A three part article on a sister's journey towards covering up
A few months ago, I was waiting for the dentist, wondering why they were taking so long to call my name after the appointed time. The answer came about forty-five minutes after my appointment – they hadn’t recognised me even though I was seated right in front of the receptionist.
So what was the big change? I reckoned that it was fine to let people discover it themselves, but after a month I realised that people simply walked past me because they didn’t recognise me. Not because they were shocked by the change. They simply did not see me.
A scarf, that was the difference. After hesitating for about twenty odd years, I had finally done it. The dentist didn’t recognise me because the last time he saw me, well, apart from the hair of course, I was not particularly bothered about my skin and shape showing through my clothes. My colleagues and clients didn’t recognise me because over the years they had grown accustomed to seeing me in an assortment of short skirts and low cut blouses. With a scarf on, it didn’t register to them that it was me.
And that was my attitude generally about my looks – not that I was trying to flaunt myself, but rather, why hide it if it’s not ugly?
So why the change? I’d been wanting to wear the hijab for years, but held back. I was afraid of ridicule, losing friends, changing my social lifestyle totally and entirely. I was afraid of being different, although I was sure of who my friends were (and it wouldn’t have mattered to them what I looked like –they would have accepted me as I was).
But what discouraged me greatly was some of the hijabi women I had encountered. Because it’s more than a scarf, it’s the image of an entire nation represented by the scarf. Every Muslim who dresses the part is, to an extent, an ambassador of Islam, and should be a guardian of Islam’s image. Are we not the khilafahs of Allah on this earth? Yet, all the gossiping, backbiting, lack of patience, lack of kindness and contentment really turned me off. Some women who thought that just because they have some fabric wound around their head (despite their glaring ignorance of basic Islamic manners and behaviour) that they have the moral high ground to judge other uncovered sisters and a free pass to Jannah. May Allah prevent us from such behaviour and may Allah guide our sisters, Ameen.
The big change, though, came with the decision to clean up my act a couple of years ago, during which time I had hit a spectacular low in life. The details of my horrific fall from grace, so to speak, are irrelevant and probably boring to anyone but myself. Suffice to say, however, that as soon as I embarked on my journey of Iman and achieved an understanding of who my Creator was and what He expected of me (with the help of a couple of amazing individuals who helped me get back on my feet again after I had lost my way) life made sense at all levels and I felt compelled to obey His commands. One of which was the hijab, which on principle, I was convinced of but in reality was reluctant to implement on myself.
So I resisted and kept concocting reasons to delay, these excuses getting more outrageous and nonsensical by the day. I was running out of plausible excuses, and I knew it. Until finally, someone I loved and respected very dearly, gave me the final push I needed.
The first time wasn’t easy at all. It’s just a piece of cloth, I kept telling myself, but apart from being hopelessly inept at tying it neatly and fashionably around my face, it was the end of the old cool, hip, and trendy me. It’s hard to explain. It was my public declaration of my alliance and loyalty to Allah. I was making a stand to be a better Muslim and to work towards abandoning values repugnant to Islam. The inward journey had been gradual, but the last step, the outward appearance, was the biggest, the most drastic and the most final.
There were tears all right, they were splashing down my face like a three-year old whose candy had been stolen, and they increased as my faith struggled to overcome my vanity. The simple act of covering my hair and body was almost physically painful. And the pitiful knots I tied on the scarf (note: no previous experience at tying a shayla. It’s more complicated than it looks!) took almost an hour. And then, I stepped out of the apartment to face the world.