I’m going to a memorial service this morning for my old Girl Scout troop leader. She was also my mother’s best friend and her daughters and my sister and I are the same age and were close friends when we were growing up. I haven’t seen the older daughter, the one my age, for thirty years. I didn’t even know her married name until I saw it in the obituary.
I’m looking forward to seeing people from my past, but I’m nervous, too. Most of them have no idea that I’ve converted to Islam. And I will be announcing that fact loud and clear by wearing the hijab. (I’m also considering wearing an abaya.) I worry that I’ll put people off, that they’ll feel uncomfortable around me. But I’m praying that Allah will pave the way. After all, my being a Muslim is to His glory and really has nothing to do with me.
Besides, one reason I dress hijab is because I want people to see that anyone can become a Muslim. There’s nothing in my background, other than a belief in God and an interest in religion, that points to the likelihood of my converting to Islam. Both my grandfather and my first husband were ministers and I have been sporadically active in the Christian church for most of my adult life. As little as three years ago, the thought of becoming a Muslim was the furthest thing from my mind (or so I thought at the time).
I’m proof that Allah is the one who guides our hearts. Mine has always been with Him, from my earliest memories. I just didn’t know how to express it in a way that would be completely meaningful to me.
And yet I’m still afraid of what others think of me sometimes.
I went through this when my youngest daughter got married. From the moment she announced her engagement, I started worrying about wearing the hijab to her wedding. She and her fiancé were perfectly fine with it, but I wasn’t so sure that others would be. The groom’s family was also fine with it, even though they’re Catholic. But there were going to be others there who were sure to be taken back by the hijabi in their midst, especially once they realized that she was the mother of the bride.
My husband took it for granted that I would wear the hijab to all the wedding festivities. I wasn’t as sure as he was. I fussed for months about what I could wear that wouldn’t look too “Muslim.” As if the hijab wouldn’t be a dead giveaway! I finally settled on a long skirt and jacket for the rehearsal dinner and a lavender abaya for the wedding.
I knew that I was being silly, but I couldn’t help myself. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself at my daughter’s wedding. I didn’t want her to be sorry when she got her wedding pictures and there was her mother sticking out like a sore thumb.
I did feel kind of isolated because no one came up to me to congratulate me or compliment me on my lovely daughter. But there wasn’t a reception line, so that wasn’t all that strange. And I was asked to give a toast to my daughter and new son-in-law. I appear in many of the pictures and I don’t really look out of place. It seems that I worried for nothing.
I was actually relieved when one of my relatives came up and asked me about my conversion. I’d rather people acknowledge it in some way than talk about it behind my back. I did have another relative ask me after the wedding, “What do you think your grandfather would say?” but that was the mildest form of disapproval I received the entire weekend.
The fact is, I haven’t had any negative comments since I started to wear the hijab. Most people ignore it and those who do mention it are usually just curious. I don’t know whether this means that people in Ohio are more accepting than people in some other places or if they just don’t know what to say. I did have a man greet me at the bus stop the other day and when I responded, he said, “Oh, I thought you were one of those Arab ladies until you spoke!” But he was perfectly friendly. It seems that people are more puzzled about my ethnicity because I don’t look like what they imagine a Muslim looks like than they are about the fact that I’ve converted to Islam.
I know that wearing the hijab is a big decision for many Muslim women. But I can attest to the fact that we worry about it too much. The burden is really on others to decide how they’re going to react to it not on us to make them feel more comfortable about it.
This is who I am now. I’ve announced it to the world on Facebook (that makes it official, right?) and I announce it every day when I walk out of the house in a hijab. I don’t want to return to the way I used to be, unsure about my relationship to God and unhappy with every religion I encountered.
But I still have to remind myself sometimes that I’m proud to be a Muslim, that it was my free choice to convert and that I haven’t regretted it for a minute. Maybe I’ll get a chance to tell someone that today. But if not, my hijab will tell people for me.