Western Revert & The Headscarf

I think like a lot of Western reverts, I struggle with Islamic standards of modesty. I don’t wear hijab and inshallah that will happen one day, but I am just not comfortable wearing it yet.

Part of the hesitation – and sisters, I realize this is silly – I don’t feel pretty enough to wear hijab.

When you look at photos of women in hijab, they’re all so glamorous. They have fantastic wardrobes and perfect makeup. Their eyebrows are stellar, their skin is CoverGirl worthy, and they have perfect teeth. Me? I’m a full time working mom of two – this means my wardrobe is small because much of my money goes to my children; my teeth are covered in braces at 26 years old; I have thick glasses, acne-prone skin, and so-so makeup skills (also – don’t you wash your makeup off for salat?! You’re telling me you reapply it multiple times a day, or is there some secret trick I am not aware of?)

All that to say, feeling pretty is still important to me. I barely feel pretty most days, wi th my under eye circles and softer, mother figure. The few things that make me feel pretty are dressing in clothes like pencil skirts that accentuate my waistline and slim legs, wearing makeup and showing off my pretty curly hair. I can’t imagine being completely covered, no makeup, with my ugly glasses and uglier braces. I feel like I would walk around feeling so dumpy and ugly, and I am not sure why that matters to me so much.

As religious women, we are reminding ourselves that beauty is fickle and created by man. We serve a higher King than that. As a radical woman, I remind myself that the idea of thin-as-pretty and long-hair-as-pretty is created by capitalism, and anything created by capitalism is an unsustainable, harmful lie. So how can I hold both of these things to be true?

I guess I am struggling with the way hijab is presented to the West. Maybe it’s made to be so glamorous so that it is more palatable to Westerners, who otherwise think Muslim women are oppressed. They think that us putting on makeup underneath our hijabs makes us more free, somehow, when really, I am struggling to understand how that could ever be the case.

How do I reconcile these thoughts? I tell myself I’ll wear hijab when my braces come off – 12 more months. Or when I can get Lasik, so I don’t have to wear glasses. Or when I lose the last 15 pounds of baby weight.

And I know that I don’t have to be pretty by these capitalist, patriarchal standards to don the crown of hijab. I know it is downright foolish to think these are requirements for adorning myself the way Allah has commanded believing women to do. But how do I erase two decades of conditioning to get myself there?


On Loneliness

Last night, I felt the full weight of loneliness. It was a heaviness on my chest and an aching in my bones. It was a stone, sitting hard on the bottom of my stomach, and it was shallow breaths – never feeling fully caught up on breathing, always a full breath behind what I need to feel calm and nourished.

Being the only Muslim in your family can feel crushing. I, like many people, am prone to living and thinking in the future, and trying to plan every last detail, especially for my children. How can I ensure they’ll adhere to my teachings when they’re at school, if I’m the only one teaching them these things? We don’t have Muslims aunties or cousins for them to have these morals constantly reinforced. We don’t have Muslim playmates for my kids – will they grow up feeling like I do, the odd one out? When they try to make Muslim friends, will they feel like an outcast for not coming from a strong Muslim background? And on and on my mind swirls – on the “what ifs,” on the ways I am different, on the ways my children may experience isolation and confusion. On the ways experience isolation, confusion, and fear.

And where the paralyzation comes in is when I think this loneliness I feel is forever. Where the panic and claustrophobia sets in is when I think there is no way to make friends, to experience the love and embrace and light I imagine other Muslims feel, especially at times like Ramadan and Eid, which is approaching quickly – sometimes like a freight train that I am terrified of, and other times like a light I am reaching for. When the paralyzation sets in is when I forget that it is Allah who has written my story, not me. It is Allah who has planned for me my family and my community and not me – and he is Al-Wahhab.

So, for today, I am focusing on a few things.

Focusing on breath.
Focusing on prayer.
Focusing on who is in charge of this life.

And I know that when I live within His will, life becomes easy. So, insha’allah, today I can focus my heart on Him and feel myself ease into the love of God.



Motherhood and God

When I became pregnant with my son, I lost my faith in God.

The reality of that sentence makes most people feel some kind of strong emotion. From atheists, I get empathy and congratulations; from extremely religious people who don’t question their faith, and for whom motherhood is the crown and glory of womanhood, I get looks of disgust or shock; and from people who have experienced the hell of perinatal and postpartum depression and the full glory and redemption of God, I get a warm embrace and an exhale. “Yes,” they’ll say. “I know what you mean.”

My relationship with God has never been an easy one. My path has been meandering and floundering. It goes in starts and fits. I have always been searching and yearning and going through various motions of what a spiritual or religious woman should look like, and very rarely have these motions or efforts resulted in a full, grounding experience of God. But the times these rituals or performances of religiosity have resulted in the full, grounding experience of God? This is where I let out a raucous laugh and invite you to a much longer conversation. Perhaps another time.

After my daughter was born – 3 years and 2 months after my son – God saw fit to open up a piece of my heart just a little bit more. I didn’t experience the same kind of depression I did with my son. The shift has been colossal, but in the opposite direction. Instead of shutting down and dreading each day, I start my day with a softness and an eagerness, thankful for another day to more perfectly worship Him. Instead of being jarred by my baby’s cries, I most often find myself thankful that I am given a chance to love the creation as much as I love the Creator. Each disturbance or annoyance is a chance to prove to God that I am His worthy servant.

This is not to say that relaxing into the reality of God has made motherhood from a horrible, dark place that I was in atheism to a joyful walk in a rose garden with God. Rather, it is to say, that through God, I am able to see motherhood for what it is. Maybe it’s not the crown and glory of womanhood, but rather, it is a way for us to get closer to God through the challenges. Another way to say it is that God has given us the gift of motherhood as an easy way to prove our worthiness to Him and to show that we can be as patient, kind, generous and loving as we want Him to be toward us.

This is my first entry on this blog, and so I’m trying to cover a lot of ground. We need to talk about my status as a revert I suppose, and why I would rather not be thought of as a revert and just as a young Muslim mama. We need to talk about my journey with Islam as it has been full of starts and fits – go, go, go – and then traumatic distancing of myself from this religion and my Creator. We should talk about what keeps me coming back to Islam, ten years after I took my shahada. Ten years, an out-of-wedlock baby, an atheist husband; two children, two  houses, a move across the country later – what keeps a young, Western feminist coming back, and back again, to Islam? We’ll go there. We’ll cover it. But not today. Today I want to express extreme gratitude that through God, I have been allowed to enjoy the challenges of motherhood, and through God, I am becoming a better mother.

Each day, each challenge, is another chance to more perfectly worship Him. What a great God we serve. sabr