WRITING CONTEST WINNER #3: Ahdilah Haswarey
Written by: Ahdilah [Modestlyahdi]
Everyone has a hijab story that’s dear to their heart. Everyone’s stories -their journeys if you will- to this outward expression of deen is almost nostalgic when you hear it. Therapeutic, almost in the way witnessing a conversion at the mosque can be, a power comes over you.
A reminder of why you yourself are expressing your faith in this way. The transition is almost a rebirth, which may sound like a hyperbole unless you’ve started wearing hijab later in life, because it truly feels like a change of identity. You get so used to seeing yourself a certain way, your appearance is a sense of solitude; you know exactly the way your curls fall, your hair parts. So, making this change is like a shock to the system, a blow to the nafs if you will. But it is so cathartic in the aftershock, a release, declaration of your faith in such an outward and public manner.
My journey to the hijab started way back when; before high school as a matter of fact. One seemingly insignificant afternoon I come down to pray with the family and afterwards my father asks, “So you’re getting older now, when will you start wearing hijab?” Being the over-achiever of the family, ever striving to be a source of pride for my no-nonsense Indian father, I mumbled out “When I start high school inshallah”. It was a year off and to a young teen that feels like an eternity. Surely, I would be ready by then.
What do I mean by “ready”, you ask? Hindsight is 2020, so I can tell you now that “ready” really means having a deeper understanding of the deen. Understanding why you are doing what you’re doing. Having a personal connection to it, a deep love for it. Often, a recurring theme I see amongst my millennial counterparts growing up in the technological revolution with Muslim households that hadn’t quite grasped how to navigate raising your children in Western society. With all the rampant sexualization and capitalistic chokehold on the consumer, is that it was easy to just follow what our parents told us to do with regards to religion; but not even scratch the surface as to the deeper significance.
Not to mention, the masjid in my hometown really had no grasp on how to connect with the youth, often even driving us away with their glares and reprimands. So easy was it to get swept away by the not-so-subtle imagery that pervaded our childhoods. I mean, even in the seemingly innocent Powerpuff Girls there was a female secretary with her head out of screen, only her body and role of servitude visible. But I diverge.
When high school rolled around, it wasn’t easy. I was a sheltered, self-conscious young girl, schooled most of my life at an Islamic school, with very little concept of style and struggling with my weight and my skin. As time went on, I felt no connection to the hijab, and even felt like it worsened my self-esteem.
I eventually took it off, and that was not an easy conversation with my parents. In fact, it took months to even come clean. But I promise, the story gets happier. Fast forward to college. I show up to campus and stumble by chance upon the Muslim Student Union booth at club day. I wasn’t necessarily NOT planning to look into it or join, but it also wasn’t a top priority. I was welcomed with eager smiles and given a flyer with all the welcome week events. In this part of the journey, I mention this because this is where I really developed my own connection with the deen. Through all of the events, all of the khutbas and speakers, and perhaps most importantly, having a sense of belonging and support enabled me to really develop my own understanding of the religion. And why we do what we do; even beyond that of doing it for Allah. Of course, this is at the forefront of why, but there’s a reason Islam goes deeper and provides wisdom as a source of understanding.
I really began taking modest dressing seriously when I read verses of Quran and Hadith on covering. But the story doesn’t end here. My closet and my clothing became a sort of gateway from adolescence into my adulthood, albeit as Muslims adulthood really starts much earlier, I know. What can I say, American culture… again, I diverge. The transition into hijab took quite a few more years. I grew complacent with my growth trajectory, so hijab went to the back burner. Don’t get me wrong, I admired it so deeply, and those who wore it. I aspired to get there one day. But leaving college also meant leaving that little bubble of learning and constant growth, so I grew complacent, just trying to balance all of the adulthood responsibilities was already enough to deal with.
I focused on my career and then was swept away with getting to know my now-husband and eventually getting married. I felt like I was growing in other aspects of life, and I felt like I just didn’t have the capacity to think about hijab.
So, what finally changed? I can’t pinpoint it exactly, but I think the seed took months before the final step, when a dear friend around my age made the transition. I was so happy for her, so impressed, and it made me think, why can’t I do it too? What is stopping me? My nafs answered “no, not yet, it’s fine, give it a little more time” and the nafs can be so convincing, can’t it? Months passed by, the thought occasionally creeping up, only to be pushed back down again by that persistent nafs. Now this is the part that really began the trajectory, and surprisingly it actually has nothing to do with hijab, on the surface at least. Let me explain.
Coronavirus began popping up in the news. I’m a Public Health Masters student, so we started talking about it in our courses over a month before it really spread beyond China in full force, and we knew how serious it was even in the very beginning. It got me thinking, life is fragile. You can be looking forward to your vacation one day and be stricken with an incurable virus the next. Am I doing everything in my power to please my creator? To meet him knowing that I did what I could, what I should do? This was one of the parts of my deen that I was putting off, and I didn’t want to continue going through life putting anything off, and certainly when it came to my faith. And that is how I came to the decision. I decided it was finally time. No more “laters”. Alhamdulillah, I began wearing it two weeks or so before the “shelter in place” order came out for my state, and those two weeks felt like catharsis. The emotions were overwhelming, the tears flowed many a time. In some ways good, in other ways scary. A transition is never easy, psychology says even wonderful life events can induce stress, because they require adjustment.
What really strengthened my resolve; deepened my catharsis, was seeing so many of my Muslim sisters doing it every day, and the outpouring of support from my family and friends.
This is the power of a supportive community, a theme that you can see throughout my journey.
This is the power of feeling a sense of belonging, of Muslim sisterhood and brotherhood.
And most importantly, this is the power that we all hold within to overcome our own self-doubts, our own self-imposed hurdles, and the power of catharsis.