If ’you've read my short bio in the ‘About’ section, you already know that although I was born Muslim, besides the very basic tenets(salah, Ramadan, Jummah), I was not taught any other actual Islamic practices. Alhamdulilah, I was able to begin learning on my own and adapt this knowledge to my life. Many people who have watched me grow, believe that I have ‘found God’ and therefore going through this immense spiritual journey. There are even some people, family included, who believe that this is all just a phase and are constantly waiting for the day where I trade in my scarf and jilbab for a mini dress. inshaAllah, that never happens. Personally, I don’t think I've ‘found God’, mainly because I've never lost Him. I have always believed in him. It just took me gaining knowledge to fully embrace Him.
From a young age, I've always been excited about Islam. I remember looking forward to the “Middle East” section in Social Studies class because they always spent like a chapter talking about Islam. While I obviously covered my hair when I went to the masjid and when I prayed salah, I didn't really know much about covering, modesty or hijab, I do remember always admiring it. One instant that I can think of is when I forgot to take my scarf off after leaving the masjid one day and went to a store. There was this little girl who was also covered and the instant we made eye contact she smiled. I always remember that day because simply by wearing the scarf, it seemed we shared something. As I got older(early teenage years), I began to look into Islam more and believe it or not, it was also around this time that I received my first English Qur’an. I am not sure why but before then the thought of actually knowing what the Qur’an said never really came to me. As I began reading and learning, I started wanting to adapt more things to my life. Unfortunately, due to certain circumstances, I couldn't practice as much as I wanted but I did make it a point to perform salah and read more Qur’an. By the time I finished high school, I decided that I really wanted to start taking my deen more seriously. I wanted to be a pleasant, respectful, Allah-abiding Muslim. No, I did not start covering right away. I did start with changing my behaviour to align more with proper Islamic adab. Understand though, that I was not this horrible, rude, loose child, I just had the habit of being very short with people and engaging in activities that did not align with the proper mannerisms of a Muslim.. Throughout my first year in university, I probably was not the best example of a Muslim and did many things that I am not necessarily proud of, Alhamdulilah though, none of my ill-actions had lasting effects so I have been able to move forward.
Although I knew that I wanted to be ‘a better’ Muslim, I wasn't sure about how to go about it. I am a person who does not like much attention so my main worry was not so much about people judging me or not liking my changes but more so that I didn't want to have to deal with explaining these changes. This reluctance to explain myself also stems from the fact that I think people expect this deep profound explanation when really, for me, it was very simple- I believed in God, I believed that all the things He said in the Qur’an were right, so therefore why I shouldn't I abide by them. When I started university, I lived a bit far from home so I was able to maneuver without anyone really knowing who I was. By the end of my first year in undergrad, I decided to start wearing the scarf. While I did cover my hair, I was not observing proper hijab at all. I wore short skirts, mini-dresses, etc. I honestly didn't know what I was doing at all but I did know that that was not appropriate, I just wanted to try it. At the end of that year, I went back home for the summer holidays and stopped covering because again, I did not want to deal with the questions. Mid-way through the summer, I accepted a job back at the university and was able to move back on campus and reinstated the wearing of my scarf. I loved it! I loved praying my prayers on time, I loved the sense of slight modesty that I felt. At the end of the summer, I chose to switch schools and therefore moved back home-this of course meant no scarf. It was interesting, you always hear about girls who observe hijab when leaving home then take it off right before they get to school. Well I was the opposite of that. I would leave the house in my spring dresses and then throw on a scarf and sweater when I got on the bus to school. Eventually this became really difficult and I was literally ALWAYS TERRIFIED that someone would see me and tell my family, so eventually I gave up and stopped wearing it. A couple of months later, I realized that I hated not covering more than I disliked having to hide it so I just started covering again. I didn't make an announcement of it I just did it. Overall, things went well. Family wise, the only awkward moments were when I was expected to uncover for parties.
Of course as I continued studying the deen, other changes occurred. Let me stress that my learning did not only result in external changes, I am simply mentioning them because, they were the ones that received the most reactions. I started eating halal only, cutting back on inter-gender interactions, stopped going to inappropriate places(parties with immense free mixing, clubs, etc) getting more involved in charity, and of course observing full hijab by wearing an abaya/jilbab with a khimar. I don’t want to go into the whole story of me wearing the abaya but my transition to wearing it was similar to my transition into wearing the scarf. I wore the abaya for about a year before I started wearing it around family and sadly, till this day, it is still not well received and I am constantly being told how nice a certain skirt or outfit would look on me if I just wore “normal clothes”. I know that some sisters have no problem switching out of their abayas for special occasions, but for me, if there are going to be non-mahrams present, my complete attire needs to be reminiscent of what Allah(SWT) has ordained. This is an issue that has often resulted in complaints from my family, something that I will talk about in a future post, inshaAllah.
The reason why I decided to write this post is to highlight some of the negative responses that one might receive when people start noticing these religious-based changes. I don’t really understand why people react the way they do being that the changes I am making in my life does not affect them. A common 'advice' that I've been given by friends, family and community members is “to not be so extreme” because for some reason, to them, my refusal to shake hands with someone who is not my mahram is extreme, because my refusal to drink alcohol is a decision of extremity, because my decision to cover my body based on the instructions of Allah(SWT) is extreme. I often also get the “you’re too conservative” line as if being conservative is a bad thing. My usual response to this is “are you basing extremism and me being conservative off of the standards of the prophet(SAW) or off of the current society because as Muslims, our morals and values should first and foremost be derived from the Qur’an and Sunnah and then from our native cultures and traditions.
If you'd like to hear some other common negative reactions to changes and how to deal with them, check back soon for Part 2 of "The Visibility of Changes".
In the meantime, what was the hardest religious change that you've undergone? How do you think negative reactions should be addressed?
The "Muslimah Worries" section of Striving Clarity is dedicated to discussing the things that Muslimahs often worry about from hijab to marriage to how to remain spiritual when you're unable to pray. Join us!