Saturday, June 02, 2007

I Needed To Repack My Suitcase

I wrote this article and it was published at Reading Islam:

When I made the decision to become a Muslim, I didn’t tell a soul. It was a decision between me and Allah (swt) alone.

But, I did approach my supervisor at work to feel out whether or not my workplace would be a supportive environment for my new way of life. “Hmm, let’s say” I began one morning after my supervisor and I were finished with a staff meeting. “If I were ever to convert to Islam, would it be a problem for me to wear a scarf here?” I asked. “Hmm, let’s say if you ever did that,” he responded with a twinkle in his eye, “it would be okay with me.” Because he knew my husband, he had an idea what I was considering.

I had been married to a Muslim man for about a year at that time. He never pressured me to become a Muslim, but he gave me silent dawah by his excellent example. One of the things we did as a married couple was to visit other Muslims. We were often invited to the home of one particular family, and I spent many evenings conversing about Islam with the wife of the house.

I said the Shahadah on her garden porch in the summer of 1998. Before I left her home that special afternoon, she gave me my first hijab. I remember it was an al-amira type, the one-piece kind that slips over the head.

The day after I became a Muslim, my husband and I traveled to Puerto Rico. Just 24 hours before, I had been planning a vacation that included sunbathing on the beach in a skimpy bathing suit! Needless to say, I spent part of my first evening as a Muslim repacking my suitcase.

I don’t know what I expected concerning the reaction of others to my hijab. Looking back, I wasn’t worried too much other than potential problems with my job. I was sure that I wanted to be a Muslim. Almost overnight, however, I lost my identity as an “American” in my own country. It was immediately assumed by others that I was from the Middle East or some other Muslim country. At the Philadelphia International Airport, on my way to Puerto Rico, for example, I was frequently stopped by security and asked about my country of origin. Was my hijab changing my national identity as well as my religion? It was clear to me that my life had taken a 180 degree turn overnight.

The Caribbean heat hit me hard as I exited the main terminal of the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan wearing my new white cotton hijab. But I was determined to keep it on.

In the following days, I was a bit confused as I walked the streets of nearby Condado. Many of the local people greeted me with an admiring look and a smile. “Dios te bendiga, madre!” (God bless you, mother) they would say as they walked past me. Did they think I was a Catholic nun? I later learned that there is a Christian group in Puerto Rico whose female members wear while veils similar to the hijab.

When our vacation was over, we made our way back to the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport. Again I got a security grilling, but it was more intense than the one I had experienced in Philadelphia because this time I was attempting to enter the United States. My husband was proud of how I handled myself. When we returned home, he told me that he knew I was serious about hijab due to the fact that I wore it in public the entire vacation despite the Puerto Rican heat!

When I returned to work, I was a little anxious about walking through the door of the agency. The first person I saw was my supervisor. He was in the file room when I arrived. He gave me a long smile when he saw me in my hijab. “So – you did it!” he said, shaking his head up and down with approval.

The best reactions I got to my hijab came from my Muslim clients. (Remember: I hadn’t told anyone!) One of them was scheduled to see me the day I returned to work from vacation. When I saw Mahmoud, he was flabbergasted. “Alhamdulillah!” he exclaimed. His eyes glistened with tears that soon overflowed and spilled to his cheeks. “Mabrook! You look so beautiful!” He kept saying it over and over again.

I was a bit apprehensive in the following days, but my friends and acquaintances were supportive. The encouragement they gave me made my transition to wearing hijab very smooth. Sadly, I know that some of my revert Muslim sisters have not had such a positive experience.

There was no internal struggle or conflict for me concerning the wearing of hijab. I had read a lot about Islam, including the issue of hijab, prior to making my decision to become a Muslim. I understood hijab to be part of the “package” so to speak. It was that simple for me.

At that time, I had no spiritual sense of hijab; I was wearing it to comply with Allah’s command in the holy Qur’an. Today I do have a spiritual sense of hijab. My hijab lets the world know that I am a Muslim woman. It symbolizes what my life stands for. I wear it to please Allah (swt), but I also wear it for myself. I have worn hijab since the day I said the Shahadah. I have never taken it off, even after the dreadful days following the events of September 11th.