by Maryam Amelie
Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim
Fear is a mindset that limits what you are capable of doing. Once you embrace fear, you will truly live.
We all have many fears, don’t we? We fear failure, rejection, the unknown, the future, the past, and even fear of putting on the hejab – at least for me.
I’m a born Muslim from a moderately religious family. The first three siblings are girls, followed by two boys. None of the girls were forced to put on the hejab.
My husband also came from a moderate Muslim family that emphasised cultural etiquette rather than Islamic ones. He didn’t ask me to put on the hejab.
I believed that some day I will wear the hejab, just that I didn’t know when. And when I finally did, it was at the age of 34.
Motherhood often changed us. After the birth of my firstborn, I felt the urge to be a better mother, wife, woman and Muslimah. I tinkered with the scarves – putting them on my head in various styles at home, but I never ventured out with it unless it was to some religious events. I promised myself that if I were to put it on, it will be for good. I fear that I will take it off. Though I felt that I am a good person, I somehow believed that I am not a good enough Muslimah to don the hijab.
In 2005, my husband was posted to the US. I came along with our firstborn. There I had a lot of time to myself, thinking about the kind of life I want to have, and to live. I met a few Arab Muslims and an American Muslim lady but yet they gave me very little nudge to make my decision. I fear what the others especially after 9-11 would think of me. Further, I was in the southern part of the US, a place one would think is more racist.
When my father-in-law passed away in Singapore, we flew home more than 48 hours later for the post-funeral rites. I told my husband that perhaps I should just continue wearing the hejab. For some reasons, he was not supportive of my decision. So I took if off when the majlis tahlil and yassin was over. However, I saw my younger sis-in-law continued with the hejab even outside the home. I wanted to do this but why was I so fearful? Why did I fear my husband’s words for the sake of Allah?
I put it on again and this time, my husband didn’t say anything as I felt adamant to continue wearing the hejab for good. However, he asked if I could be less visible as a Muslim when we travel back to the US. He feared what the US immigration could do to us especially seeing a hejab woman. We had been ‘detained’ for long hours before because my 5 year old son’s name was similar to a blacklisted name. I adhered to his suggestion.
Back in the US, my spiritual tank was not high enough that I was not wearing it again, and my husband, though he was not against it, did not encourage me either. Because of fear of what the Whites or Blacks in America would think of me/us, I wore a bandana-type of scarf or something that vaguely looked like a proper hijab as long as I had some hair covered.
At the same time, I was chatting with a friend, R, who was living in Saudi at that time. Though she knew of my desire to put it on, and had encouraged me before, it was her words during one of our chats that made my resolve stronger to finally embrace the hejab for good.
I confided in her that I fear taking it off.
She told me, “why do you fear taking it off but not fear putting it on for the sake of Him?” That kept me thinking.
I told her, “I felt that I needed to be a better Muslim to wear the hejab. I was not praying 5 times a day religiously, and had many shortcomings.”
She told me, “perhaps, putting it on will make you a better Muslim. You don’t wait to be a better Muslim to don it. You put it on and strive to be better every day.” Those words kept me thinking again.
She asked me, “why do you want to put it on, then?”
I told her, “I know my religion asked of me. I’m ready. I want to be a good mother to my son. I want to teach him Islam. In order to teach him Islam, I must at least be practicing it.”
And then she continued, “what if your son goes to madrasah and learnt that Muslim woman must put on the hejab but goes home to find his own mother not wearing it? Wouldn’t he be confused? Wouldn’t he find Islam inconsistent?”
That was when it hit me right there and then. How can I be a good role model and preach Islam to my children and not do some of the things Islam asked of me.
The day I decided to put on a proper hejab, I walked out of my house in Alabama, United States, in a pink square hejab. We went out for a children’s mardi gras parade. It was busy and crowded with Americans. But no one gave a hoot about how I looked. Even if they did, it was not obvious. My fears were so groundless.
Embracing the hejab is courage. Courage is liberating, it is not oppressing.
When I was doing this photoshoot, a Japanese friend’s friend, Misato, came forward to help me with the photoshoot. She wanted to “try wearing the hejab.”
Misato, the hejabi in my Sakura Collections, is not a Muslim at this point in time, even though, she had plans to revert by the end of the year. I welcomed her to do the photoshoot if she was comfortable with it.
I was actually amazed at her courage. It was her first time doing a photoshoot. It was her first time wearing a hejab in a photoshoot and which will be made public for all to see.
I asked her if her family in Japan knew about her intention to revert. Yes they do, and Alhamdullillah, she had their blessings. But to wear the hejab fully, she told me she was not sure if she would do it yet. Her Muslim husband-to-be encouraged her but did not force her. Hence, she just wanted to try first.
I told her there is no compulsion in Islam. We are all at different paths on our journey. When you have the right intention, inshaAllah, Allah will make it easy for you.
I texted her yesterday, and she told me that she had said the shahada last week. Alhamdullillah. She is as pure as a white sakura, and is beginning on her journey to learning Islam weekly. She told me that honestly, she did not feel any big change in her, but she feels protected by something. SubhanAllah!
Similarly, when my good Japanese friend and sister of 23 years, K reverted some 20 years ago, I had the privilege to witness her reversion and chose a Muslim name for her. She told me that her Japanese values are similar to Islam, and that it was not difficult to embrace Islam. The only thing she had to get used to are the daily routines and practices, which came in the form of a supportive husband, his family and good Muslim friends she had made along the way, including a muallah-turned-ustazah that Allah gave her to guide her in her journey. MashaAllah!
I’m grateful that I had given Misato an opportunity to experience wearing the hejab. Whether or not she puts it on now or later, it all depends on her intention and the will of Allah. I also believed that it is her own courage that will let her decide what’s best for her. I hope the two books I gave her, The Truth Seekers @ Haji Lane and Soulful Stories, as well as the Sakura Shiro scarf will be beneficial and light her way in her journey of discovering more about Islam.