World Hijaab Day-My Hijaab Story

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World Hijab Day-2018

Today is World Hijab Day; a movement started by New York resident Nazma Khan as a means to invite non hijaab wearing women (Muslim and Non-Muslim) alike to join for one day and wear the hijaab. The idea is to walk a mile in someone’s shoes, in this case-hijab. This day was started in 2013 a post 9/11 world, where hate crime against Muslims is on the rise.

I am all for trendy movements because if nothing else, at the very least they help bring an otherwise taboo subject to the fore.  World Hijab Day has many critics and I fully understand where the criticism is coming from and don’t necessarily disagree or think that the criticism is unfounded (but more on that later). I don’t like the idea of simplifying complex problems through joining a trending movement, and that is precisely why I have decided to write on it today-you know own my own narrative.

Most people associate hijab with oppression and a lack of choice. I want to share my story because if anything, it is a story of choice-but my intention is to also be very honest and forthcoming-The words following have never been spoken to a wider audience but only to a very few close and trusted friends and family members. This piece definitely is going to be raw, unadulterated real talk from the heart–so fasten your seat belt as I take you onto my Hijaab journey.

My Hijaab Story?

hijab story
Photo Credit: https://muslimahaccordingtome.wordpress.com/2018/01/08/transition-my-hijab-story/

I was 14 when my dad gave us the impeccable news that we as a family were getting an opportunity to go for Hajj. I had just turned 14 that month of April in 1996. My dad who is known to do things by the seat of his pants-impulse decisions are his forte, had applied for the hajj application that year, at the absolute last moment right before the deadline. Most people when embarking on this journey, go as husband and wife, not my father. All of his friends advised him not to go with the children, but he said: ‘either we are all going, or none of us is going.’ There he was-planning the journey of a lifetime with his wife, and 4 of his children-the youngest of us being 6 at the time. As luck would have it, or destiny or just simply the call of Allah, our application was accepted (against all odds)-At the time, we lived in the small island of Bahrain-next to the peninsula of Saudi Arabia.

bahrain
Photo Source: http://yalibnan.com/2012/05/18/iranians-protest-against-saudi-bahrain-union-plan/

Soon after the application, we started planning for the hajj. We had all been fortunate enough to go for Umrah prior to this-so we understood where we were headed. I was excited, overjoyed at the prospect of being at 2 of my favourite places, Kabah and Masjid-ul-Nabwi. The hijaab story kind of begins here but let’s go back to my childhood for the 1st seeds that were planted. The hijaab and I have almost always had a love hate relationship-and in the next few paragraphs I will elaborate on this.

 

I grew up in a moderately traditionally conservative typical Pakistani household. We weren’t very strict practitioners of the faith of Islam. My paternal grandfather (Dada Jaan) was probably the only and the most pious man I have ever known and I am the eldest grandchild on my dad’s side of the family-which means that where I experienced immense love and attention, I also was the guinea pig for most restrictions placed upon any kid in our household. When I was younger and we lived with my grandparents, he insisted I wear a dress (or frock as we called them) with a shalwar. Even at that young age of perhaps 6-8, I did not want to be making a fashion faux pas (this style is all the rage nowadays-see images below. Maybe Dada jaan was just a very fashion forward guy?)

So, instead I traded in my beautiful dresses for elegant shalwar kameez with a dupatta. It made my grandfather happy, and saved me the shame of a horrendous fashion mistake.

young maheen
Young me-rocking my shalwar kameez-Clearly, I have always loved colour too much

Fast forward to the year 1994, I came to visit Pakistan from Bahrain and stayed at my grandparents. Unlike many girls my age, I was taller, and actually looked a lot older than my age. I think that was my last growth spurt because I clearly did not get any taller.

oldest
There I am looking the oldest amongst all my cousins. Believe it or not, the one in the pink striped shirt is only a year younger than me. And the one in red with a bob is only 8 months older-

My grandfather, who had a way with words, told me to wear the duppata on my head. I had long, luscious silky hair, that my Dada Jaan wanted me to confine to the duppata. He explained to me that covering my head is like adding a frame to an already beautiful picture. I was an obedient child, dared not to argue my case then, and so I did what he said, albeit defiantly. I had it on, but I Hated it. I walked around day and night with the duppata on my head-deep down hating this curse placed upon me by my grandfather.

curse

I didn’t wear it when we went outside, but this rule imposed upon me was followed to the T in my grandfather’s home. My mom’s sister happened to visit us during that time from Karachi. My aunt, being the youngest, was a woman of fashion, and I was also close to her-I remember standing in the kitchen and crying to her that I have been forced to wear this abomination on my head. She empathised, heard my cries-but could not do much to change my situation. I prayed and waited for the days we would leave. Once I left Islamabad, the dupatta was off and freedom was mine again.

My last time with my Beloved Dada (grandfather) in 2006
The Last time I ever was in the presence of my beloved Dada Jaan -August 2006-

My father occasionally would also insist that I wear the hijab, but I never did. Unlike my grandfather, I could tell my dad that I will wear it when and if I decide to wear it. When we were preparing for our hajj in 1996, I recall someone said to me that once you do Hajj, Hijaab becomes absolutely compulsory on you. I was not ready to hear this-but I sat there and made dua that Allah help me in this. My father wanted me to buy an abaya to wear on the Hajj Journey-I was never an overt rebel, but did defy within limits-I told my mother there is no way I am buying an abaya.  I will wear a Chaddor and that is more than enough and you need to tell dad to back off.

chaddor
The top part is the kind of chaddor I wore on Hajj 1996 with my Shalwar Kameez beneath it

I didn’t end up buying an abaya before going on the journey despite my father’s constant insistence. (I did end up buying an abaya whilst in Madinah-but that is for another post-hint it relates to the ‘Me Too’ Campaign). I didn’t want to wear the abaya for Hajj only and then take it off-it seemed kind of hypocritical to me.  I had made an intention before going that I will come back and wear the hijaab since it is compulsory. I dared not share this with anyone and kept it a secret that was between me and God.

 

abaya
They really did not make beautiful abayas back then like they do now. Check out these modern beauties.

 

Once hajj was completed and we came back, I had started wearing the Hijaab-my father was overjoyed that I had made this decision on my own-and so began my hijaab wearing days.

What is my relationship with hijaab today?

lovehate

Remember when I said my relationship with the hijaab is a love and hate relationship? Well, that stands true. Soon after hajj, we found out that we will be moving to Canada. I knew that I will not be taking my hijaab off to fit better in my new home. I could be quite resolute when required even at that young an age. In December of 96, we flew into Vancouver, Canada-I was very proud of my hijaab. My first secondary school that I joined in Canada, I was the ONLY Hijaabi in the school, if not the only Muslim girl. I was also the first person in my entire family to be wearing a hijaab. There was a level of uniqueness and pioneer-like feeling that made me love it dearly. I was a cadet in the 767 Dearman Squadron of the Royal Air Cadets of Canada-the first Hijaabi in my squadron-my hijaab always matched my uniform -but because it was never uniform issued, I could not wear the badge on it. I used to wear the wedge on top of the hijaab just so I could have my badge on. In my second year, before our Annual Parade, I was finally issued a matching hijaab-which was basically the approved Sikh Turban fabric. My hijaab was finally part of my official uniform and I could put my badge on it. This was a Hoorah moment.

 

I also was one of the first, if not the first girl to wear Hijaab amongst all my friends and family friends. This being the first to do it and the fact that I stood out as different is what kept me in Love-I guess, I have always been a fan of being a sore thumb.

dearman squadron
Shout out too 767 Dearman Squadron

 

University Is When It Changed!

Finally, at Simon Fraser University, I had friends who wore the hijaab. We had things to share in common like what a bad hijaab day does to ruin your entire day. But, as I started getting older, I started feeling distant or a bit of a disconnect from hijaab. I noticed a rise in women who started wearing the hijaab judging those who didn’t. All of a sudden sin and piety was added to the mix. I used to be those women who believed hijaab was obligatory and not wearing it was a sin. Remember, I started wearing it because someone said that you must wear it after hajj, not because I had done any research or learnt about it properly. I am a bit of an agnostic when it comes to the hijaab-not 100% sure that not wearing it is a sin, nor 100% sure that it isn’t a prescribed tenet.

6th-day-1
My University’s Convocation Mall-Making an appearance in 6th Day. Yeah that is right, I went to a celebrity University-It has been in many movies

 

I started to learn the differences in opinion on the way we understand hijaab to be a piece of clothing for the head. The more I read, and the more I learnt, I came to a different realization. Hijaab in the Quran is never mentioned to refer to the piece of cloth on our heads. This is a very colloquial use of the word. Hijaab was the veil that was between God and the Prophet PBUH on the Night of Ascension, the injunction for the Mothers of the Believers to be behind a partition when speaking to others and a few other references referring to Partition between good and evil, light and dark.

hijaab ahzaab
The Verse Referencing Hijaab in reference to the Mothers of the Believers. I have highlighted the word Hijaab.

Hijaab is never referred to in the Quran as a head covering. The term used is Khimar and the historical definition of what a Khimar differs vastly from what we understand to be the hijaab today.

khimar
The verse referring Khimar, a common interpretation for the present day Hijaab

 

There is no denying that Islam promotes modesty-but modesty is a concept not just limited for women-nor is it just about our clothing. Modesty in all aspects of our lives-modesty in thought, in action, in the way we dress-in the very way we live our lives. I think I am more inclined not to believe that hijaab is mandatory because of the sudden religio-political rise of it. I find the idea that person’s level of piety is somehow directly correlated to a piece of cloth. Last time I checked, the rules of the Quran weren’t divided into Hijaabi Quran and Non-Hijaabi Quran.

modesty

I vehemently defend the right of women who choose to wear the hijaab because in 2018-what a woman wears should not be a topic of debate or used as a political tool to otherwise and scaremonger against a group of people. I also just as vehemently defend the right of a woman who chooses to not wear it because there is enough evidence to suggest that the Hijaab has been a manufactured concept by a very strict religio-political ideology. Many women around the world have not been given the choice whether to wear the hijaab or not-Women in Saudi Arabia and Iran are fighting for their right to choose. The state has no place in dictating what a woman wears. I am glad, that I was lucky enough to make that decision myself despite the fact, that men in my life initially tried to dictate that onto me.

tedex
This is a really good TedEx Talk by Samina Ali outlining how modern day hijaab is a religio-political construct

I will admit that I am not a very strict follower of hijaab. Most days, I will have some defiant hair showing through the folds of the hijaab. It won’t be the end of my life, if the hair shows. But, this relaxed attitude is probably because of what I have come to see hijaab as. After all these years, I have yet to perfect my hijaab and I often wonder how most women keep their hijaabs looking spectacular. I struggle still on many days with whether I want to continue wearing it, whether I still love it as much. There are days when I wish I would throw it off. But, so much of my existence and identity has been tied to being a prominently visible Muslim-and to me that is the purpose the hijaab serves now. It is an identifier. I am proud of my faith, even if on most days-my faith is under the microscope and in constant negative limelight. I am proud to showcase that being Muslim is not what the media will have you believe and the hijaab just happens to make me visible as a Muslim. But, with this visibility comes the burden of carrying the faith on my shoulders and speaking for the entire Muslim population-and that is a burden too heavy to carry.  I like being a sore thumb and being a representative of my faith, but I also do NOT want you to judge my actions (you know when I get angry and swear at someone) as indicative of my entire faith. See-I am full of paradoxical conundrums!

Hijaab has become increasingly commercialized in the recent years. To me, there is a disconnect with the idea of modesty, when it leads to excessive consumerism. I think the Hijaabi bloggers/vloggers have played a huge role in shedding a different and often positive light on the hijaab, or at least has brought Muslim women out from the shadows. We are no longer just voiceless, faceless, draped in dark cloths-we are powerful, independent, feisty women and this at least helps debunk a lot of myths surrounding Muslim women. But, I struggle with the commercialization of it. Hijaab, if we were to accept as a mandatory edict should have been an equalizer, but nowadays Muslim women are cool, so long as our preferences for modest clothing support the status quo of capitalism. Retailers have caught on that Muslim Women will spend on modest clothing, and are carrying hijaabs and modest clothing as part of their regular fashion lines. It isn’t about our voices or our real struggles-we are the token poster child for diversity.

This is why, I hope that initiatives like World Hijaab Day allow everyone an opportunity to hear our real stories- not the commercialized, watered down version of being Muslim and a Hijaabi. This is why I have shared my truth rather than be a poster child for hijaab-and I hope you will hear our struggles and realize our humanity. I am hoping that with this realization, we will also build more tolerance and love. We are all just human beings trying to get by in this thing called life-with our different beliefs and often times practices that seem eccentric. I invite you to walk a mile in our scarves-see how high winds, sunshine, rain, can either ruin or make our day. We don’t have bad hair days; we have bad Hijaab days.

 

bad hijab day

This is a blog hop for World Hijab Day so please do take the time to read the posts of these lovely ladies:

world hijab day widget

Oh no Christmas! The Muslim Existential Crisis

mr1

Picture from Michigan, courtesy of my friend MR

As soon as the month of December rolls in, Christmas sales, Christmas cheer, Christmas lights and decoration–everything Christmas-y starts to surround you. It is a festive-cheery-get together with family-be merry-be patient-be generous-be in the Christmas Spirit– time of the year–UNLESS you happen to be Muslim!

If you are Muslim, Christmas time poses more an existential dilemma than anything else. What this leads to is a crisis and it becomes a time of panic. An OH MY GOD-I committed Blasphemy-I am going to burn in hell-I fell out of the Folds of Islam because I wished my co-workers/neighbours/friends Merry Christmas-crisis of Faith- time of the year. Of course, this sort of thinking would suck the fun and cheer right out of anything festive, and Christmas is no exception. Usually, when Christmas month starts, I start to receive facebook tagged photos, text messages or emails outlining to me the million and one reasons for why Christmas is HARAM! No wonder so many of us look unhappy during the month of December.

Recently, I received one similar text message from multiple sources, outlining the pagan history of Christmas and making the following 5 claims; Santa’s choice of Red for his attire represents fire/hell; Santa Claus if rearranged spells Satan and Lucas (which is short of Lucifer); Merry Christmas actually means Merry Death of Christ (because Mass means sacrifice by death); the disagreement on the actual date of birth of Christ, which as per the Quran should be in April, or May or June; and instead of the birth of Jesus, 25th December happens to be the birth of 13 pagan Gods/Goddesses.Now, I have not done research on the facts claimed, but I am going to analyze the text on face value.

If it seems that red is the colour of fire/hell then perhaps none of us should own/wear/come near anything red. As far as rearranging the names of Santa Claus to get Satan and Lucas is concerned, well I can rearrange my name to spell Ham-een (Ham pluralized in Arabic) and since Ham is Haram in Islam, then that means–I am haram (wow, this got really depressing really fast). The one I can give some weight to is whether Merry Christmas really means Merry Death of Christ, it seems quite morbid to be celebrating the death of Jesus. In that case, perhaps we need to change the name of Christmas to something more appropriate like Christbirth, . So, this is then a question of semantics. Now onto the date of the actual birth of Jesus and the birth of other Pagan Gods coinciding on that date. I believe most Christians accept that 25th December does NOT represent the actual date of birth of Jesus. According to one theory this date was chosen as the Winter Solstice and an ancient Roman Pagan festival celebrations used to already take place around this time. It perhaps  then seemed to be a date chosen out of convenience than historical authenticity. Quite frankly, I would be happier to have Christmas in April (coinciding with my birthday, giving me full rights to say I was born in the month of Jesus (beats sharing the month with Hitler). Who wouldn’t want an early Summer Christmas-the sun is out, the temperatures are well above zero, flowers are blooming-all in all it would be a much more convenient and happier time for Christmas Alas, we are stuck with December-cold-grey, below freezing-snowy-wet-weather is likely the forecast  (in the northern hemisphere at least).

The point of my rant is not to undermine the decision of those who do not wish to celebrate Christmas. I respect individual’s and communities’ decision to not celebrate Christmas. If it is considered strictly a festival of the Christian faith, then all others do not have to celebrate just as the rest of the world doesn’t join in to celebrate Eid, Diwali, Hannukah, etc with the other faiths. My bone of contention is that such viral message undermine any good will that may arise out of the spirit of the season between communities, they create paranoia, suspicion and lead to bigger chasm between faiths. In a world that is fraught with so much war and hatred, there really is no need for more hateful messages. Plus, wishing someone a happy Christmas does not throw one out of the folds of Islam. One does not have to partake in the traditional festivities of Christmas if the desire is to preserve your faith and not emulate those of others.

I, for one am celebrating Christmas. I have not partook in putting up a Christmas tree, lighting up my home, dealing with the mad holiday rush or exchanging presents (although, I have done this in the past), nor does this mean that I believe Jesus to be the Son of God, (because I don’t, I accept him as a very revered Prophet of Islam). Nor does it mean I believe in the 13 Pagan Gods/Goddesses because that goes against my monotheistic belief system. But what it means is that I have taken the off day and decided to do spend some time with my family and friends, who were otherwise unavailable for a get together during other times in the year and London completely shuts down on Christmas day, thereby giving you no other option  but to spend it with family. Christmas day aka December 25th if nothing else, presents me with a day off and I for one welcome any public holiday! It offers me a chance to spend some more time with my husband, whose work demands long working hours. In all fairness, I was equally overjoyed to know that he will be off on boxing day (December 26th) as well. In our modern busy lives, any time off provides an opportunity to unwind and spend it with our loved ones.

If Christmas provides that opportunity to reconnect with my loved ones, I will gladly take it. My husband was unable to take a day off on both the Eids this year, and our eid festivities ended shortly after offering the Eid prayers at the Masjid. I will gladly make up for those missed days with the day off on Christmas. No one said that one should leave the practices of their faith and just adopt other practices, however there is no harm in enjoying the atmosphere that is created. If Christmas guilt induces the spirit of generosity, happiness, good relations, politeness etc, how is that a bad thing? Doesn’t Ramadan tend to invoke similar good behaviour in us Muslims? If all it takes for people to be smiling on their commute home, be polite, be cordial, and be generous is Christmas then I would wish the entire year to be Christmas. If it takes one day out of the year for us to remember our loved ones, guilting us into spending time with our loved ones, wearing that ugly sweater knitted by our grandmothers-then why not? Any day out of the 365 days of the year which manages to awaken our sense of communal and familial relations is a good day in my dictionary and worth celebrating. I am of course not suggesting that we should only do these things once a year, but once a year sure offers a starting point.

So a very Happy Christmas to those who are celebrating and a happy day off to all those who are not celebrating. I wish everyone gets a chance to let loose, put their feet up, eat yummy food and share their love, generosity and laughter with their loved ones and their community at large.

Share with me how you are spending your Christmas/day off on my facebook page with pictures and anecdotes from around the globe. Join me on twitter @fieryfury1 and share  your pictures #xmasaroundtheglobe.

THE MUSLIM STORY OF CHRISTMAS

Telling My Kids We Don’t Celebrate Christmas

My home used to be a Christmas-free zone. No longer

Some Muslim leaders still criticize Christmas celebrations as assimilation gone too far

 

Is that Santa at the door? No, its the Shia community of Multan

 

 

Happy Sandy-versary

Happy Sandy-versary!

The raging winds have finally calmed down-so have my nerves and my fast beating heart. Today is a calmer day, with the sun peeping through thick cumulus clouds, so unlike the stereotypical grey skies of London. The air is cooler and crisp; thank the Lord for finally bringing in a cold front. Never thought I would be thanking for a cold day, but the hotter than normal weather brought in a surprise for Londoners. What are the odds for Hurricane St. Jude to fall a day shy of my sandy-versary all the way across the pond! I swear I am cursed! It may have been scarier than normal for most Londoners, but for me it was DEJAVU pangs of anxiety. If the 62 mph winds weren’t knocking the wind out of me, I would have even had sense to laugh at the irony. Come to think of it, I may have laughed, but it was more a nervous laughter than the kind of laughter one laughs after realizing the hilarity of a situation.

Clear blue skies the day after St. Jude
Clear blue skies the day after St. Jude

 

Mostly when I think of Sandy, it seems surreal. I often question whether we really went through those circumstances? The clumps of hair that I continue to lose are an affirmation of the reality of the ordeal from a year ago. The beautiful thing about time is that it passes and it tends to fly. It has been a year since I went through Sandy-which I can safely term as one of the top worst times of my life. The impact of Sandy may not be much on my daily life, other than the odd times when my olfactory senses will be overwhelmed with the smell that I have come to term as the “Sandy smell”, or when I will be reminded of the odd thing or two that were drowned by this catastrophe, however yesterday night, the impact of that storm became wildly apparent. It is true a storm will change you forever, whereas, I used to enjoy the odd gusts of wind in the past, those same gusts left me almost paralyzed with fear and up all night. My wild imagination ran rampant with all that could possibly go wrong with the 62 mph winds beating down my balcony door-for example the trash can lying on the balcony that posed the real threat of being rammed through the glass door, thereby leaving us exposed to all the elements! You would think surviving through a storm would prepare you for any such disaster again. Think again, fear and secondary trauma my dear friends can leave you unprepared. The almost repeat of similar circumstances on the anniversary of my Sandy experience made my stormy weather roommate to suggest that I follow in the footsteps of Helen Hunt in Twister and find my new calling as a storm chaser. I had to inform her that I may have survived through that stressful situation, but I am a colossal wuss and don’t see myself being a storm chaser extraordinaire anytime soon.

Dark Clouds as the gusts pick up
Dark Clouds as the gusts pick up
A piece of paper making a run at 62mph
A piece of paper making a run at 62mph

A lot has changed since that dreadful night of the 29th of October in 2012, for example I no longer reside in that ground floor apartment; heck I no longer even live on the same continent. Not only was I lucky enough to not have to restart my post-sandy life in that God forsaken apartment, I was lucky enough to be moved across the pond to start anew. The stressful move at that time across the Atlantic surely proved to be a blessing in disguise. They say once you step in a river neither you nor the river will ever be the same again. I had part of the New York bay and 6 feet of Hudson river in my apartment, and although I did not wade through the murderous waters, I did spend more than 3 weeks salvaging the pieces of my life through the muck that it left behind-therefore, I can say with certainty that it has changed me.

What last night reminded me is that no matter that you survived your first storm; a subsequent encounter does not necessarily mean you will be better prepared. Of course the principal of once bitten, twice shy would dictate extra precaution on your part the next time around; which is exactly why I no longer reside on a ground floor. We actively sought for a place away from the water and 6 storey high because of our little Sandy-experience, but precisely because we are 6 floors higher than the last time, I was unprepared to deal with the unexpected storm from last night. Whilst going through the Sandy ordeal, I had taken mental and written notes to later convert them into a guide on how to survive through a hurricane, but playing ostrich became a vital part of survival and I never actually got around to doing that. On my Sandy-versary, I wanted to bring that ostrich head of mine out from under the sand and start on that guide (which I will start putting together in the coming weeks and could be found here.)

Disaster preparedness-at its best
Disaster preparedness for Sandy-at its best

What I can leave you tonight is a starter kit to surviving through a storm! The kit needs to consist of:

1. Great sense of humour
2. Faith
3. The ability to roll your sleeves up and get dirty
4. Tenacity
5. And an ample dosage of great friends and family-this last one is of utmost importance because everyone has fair weather friends, only a handful of people are lucky to have stormy weather friends-and stormy weather friends are forever!

friends-are-forever-triple-31000

The truth of the matter is that the Sandy days are behind me but the experience will live with me eternally. Perhaps overtime it too will fade in memory, but the generosity, love, and care that my dear friends showed me will live with me forever. I look back on that terrible time not with anger, but rather nostalgia. What I lost that day were material goods, but what I gained goes far beyond the material world. I learned the beauty, strength and the human will for survival, I experienced shared grief, communal generosity; I earned gratitude, fortitude and patience. Most of all, I learned to cherish and love my friends who took us in when the roof over our head had 6 feet of water below it. On the anniversary of Sandy, I choose to be thankful first and foremost to God for giving my husband and I the mental and physical strength to survive through it, for putting friends into our lives who had such big and generous hearts and for letting us be of the few who were affected very little by Sandy. I choose to be thankful to every single person, friend, family, community member who stood by us, whether it be in providing shelter, helping us through the clean up process, letting us use their showers to clean ourselves up, for acting as movers to help move our belongings, helping us carry our dirty laundry, for providing emotional and moral support when physical support was impossible, for their prayers and best wishes, for words of encouragement, for providing entertainment and humour and of course who generously cooked for us. A big thank you to all those who suffered equally with us, yet offered a helping hand as neighbours and community members. I may have digital images of the disaster, but I have feelings of love and gratitude towards all those family and friends who supported us that cannot be captured in any digital format. To the bonds of friendship that became stronger due to Sandy I say Sandy wasn’t a disaster at all!

Happy Sandy-versary!