After two years abroad, I returned with hopes of ease. Day dreams produced glimmers of comfortable conversations lacking in cultural complexities. Like a lifelong friend, I embraced my home again, longing to avoid sideways glances, puzzled looks, and the flagrant whispers which effortlessly follow foreigners as they stumble through life’s daily song and dance.
With naiveté and an unstudied air of my changing landscape, I slipped back into American life. The banality of my black abaya now met with uncomfortable stares. A garment formerly shrouded in ease now a mockery of a former life. Tucked away amongst the lush rolling hills of the Jordan Valley, I blended, although messily, like a Monet lacking distinct demarcations, yet still joining the subtleties to make the bigger picture.
Now I here I sit, a Salvador Dali on this playground of platinum blonde moms in the appropriate motherhood uniform of Fabletics. I guess I didn’t get the notice that the landscape had changed and I had now entered the wrong play.
“Come away now, it’s time to go.”
Her nervous stare and awkward tug gave her away. You know, the look one might get if they show up at the party no one invited them to. I tried to brush it off, but couldn’t fail to notice how the woman and her little girl never actually left the playground. Just my daughter and I. The ominous black abaya and hijab. The sweet, shy toddler tumbling about the sandbox. The innocent blonde child skipping away with mom, glancing back at her former instant friend.
When the restless traveler returns home, they anticipate a comforting normalcy with a natural acceptance. It should be an effortless movement through the daily song and dance. Yet I felt the need to explain myself. To un-package the misconceptions which unwillingly defined me.
Each day I pushed back that nagging thought of un-welcome, outcast, oppressed. If I could forget the playground, then I could also forget the cashier who refused to speak to me, the apartment neighbor’s taking bets on removing my hijab, the profanity laced highway drive-by almost sputtering me out of the lane. The job search which inevitably ended in “You gave the best interview, but we felt the other candidate was a better fit.”
A better fit. Less black, more color. Less coverage, more skin. Less drapery; less fabric; less outfit…more fit. For is that not what they mean when they say the better fit?
Unable to withstand the ceaseless tide of good-byes, good lucks and “do not enter,” I altered a little here and there. Discarding the outer garment — for it’s not sunnah anyhow, right? For the skinny jeans and quarter sleeves. At least I’ll leave a mark this way. A seat at the table — yes, this is the goal. That crack in the glass ceiling instead of tearing it all down.
Each day the inner divide grew between who I longed to be and how I could please you, my country, the home I knew. As if we must be torn in two, an unsolvable Rubik’s cube. Our masjid calling for our sisters to remain steadfast in deen, yet never the ones required to understand what that means.
Until today, I struggle to construct the right me, the acceptable me to the home I knew and that adoptive land that seemed to change me to you. Do I wear the turban today with the crowd-pleasing skinny jeans or that jilbab which speaks to the most authentic side of me? Can I bear the separation from the ease of acceptance with which America denies me?
Late night one week, I stare out at IG, aimlessly switching from story to story until Halima Aden halts me. I hear deen over dunya, but so rarely see it before me. It was a bold stance. One of liberation, despite the expected calls of oppression, because when a Muslim woman claims agency over her body it’s repulsive and demeaning. I saw the safety net of home in her personal agency. That my body is my own. It is my home and it belongs exactly where it resides. It’s covered in fabric of my choosing, tailor-made or elegantly draped. My home holds no uniform, no standard for others to tell and to behold. I am as I should be — a shroud of divine love beckoning toward another way.