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

Mercy for all of Mankind

And We have sent u not but as a Mercy to all the worlds" Al Qur'an. 21:107
And We have sent u not but as a Mercy to all the worlds” Al Qur’an. 21:107
Calligraphy by Sana Naveed at http://www.muhammadanart.com/

 

The last post I wrote was on the topic of Christmas-The birth of Jesus –Prophet ISA (Peace be upon him). It only seems befitting that today I would write about the Birth of my beloved Prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon him). It turns out that the celebration of the birth of this central figure of Islam is just as controversial as Jesus’. There are two camps on the topic of the celebration of the birth of the Prophet (PBUH). Group One vehemently opposes any such celebration or even the existence of such a celebration. They are also the same faction that opposes Christmas. The pretext being that there are only two festival allowed by the religion: the celebration of the two Eids. They further prove this by saying no such event ever took place during the life or after the death of the Prophet (PBUH). Group two is the group that supports the celebration of the birthday, presenting all sorts of references in support for this. Their prime argument is that the faith of the Believers of Islam is incomplete without the love of their beloved Prophet (PBUH).What is the extent of the love of the Prophet (PBUH)? As per them there is no such thing as the limit of that love because where that extent ends, begins the love of the Almighty. These groups are further sub-divided by their views on the levels of the Haram-ness on the topic of the celebration and about the levels of the extent through which you can celebrate this blessed day.

Now, like most things in my life I don’t belong to one camp over the other. I understand the debate prohibiting the celebration, but I also understand the reasons for celebration. I am most definitely wary of using Haram (prohibited)/Kuffar (disbelief)/Bidaa (innovation) to define the practice of celebration, just as much as I am against those who believe in the Mawlid (birthday) referring to the non-believers of Mawlid as infidels. I tend to hold a middle ground, and believe that excess of anything is generally a bad thing. But, anti-exorbitance is the framework through which I like to live my life. I am constantly questioning excessiveness and wastefulness of our material means. So, I do not support any extravagance in celebration whether be personal or religious. Now, having cleared that, I don’t think wishing a happy Mawlid un nabi, or promoting the recitation of Darud is wrong; nor do I necessarily support the idea of fancy Milaad gatherings. Milaad is a gathering where through poetry a person praises the Prophet (PBUH), him and expresses one’s love for him. Nothing wrong with poetry and nothing wrong with expressing your love for the Prophet (PBUH). I often enjoy Nasheeds and Naats myself. The problem comes when people go to extreme measures to arrange these gatherings; spending lots of money, using lots of lighting and flags to decorate the streets and calling anyone who doesn’t support the idea of Milaad as an infidel. Recently, I came across a video that showcased an extreme example of the celebration of the birth, which included dancing to a song that objectified women, and likened them to alcohol. Both objectification and intoxication are prohibited in Islam and seems like a contradictory way to celebrate the birth of the man whose Prophethood is the birth of Islam. This definitely is where I would draw the line on celebration.

What does the day of birth of the Prophet (Pbuh) mean for me? His birthday is a reminder of the beautiful blessing that Allah Almighty bestowed upon this world and the next world; therefore, a cause for jubilation. It is a reminder for me as a Muslim to be thankful to be from his Ummah. It is a moment for me to ponder and really live the essence of his teachings. It is a chance for me to understand the importance of the precious gift of Shahadah (belief in the oneness of God) that I share with my fellow Muslims. I wish, instead of engaging in debates about the actual practice of celebrating Mawlid, perhaps we would live our lives being exemplary of the teachings of this great man. To me a better celebration would be to showcase mercy, kindness, good behaviour, honesty, integrity, faithfulness, charity and piety on a daily basis, but if not, then at least just on the day of his birth. Wouldn’t that be the greatest way to commemorate his birth? If instead of wasting tons of money on the Milaad celebration, we fed the orphans; or used the money to invest in medical or education for the poor; we would be upholding the real essence of the teachings of the Great Prophet of Islam. Sure, if you must show your love through hosting a Milaad, by all means, but let’s not turn it into a mockery by hosting elaborate events, competing and outdoing each other in the size of the events, using it as an excuse to buy the most expensive outfits for the gathering or wasting food at those said events.

There is an opportunity every year on the 12th of Rabi-Al-Awal to celebrate the legacy of this great man of history. Let’s take the time to ponder upon his lesson, his teachings and pledge to at least instill a fraction of the patience and love this man possessed for everyone. He was a man of simple means-the Prophet of the worlds, with often very little to eat, tattered clothes to wear, epitome of humbleness, patience and forgiveness. We, as his Ummah represent none of the characteristics possessed by this man. Let’s celebrate not by showing anger to someone whose idea of celebration differs from yours. Let’s celebrate by being patient, forgiving and realizing that we are all humans and can err. Love and understanding can heal and turn the evilest of hearts. Islamic history is replete with stories of such turning of the hearts all due to the mercy, and love shown by this Great man. Our beloved Prophet (PBUH) reacted not with anger or hatred-he was a visionary and knew that you can catch more bees with honey than vinegar.

I, for one am happy that today is the day of the birth of the man who was sent as a mercy to all of mankind (Al-Anbiyaa’: 107), and to whom the Quran was revealed and of the man who spent his years crying: “Allahumma Ummati, Allahumma Ummati – O Allah my Ummah, O Allah my Ummah”. We are from that Ummah and we must not disservice this great man by engaging in petty arguments, hatred, lying and deceit. Instead of arguing about the celebration, and disrespecting one another, using vulgarity and derogatory language, instead of wasting the means Allah has bestowed upon us, we should walk the earth as the representatives of his teachings. That would be the true celebration of the birth of Muhammed-The Prophet (PBUH) and the greatest man on earth.

Mawlid-Un-Nabi Mubarak!

Allahuma salle ala sayyidina Muhammedin nabi yil ummi yi wa Ala aalihi wa asabhi wasalam.

Calligraphy by Sana Naveed http://www.muhammadanart.com/
Calligraphy by Sana Naveed
http://www.muhammadanart.com/

The Power of Money

The power of money

Money has the ability to turn falsehood into the truth, and make the obvious truth into absolute lies. Money, in our society is the gauge for integrity, honesty, solid character and all things good. A man or a woman with money automatically holds the integrity and his/her truth becomes the ultimate truth. The logic follows, If that which glitters, the most therefore, must be the most integral.

Unfortunately, in my experience in life, I have learned that money does not make a man (or woman). Integrity, discipline, honesty, good virtue, kindness, graciousness, generosity, humility, and other great character traits do not come in somebody because of money. It is either a part of you or not. The only difference is that with money, you can manage the facade of being all of the above. A poor man hardly stands a chance of proving the mettle of his integrity. The logic is: if one is poor, therefore, one has more reasons to cheat, lie, deceive to get ahead. If one is rich, then there is no reason for the said person to lie, cheat or deceive because he/she already has material possessions. The irony, however is that it is the poor who because they have NOTHING to lose in the material world hold steadfast to the codes of good conduct. It is the rich, who have everything material to lose, and therefore, must cheat, lie, and deceive to hold on to those material goods.

I have seen in my life the ability of people to pathologically lie, exaggerate and make mountains out of molehills, and most of these people have been those who we would consider rich. Maybe, the rich man feels the need to pad up his resume and story because it would be highly unlikely and almost damning to have an ordinary story to a man with extraordinary riches? I have also seen the unfair advantage that money brings to the rich. The rich can make grave errors in their lives and with the power of money have the ability to somehow wash/erase the memories of everyone around and start anew. It is as if society somehow can be so generous in forgiving and forgetting the sinful errors of the rich, On the other hand, a poor person can make exactly the same error and/or possibly one of less gravity and society will shun him/her forever into the depths of eternal damnation.

I am not saying that all rich people possess absolutely no character, nor am I saying all poor are of exceptional character. I am contemplating on the power of money. The ability of money to force people to close their eyes, turn the other way when seeing wrong and to turn black into white; yet in the absence of money, one can’t even buy basic necessities. No wonder, most of our lives we strive to attain unimaginable amounts of money, because it brings with it an unlimited stock supply of power. Dare I say, Money is what makes you super human!

As the apprentice theme song goes: “money, money, money“!!