter from wearing hijab because they live in a town that’s hostile toward visible Muslims.
  • How is their place on the path related to their beliefs?
    • Ex: Preteen girl wants to wear hijab because she wants to obey Allah’s commands, which she learned are written in the Qur’an.
  • How strong are their beliefs in relation to where they are at on the path? (How often do they remember that Allah is behind all that happens to them, both the good and the bad?)
    • Ex: Preteen girl secretly wears the hijab when her parents aren’t looking. An older relative (or another adult Muslim who learns of her situation) might tell her to pray that Allah makes her parents accept this.
  • What are some obstacles they face in their lives that prevent them from moving forward on this path?
    • Ex: Preteen girl’s Muslim friends tell her not to wear it because they don’t wear it and if she does, she’ll be bullied and ostracized at school.
  • What are some things they do (or might do) to overcome their spiritual obstacles?
    • Ex: Preteen girl, with the help of some adults (Muslim and not) encourage her to wear it; she loses a few friends and faces multiple bullies, but she’s happy to have made new friends who defend her after wearing the hijab.
image shows various things about a Muslim's lifestyle such as the five pillars of faith, learning about Islam, celebrating Eid, avoid sin and intoxicants, and following the commandments of Allah

Islamic Morals and Values

Morals dictated by what’s normalized in society is not what Muslims adhere to since societal “norms” are constantly changing. What has NOT changed since it’s revelation are the morals and values of Islam, which are from the Noble Qur’an (the words of Allah) and teachings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Muslim are taught to do good and stay away from evil. But what is evil? In order to understand a Muslim’s perspective on evil, one must first take into consideration the other creation of Allah: the jinn.

As mentioned earlier, humans and jinn were created for the soul purpose of worshipping Allah. And Muslims believe in the existence of jinn, a race of beings created from a vastly different matter. Humans were created from clay, or earth, while jinn were created from smokeless fire (like plasma/energy).

Allah first created the angels, sinless and perfect and obedient. Then Allah created the jinn, who are imperfect and with a will of their own. One specific jinn called Iblis was among the angels in heaven spending all his time in worshipping Allah. Then Allah created the first man, Adam (peace upon him). Allah tells the angels and Iblis to bow before this new creation; the angels did so, but Iblis refused. He believed he was superior to Adam because he saw this creation as “weak” having been made from clay and not from fire like him.

Because of his arrogance and disobedience, Iblis was cast out of Heaven, but Allah granted him one last request for the hundreds of years of worship he’d done: Iblis will live until the last day making as many of Adam’s progeny disbelieve in Allah. Thus, Iblis is called Shaitan (Satan), for everything he does is evil because it’s against Allah’s commands.

Keep in mind that your Muslim character believes all that is good is from Allah, and all that is bad (evil) is from Shaitan, who’s able to enter a human’s thoughts and mind and influence them. Other ways in which Shaitan leads one to do evil deeds (sins) is through those who serve him, his followers from the jinn (demons/devils) and those he’s corrupted in humans (e.g., serial killers).

For an in-depth look at jinn and Shaitan, check out this post here.

What is Forbidden in Islam?

All that’s forbidden in Islam (haram) is detrimental to one’s mind, body, and soul. Muslims avoid the things which Allah decreed as being forbidden as much as possible. Depending on how strong their faith is, a Muslim may forget that they’re being led by Shaitan (Satan) when engaging in these behaviors.
 
The following is a short list of major sins Muslims avoid and partaking in them without repentance (and realizing they’re committing wrongs against themselves) will lead them to become a disbeliever (i.e., a non-Muslim):
 
  • Ascribing partners to Allah (called shirk); polytheism; paganism
  • Killing a human
  • Sorcery; engaging in witchcraft
  • Not performing daily prayers
  • Not paying zakat (charity)
  • Not fasting during Ramadan without an excuse
  • Not performing the Hajj when able to do so
  • Disrespecting parents and/or severing family ties
  • Adultery/Pornography/Prostitution/Cheating (all forms)
  • Sodomy/Homosexualilty
  • Consuming an orphan’s property
  • Lying/insulting the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his companions (may Allah be pleased with them)
  • Not saying peace upon Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)
  • Running from the battlefield; deserter
  • Arrogance, pride, conceit, vanity, and haughtiness
  • Bearing false witness; lying; spying; eavesdropping; evil scheming
  • Drinking alcohol and eating pork
  • Gambling, thievery, bribery
  • Suicide
  • Women imitating men and vice versa (e.g., transgender, non-binary, drag queens)
  • Not cleaning oneself (intentionally keeping impurities on the body or clothing)
  • Reminding donors of the charity you gave them
  • Not believing in destiny (i.e., predestination)
  • Cursing others
  • Breaking one’s promise or pledge
  • Believing/paying fortunetellers and astrologers (even if it’s for ‘curiosity’)
  • Making portraits of people/animals; taking pictures/videos of people or animals for display
  • Wailing aloud for the dead or when facing some adversity
  • Hurting one’s neighbors
  • [Men] wearing silk or gold
  • Slaughtering (an animal for consumption) in another’s name (and not in Allah’s name)
  • Losing hope (in the mercy of Allah)
  • [Men] not attending congregational prayer without an excuse
  • Tattoos (getting them and/or giving them)
  • Music; playing musical instruments (the only instrument permitted is the drum-like daff, which is used in communal events)
  • [Women] traveling greater than 48 miles without a male guardian
  • Dancing (the exception: a woman is allowed to dance in front of her husband)
  • Supporting and/or engaging in ideologies that are against Islamic teachings (e.g., individualism, hedonism, nihilism, feminism, liberalism)
Muslims who come to realize they’ve been doing any of the above, repent and pray for forgiveness, sometimes seeking help from a family member, the local imam or an Islamic scholar at their masjid, or someone they trust who has more Islamic knowledge than themselves. Other times, it’s the Muslims around him/her who would remind him/her of his/her un-Islamic actions, since Allah says in the Qur’an to remind other Muslims to do good and forbid evil.
 
Aside from the general list above, everything else is acceptable for a Muslim. For nuances, please consult an Islamic scholar.
 

Common Islamic Phrases

  • Bismillahir rahmanir rahim (In the name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful; sometimes shortened to ‘bismillah’)—this is said when beginning something
  • Allahu Akbar (God is the Greatest)—when something great happens
  • Alhamdulillah (All praise be to God)—when grateful for something
  • Insha Allah (God willing)—when wanting something to happen
  • Subhan Allah (Glory to God)—when in surprise or shock
  • Masha Allah (what God has willed)—when seeing something pleasant or beautiful
  • Assalaamu ‘alaikum (Peace be upon you)—this is a greeting to another Muslim
  • Wa’alaikum assalaam (and upon you be peace)—the reply to the above greeting; it is mandatory for a Muslim to return the greeting
  • La ilaha illallah (There is none worthy of worship except God)
  • Astaghfirullah (God forgive me)—when one has done something wrong or has seen or heard something foul/disliked by Allah
  • Wallahi (By God)—it’s used a form of swearing upon (not to be used lightly or in jest)
  • Halal (allowed, permissible)
  • Haram (forbidden, impermissible)
  • Sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam (peace be upon him)—this is ALWAYS used/said whenever Prophet Muhammad’s name is mentioned to show utmost respect; sometimes shortened as SAW or PBUH; to not say this phrase is a sin

Common Islamic Practices:
The Five Daily Prayers

Muslims pray five times a day. Why? Because it’s one of Allah’s commands. The things we’re commanded to do are beneficial for us compared to the things we’re told to avoid. In a way, the five prayers show gratitude for all the blessings Allah provides EVERY day without being asked.

And these prayers are physical, involving the movement of the body as well as focus of the mind. But there’s a WHOLE system behind this daily ritual than just kneeling and prostrating, and muttering a few Arabic words.

The five prayers:

  • Fajr—prayed before the sunrise (predawn)
  • Zuhr—prayed a few minutes after high noon
  • ‘Asr—prayed in the late afternoon
  • Maghrib—prayed a few minutes after sunset (twilight)
  • ‘Isha—prayed when the sky is dark (at least an hour and a half after sunset)

First, let’s see if your Muslim character is required to pray. If they meet the following, then they’re required to pray (called salaah in Arabic, namaz in Urdu/Bengali):

  • Reached puberty and is sound of mind and body
  • Puberty in Islam: 15 lunar years (males and females can reach puberty/hormonal changes before this time; if one hasn’t had any signs of physical changes, then upon reaching 15 lunar years old, they are required to pray and follow the rest of the Islamic teachings)
  • Females are exempt from praying, fasting, and reading the Qur’an when they are menstruating or experiencing post-natal bleeding (they aren’t required to make up any missed prayers for these times, but must make up any missed fasts)
One thing to keep in mind: if your Muslim character was born into a practicing Muslim family, they would already be praying before the age of puberty. Muslim parents are strongly encouraged to teach their children to start praying around age 7 (parents would remind them and/or pray together at home or at the masjid). By age 10, they would be praying on their own (i.e., they take note of prayer times and when their parents are also praying, or use prayer apps/calendars to see prayer times).
 
Ritual Purification
 

Before praying, one must be physically AND ritually pure. This means that they must wash themselves to remove any impurities (e.g., blood, urine, feces) from the body first before commencing with a specific ablution called wudhu, followed by supplications.

When water isn’t available, a Muslim can perform tayyamum, or dry ablution. This ritual purification is shorter and follows the first two steps of intention and reciting “bismillah.” Tayyamum is done by rubbing the hands on a rock (unglazed) or clay (unbaked) before wiping the full face once, then the hands, followed by the same supplications for wudhu.

One remains in the state of wudhu until one breaks it using the toilet, passing gas, losing consciousness, falling asleep, forgetting if one has wudhu, vomiting more than a mouthful, or bleeding. If any of these occur, then wudhu must be performed again. For tayyamum, one must perform tayyamum for each prayer.

There aren’t special clothing for prayer; clothes must be clean and devoid of any impurities mentioned above. Females must be covered from head to toe with the exception of their face, hands, and feet. Males must be covered at a minimum from their navel to their knees (these areas must not be visible).

A prayer mat is used to pray on, though any place that is clean and devoid of impurities can be pray upon.

The qibla, or direction of prayer, is the same for every Muslim: the Ka’aba in the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. This is where Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) prayed towards. Above (in the final layer of the heavens) the Ka’aba (the cube-like stone building) is where Allah’s throne sits.

Prayer direction is determined from one’s location. Someone in Antarctica would face generally north since the Ka’aba is north of Antarctica. If you’re in the east coast of the United States, you’d generally pray eastward. In general, the direction, which is closest to the Ka’aba, is the direction a Muslim would face when they pray.

Prayers are recited in Arabic (it’s the language in which the Holy Qur’an was revealed, and there aren’t equivalents to many of the Arabic words in other languages).

Any prayers that are missed must be made up later when one is able to, or it’s a big sin (since prayer is one of the pillars of Islam). 

How is Prayer Completed?

Each prayer has “units” called rakaat. There are mandatory (called Fardh) units, Sunnah (prayed by the Prophet peace be upon him) units, and optional (called nafl) units. Mentioned here are the mandatory units: Fajr has two, Zuhr has four, Asr, has four, Maghrib has three, Isha has four, plus three called witr.

The prayers are recited in Arabic; supplications (dua) can be made in one’s language.

Hands and sitting positions will slightly vary due to one’s gender (i.e., a male’s hands will be held together lower than a female’s, and a female would sit with her legs folded to the right) and will also vary depending on which Islamic rulings one follows, but the rest of the positions and recitations for prayers are the same for both males and females.

Shown below are the steps for a two-unit prayer.

image shows the steps of a Muslim woman praying

Dua (Supplication/Smaller Prayers)

Aside from the mandatory daily five prayers, Muslim also make dua, or supplication, through Arabic recitation. These supplications can be made after a prayer by holding up one’s palms upward (as shown in Step 12 of the graphic above). Supplications are for various reasons and are made throughout the day (and not necessarily made by holding up the palms). The smallest and most often used is “Bismillah.”

List of common dua practicing Muslims make and the English translation:

  • Dua for waking up: “Praise Allah, Who gives us life after gave us life after having taken it from us and to Him is the final return.”
  • Dua for going to sleep: “O Allah, in Your name, I live and die.”
  • Dua for when entering the bathroom: “O Allah, I take refuge with You from the evil male and female jinn.”
  • Dua for when exiting the bathroom: “I ask You (Allah) for forgiveness; Praise Allah, Who has take away my discomfort and granted me relief.”
  • Dua for before eating: “In Allah’s name, and with the blessings of Allah I begin.”
  • Dua for after eating: “Praise Allah, Who has fed us and given us drink and made us Muslims.”
  • Dua for when looking at the mirror: “O Allah, You have beautified my body, so beautify my character.”
  • Dua for when one’s parents: “My lord! Be merciful to them as they raised me when I was young.”
  • Dua for when leaving the house: “In Allah’s name, I rely on Allah; There is no might and no power except from Allah.”
  • Dua for after hearing the call to prayer: “O Allah! Lord of this perfect call and of the prayer which is going to be established, give Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) the right of intercession and resurrect him to the highest place in Paradise that You promised him.”
  • Dua for the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): “O Allah, bestow Your favor on Muhammad and on the family of Muhammad as You have bestowed Your favor on Ibrahim and on the family of Ibrahim, You are Praiseworthy, Most Glorious. O Allah, bless Muhammad and the family of Muhammad as You have blessed Ibrahim and the family of Ibrahim, You are Praiseworthy, Most Glorious.”
  • Dua for a newly married couple: “May Allah bless for you, and may He bless on you, and combine both of you in good.”
  • Dua for when hearing the news of the deceased/a calamity: “Indeed, to Allah we belong and to Allah we return.”
  • Dua when one sneezes: “Praise Allah.”
  • Dua when one hears another Muslim sneeze: “Allah have mercy on you.”
  • Dua before sexual intimacy: “In Allah’s name. O Allah, keep Shaitan (Satan) away from us and keep Shaitan away from what you have blessed us with.”
  • Dua when traveling by transportation: “In Allah’s name, praise Allah, Glory be Him who has caused this (transport) to be under our control though we were unable to control it. And surely we will return to our Lord.”
  • Dua when seeking forgiveness from Allah: “My Lord, I call upon you and beg for forgiveness for my sins.”

There are many more dua that can be made as a Muslim learns more about their faith and the many supplications made by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Common Islamic Practices:
Muslim Conduct/Mannerisms

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said the best of those [Muslims] are those with the best character (conduct), and to treat others the way we would want to be treated.

The golden rule applies to everyone and not just other Muslims. But we take this step further: we’re to remember that Allah is always watching us and that all our actions, good and bad, have consequences.

One of the biggest things we’re told to do is forgive, even if we’ve done no wrong, for Allah won’t forgive those who hold grudges.

Other actions Muslims do:

  • When a Muslim sees another Muslim, they greet with salaam
  • Say “Bismillah” when starting something, such as eating or entering a building
  • Use their right hand for all things: the left hand is reserved for when cleaning oneself after using the toilet. There are some left-handed Muslims (usually they write with their left hand), but we’re told to use our right hand for eating and drinking and receiving things since Shaitan (Satan and his followers) uses his left hand
  • Reading/reciting the Qur’an: like with prayer, in order to touch the Qur’an one must be ritually pure, so Muslims perform wudhu beforehand
  • Students in public school (in the west) usually attend weekend classes at the local masjid to learn about Islam and how to read the Qur’an
  • Sneezing: when a Muslim sneezes, they say “Alhamdulillah.” When a Muslim hears another Muslim sneeze, they say “yarhamukallah” (Allah have mercy on you) to themselves
  • Dua are recited (whispered) for various daily actions as listed above
  • When entering the bathroom, a Muslim would enter using their left foot first and recite a dua for protection against the evil jinn that may be living there, and exit with the right foot first
  • Sit when using the toilet (it’s a sin to stand and urinate/defecate)
  • Males are circumcised (usually before the age of 40 days)
  • Knock on the door (or somewhere near the door if there isn’t any doors) of an occupied room or house three times; if there is no response, then they leave; snooping, looking inside is prohibited; if the room is empty and one’s belongings are there, then it’s fine to enter; one must have permission to enter a place they don’t reside in
  • Muslims of the opposite gender, who’ve reached puberty and aren’t related to each other would avoid being together unless they are married
  • Sit when eating and drinking
  • Use the sighting of the first crescent moon to determine Islamic months and holidays; the specific lunar-based calendar used is called the Hijri calendar, which began after the first migration Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) made from Mecca to Madina
  • Using water to clean themselves after using the toilet
  • Keeping clean as it’s half the faith, including regularly trimming nails and shaving pubic/armpit hairs
  • Smiling: it’s a Sunnah and a form of charity
  • Eating meat that is “halal” (i.e., hand-slaughtered in Allah’s name)
  • Reading the ingredient labels (usually in the west) for anything that’s not permissible to eat (e.g., alcohol, pig and other animal byproducts)

Muslims may also implement many other Sunnah acts in their daily lives (again, it varies for each individual depending on their knowledge of Islam, e.g., drinking in three sips and saying “alhamdulillah” afterward).

Common Islamic Practices:
Muslim Dress Code

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: Each religion as its distinct characteristics and the distinct characteristic of Islam is modesty.

Muslims have a dress code required by Allah. This dress code distinguishes a practicing Muslim from everyone else. It’s also how Muslims know to greet one another with “salaam.”

The term “hijab” means veil or a curtain. Hijab applies to both men and women and it’s not just for how one dresses—it’s also how one conducts oneself, their speech, and their actions. Hijab is also the headscarf worn by Muslim women.

The minimum requirement for a Muslim male who has reached puberty is to be covered from navel to knees. The minimum requirement for a Muslim female who has reached puberty is to be fully covered except for the face, hands, and feet. Clothing for both must not be tight (i.e., a woman’s curves aren’t defined) and must not be sheer or see-through.

Another form of hijab for Muslims is to control one’s gaze. Both Muslim males and females have been commanded to lower their gazes when in the presence of the opposite gender they aren’t related to, and to keep separate from them. In the company of mahram, woman don’t need to wear hijab or keep separate from them.

The mahram of a female:

  • her husband
  • father
  • brothers
  • sons
  • maternal/paternal uncles
  • maternal/paternal grandfathers
  • father-in-law
  • son-in-law
  • nephews
  • step-father
  • step-brothers
  • half-brothers
  • foster brothers who have been breastfed by the same mother

Muslim women require more coverage for privacy, protection from unrestrained glances, and prevention of sexual objectification. Some Muslim women cover their faces, hands, and feet due to the increasing possibility of being sexualized and fetishized, especially in public places where there are males with low self-control (and with access to phones in modern society, there are people taking images/videos without consent). Women also aren’t allowed to cut their hair unless it’s for medical reasons.

Aside from her body, which must be covered, a Muslim woman’s hijab also applies to her voice. She must not raise her voice for other men (who aren’t her mahram) to hear. The exception to this is if she’s in danger and needs help.

As mentioned earlier, Muslims are NOT allowed to cross-dress, either in jest or when pressured by society (i.e., transgender ideology). It’s possible to have a character who doesn’t know this, but keep in mind that this doesn’t excuse the fact that this is a sin. There are some cultures with Muslims who engage in this behavior and believe that because it’s accepted in their society it’s not wrong, when it is against Islamic teachings. Remember, culture does NOT equal religion.
 
Muslim males are prohibited from wearing silk, gold, and jewelry such as necklaces. Their trousers must also not be below their ankles and they’re discouraged from shaving the beard (they can shave their mustache).  Males are allowed to wear silver rings, but they aren’t allowed to have piercings as this imitates women.
 
Both males and females can dye their hair except for the color black. Tattoos are prohibited but body art using henna is allowed for females (males are allowed to dye their beards with henna). Nail polish is NOT allowed since water does not reach the nails when performing wudhu. Plucking of brows, wearing wigs and extensions (i.e., fake eyelashes), and fake nails are NOT allowed in Islam.
 
Please note that practicing Muslims must dress for the sake of Allah and not to imitate “fashion” as dictated by the society they live in. Yes, there is peer pressure and bullying, but that’s also part of the struggle a practicing Muslim faces. Do they give in to those who hate them and blend in like them? Or are they steadfast in their beliefs and not letting anyone but Allah dictate their lifestyle?
image shows the comparisons of how a muslim woman would dress in front of various inidividuals

Common Muslim Practices:
Marriage and Dating

If a young Muslim man must lower his gaze, how will he get married without looking at his prospective wife?
 
The first look is allowed (and forgiven by Allah). If he’s interested, he’ll contact her father or brother (or another male guardian). Usually both parties arrange a date for the nikah (Islamic marriage). If a girl finds a young man she wants to marry, she can tell her father to contact her prospective husband and his family to arrange a wedding.
 
Note: Eloping/marriages in secret are NOT allowed in Islam, as this breaks family ties and parents (and many others) are disrespected, which leads to relationship problems in the future. You can have families who disagree on the choice of prospective spouse (e.g., racism, classism, ageism), but these disagreements must be resolved in order for any wedding arrangements to take place. Oftentimes, practicing Muslims would pray for some resolution, discuss the lives of the companions (may Allah be pleased with them) and how they address these issues, and this would lead to a change of heart from the parents who are opposed to having their son/daughter marry an “outsider” since racism and other forms of hatred are against Islam.
 
Delaying marriage is greatly discouraged as this creates problems for both parties; one and/or both may resort to other sinful methods to relieve their needs, which is why many Muslims get married as soon as possible. Muslims living in western society face problems such as delayed marriages due to securing jobs, finishing schools, and other non-Islamic societal practices. Islam does NOT restrict male and females from gaining higher education, careers, etc. so long as they put family first (i.e., getting married first since a college degree or a job promotion is not part of a human’s basic needs while sexual intimacy is).
 
How is the nikah performed?
 
Bride and groom and three witnesses (including the bride’s guardian) must be present for the wedding. The marriage document must include the dowry the groom will give to the bride (which is discussed prior). After the documents are signed and verbal agreement has been made by both bride and groom, they are married. A wedding feast called the walima may take place after the nikah to feed family, relatives, and the poor.
 
Arranged marriages
 
Western pop culture and media tell people that arranged marriages are terrible and that the only way to find “true love” is on your own. Another misconception is that only Islam has arranged marriages when in fact, there are other cultures and faiths that also practice this (including Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Judaism). Also, arranged marriages last longer than “love” marriages i.e., the latter has a greater divorce rate.
 
Since practicing Muslims avoid “going out” and finding someone on their own, their parents usually arrange their marriage for them. Prior to the meeting, discussions take place before the couple sees each other. If they find each other to their liking, they arrange a date for the nikah.
 
Dating in Islam
 
Dating and intimacy before marriage is NOT allowed in Islam in order to protect both parties from heartbreak, dishonesty, despair, and other psychological turmoil that result from these “casual” flings.
 
However, dating is allowed (and encouraged) AFTER marriage.
 
Crushes and “Catching Feels”
 
Feeling attraction to the opposite gender is innate and natural, and many young Muslim around the age of puberty experience this, especially if they are in mixed gender situations such as attending public school (usually in western society). One thing to to keep in mind is how they would act upon it. “Love at first sight” is not real, but it’s the feeling of lust. And it’s fleeting once there’s a distance between the two characters.
 
Remember that practicing Muslims are advised from acting on such feelings and imitating the ways of non-Muslims. If the two are interested in pursuing a serious relationship (i.e., marriage), then they must have their parents involved. Marriage is a sanctimonious relationship from Allah, which honors both parties and families. Muslim couples grow to love each other and build a family for the sake of Allah.
 

Common Islamic Practices:
Fasting

One of the pillars of Islam is fasting during Ramadan, which is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. For the entire month, Muslims fast from Fajr to Maghrib. Fasting means no eating, drinking, playing games, idle talk, watching media, sexual relations, or general “wasting” of time, including abstaining from sin. Fasting is the spiritual “detox” from worldly things that detract us from the remembrance of Allah.

Why fast the whole month in Ramadan?

The Blessed Qur’an was revealed during this month to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) by the Angel Jibrail (peace upon him), which was decreed by Allah for Muslims to fast. Fasting is also another way of attaining taqwa, or getting closer to Allah.

A Muslim who meets the same criteria for praying must also fast. Pregnant women, travelers, and those who are ill can choose not to fast if it will be difficult for them, but they will need to make up those missed fasts later.
 
Fasting begins once it’s Fajr time and ends once the sun sets. Muslims eat a meal called suhur or sehri before the predawn prayer. Muslims have iftar, or the meal eaten to break the fast once the sun sets. Muslims break their fast by first eating a date (Sunnah) and water.
 
Some acts of worship during Ramadan:
  • Praying Taraweeh: additional prayer after the night prayer
  • Reading the Qur’an as often as possible (the challenge many Muslims try is to complete the entire Qur’an recitation at least one during this month)
  • Reciting dhikr as often as possible (e.g., astaghfirullah, subhan Allah, alhamduillah)
  • Donating to charity, feeding the poor, volunteering at masjid

Lailatul Qadr-the Night of Decree (or Power)-is the most blessed night of the whole year. On this night, Muslims stay awake until dawn engaging in worship, for this night’s worship is better than a thousand months of worship (i.e., worship during this night is greater than doing the same acts of worship for 83 years!). No one (except Allah) knows which night we’re to be observing extensive acts of worship, but the night falls on one of the last ten days (more likely on an odd-numbered night but not guaranteed). Allah bestows the reward of a thousand months to those who spends this auspicious night in worship.

Common Islamic Practices:
Holidays

image lists all the months of the islamic year; denoting key holidays and events

There are only two holidays in Islam: Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Eid al-Fitr occurs after the month of Ramadan, on the first of the month of Shawwal. Eid al-Adha occurs on the tenth of Zul Hijjah, the last month in the Islamic calendar, which commemorates the sacrifice made by Prophet Ibrahim on his son, Isma’il (peace upon both of them). For both Eid, Muslims dress in their best clothing, visit family and friends, and attend the Eid prayer in congregation at the masjid. Giving gifts and money to children is common among various cultures.

Other Islamic events which aren’t celebrations but days which are sacred:

  • Ashura: the 10th of MuharramMuslims fast on the 9th and the 10th, or the 10th and the 11th to commemorate the deliverance of Prophet Moses (peace upon him) and his people from the evil Pharaoh
  • Day of ‘Arafah: the 9th of Zul Hijjah—Muslims fast on this day to commemorate Prophet Ibrahim’s wife (peace upon them both), Hajar’s perseverance in a desert valley which became the city of Mecca; they also recite “Allah is the Greatest” three times followed by “There is none worthy of worship except Allah and Allah is Great, Allah is the Greatest, and all praise is for Allah” after each mandatory prayer from Fajr on the 9th of Zul Hijjah to ‘Asr on the 13th of Zul Hijjah

Since Muslims celebrate only two holidays, all other forms of celebrations are prohibited (haram), including polytheistic (pagan) celebrations such as birthdays, solstices, seasons, and death anniversaries since these goes against the foundational beliefs of Islam. Included are the exchanging of gifts for these celebrations (e.g., giving a non-Muslim gifts on New Years, Christmas, or other non-Muslim/secular event).

Muslims are also advised from participating in events that mimic non-Muslims’ celebrations such as baby showers, large (extravagant) weddings, and other gatherings where music, dancing, and intermingling of opposite genders take place.

When a child is born in a Muslim family, they have an “aqiqah” to celebrate. It is Sunnah to sacrifice a large animal (e.g., a cow or sheep) and distribute the meat among family, relatives, neighbors, and friends. In various cultures, the family of the newborn also gives out sweets and other foods.

Muslims can give gifts to celebrate a graduation or give gifts to coworkers to celebrate a promotion. Wedding anniversaries can be observed between couples. Keep in mind that Muslims are advised to avoid spending lavishly and “partying” to the point where they neglect/forget their daily prayers or be involved in acts of sin.

Muslims who live in a majority non-Muslim place usually struggle with this since such societies have ingrained many prohibited holidays and celebrations, and they have to find ways around it without offending (e.g., turning down a birthday invitation, going to prom, sleepovers with non-Muslim friends, attending “happy hour”, a non-Muslim holiday party).

Muslims are advised to refrain from mimicking the non-Muslim ways, which includes partaking in any non-Muslim celebrations, gatherings, activities, manners and behaviors, clothing, and lifestyle, as they go against what Allah has commanded for Muslims.

The Muslim Home

A practicing Muslim’s home also encompasses the Islamic teachings and values. Since the house is also a place where one prays, shoes that are worn outside are not worn inside (due to the possibility of impurities). Usually, a Muslim family have separate house slippers they’ll where.

Artworks: Since it’s not allowed for Muslims to have portraits of animals or people, they wouldn’t have any posters, picture frames, etc. displayed since the angels do not enter a home with animate beings on them. Artworks such as landscape paintings, flowers and plants, and calligraphy are most common in Muslim homes. This extends to TV and other visual display devices, as they’re shut off when it’s prayer time.

Another thing to keep in mind: the position of the bed would be in a way where the feet are NOT pointing toward the qibla when lying down, as this is a sign of great disrespect. This also applies to using the toilet and showers, and in general when lounging.

For keeping hygiene as mentioned earlier, Muslim homes will also have a small watering can or a bidet. Some Muslims may carry a water bottle used solely for when using public restrooms in non-Muslim majority countries.

The Masjid:
A Place of Worship for Muslims

The masjid (or mosque) is a place of worship for Muslims as well as a community center. Muslim men and women are separated due to the hijab decree by Allah. Women pray in a section behind the men, and most places usually have a screen that divides the two groups. However, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) stated that it’s better for a Muslim female to pray at home.
 
The Prayer Call
 
The masjid does NOT have any bells, musical instruments, or other noisemakers to signify prayer times. The azan, or call to prayer, is made by the muazzin using his voice only. The azan is usually amplified for the rest of the neighborhood to hear using microphones and loudspeakers. Some Muslim countries allow all five daily prayers to have an azan, while places in the west with a Muslim minority have one or two prayer calls allowed by the non-Muslim government.
 
Worshippers
 
The imam is the one who leads the prayer. Some may be Islamic scholars, some may have the entire Qur’an memorized (called a hafiz), and some are elders who have been serving the community for years.
 
Before entering the main area for prayer, worshippers leave their shoes in the front area of the masjid (usually there’s a shoe rack or shelf for shoes). There’s a separate area (sometimes near the bathrooms) for making wudhu (ablutions). Usually, a dua (supplication) would be made when entering the masjid. If there is time, a two-unit prayer is performed before the actual congregational prayer.
 
The main prayer area is usually carpeted and spaced for each individual. Worshippers stand in line, shoulder-to-shoulder, behind the imam before prayers.
 
Note: Muslim women who are menstruating are NOT allowed in the main prayer area since they’re not praying. If she’s visiting the masjid with her family who stop for prayers, then she’ll have to wait in any adjacent rooms.
 
Masjid Decor
 
Since idols and artworks of people and animals are prohibited in Islam, the masjid will also adhere to this. Any form of decor, be it framed works, mosaics, or stained glass, will contain elaborate geometrical titlings, calligraphy of Qur’an verses, or natural elements such as flowers. Bookshelves of Qur’an copies and other Islamic texts may also be within.
 
Community Events
 
Lectures, funeral prayers, and other gatherings are done within the main prayer hall if the space is large enough. Other communal events may take place in rooms near the main prayer space, such as weddings, and after-school and weekend classes to learn the Qur’an and other Islamic teachings.
 
Please note: a nikah does not need to be held at a masjid.
image shows a muslim woman next to a masjid (mosque) and saying the towers are called the minaret where the prayer call is made

Conclusion

Writing a Muslim character is like writing any other character: you need to keep in mind that they have a whole backstory and a way of life they adhere to. They face challenges every day, fighting their misbeliefs as well as striving to be a good Muslim. They have shortcomings, they may learn and grow from their mistakes, but ultimately, they keep to a lifestyle of their choosing because they want what everyone wants: eternal peace and happiness with the One (their Creator) they love most.

For a deeper look at how Islam and practicing Muslims deal with contemporary issues honestly and candidly, please visit Sapience Institute and Muslim Skeptic. They have a wealth of information that covers many nuanced topics Muslims face in Western society (note that some of these western ideologies have been adopted by eastern societies as well, so their struggles will also be similar).

And Allah knows best.

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