Liberated.

2 Jun

I put on my hijab nearly 5 years ago, when I was 20.  This drastic decision immediately changed who I was and what I looked like.  From being an image conscious, outspoken, trendy girl, to a woman who had become more concerned about faith and modesty.  This, I believed, really shocked those who knew me.  “Did you get married?” one friend at university asked me when she saw me in my hijab and abaya (gown). I replied “No.”.  And this was true. I wasn’t pushed into it by a man or anyone else for that matter.  It was completely the opposite.  Instead of being forced, I was inspired, firstly by God, and then by other young people who were taking the same steps forward as me: they were coming back to Islam.

At the beginning

I was born into a Muslim family, but I wasn’t “practicing”- a term commonly used to describe someone who performs all of the duties that a Muslim should.  Wearing the hijaab, and essentially becoming more religious was in my future plans. I always thought that I’d get married later in life, go to Hajj (pilgrimage) and then start practicing.  But I never expected it to happen so soon.

The thought of wearing the hijaab came to me while visiting family in Trinidad. They, like many Islamic families go against the stereotypes of Muslims: that we are stiff, prude, unable to smile, laugh or cry. Their kindness, warmth and mostly the laughter and fun they shared- all in accordance with Islam, gave me a taste of this pure religion.

While there, I also came closer to the five daily prayers, or salaat.  It was as if they were becoming my friend. It was more than just wearing the hijaab, it was understanding my religion, gaining knowledge, and coming closer to my Lord. And then it dawned on me. I could die at any minute now- without having fulfilled anything that my Lord had asked of me. One of these things was the hijaab. All my life I had run away from this. I felt that covering my hair would be the hardest thing to do.

Allah sends you help

On my return to London, something in me had changed. I don’t know what, or how. Chatting to my close friend, Hibo, on the phone, one of us (my memory fails me) said to the other “Oi, you know- I’ve been thinking about wearing hijaab,” to which the other exclaimed “Me too!” It was as if Allah had placed the same feeling in two friends, so that we would be there for each other. We went to Jummua (Friday prayer) with our hijaabs on, and when we got  home we decided to go to Central London for food. Wearing our hijabs. It was on that day we decided to make it permanent.

After a summer of wearing the hijaab, it was time to brave university. I assumed many people would shun me or refuse to talk to me, especially as none of my closest friends on campus were Muslim.  For that reason I told two of my friends before I saw them. “Oh, I’m covering my head now, by the way…” I hoped this would eliminate the shock factor when they saw me for the first time.  Nervously I attended my first day back expecting people to run away from me screaming. I could not have been more wrong about the reaction of my peers. Although shocked about this drastic change,most of them asked questions and were fine. A few stopped talking to me, although I don’t think this was out of spite, but more awkwardness.

I entered my second year of university with hijaab, still wearing jeans. A few weeks later, I started wearing the abaya (long Islamic gown). I felt proud that I had finally made the choice to practice my religion openly and show others my Muslim identity instead of conforming to fashion trends of everyone else.  And I was not the only one. As I began getting more involved in the Muslim community, I began to meet more and more men and women who had made the conscious decision to come to Islam, or start practising.  Some people had even been shunned by their families because of their decision.

Ramadan

A month or so passed, and the blessed month of fasting arrived.  I had made the decision that this was the way I would live my life from now on. Ramadan marked a major turning point for me, and for that reason I decided to take my shahadah (declaration of faith) again. I felt that previously I did not understand or adhere to the enormity of this statement. I finally felt like a Muslim, I was no longer a Muslim by name with no action to back it up. So in the presence of my mum and a learned lady at my local mosque, I uttered the shahadah.

This Ramadan was the first Ramadan I had fasted and prayed tarawih (voluntary evening prayers performed every night of Ramadan) properly, knowing and understanding what I was doing and why I was doing it. I met so many sisters who were coming back to the deen (religion of Islam). We broke our fast, attended lectures, and prayed tarawih together. We cried about our pasts and looked to our futures with hope, together. It was honestly one of the most beautiful times of my life. I had never felt a sisterhood, or brotherhood like it. To see brothers attending the mosque, hear imams crying when they recited the Quran, was refreshing and encouraging. People often forget about the men, that they too have a “uniform”, and rules they must live by as men. And seeing so many men adhering to this emphasised that I had made the right decision.

Not everyone is ignorant

One day, out with my friend, we were confronted by a woman who voiced her belief that Muslim women do not have freedom of speech, freedom of dress and freedom of choice. I felt obliged to inform her, and anyone else for that matter, that the majority of Muslim women have all of this and more. Hence the fact that a lot of women make the independent choice to start dressing islamically. Despite this, it is not always the case that non-Muslims will judge you or automatically think you are a terrorist, as I ignorantly thought would happen to me. In fact, people were more than accepting, from university professors to the stranger on the train to non-Muslim family members, people were understanding, polite and even admired the changed I was making. Ofcourse, not everyone was so understanding, and you’ll find that the people closest to you will have a problem with the choices you are making. But this is part of the test, and it DOES get easier.

So I must need liberating now I wear the hijaab, right?

Despite what you think or believe, there are two sides to every story. Everyone feels differently, thinks differently and reacts differently. When people see me, I wonder if they think “She needs to be liberated! Poor thing!” But where is the liberation in a society where women are stereotyped and pigeonholed, where a certain bra size, body shape and even a certain skin colour represents what is beautiful and what is not? Is there liberation in a society where the more skin you show and the sexier you dress matters more than what is in your brain, and in a society where women are pressured into looking, talking and behaving a certain way?
I was part of this, and I do not criticise women who are still part of this, after all, is it not part of a woman’s freedom to make her own decisions? Which is why it is important for people to understand that a Muslim woman can make her own decisions about covering up- the same way a non-Muslim woman can make her own decisions about the way she dresses. I respect any women who make her own free choice about the type of life she wants to lead.
When I swapped my stylish hairstyle for a hijab, and swapped my skinny fit jeans for my loose fitting abaya, many thought that I had swapped my freedom for oppression. That I was no longer a liberated female. But this could not be further from the truth. The truth being that, with my own brain and my own heart, I had decided to swap my identity which in reality had been moulded by everyone else but me, for modesty, integrity, dignity and a form of pure worship.  And I have never felt more liberated.

~ Zaraesque

Read more about Zara here

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2 Responses to “Liberated.”

  1. Black Muslimah June 3, 2011 at 11:19 am #

    “When I swapped my stylish hairstyle for a hijab, and swapped my skinny fit jeans for my loose fitting abaya, many thought that I had swapped my freedom for oppression. That I was no longer a liberated female. But this could not be further from the truth.”

    These words I can so identify with. Your story is simply beautiful and such an inspiration as is the other stories from our dear sister’s. I am so so thankful for you and Sheila with starting this blog. It will definitely serve as a motivator and inspiration for me. May Allah bless all our our efforts and may he allow these words to reach those whom need it. May he make your continualy journal on this path easy, Ameen! Assalaamu Alaikum!

    • Zara 'ZAS' June 3, 2011 at 4:58 pm #

      Assalaamu alaikum sis,

      Jazakillahu khayran for your kind words, and thank YOU for contributing your wonderful story also. May Allah make this a success and enable us to support and advise eachother in the best way possible- ameen. Love you fisabilillah, Zara ‘ZAS’ xxx

      Sent from my iPhone

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