Putting on the hijab

I converted (officially) just over a year ago. From the moment I took my shahada, I’ve never been out in public without some form of hijab on. That’s not to say I’ve always been perfect about it – far from it. I still wear a “turban style” hijab about 50% of the time. I have a strong desire to wear it but it can be a massive struggle when you are from a non-muslim family and you are living in a predominantly secular country.

When I first started reading about and loving islam, I began to wear a headscarf off and on. I suppose I was sort of experimenting with it; discovering what other people’s reaction to it might be, admiring its beauty, but afraid to step too far out of my comfort zone. Truth be told, I’m not sure I understood WHY I was wearing it at that time. Looking back and knowing that my last statement is most likely true, it’s surprising to me that I managed to keep it on since the day of my conversion. Wearing hijab sets you apart from others, and as someone who has worked really hard her entire life to just blend in, wearing it without fully understanding the reason behind it was at times extremely difficult (I’m looking at you, summer heat!).

As with so many other things so far on my personal journey, I have found that truly understanding only happened after implementing the changes into my life. That seems to be the nature of my relationship with Allah so far; I do what is asked of me, albeit with some hesitation, and find the wisdom and beauty in it once I’ve relaxed into it.

When I started a new job with a predominantly female staff, I knew eventually I could expect questions about the hijab and why I wear it. I only prayed that they would be asked respectfully and, Alhamdulillah, those prayers were answered. I was only on the job a couple of weeks before I was kindly and tentatively asked why I wear it. My response was everything I had been able to learn about hijab for the last year and a half.

The term hijab does not literally mean headscarf. It means partition or veil. And women are not the only ones who have to observe hijab. A man observes hijab, for example, by keeping his gaze lowered. This is part of a man’s haya (shyness, modesty), and a woman’s hijab is part of her’s. Muslim women didn’t invent, and do not own hijab. I have never seen a depiction of the virgin mother without a hijab on, and Jewish women wore it before the Christians. It has fallen out of fashion for most Christians and Jews, but many Jewish women still cover their hair once they are married.

In the time of the prophet Muhammad (SAW), it was generally women with higher status that still covered with a hijab because it was considered cumbersome for the slave women and the women working in fields. Allah says in the Quran “tell the believing women to draw their veils over their bosoms and not expose their adornment…” (translation of the meaning). In another verse Allah says “O Prophet! Ask your wives, daughters, and believing women to draw their cloaks over their bodies. In this way it is more likely that they will be recognized ˹as virtuous˺ and not be harassed. And Allah is All-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (translation of the meaning).

Allah is saying that all believing women should dress in the same way (modestly) so that they will be recognized as free, believing women and not harassed (as someone of a lower status would have been). Subhanallah, Allah is putting all women on the same level (which is a very high status in Islam) and saying that all women deserve to be treated respectfully.

From a modern standpoint, I view wearing hijab as an act of feminism, not oppression. We live in a society that is totally controlled by men – especially here in the West. Everything we do to or with our bodies is controlled by men. Everything from birth control choices to the clothes we wear. Think of it this way: women are plastered all over TV, the internet, magazines and billboards with most of their bodies exposed and visible. Now imagine a woman who is modestly dressed and sitting in a quiet corner of a restaurant nursing her infant. She is not completely exposed and not trying to attract any attention. People are crying in outrage that it is disgusting and she should put her breast away and go to the restroom to feed her infant. Why? Why do people react this way? Because in the second scenario, the breast is not for the pleasure of men. It is serving the function that it was intended to serve by Allah. It is providing nutrition to an infant. We are so accustomed to being objects of desire, that even many women react with outrage about our bodies no longer being for the pleasure of men. If I want to cover up, and that is my personal choice, who is anyone else to tell me that I can’t?

Knowing and understanding the logic behind it has made it much easier for me to stay committed to it. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. I would love nothing more than to put on a tanktop and a pair of shorts when it’s 32 degrees outside (that’s Celsius in case you are wondering who wears shorts in the middle of winter!). And I’m still struggling to wear it correctly 100% of the time, but this is my jihad. May Allah reward every woman struggling to remain or become more modest.

If you have your own hijab story that you would like to share, I would love to hear it!

My conversion

I’ve thought about how I might go about putting this into words so many times. I’m never sure where to start. It always feels so odd to even contemplate how I got from where I started to where I am now. Trying to put it into words without writing a novel feels difficult, but there are so many important events in my life that lead me to this point. To leave any detail out would be to leave the story unfinished.

So let’s start where every story does: the beginning. I was baptised catholic when I was a baby. My mother was born into a catholic family, and my dad converted to marry her in the church (he is a believer, don’t get me wrong), not having been brought up with any formal religion as a child. As a young child, we went to catholic church most Sundays. I remember going to my first confession and feeling as though I had done something very good. Like I head somehow cleansed my soul. I was in an all girls Christian club called Gems, similar to Girl Guides but run through a local Christian Reform church.  I also did my communion around the age of 7 or 8. Religion was part of my life in that we were somewhat regular at church and I believed in God, but it wasn’t a constant fixture at home. We didn’t say grace or read the bible regularly. I do remember being taught the Lord’s Prayer and reciting it at night before bed. I think my parents genuinely tried to instill strong faith within me but, perhaps because my dad had grown up without religion, they weren’t really sure how.

As I grew up, I started protesting going to church. The priest was quite old and the service was very ritualistic. There was no interesting dialogue, no stories with references to the bible, nothing that pertained to every day life; certainly for a young girl with an inquisitive mind. My sister and I both begged to stay home every Sunday and, eventually, my parents relented. I was only around 11 or 12 years old when I stopped attending church.

When I was 15 years old I started dating a boy my age. One day we were talking about religion and he asked me a simple question that changed the course of my life.

“Do you believe in God?”

“Yes”, I said

“Why?”, he asked

I realized at that point that the only answer I could give him was “because I was told to”. I was always taught to believe, but not understand. My faith had been built on a very fragile foundation and it took one simple question to have the whole thing come crumbling down. As years passed, I became more firm in my belief that there was no God, no eternal life, and no real consequences for our actions outside of what happens here on earth. I was very vocal about atheism and could not understand how otherwise intelligent people could believe in the existence of a God.

I don’t believe I was ever mean or rude to believers, as I never directly challenged anyone’s faith (although if you knew me then and found me to be rude, please accept my apologies). I was envious of the fact that other people had a belief that brought them comfort through difficult times. I even had that discussion with several of my atheist friends. I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself, and to be comforted in the face of a loved one’s death or the knowledge that I too will one day die (as we all someday will).

In an effort to understand and to educate myself, I attended a Baptist church a few times, and started reading the bible. I thought that maybe exposing myself to a different denomination of Christianity might answer some of the questions that I had. I spoke to Christians about their beliefs, and how and why they believed. My questions were always met with the same answer: “just have faith”. If anything, the experiment left me with more questions. Why were they all able to accept everything at face value? Why were they able to put aside the questions and “just have faith”? Why couldn’t I just believe. The only real bit of knowledge I gained during that time is that faith cannot be forced. It’s either going to make sense to you or it’s not. And for me, nothing really clicked.

Fast forward to my 29th year revolving around the sun. I started working with newcomers to Canada, most of whom were Muslim. I was fascinated by these new people. Their culture, the way they dress, their language, the food – it was thrilling to my inquisitive brain. I saw it as an opportunity to learn and grow as a person. I wanted to learn about their religion, but only for curiosity’s sake. I never for a second imagined that I would ever adopt it for my own.

As I started spending more time with the Muslim families, I started to notice what lovely qualities so many of them possessed. Despite having come to Canada with practically nothing, they were so willing to give and share. I could not enter a Muslim household without being stuffed so full of delicious food that I was on the verge of bursting. The women were kind, caring, and generous. They cracked jokes and they laughed. They tried to teach me some Arabic. These people were so very different from the “Muslims” we see in the media. I had always known that, as a people, they could not be as bad as the world would have us think, but the difference was striking. They were some of the kindest and most genuine people I had ever met.

During this journey I met a man who was also working with the newcomers. As we came to know each other and become friends, we talked about religion on several occasions. He grew up in a Muslim country, but only really became devout in his teenage years (the story behind that little switch is quite cute actually, but best saved for another time). His religion was something that was very important to him and he wanted me to believe in God because he saw me as someone who was good and kind and wanted me to be “saved”. At first I was actually quite insulted. “I’m a good person”, I thought. “Surely there is nothing for me to be ‘saved’ from”. I figured that even if there was a God and such a thing as heaven, that God would forgive me for my disbelief and admit me to heaven upon my death. The more he brought it up, the more I resisted. I told him that so many people before him had tried to teach me about God and religion and they all failed to make me believe. I assured him that he would fail too. “Just le me try”, he said. “Let me teach you”. I finally accepted that challenge, but I was defiant. I just knew that he would fail and I was prepared to say “I told you so!” at the end.

Little by little he began to teach me about Islam. He would paraphrase the Quran for me in English, give me videos to watch, and explain hadith to me. When I asked him questions he would either give me a logical answer or be truthful when he didn’t know and find me a resource that could explain it to me. The more information I took in, the more curious I became. I would spend hours reading or watching videos. I was like a person who was dying of thirst and was being given her first few sips of water. For the first time ever I had found a religion that actually made sense. I didn’t have to sacrifice my love of science and all things logical for a belief.

Around 7 months after starting to work with the Muslim families, I travelled to a mosque around 3 hours from my home to take the shahada. That was just over a year ago.

Things have certainly changed for me since then, and they have not always been easy. Sometimes I am still shocked that I came from where I was to where I am now. I feel worlds apart from where I used to be. I know how shocking it was for everyone around me. Some were not able to handle the transition and said very foul things about me. All were curious. Some, the important ones, have been accepting. Honestly, I feel like only now is the dust really beginning to settle and we are all just going about our normal lives. In shaa Allah (God willing) it will only get easier with time.

If you’ve stumbled on this blog because you are a Muslim revert (convert), or because you are simply curious about Islam, please leave a comment. I would love to hear from you. If you came to my blog because you hate Islam and Muslims, please stay. Read. Learn. Before you act out of hate and fear, just be a fly on the wall.

 

 

I have no idea what I’m getting myself into…

Hello, internet. I have no idea how many (or few) people will eventually stumble on this humble little blog in my tiny little corner of the internet. If I were writing for fame and followers though, I’d have given up before ever getting started. I’m not doing this because I hope to become known. My personality is such that I shy away from too much attention. Even in the midst of personalizing this blog I find myself torn between wanting to personalize it and making it TOO personal. I’m not sure I want people to know who is actually behind the computer screen.

I’ve had so many thoughts running through my mind for the past couple of months. After reverting a year ago, I feel as though I was on a sort of high. Happy to have found something that filled a void within myself that I never knew how to. Happy to find something that actually made sense to me and encouraged my need for logic and questioning. But, as with all things, the high fades. Now I find myself overwhelmed with what seems like an infinite number of things I need to learn. I sometimes feel torn between this new life and my old one.

Do I have regrets? The answer to that is a resounding NO. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t struggle. If any of you do find me out here, my hope is that something I write about might connect with you. Maybe you’ll be happy to find some stranger who feels the same way and asks the same questions. Maybe I’ll encourage someone to see the beauty in Islam for the first time.

Or maybe it’s me looking to find someone out there on my wavelength.