Things look a lot different now that I’ve been a Muslim for over seven months. I’m wearing the hijab for one thing; I started wearing it full time about a month ago. I’m actually surprised at how good it feels. I don’t feel strange at all. You know what my biggest worry is? How am I going to make it through the summer! I have to wear long sleeves and pants, dresses or long skirts besides the hijab and I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to stand it. My Libyan Muslim friends say that it’s not that bad, but they’re used to it. Oh, well, I’ll just pray a lot and hope for the best.
But how I dress is just an outward thing. That’s why I don’t think it’s critical to one’s faith. It might even stand in the way for some people, like if it makes you feel so self-conscious that you can’t concentrate on your relationship with God. One of the things I like the best about wearing the hijab is that other Muslims know right away that I’m one of them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people ask where I’m from as if they can’t believe that someone like me is Muslim. (I look stereotypically American: blue eyes and fair skin, light eyebrows–my hair is blonde.) When I say I’m from “here,” they ask if I’m Muslim and when I say yes, they get all excited. Mash’allah is something I hear a lot. (That’s what you say when something is good.)
Or someone will say to me, “Salaam alaykum (peace be to you),” which is a standard greeting from one Muslim to another. I’m prepared for it when one of my Muslim friends says it, but when a stranger says it to me, I’m taken aback for a moment. I forget that I’m wearing the hijab, so I’m not expecting someone to recognize me as a Muslim. I had a young man apologize to me the other day because he was afraid that I wasn’t a Muslim after all, since I hesitated before replying, “Wa alaykum salaam (and peace be unto you).” I told him I’m just not used to it yet!
Sometimes I have trouble arranging my headscarf or I can’t find one to go with my outfit (or the other way around), but I’ve managed to collect about 20 hijabs so far, so I do okay. At first I was worried that I’d look awful, but I needn’t have worried. I look different but not worse. And sometimes I even think I look better. But that’s just a vanity thing. It shouldn’t matter what I look like, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t give it a thought. I am a woman after all. Becoming a Muslim doesn’t erase who you are.
Some people think that women who wear the hijab are more religious than those who don’t, but Muslims are quick to tell you that what matters is what’s inside, not outside. So how am I doing on the inside?
Well, I still think I made the right choice to embrace Islam. But it’s not an easy transition, at least not for me. I have trouble getting in all my prayers every day. I can’t read Arabic so I have to rely on pronunciation guides, which are hard to find. I get confused when I hear different opinions about what Muslims can and cannot do. I wasn’t prepared for there to be a difference of opinion. But I should have been; after all, Muslims are human. There are Muslims who are very strict about the “old” ways. And there are those who are more open to modern interpretations.
I can see both sides. After all, I wear the hijab, which is seen by some Muslims as mandatory. But I don’t think, for instance, that women should be closed off in a room or behind a barrier when they go to the mosque. A woman has as much right to hear and see the iman, the recitation of the prayers and the sermon as a man does, and depriving her of that right puts an obstacle in her path to Allah. That should be a sin (and possibly is, in God’s eyes).
Even though I often feel inadequate, I know that what God wants is for me to concentrate on Him, and all else will follow.