Worrying About What Others Think

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.

 

 

 

Published by

Ellen

Editor and chief writer at I, Muslimah and Femagination. Ellen also contributes regularly to Elevate Difference. She is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with two cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

5 thoughts on “Worrying About What Others Think”

  1. I’ve seen many American movies addressing the life of the profits like the “ten commandments” , “the king of kings ” and “The Bible: In the Beginning… (1966)”. However, I noticed that most of the women appearing in these films whether as virgin “Mary” peace be upon her or the other wives of the profits, all were covering their hair. It seems that hijab did exist from the beginning among (Jewish, Christians) and finally Muslims. However, I still wonder why they gave it up while only Muslim women are wearing it these days ??

    1. In some cases I think the head covering was cultural not necessarily religious. But there is a verse in the New Testament of the Bible that says that women should cover their head in church and that’s rarely done in Christian churches. Catholic nuns wear the head covering, but that’s not even always true today. Amish and Mennonite women wear bonnets. Some highly observant Jews (like the Hasidic Jews) do require their women to cover their hair either by scarves or wigs.

      I think some religions have loosened their standards about head covering because of attempts to modernize. When a woman does not cover it is usually because she does not believe that the command to cover was for all time and thinks that it is now out-dated in our modern world.

      The fact that Muslims hold the Qur’an in such high regard and have kept it uncorrupted through the centuries might partly account for the emphasis on more women covering themselves in Islam compared to other religions.

      Just some thoughts. Great question!

      1. I suspect that the abandonment of head covering by Jews and Christians in Europe may have been motivated (at least in part) by a desire for European adherents of those religions to distance themselves from the Middle East.

        After all, the conflict between the Middle East and the West started when the Achaemenid Empire invaded Greece, nearly 500 years before the birth of Jesus.

        1. You know your history better than I do! There are still Jews and Christians who wear head coverings, though. What is their motivation and how is it different from the Muslims’?

  2. I think your society is very supportive and i admire them for that, they except people no matter what is thier religion or thier background. (not saying all the society but in general) i think people tend to be sensitive when they on the spot light and in many times they might give it bigger than what it’s.
    say thanx god that u live in such society, and i’m sure it’s very hard to find better one.
    I’m imaging if u were in MY society and u changed your religion….then u will see what other people think :)
    they r not evil but not open as much..
    i like ur plog…

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