Sharing a Cup of Coffee with a Muslim: Questions and Answers on Islam—Maja Dežulović and Zay Zaheera

bosanska kata, which means Bosnian coffee

Bosanska kafa, which means Bosnian coffee

What do Muslims Look Like? 

 Last year the terrorist attacks happened in Belgium and Paris. The words ISIL and ISIS were being thrown around the media along with terrorist, Muslim and Islam. In addition to this, every night the evening news would show images of Islamic refugees flooding into Europe. Chaos ensued and there were video reports of local Europeans complaining, reporters abusing immigrants, and videos flying all over cyberspace with statistics showing how the refugee crisis will turn Europe into an Islamic super-state.

Living in Southern Europe, the crisis seemed somewhat surreal – it was happening not more than a few hours’ drive from us but we were living in a place that was of little interest to politicians and immigrants. In a sense, our only connection to it was the evening news, which we caught glimpses of when visiting relatives.

My grandaunt, our oldest living relative, is 89 years old. She’s in that space where you don’t know what you’ll get from one day to the next. Today, she will have a wealth of information to share and her mind will be as sharp as ever. Tomorrow, I may walk in and she could struggle to recognise me. During the uproar and due to the images she was constantly fed from the T.V. screen, she developed a fear of the “bearded Islamic men” and she’d go into hysterias about locking doors at sunset. The irony of the situation is that my grandaunt is looked after by a Bosnian lady, who is in fact Muslim. So all her cries about the dangerous bearded men and pleas to lock the doors were to someone who was viewed as one of the enemy, at times when my grandaunt, who is normally a considerate person, would forget this while in the middle of her paranoia. The lady kept calm, realising that it was not my grandaunt’s intention to offend her and she was reassured by family, but the situation was certainly uncomfortable.

On one evening, I translated the conversations to my husband, who is still learning Croatian and he was surprised to learn that my grandaunt’s nurse is Muslim. But she’s like you and me? She dresses normally and she’s Caucasian. In South Africa, it is not uncommon to see Muslims in traditional attire, whereas in Europe, the opposite is true. Usually, the only way to recognise that someone is of a different faith is by their name or surname. Otherwise, we all pretty much look the same. My husband was surprised by how many times we’d sat there, chatted and enjoyed traditional Bosnian coffee with a woman that he hadn’t realised was Muslim. His immediate reaction when we got home that night was to Google Islam and learn as much as he could. My reaction was to put together a few questions about Islam, which I knew little about, and send them to a friend of mine. What follows are my nine questions and her answers.

Q & A by Maja Dežulović and Zay Zaheera 

Q. Does Islam view women as inferior to men?

A: No. Men are required to take the lead in respecting women. They should not engage in or approve of any activity which objectifies or demeans a woman. They are also required to cast down their gazes in humility and to observe the general philosophy of modesty of the heart and dress. They must wear decent clothing and avoid activities and places that will cause them to witness that which they should not.

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Q. In relation to the first question, why do Muslims dress a certain way?  Why do some women wear pants under their dresses and cover their heads, whilst others don’t?  Why do some men grow their beards and others don’t?

A: I think it depends on a lot of factors especially the way you were raised.

The beard is not compulsory. It was a practice of the Prophet (pbuh). Out of love for the Prophet some men choose to grow a beard. It is also said that God loves the beard on a man.

Regarding the scarf, a woman is meant to cover that which is alluring.

The Qur’an addresses Islamic modest dress as follows:

“And tell the believing men to lower their gaze and be modest. That is purer for them. Lo! Allah is aware of what they do. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment save to [those relatives who fall within bounds of close relationship explained in the Qur’an]…” Chapter 24, Verses 30-31.

The purpose of this modesty is to maintain the dignity of both men and women when they interact. Hijab does not prevent men and women from interacting for the purpose of study, work, performing good deeds, and so on. Rather, when hijab is mutually observed, such interactions will take place in sincerity of purpose and devoid of impropriety.

Women should respect themselves as dignified beings and interact with men in purity. They should not modify their behavior around men so as to seem invitingly attractive or flirtatiously pleasing and thus allow themselves to be objectified. When among men who are not close relatives, women should dress modestly so that their adornment (source of beauty and attraction) is covered. Muslim scholars unanimously state that a woman should respectably cover all except her hands and face. Muslim women fulfill this requirement by wearing loose fitting clothing and covering their hair with scarves.

The requirements for modest dress differ between the sexes due to fundamental biological distinctions and causes of attraction. One will observe these distinctions in Western society where a relatively small number of women read pornographic magazines or visit prostitutes when compared to men who engage in such activities.

Contrary to some views, hijab is not a sign of inferiority of woman nor is it imposed upon her by the opposite sex. Before God, men and women are distinguished from one another only in terms of individual piety. When observing modest dress, before one another, they are distinguished by non-physical characteristics such as intellect and integrity.

Islamic modest dress does not socially suffocate women by denying them free and necessary movement, expression of opinion, education, health care and other human rights. Rather, hijab assists in building a sound society. Observance of hijab is part of a larger system in Islam that when properly followed maintains the dignity of men, women, and society as a whole.

Q. What would you say are the fundamental principles/values of Islam?

 A: There are 5 pillars in Islam: The shahada (proclamation of faith (there is none worthy of worship except God and Muhammad is the last messenger), Salaah (five daily prayers), Zakaat (charity), Saum (fasting), and Hajj (pilgrimage).

Islam is from the root word for submission to God. We live in this world but must always be aware of the hereafter. This world is a test. Islam shares the same God and prophets of Judaism and Christianity and as such the value system is very similar.

Q. Please expand on what the Quran is and how it relates to Islam and encouraging the said values/beliefs. 

A: The Quran is the word of God. It is a guide and the Muslim equivalent to the Jewish Torah or Christian Bible. The Quran is the word of God we follow and the hadith is the practice of our prophet (pbuh).

Q. How do Muslims view violence?  Is violence supported within Islam?

 A: No. We do not tolerate violence nor is it supported by our faith.

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Q. What is ISIS/ISIL in relation to Islam and the Muslim community?

 A: They are not considered Muslim. Their every action is an insult to Islam. They play dress up and think they can fool the world – a world that is already scared of Islam. It is the perfect cover. When you play on an existing fear there’s no need to create a new monster.

Q. Which people define themselves as Muslim (i.e. demographically, ethnically, racially…)?

A: There are approximately 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. Being Muslim is an identity in itself and as such is spread across the world.

Q. How do you as a Muslim view Christians and Christianity?  Also, what is your stance on other religions?

A: My best friend is a Christian. We are taught to respect everyone, no matter the religion, for everyone has a soul. Religion is not incumbent on anyone. There is a letter which our Prophet (pbuh) wrote to Christians.

See more:*

Q. What would you like to change regarding how Islams and Muslims are viewed by the public?

A: The first thing I’d suggest is that you speak directly to a Muslim and get a first hand account. The media is a very dangerous mechanism and it’s rather obvious what stance they have taken. We’re just like everyone else. We have families. We love. We mourn. We live. We go to work every day just like everyone else and we want the best for our loved ones. We’re not all that different. We’re part of humanity and honestly condemn terrorism and violence just like everyone else.

* Zay Zaheera is a South African Muslim of mixed race. Her mother is White with German, Irish, English, Dutch and Malay ancestry and her father is Indian. Her mum is a 3rd generation South African and her dad is a 2nd generation South African. She has Muslim, Christian and Agnostic family. Her blog is zayfarer.tumblr. She started a group called Aylah SA ( on Facebook in an attempt to show Islam the way she lives it every day. 

And please note the links offered in this post are not Zay’s but ones she found that correspond with her views.

MajaMaja Dežulović is Black South African and Croatian. She and her White South African husband live in Croatia. She is a poet and author, having published two anthologies and is currently working on a novel. Maja has ghostwrtten several novels and stories in the genres of literary fiction, crime fiction, romance, biographies and other non-fiction.

Her books are: Expressions of Humanity and The 360 Degree Heart and they’re available on Amazon.

Maja’s website:




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