Hot Coals

There’s a hadith in which the prophet salallahu alayhi wa sallam says-
“There will come a day when holding onto your religion will be like holding onto hot coals.”Not so long ago I read an article detailing the demographic of the victims of anti Muslim hate attacks.’ Female, visibly Muslim, between the ages of fourteen and forty five.’One of those thing you look at a moment to be sure of what just occurred to you, then
you turn around and say it.
I turned to my mother and said- “That’s us.”

Hot Coals

holding onto hot coals.
onto hot coals,
he said.
those hot coals
red
of life
stepping out your door
a target.
seventeen mixed-race female
visibly muslim
oh yeah,
a breathing target.
-almost like i’m asking for it.
demographic of an
easy fragile victim at your blinding angers whim
if i were just-
alone.

but i won’t show you fear
i won’t dip my head
hunching covered shoulders
to avoid your gaze,no,
i look you in the eye
i walk with confidence
the moment hazel pause when i fix my eyes on yours
and you always look away.

Looking Deeper

I have been called a shadow, a mystery, a faceless example of oppression. I walk outside with my head and body covered, my face veiled. I get it all, the stares, the whispers, and oh yes the smiles- of genuine friendliness, of annoying pity, of sarcastic amusement. They see only that I cover, not that I am following my convictions and am no less human then they are. A symbol. Not a girl who prefers to cover but is just like other girls in many ways, but someone to stare curiously at until she passes by. No one notices suede boots or a white purse, glasses or a smile.

You become accustomed to it in time. Sometimes I have the sad feeling that my own non-Muslim relatives wouldn’t look close enough to know me in my hijab. In a culture where you are measured at first glance by your body and dress, no one knows how to go deeper. But we sisters have learned; we tell the difference in the details, the shoes, the purse, her voice, how she carries herself. Her eyes, her energy or ennui, her attitude. We learn to know each other more carefully, remembering laughs and gestures and the way her eyes crinkle when she smiles. I have never once confused my two sisters in their niqab; they’re so different, when you learn to look.

They all look the same. Why black? Don’t they know they don’t have to do that here?!?!

It’s black, I tell you, out of choice. I could get white or plum or blue, but I choose black; partly because I identify with my sisters in Islam who dress the same, partly because that’s the color I prefer, partly because that’s the easiest color to buy. Yes, it’s head to toe. Or to be more accurate, head to a little past my ankles. Yup, it probably looks foreign. That’s probably because it is foreign to you, as foreign as the concept of modesty and purity, as foreign to you as dedication to Allah and living with goodness. Yes, it is a choice, believe it or not; a choice that hurts no one, unless you use it to hurt me.

A choice to live close to Allah’s Way, to try to be modest and pure, to distance myself from the painfully shallow way so many live. It’s a choice I saw was beautiful, from a young age. A choice between right and wrong, between ease and respect, between losing my religion and holding tightly on to it in its entirety. A choice of dignity. A choice that, yes, belongs here, because I belong here, and that I can only ask you to respect.

Shagoofa’s Story

 Shagoofa is a friend of mine. We met through writing. When I finally met her I was amazed to see that she wore ‘abayah and niqab. I was curious how a girl who began in ‘jeans and tunic’ found the strength and dedication to wear the full hijab at only nineteen; unlike me, who began in Yemen where everyone wore it, Shagoofa started her journey alone. Interviewing her for the blog, her story brought tears to my eyes and I think can be a benefit for all of us.
(delicatescarlet)-Can I ask you some questions about why you started to wear the niqab? It impressed me because everyone is so scared of looking too ‘extreme’ or ‘scary’. How did you overcome that?
 
(Shagoofa)-Well, I starting covering when I was 11 (just a scarf and regular clothes). I wasn’t so aware of what the actual hijab was until I moved to Oklahoma. My sisters suggested abaya and the khimar, but I had no idea that that was the legislated attire. I looked at what the other ‘hijabis’ around me wore- jeans and a dress/ tunic.
 My love for niqab started when I was about 9 because of this sister named A’isha. Subhan Allaah I had never seen a woman so beautiful and elegant before without knowing what she looked like. She looked like something so unreal, like a princess. When she spoke to me she was kind and gentle. I wanted to be like her.
  When I moved to Oklahoma I was 16 and in public school. I was the ONLY hijabi/Muslim at my school, so for orientation I walked into a cafeteria filled with about 500 students all at once staring at me. It was slightly mortifying, but I had to pretend it didn’t bother me. My sisters were trying to advise me to wear abaya at school, but I was apprehensive to do so. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to, but I was afraid of what people would think/their reactions.
  I had school from 7am to 3pm, then right after school my family went to this sister’s house for a study group. There we were learning about Allaah. I had never learned about Him like that before. Allaah was spoken about, yes, at the masjid, but the focus was the Messenger (sallaahu alayhi wa salam). We were learning about Allaah’s rights, his attributes, tawheed, etc. I learned more about how a woman is supposed to be dressed. Knowing more about Allaah and His religion gave me the confidence to differentiate myself from the khawarij that everyone asked me about at school. (I’m going to skip to graduation lol)…
  It took me finishing high school to be able to start covering. I still wore dresses and jeans after high school, but my need to change was there. I didn’t want anyone to know that I wanted to wear niqab because I was afraid of everyone’s opinion. I didn’t want anyone thinking they had a right to give their opinion on something I felt so strongly about. I used to practise in front of my mirror, saying to myself “This is how everyone is going to see you….this is how you will look.”
  When I finally decided to put it on I was 19, and it was Ramadan. I knew I needed and wanted to start soon. Every night before iftar I would put my head down and make duaa asking Allaah to give me the strength to be confident and to take my fear away. I asked Allaah to ease the anxiety I had towards it. Your mom once advised that if you want something really badly then you should cry to Allaah for it, so I cried. I got dressed and walked quickly to my dad’s van, sat down, and waited. I was afraid still. I closed my eyes and starting (lol) talking to myself, “Why do you want to do this? What is your reason?… Allaah. Allaah will be pleased with you if you do this. Don’t worry about anyone. Allaah will be pleased with you. People will stare, but that didn’t stop them before. Allaah will be pleased with you.”  I had tears in my eyes at that point because I suddenly felt relieved, free. I think, I overcame the fear of what people thought about me because I was no longer concerned about what pleased them.
(delicatescarlet)-Your story brings tears to my eyes. I know it was the same thing with me. Allah’s pleasure mattered so much more, and because I was so sure of that I could walk proudly.
(Shagoofa)-Masha Allaah yes! I think that’s the problem with our fashionista hijabis. They think that covering is more for the self than the creator. They’re told that hijab is to cover the beauty, which is not untrue, but it’s not the sole reason for why it is legislated. It’s a commandment, but they understand it as a stepping stone for betterment only.
Shagoofa is an artist and free-spirited niqabi sister. She lives in Oklahoma.

Talk Talk

One of the huge furors over the niqab is that it ‘impedes communication’. No one can see our faces, thus communication is nil. They can’t talk to us, right? Of course you can’t talk to someone who walks up to you and speaks to you if you can’t see their nose and mouth! Your tongue refuses to work unless you can see theirs. That’s too well known to dispute. It doesn’t matter if they can see your eyes and hear your voice. They just. Can’t. Talk!

So. You, the offender, must back down. If you want to talk, take it off. Take it from everyone who has ever talked to a niqabi. (Crossed arms.)

Maybe you should take it from those of us who have worn it for years. Maybe you should ask our sisters who are teachers and mothers and doctors and speak to people every day. Maybe you should ask us, who go shopping and work and teach in the niqab. Maybe you should ask our friends who have gone out with us, watched us interact. Maybe, instead of asking people who have taken it off or have never worn it, you should ask us. Who actually wear it.

But it scares people off, right? They see a woman in niqab and flee, positive that she’s coming to put them in a zone of bomb danger! They know that she doesn’t want to see you or talk to you. They know that it’s scary to look her in the eyes and give her your attention, listen to what she’s saying or ask a question!

Come on, give people more credit. (Even those who dislike the niqab are hardly going to be scared to death.) Only people who make fun of you are going to pretend to be frightened.     But discomfort, right? It can cause discomfort!

Yes, in a culture where people don’t generally cover this way, yes. And discomfort won’t immediately alienate people. We often have to reach the extra way out and connect. Smile. People can catch a smile, a gesture, the greeting, and it’s a far better option than to sacrifice your standing with Allah to someone’s discomfort. Talk to them; if they really don’t want to connect, they won’t. But we try. And maybe that’s more than we can say for people who don’t want to accommodate us. Maybe the time we take to talk to the people we meet is better da’wah and a better impression than to give up a part of your religious convictions.

Maybe we need to stop making excuses; and in the extra effort to both the people and our religion, be the winners.

‘You All Look So Beautiful’

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

The niqab.It’s hotly debated, widely trashed, painfully dissected. This light cloth we draw over our beauty has been made into a media sensation; the few of us who wear it here in America and Europe made into objects of pity and curiosities. To display your faith and cover your beauty is against the ideals so many hold; yet some of us, breaking free of expectations and criticism, still show our dedication to Allah- our pride in our religion- our modesty.

And they can’t understand why. Why, when so many of our sisters have turned their hijab into a fashion. Showing that they can incorporate their ‘Muslim identity’ into our shallow society. When so many have ‘moderated’ the hijab bit by bit until it’s a tiny demurely wrapped bit of cloth, reduced to acceptable, insignificant, scraped down to the standards surrounding us. Why?

I can answer for myself- because what people see does nothing for you, and what Allah sees does everything. Because in the end, what upholds me is my faith- and my sisters, no matter what you do to conform to the new standards of freedom, it will never be enough. First the niqab is too strict, then the abayah is considered frumpy, and now the khimar is a little too much- when will it stop? When you are like the rest of the women. When your dedication to your faith has been surpassed by the desire to fit into the new freedom.

I’m eighteen and I wear the niqab. We lived in Yemen for a while, and I started wearing the niqab there. It wasn’t a huge deal there; wearing the niqab and behaving with modesty earned you respect. Opened doors, men who would give up their seats and help you with your bags, step aside for you to pass. They understood, I guess, that we were not only asking for respect, we were demanding it.  Then we returned to America.

It was a sort of shock. It was suddenly being reduced in others’ eyes to someone ridiculous, startling, detached from society. Heads turned to watch my sisters and I, glances ranging from surprise to disgusted amusement. Sometimes my amusement rivaled my annoyance. Other times I was disturbed enough to want to stay home. My non-Muslim relatives were mostly silent on the matter, but my grandfather refused to walk out in public with us in hijab. My mother and sisters gave me strength in their being there with me; sometimes after a shouted insult all it would take was an exchanged look with my sister. To see the resilience in silence, to share a half-amused giggle. It’s almost startling when someone acknowledges you with respect. Not so long ago a woman approached us when we were shopping and looked at us.

“I just wanted to tell you girls, you all look so beautiful.”

“Thank you,” was all we could say, with smiles, but that kindness stayed with me.

Wearing it, I feel beautiful. It acknowledges that I am in my imperfections precious. That I am blessed to be a Muslim, pleased to be of those Allah has chosen. And proud to show it. Yes, it does look very different, and people don’t like different, but long ago the Prophet mentioned that we would be in the world strangers.

But in the end when I stand before Allah, I don’t want to have to say that in following others I was misled. I want to be able to say that I did my best according to what I saw in the Qur’an and the Prophet’s hadith, and pray that it is accepted.

Because in the end of it all? That’s what really matters.