The sun kissed my bare arms. My pale skin burned red, dripping pools of sweat. A forgotten sensation triggered internal conflicts: discomfort and relief; shame and freedom. My new beginning, birthed in pain and spiritual turmoil, reduced to the superficial.
A constant friend’s comfortable embrace unraveled the strings from their stitch. Holes loosened bonds to higher powers. Self-love. Self-healing. Self-reflection.
A hiatus from the straight path or a circle back to the correct path?
Ya Allah, what do you think of me today?
I recall the year I began my journey toward Islam. In 2012, I was a burnt out full-time graduate student working two jobs. An immense spiritual void propelled me to devour books on religion, philosophy and spirituality – always seeking that higher truth. I attended various worship services and begged a higher power to present a sign toward the correct path. Each path I walked led me deeper down the void, widening the disconnect between me and the Divine.
Until I stumbled upon The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson. A forgotten book on my to-read list. Wilson’s religious awakening and ultimate conversion to Islam drew me in, propelling me to read more about this misunderstood and misrepresented faith. I read every book about Islam that my local library had to offer – from typical terrorist tropes and “liberating” veiled women to Islam for dummies and simple introductory texts. I purchased my first Qur’an and read through its clunky translation. An inexplicable force pushed me to learn more and to seek more answers.
I attended my first Eid prayer after Ramadan. Each worshiper connected toe-to-toe, heel-to-heel solely to worship the Divine. The prayer moved me beyond words, and it was then I knew my path ended here. I found my spiritual home. My Divine question had been answered.
On September 5, 2012, the day after taking my shahada, I wore my awkwardly draped hijab to work, undaunted by the stares and whispers. I never imagined removing my new found friend – its beauty and symbolism so intricately tied to my conception of faith.
I always felt hijab was my choice, my declaration of faith and God-consciousness. A commitment to a way of life, Sirat-ul mustaqim. Of course, I had masjid Aunties constantly critiquing the color, length and size of my attire. An incessant debate on the halal/haram of women’s fashion. An exhausting distraction from higher spiritual pursuits. Although, I often fell into the trap of equating my outer appearance with my inner iman, it wasn’t until I married that I felt clothes carried an excruciating weight.
This confluence of culture and religion erected new barriers in my worship. My clothing was forever in flux–from flowing black abayas to pushing ultra-conservative cultural boundaries in my skinny jeans and peasant tops. Always with my headscarf of changing colors and designs, never fully comprehending these new barriers in design.
Worship, clothing and appearances intertwined, paralyzing future attempts toward a more spiritually and intellectually rich life. My outer shell replaced the inner shell which had guided me down the path of Islam.
Ya Allah, what did you think of me?
The superficial had replaced the majesty of the unseen.
In the mirror, I couldn’t recognize the woman before me.
As endless fabric clouded my way, the bonds of my marriage were rapidly loosening. The birth of our daughter only increased the rapidity of our demise. It was a cultural clash coupled with an abandonment of Islamic ways that could not be reconciled.
Throughout my trials, I felt abandoned by a community who so warmly and readily welcomed me following my conversion. Each cry for help reduced to a misunderstanding with a flippant prescription for sabr.
After years of crippling anxiety and excruciating loneliness, coupled with counseling and tearful dua’as, my world turned upside down by one word: divorce. Sometimes the worlds we create are not meant to last. Perhaps, we are destined to be phoenixes, cycling through destruction and rebirth.
The day I walked out without my hijab, it was more than fabric which I shed. Self-loathing, self-doubt, resentment, anger and abandonment released me from their weight. My hijab had become a prison instead of a liberating beacon marking my Creator’s love and my intrinsic worth.
My short-comings, my anger toward my Creator, made me feel like a fraud. How can I wear hijab when my forehead cannot rest in sujood, despite the weight on my back? This ideal Muslimah narrative runs deep through my psyche. An all or nothing sentiment that does not serve me. He is Ar-Rahman, Ar-Rahim. Reflect on the frequency with which we start and end the mundane and spiritual with these names.
For many, the straight path can only be traversed with hijab. A woman’s spiritual worth anchored to her outer shell. The looser the garment, the longer the veil–an iman cloaked in dimensions. The increasing length and width exemplifies a corresponding firmness and purity of ibadah and iman. While dwindling measurements mark a woman far astray.
Even non-Muslims mark hijab as the deen. It’s telling how your treatment changes with a wardrobe change.
Ya Allah, what do you think of me today?
For now, I return to the correct path. A winding lane of iman and spiritual depth beseeching the straightway of my Prophet and His Companions. I recognize my imperfections and label my short-comings as areas of growth.
One day my faithful friend will return and envelope me in a familiar embrace. A restoration of the self destroyed by another.
Today, I call out for Al-Lateef, Al-Kareem. That His Majesty and Love may guide us all through the journeys we embark upon in dunya on our way toward Eternal Bliss.