by a Small Town American Sister
Many well-meaning brothers and sisters enthusiastically point out ayat from the Qur'an and Ahadith that reveal the Islamic injunction to cover our bodies so that the maximum that may be seen are our hands and face, expecting us to just as enthusiastically accept and begin obeying this injunction. Perhaps we are convinced of the moral, social and many other benefits of hijab, and maybe even begin to desire to cover ourselves, but it is almost never that easy. There can be many consequences that come out of Islamic covering that, although they should in most cases not be used as excuses not to cover, must be considered frankly and seriously before beginning to wear hijab full-time.
Whether you are a convert to Islam or were born into a Muslim family but have never covered, you must prepare yourself mentally for the way your life will change. This involves being thoroughly convinced that covering is a command from Allah, as well as knowing in your heart and being capable of explaining to others all of the benefits and logical reasons for wearing hijab. Without this inner committment, the outer appearance is meaningless. You must also be prepared to accept the added responsibility of being a visible representative of Islam, and therefore be on your best behavior, being kind, fair, polite and following all of Allah's injunctions. You can no longer mix with non-Muslim friends in Islamically disliked situations; no more riding the fence. If you want to be a Muslima but remain inconspicuous among the kuffar (unbelievers), then you are not ready to cover.
American families will probably have more difficulty accepting your covering than Muslim ones, but that does not mean you will not face opposition in either. Both types of families can be ignorant of the fact that covering is considered a command, not a cultural choice. Try, very slowly, to explain the benefits of hijab, the drawbacks of not covering, and why you personally have a burning desire to do so (yes, it should be burning, or you're not ready). I must emphasize that this is a slow process, which should be coupled with discussions of other aspects of Islam and your good example. Help them to see the whole picture and the benefits Islam has brought you. If you are too afraid of their reaction (as I was), write them a letter. This way you can express all of your points without being interrupted and flustered. But be careful to be loving and respectful, not pushy or threatening. You must also be prepared yourself to endure and remain strong in your faith, no matter what their reaction is. Prepare for the worst. Don't cover until you can accept whatever happens.
This can be a delicate area, since we have seen that many sisters have unfortunately lost employment for following Allah's command to cover. In this case, also, be prepared for the worst, but stay positive. Write a very professional letter, avoiding too much religious discussion, and emphasizing that your appearance will remain professional and will not affect your job performance. Refer to your "right" to practice your religion freely, and that covering is a religious requirement that you have recently reached the level of faith to be able to fulfill. Be polite (don't threaten them!) and emphasize that it is just a small piece of cloth, not to be blown out of proportion. If you are unable to reach an agreement with your employer, contact CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) at www.cair-net.org or a similar organization to advocate on your behalf.
4. The Public
This concern varies from state to state, city to city, but you must be emotionally prepared to be stared at, perhaps even yelled at, and remain firm in your convictions. This does not mean you won't be startled or shaken, but such incidences should not be able to scare you into taking off your scarf. You must also be able to explain, quickly and well, why you are covering because you will be asked! These are wonderful opportunities for da'wah if they are used well.
By this point, you can see that there are many important aspects of wearing hijab that go far beyond the clothes themselves, but they are, of course, a factor. Depending upon your previous wardrobe, it may take quite some time and money to make it more Islamic. My advice (and they way I did it) is, as soon as you begin to consider covering, even though getting the other aspects in place is far off, start slowly adapting your wardrobe, and your style of dress. I began by not wearing shorts outside the house, then no short- sleeves, then wearing untucked long shirts with pants, and eventually adding the scarf and more modest clothing, after I had worked through all the previously mentioned factors. For me, this was an 8 month period, but it can take more or less time. You will know when you are ready because you won't be able to stand going out uncovered anymore and doing what you know is right is more important than what anyone else thinks. Changing your wardrobe in this manner is easier on your pocketbook, as well as for your and your family to get used to. Once everone is used to seeing you in longsleeves in 100 degree heat, a little scarf won't seem like that big a deal.
I have tried to break down into the major components what preparing to wear hijab should entail. I certainly do not want to scare you out of covering or imply that is is acceptable to wait for long periods of time waiting for the perfect situation in which to cover. On the contrary, you will be held accountable to Allah for any command of his that you do not obey when you are thoroughly convinced to do so. However, He is also the Compassionate, the Merciful, and He realizes all that is entailed in taking this step. Ask continually for His help in making you strong in your faith and convictions, and learn as much as you can about the reasons for a benefits of hijab, as well as about Islam in general to keep your faith pusing you forward in your efforts to obey Allah. Whatever situation you are in, never think you can't do it. If one of the above mentioned steps is a stumbling block, work on it, don't use it as an excuse.
When I began covering, I was a 21-year-old senior in college, working part- time in a nursing home and about to begin student-teaching in a public high school, living with my Christian parents when commuting to a small Catholic college in an area that has more cows than Muslims. My only Muslim supports were my husband and my American convert friend who was not covering. The nearest mosque was a two hour drive away, and I had only seen three other covering Muslimas here in my lifetime, and they were all visiting from out of town. And yet, by August of 1994, I couldn't stand it anymore, sent letters to my employer, my professors, my parents and grandparents, and started covering. My family and I have had a few good cries, and I have had some funny comments by the elderly at work, but all in all, everyone has gotten used to me and within two to three months all the crises were over and life is back to normal...except that I no longer worry about being flirted with, I feel respected and respectful, and am very proud to have the priviledge of being a positive example of Islam to a community that has very little experience with Islam or Muslims, and explaining it to many who know nothing about it.
Hijab opens so many more doors than it closes, spiritually and socially. It is unfortunate that there are so many obstacles to our finding this joy and fulfillment, but our best course of actions is to be aware of them, deal with them, and continue this form of jihad (struggle) in the way of Allah. Insha'Allah we will all receive great blessings and heightened spiritual benefits from our efforts to obey His wise commands, and never forget, no matter how difficult it is, that Allah never puts burdens on us that we cannot bear, and the more we persevere, the more blessings we receive, insha'Allah. Whatever point you are at in your spiritual growth, remember that Allah knows what is in your heart and will not expect more of you than you are ready for. So keep preparing yourself, so that when your time comes, you will be a strong, glowing vision of a person thoroughly committed to submitting herself to Allah, and proud of it!
Monday, August 29, 2005
by a Small Town American Sister