From the Backseat:
I recently was at an Islamic event in an unfamiliar city and was in need of a ride back to where I was staying. By chance, I found a really sweet sister who was willing to drop me off. I knew nothing about her except her name, Khadija, but was extremely grateful for her generosity.
When it was time to leave, we got into the car. Another sister who needed a ride sat in the front while I sat in the back. There were some guys in a car nearby, and Khadija waited for them to leave before she did something that took me by complete surprise. She took off her abaya and hijab, took them off and stuffed them in her bag.
I didn’t know how to react. On the one hand, I knew that sometimes sisters wore hijab only to Islamic events. I could understand that. Your Iman feels higher then, and it is just easier to do. I guessed one could give her credit for trying to practice. I am strongly against judging others and jumping to conclusions especially about a girl whom I’ve known for the length of 15 minutes. Besides, she had the kindness to drop me, a complete stranger off, and it is akhlaaq (manners) that weigh heaviest in our scales.
Yet there was a childish side of me that could not help but wonder. I first questioned my judgment; should I have just taken the subway? I tried to hold on to my theoretical morals of not being judgmental, but the question of why stuck in my head. It was one thing not to not wear hijab at all, but why wear it in one setting and take it off in another? I couldn’t get my head around it. Was it that hard to just keep on your hijab for the car ride? What were you benefiting from just a few minutes of it off? Were we that weak that even a short ride in public made a difference?
Wait a minute, who was I to talk about sins and weaknesses? I had my own enormous pile of sins and though different in nature were similar in essence: human weakness. I told myself to just stop thinking about it, and make du’aa that Allah grants us all guidance.
But no, the nagging feeling came back. Khadija was now a whole different person to me; she looked so different. One second she looked like my ideal role model, and the next she was a girl I could not recognize as Muslim in the street. I started thinking of my boiling emotions and how I would have to write about this experience later, toying with possible titles for the piece: Peeling Off Your Skin Hurtswhich is what I felt as I watched her pull off her hijab, her identity. Or I could simply name it It Hurts,or maybe Every Glance Counts Against Us since I could not stop myself from counting how many watchful eyes saw her without hijab as we rode along. And the titles went on.
Then Khadija said something to the girl next to her that caught my attention, “I came in the morning and made sure there was nobody in the parking lot, and then I put on my hijab and abaya.” But that still didn’t answer my question of why? I got quiet in the backseat due to my extreme tiredness, an on-coming headache, and my being lost in thought. So, while the two girls in front were chatting and laughing, I was completely detached. I was simply too tired, both physically and mentally, to participate. I pondered hypocrisy, and how much we all fall into it. I thought about how culture overrules sometimes. I thought of how we humans have an amazing ability to separate between Islam and life, which are in reality one.
From the Frontseat:
After about a half an hour drive, Khadija dropped the other girl off, and I got into the front. Almost there, I thought to myself. Then I could thank this girl with all my heart and stop wondering about her secrets. Then, she surprised me once again: “If you think I’m sketchy for taking off my hijab…”
“No, no!” I tried to interrupt. I had tried so hard to conceal my shock so that she wouldn’t have to explain! I hate putting people into positions where they feel the need to explain themselves to me.
But she continued, “I converted to Islam and my family doesn’t know yet. They’re Hindu.”
And that was the ultimate shock. Suddenly, my former titles transformed into titles like The Other Side of Hijab, A Change in Heart, or maybe even I Got Uncovered. My question of why was finally answered. I realized that her hijab stuffed in the bag was most probably a witness for her, not against her. I no longer felt she was a hypocrite in the times she wore it but a hero. She was indeed battling culture as I assumed, but it wasn’t overruling her, she was overruling it. With this insight, her personality had deepened to more than just a girl who had removed her hijab and abaya. She had become someone who had surpassed levels of tests that I hadn’t even reached.
At this point, I loosened up. We could talk freely. I learned that she had converted three years ago without her family’s knowledge. She was only about 21 years old. Her culture, like many others, would shun someone who left their religion. Forget shun. It was dangerous to even consider the consequences. Her family was suspicious. They had found things like hijab in her room, and they weren’t taking it well at all. She was trying to break it to them slowly.
Towards the end of our conversation, I thanked her again for her kindness of taking me home.
“I like helping people,” she said, “because whenever I help someone in need, Allah subhanhu wa ta’ala always, always has a way to help me when I’m in need myself.”
“True,” I agreed.
“Actually, that is one of the reasons I converted,” she continued. ”I was always the type to go out of my way to help people. I always felt like I had to. My sister isn’t like that, and neither were my friends. And people wondered why I always helped others, like I was allowing them to walk over me. And it got to a point that it was very frustrating for me because I felt like I was not appreciated. At the same time, I didn’t feel good about myself if I didn’t help others.” Then I started talking to a friend about Islam, and I learned that all this could count towards Jannah. There’s an afterlife? I was surprised to know that everything I do could count and be appreciated. That was basically why I accepted Islam.
While we were talking, we had become distracted and gone out of our way, but the ride eventually came to an end. “I may not ever be able to give you a ride back,” I said, “but I will keep you in my du’aa.”
”Keep my mother in your du’aa.” she requested.
And to the best of my ability, I will, insha’Allah, and request that anybody who reads this does so too. I learned so much that night, possibly more than what I learned during the day at the event.
I felt like my own personal experience with Khadija had similarities to Musa’s experience with Khadar from Surat Al-Kahf. When Khadar punctured the boat, this left Musa in great bewilderment and surprise. From this story in the Qur’an, we realize that things can seem shocking, strange, or evil at face-value, but we don’t always have all the pieces to make the right conclusions. Despite knowing this and promising myself not to make quick judgments, I still struggled. In the heat of things, reactions are harder to control than we may anticipate. But if we wait and have patience, we will learn that there is a greater, deeper meaning to many things, even something seemingly shady like taking off your hijab in the parking lot.