Sunday, October 31, 2010

Look what I found sunbathing in my backyard this morning?

A hedgehog!

It kinda looks like a Kiwi bird and it's sleeping peacefully like a baby. Too adorable.

P.S. Less than two weeks until my exams are over. Wish me luck!

Arab Men and Jealousy

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

One of the strangest things I have heard in New Zealand is the belief that practicing Muslim women should not wear pretty and vibrant colours because they attract unnecessary attention from the opposite sex.

When I first heard it I instantly knew that it was a very extreme point of view. I grew up in Malaysia where it is common for modestly dressed Muslim women to wear all sorts of colours and nobody would make a big deal out of it. Though I always try to see the logic behind other people’s views, I don’t think this is something that must be enforced on Muslim women and especially to those who live in the West. It’s a totally different situation in Saudi Arabia where women are expected to wear black because it attracts the least attention. If a woman were to wear blue in a sea of women who wear black clearly it would put her in a less than desired situation. But Islam doesn't prohibit women from wearing colours. Even Aisha (r.a.) was not restricted to the colour black as she was reported to have worn a shade of yellow while being in the state of ihram

In a quest to understand a man's perspective about this I texted a Saudi friend of mine who prefers to be known as Guacamole* on my blog. Anyway I asked what he thought of Muslim women who wear colourful clothes and hijab (God forbid *faints*). Now, the reason why I asked him is because to me he is a pretty open-minded Saudi. He was born in a Western country, grew up in Saudi Arabia and now studies in New Zealand. He said that by wearing black a woman is portraying herself as a religious conservative and a woman who chooses to wear colours is not necessarily less conservative when it comes to her values. When asked about what he thinks of Muslim girls who are stylish he said,

“Well I’ll be honest. I personally don’t like it when a girl is too stylish that it makes her stand out and [create] unwanted attention. Part of this is [because] I’d feel a bit jealous of my wife. Also, like sometimes I see some Arab and Asian girls, and it’s not like they’re [dressed] to go to Uni but as if they are going to a wedding… there is an attire for every place and time.”

He then clarified the fact that it’s different for every guy and revealed that some men are at the opposite end of the spectrum and want to show off their wives in bikinis. So I threw another question at him and asked, “But isn’t it a Muslim man’s responsibility to lower his gaze instead of choosing to look at women?”

“Well they should but I’d probably want to beat them up for doing so [looking at my wife].”

Two words.

Jameel... jameel! (“Interesting... interesting!” in Arabic)

FYI, they're not my friends.
Just a funny picture I found from Expat and the City ~ Kuwait 
I didn’t know that a man could get jealous by other men looking at his wife and I’m not even talking about staring or leering. Jealousy is a very interesting aspect of love and relationships so I decided to uncover a little bit more and asked a few other Arab guys who are friends of mine – Iskandar* (Emirati), Fahad (Saudi) and Zeid (Saudi) - about what would make them jealous when it comes to their women. Just like Guacamole*, they’re all in their early 20s and they represent the progressive Muslim Arab male youth of today as modern, educated and ambitious young men **.  

Let’s start with the Saudi guys first.

Fahad explained his point of view and said, “I would say they are the same things that make a woman jealous of her man. Don’t compliment other guys in front of him… he wants to be your everything! Maybe even talking to another guy [can be a problem]. A guy’s jealousy pretty much has to do with another guy whereas girls are jealous about everything. Girls think with their emotions, guys think with logic. If you spend time with girls he wouldn’t even complain but if a guy spends time with his guy friends she will go psycho. Women, no offence, also know how to use their emotions. Just a tear from a girl could break a strong man.”

Zeid raised the issues of priority and exclusivity. “There isn’t just one answer to this question because it differs from one person to another. But personally, I would be jealous if another guy was a priority in my girl’s life other than myself… I would hate it if a guy would try and be too friendly with her or tries to touch her or hug her. I don’t think this applies here but in the Middle East it does. I absolutely hate it if guys were to stare [at her]… I would like to think that I belong to my girl and she belongs to me.”

Spot anything interesting? Both of them basically said that a man wants to be his woman’s everything. Not just as her only man, but her everything. In other words, anything or anyone could stand in as competition. He wants to be her numero uno priority. This is true because I know a guy who will get upset if his girlfriend  doesn’t pick up his call even when she’s in a lecture. Some men can also become jealous of their wives’ career.

Iskandar* the Emirati said, “Well it differs from guy to guy but flirting with other guys, not talking, but flirting. And being much more successful in the workforce, this could be because no man wants to be a failure to his family, and if he can’t support them or be a role model then he might think he failed as a man… again, men differ but we’re easy to please.”

I then questioned if they would mind their wife being stylish while she is modestly dressed and all three of them said that they don’t have a problem with it. Fahad even said that he wouldn’t be with someone if she wasn’t stylish because “looks is a big thing” to him. For Iskandar*, being stylish and self-respectful at the same time is a great thing. Although this was just a casual survey of my friends I learned a couple of new things about guys, especially Arab guys. At the same time, I'm not making any generalisations about Arab men because these guys are different individuals who are entitled to their own opinions and preferences. Men, in general, become jealous in ways that are acceptable in their society, regardless of what religion they believe in. It's an innate instinct. Some don’t mind other men looking at their beautiful girlfriends or wives and even encourage their women to dress up nicely and look attractive when they are in the public eye. It contributes to their image in society as only the most successful can win over a beautiful woman. Think survival of the fittest. But for many, when it comes to physical touching, especially with sexual intention it is a great, big no-no that will guarantee a man with a black eye. Then again, I have read that a man's jealousy wanes the older he gets or the longer he has been married.

Are Middle Eastern or Muslim men more prone to jealousy than other men?

Yes, I think so but not really compared to Mediterranean men such as the Italians and Greeks. According to Pepperminty, 'jealousy is deeply wounded into our cultural constructions of love'. The guys I've mentioned in this post are Arabs but that doesn't mean they're all the same. There are slight cultural differences between Middle Eastern countries but I believe it all comes down to their individual personalities, family upbringing and understanding of Islam. Truth be told, I think the real reason behind jealousy is male insecurity, their need to have control and be the protector. There's nothing wrong with gheerah (jealousy and protectiveness) but in some sad cases it’s just plain male ego because the thought of someone entering their 'territory' is just inconceivable. Jealousy can be about ownership and exclusivity as Zeid explained, and pride, but some take it too far and that's when honour killings happen. Humans have animal instincts but that doesn’t mean we should act on them. I've also wondered, could it be some of the fatwas that sound so absurd and were wrongly justified with hadiths were actually created due to men's insecurities? Just a thought, that's all.

'Don’t wear attractive colours because men will be enticed. Don’t speak in front of men because your voice could seduce them. If women want to make their non-mahram colleagues as their mahram they should breastfeed them.'

Seriously, how do some of these men even become sheikhs?! 

I understand that many Muslim women are happy and comfortable to wear subdued colours, cover their face or not speak to non-mahram men and I respect that. But it's one thing to willingly make these choices and another to feel like you have to make these choices. Besides, I don't think there’s a specific colour or dress that can hide a woman’s beauty because women are just special like that. But who knows! I could be wrong because who else would know men better than men themselves?  

Articles about jealousy by Pepperminty: Jealousy and Control & Jealousy, Monogamy and Power

* not their actual names
** no men were harmed during this inquisition

The Cutest Dog on Earth

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Isn't he the cutest most adorable little dog ever? He's like a dog mixed with a teddy bear!
Does anyone know what breed he is?

Me, Myself and Hijab (Part III): FAQs

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ever since I've started wearing the hijab, I've received emails and feedback from women who wanted know about my experience as a new hijabi. I've compiled the questions and answers into this post so that other a who may have the same questions can read them as well. To everyone who e-mailed me, thank you for approaching me with your questions and my apologies for not replying earlier. To my readers, if you have anything to say to these girls feel free to add to my responses and share your thoughts and knowledge.  May Allah swt guide and reward all of us who are trying to lead better lives, Ameen.

Q. I'm not a good Muslimah but I do pray, fast. I don't wear revealing clothes as my mother counseled me to dress modestly since I was a kid. Now the problem is that I do not wear hijab. I don't think wearing or not wearing a hijab makes people more devoted and conservative. But recently,I'm thinking alot about Hijab, but i don't have the courage to wear it. I'm afraid of being judged as an extremist, being a laughing stock of my relatives and friends and at the same time I don't know how to put a Hijab and I scared I will look funny and not pretty with it. I want to obey Allah but I am so self-conscious. I am now in a dilemma. :(

- N

A. Salam. First of all, you are brave. Thinking about hijab isn't easy when most people around you don't wear it. Second of all, I faced the same dilemma. I didn't want to be perceived as old fashion or extreme. I felt unattractive with hijab and thought hijab would stop be from finding a husband or having my dream job. Then I realised that rezeki rizaq (provision) comes from Allah swt. I wasn't a very good Muslim but I realised that everything I had was because of Him and I thought, "What have I done to deserve all this? A loving family, the opportunity to pursue an education. That's all I ever needed, isn't it? I wonder how amazing my life would be if I actually tried to be a better Muslim?".

I wanted to be a modern Muslim girl and prove to people that not all Muslims are the same but I realised that I had to get my priorities straight. I was created for a purpose and that purpose was not to please people but to find out who my Creator is and lead life according to His will. You're still young and you have your whole life ahead of you inshaAllah. My advice for you is to read more about Islam and find out why Allah swt has set certain rules and guidelines for us. I just discovered an awesome new website that's all about hijab and modesty - I Got It Covered. Hopefully you'll find something that will inspire you there.

When you're ready, try wearing it for a few hours, days, or whatever you're comfortable with and see how it makes you feel even if it's just around the house. Hijab hasn't stopped me from being a modern Muslim girl or achieving my dreams. I'm pretty sure it won't for you either.

Q. Where do you often buy your tudungs (hijabs)? you've been such a good inspiration. Looking at how stylish you are wearing tudung:) I would like try to start wearing them too :)

- K :)

A. Salam. Thank you for your sweet comment. In New Zealand, I get them from Glassons, Witchery, Equip, Farmers, Cotton On and Dotti. Back in Malaysia I get them from everywhere... even those little stalls in shopping malls because seriously, hijabs are everywhere! There's no specific place that I go to. Mydin Subang Jaya has some stalls downstairs that sell nice hijabs and sometimes Bonita has pretty hijabs too. Accessorize in Pavillion has beautiful scarves as well. These days you can even buy hijabs from websites, blogs and Facebook pages. I think Shea might have some good links to blogs you can purchase hijabs from.

Q. Salaam Shahirah, do you mind sharing your hijab styles one of these days. You make wearing these types of hijab sooooo easy! I'm still having difficulty to get it this neat. Hope you don't mind sharing. :)

- I

A. Wassalam. I would love to! But at the moment I just don't have the time to record videos, edit them and then upload them. InshaAllah during my summer break I will try to! But my hijab styles are very simple and nothing you won't be able to learn from the the hijab style guru, Amenakin.

Q. salam sista :) i was wondering once you started wearing the hijab, did you ever feel like you were 'missing out on all the fun' ? did you ever miss who you were before wearing it? i sometimes do, then, i realize who i am now is much better than before after receiving hidayah (inspiration and guidance) from Allah :)

- K

A.. Walaykummusalam sis! Brilliant question. A lot of people have the perception that hijabis don't know how to have fun and I was one of them. When I came to live in New Zealand I was exposed to all sorts of cultures and I started attending girls' only parties that my Arab and Afghani friends would throw to celebrate birthdays or weddings. I remember thinking, "Hey this makes sense!" because they could wear stunning dresses, dance and be themselves while maintaining their modesty (when it comes to men). Muslim women are allowed to have fun but they must do so within the guidelines of Islam - no alcohol, no strange men, no drugs. In other words, we don't have to go to clubs and be harassed by men in order to dance and have fun and when we dress up, we only do so for ourselves and/or loved ones (e.g. family, husband). We don't have to become sex objects for random men to stare at.

During the first few weeks of wearing hijab I did miss wearing the 'old' clothes I would wear before going out but when I think about it I still dress up but I do it the Halal way now. When I do feel like dressing up the way I used to I just do it at home or better still, I throw an all girls' party! Covering up in public makes me feel happy and dignified because I know I'm saving a special part of myself for those who really matter in my life.

Sometimes I do miss the old me but despite not being a horrible Muslim, I was selfish, a tad shallow and didn't really know what I wanted out of my life. I'm so much more grounded, stable and at peace with who I am and my life now. Like you, I feel that I am a better person now and it's not just because of hijab. I decided to change my whole outlook on life and give more priority to the important things in my life such as Islam and my education.

Q. I am really inspired with the style you are showing. I don't wear hijab but I am trying to dress moderately before making the big step. I am just wondering, with all the makeup.. how do you keep up with solat especially during the day? Do you start with the whole regime (wash, moisturized.. etc) then put on make up after solat then clean it up again.. I have a bit of a problem especially when I go out all day to keep up with washing and putting up makeup again and again. Maybe you can offer me some tips..

- A

A. As women we put a lot of effort into the way we look and wearing make up is part and parcel of this. However, it can be a hassle because we have to perform wudhu' or ghusl (ablution) and that includes washing the face as well. My tip is to wear make up as light as possible. The make up I've done in my profile picture is what I recommend for hassle-free everyday make up:
  • Use a light foundation that can be easily applied such as a mousse or two-way powder foundation. Liquid foundation can get messy and you may need to use a brush so it would take way too much time.
  • If you're going to use a mascara don't use a waterproof one because it is a pain to remove for the next ablution session. However, if you don't use mascara but would like to make your eyelashes look longer and thicker, dab a bit of Vaseline on your middle and index fingers, then stroke your eyelashes by placing them in between your fingers. Your lashes will look long and shiny after but don't do this if you have oily skin.
  • Add a bit of colour to your cheeks with a soft pink or peach blusher (or a shade that suits your skin tone). Remember to keep it as light and natural looking as you can.
  • Replace your lipstick with a sheer or subtle-coloured lip balm or gloss. 
  • Keep eye make up from zero to a minimum. If you really must, use a black or brown eyeliner.  

All this should only take you 2 minutes. The trick is to wear simple make up because a) you can remove and re-apply it with ease and b) it will help you to realise that you don't need a ton of make up after all.

I used to think that I needed all these make up products on my face and secretly envied girls who could walk out of the house without a stitch of make and still carry themselves with confidence. Over the last few weeks I started wearing less and less make up because I didn't want to rely on make up to feel confident anymore. I would only wear it for special occasions. On some days I'd wear a light layer of foundation (to conceal blemishes) and black eyeliner, but on most days I ditch the whole routine and just leave the house only with moisturiser on my face. Try doing the same. You'll be surprised to see that it isn't so bad. Plus, when you do wear lots of make up, like the whole shebang, you'll feel like it's an extra special occasion and that feeling is so worth it.

If you have problematic skin that requires a lot of foundation I advise for you to monitor what you eat to see what could be causing your breakouts. If it's nothing a good detox diet can't fix then I strongly recommend for you see a dermatologist.

Q. i decide to wear tudung (hijab). earlier, i tak rasa i salah for not wearing tudung.
i did perform the mandatory five prayers, fasting in Ramadhan, recited the Quran.
i said to myself ; im not gonna wear tudung because everyone else is.
but, God has given me so much. this change is a small offering to Him, the least i can do.
am i right?

tapi, kenapa ada masa nya, rasa rindu zaman " free hair " tu dtg ehh? is that normal? or sebenarnya my faith are not strong enough? tapi i selalu doa supaya iman i kuat. i selalu baca blog yang berkaitan " penghijrahan " kepada pemakaian tudung ni, so i akan rasa lebih yakin dengan keputusan i untuk bertudung. thanks for reading my email.

- L

(For my non-Malay speaking readers, L started to wear hijab in March 2010. She's happy with her decision but she also misses the days when she wasn't a hijabi and she could let her hair out freely. She is wondering if this is normal or if it's a sign of weakness in her faith.)

A. Salam. It's perfectly normal for you to feel that way and getting over it can be easy, inshaAllah. Ask yourself, "What aspect of not being a hijabi do I miss?" If you miss styling your hair then style your hair when you're at home or at girls' only events. Also try out new hijab styles so that wearing hijab doesn't become too much of a routine. Hijab doesn't have to be boring. You can explore and experiment with all kinds of colours and styles as long as you maintain your modesty! And remind yourself that one day Allah swt will ask you on Judgement Day about how you looked after your awrah during your time on Earth. We tend to get complacent and forget that qiyaamah is coming and we will be questioned for all our deeds. Nothing great and meaningful is ever achieved without a struggle or challenge. Be patient and inshaAllah, He will reward you for having faith in Him.

Q. Salam, I was raised in a conservative family, so going to agama classes (religious classes) and school wearing a hijab is a must. But in a way my mum isn't as conservative as my late dad, so hijab is almost on-off. But after nearly 4 years living in Japan, I realize that studying/living abroad makes me want to cover up more than I did back home, I don't know why. I don't wear hijab when I go buy groceries back home, but here I don't feel comfortable if I don't cover my head going out.

I just wish I have the same feeling when at home, you know? So my question is, do you experience it too?

- Z

A. Walaykummusalam. When I went back to Malaysia in July for the winter break I have to admit it wasn't easy. First of all, it was so hot and humid and honestly, the practical thing would be to not wear it. But I wanted to and I just adjusted my hijab style so that it would be more cooling for me.  I used Amenakin's summer style . Sure, some people are going to say, "That's not hijab!" because my neck wouldn't be completely covered and all I can say to such people is . . . "Hey, I'm not doing this for the sake of style but I'm trying to maintain my modesty and not die of heat at the same time!"

Secondly, hijab was kind of a challenge in Malaysia because I was so used to dressing up whenever I'm back there. I'm usually on holiday mode and I have all the time in the world to dress up, wear make up, go out with friends and have fun. It was a habit that I developed for many, many years. On top of that, none of my best friends wear hijab so I felt a tad awkward at first and I think some of them felt the same way because they weren't sure if I were still the same 'Sha' they have always known. After a while they realised that personality-wise I am still the same and I still love them as before if not more but it was my habits that had changed. Alhamdulillah, I am very lucky to have very supportive friends! Vivy, Ella, Marissa and Minzy were very understanding. Vivy knew that I was contemplating about hijab for a while and when I actually did it she was my number one supporter. Having supportive family members and friends my side made it much easier for me  but at the same time, I wanted to be an individual and do what I felt was right so even when I do meet friends who don't really like the fact that I wear hijab now I remind myself that it's my body and my decision.

Q. I'm not a hijabi but i wish i can be one soon. Currently, i followed few other hijabi bloggers and found that it was so nice, and refreshing feeling for you guys. During Ramadhan last year, I make a step and wear hijab for the whole Ramadhan since I heard that it would be useless if we did the fasting but do not keep our 'aurat'. Right after that month, I've become the same 'arda'. Being surrounded by people and environment that i can say pretty social, had make it harder for me to move.

I wish i can have some strength since I've really need to move and i wish i can be a perfect muslim, later. I would like to know where did you get the strength to start everything at the very beginning.

- A

A. Salam, congratulations on trying hijab for a whole month! Don't feel disappointed because Allah swt knows you really tried. He gave you this challenge because He wants you to realise that you can improve yourself as opposed to some people who are non-chalant about their iman (faith). In regards to being surrounded by very 'social' friends, well this is the decision you have to make for yourself. Always remember that one day Allah swt is going to judge each and everyone of us individually for our good and bad deeds. I'm sure your friends mean a lot to you but becoming a better Muslim doesn't mean you'll be abandoning them. One of the reasons I was afraid of wearing hijab was the thought of losing friends. Your true friends will never leave you because you're trying to become a better person, a better Muslim. In fact, they will respect and love you for it. If you do lose some friends along the way it's okay because He will surround you with better friends, trust me. 

I was very apprehensive about hijab but my desire to wear it was stronger. I gained strength from going for Umrah, and seeing and feeling the beauty of His love in the Holy land. I gained strength from reading about Jannah (Heaven) and how Allah swt will reward us for being good Muslims. I also gained strength from reaching out to my hijabi friends and asking them all sorts of questions about hijab. I remember e-mailing Hispanic Muslimah and I was very frank with her about why I was afraid to wear the hijab. I told her things I never told anyone because she is an inspiration to me and I wanted her to help me. 

I did a lot of research about women and modesty across various religions. When I learned that even Jewish and Christian women are taught to dress modestly, I learnt that hijab isn't just for Muslims. Allah swt had prescribed hijab and modesty when Judaism and Christianity was revealed but along the way their values and practices changed from what it should originally be. A married Orthodox Jewish woman is supposed to wear the 'sheital' or 'sherntichel' as part of her faith. Islam didn't introduce the hijab, it simply brought it back. Knowing this made it easier for me to wear hijab in the West because I now know that I am simply doing what the Creator of all human beings and creatures has told us to do. So who cares what other people want to think of me? What He thinks is most important. I knew it was the right thing to do, I did it and I don't regret it. All those things I thought I was going to miss out on just don't seem as important today because I know I'm not missing out on anything that really matters.

Fashion Friday: Hearts Affluttering

Friday, October 15, 2010

Exciting news:
Off to watch 'Eat, Pray, Love' with my girls tonight
A-line skirts and maxi dresses are in stores again

Good news:
Had my last lecture for the year yesterday
Got an A+ for the essay I wrote about Shia Arabs
(A pleasant surprise! I seriously thought I was going to flunk it)

Anxiety-inducing news:
My first exam is on Wednesday next week

Do you have any news to share?
Have an awesome weekend everyone!


Me, Myself and Hijab (Part II)

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

One of my biggest fears about wearing hijab was that people would judge me based on the negativity they had heard or read about Muslims before getting to know me for themselves. As I live in New Zealand most of the time I knew I would have to face non-Muslims all the time - at varsity, in supermarkets, on airplanes. It’s much easier to dress like the people around me and sort of blend in. I worried about what girls thought of me as much as I did guys . I had heard horror stories from my friends and had many pre-conceived ideas about people’s reactions and to be honest, I expected the worst.

I didn’t know that I was in for a big surprise.

Who would've thought that non-Muslims wouldn't treat me that much differently. I would have to say that it’s probably because I live in New Zealand where racism is quite uncommon and people are laid-back and open-minded.

Non-Muslim men are more respectful. When they talk to me I think they’re quite surprised to see that what I wear and most importantly, my faith, doesn’t stop me from being outgoing and creative. They’re still friendly but obviously they don’t flirt or try to be funny with me. That would be the only major difference I have noticed since I started wearing hijab. Guys don’t approach me as freely as before and half-drunk guys don’t make lewd comments at me when I walk past them (most students live on campus and getting drunk by 5 pm on weekends is not unusual around here). When my classmates talk to me, they look me in the eye and they take me seriously. They don’t do the whole ‘up and down look’ anymore. Some girls do but not guys.

So what about Muslim guys?

I had a similar response with Muslim men. I guess some of you would say they shouldn’t be responding at all since men should lower their gaze and what not! But the reality of it is Muslim men are just like any other men out there – they’re not perfect and they make mistakes. Most of them have been respectful. Many of the ones who knew me before my big change do treat me the same way because they’ve always been nice and respectful anyway but I do see a glint of respect in their eyes and a level of formality in the way they behave with me.

The funny thing is I think some Muslim guys notice me just a little bit more because I’m visibly a Muslim now. I think they have something called a ‘hijabi radar’ and the moment they see a hijabi they get curious! Amina’s younger brother actually texted and told her that he saw a new hijabi in town and she asked him to double check and make sure that it wasn’t me. Turns out it was me after all. He said I look completely different but in a good way. Ah, that boy’s always been a hoot. Some of them texted me to say they were proud of me for making this step and some even asked me about it in person because they just wanted to know more about my motivation behind it. But I have had Muslim male friends who said things like, “To me it doesn’t really make a difference”. Good thing I didn’t do it for the sake of pleasing men, or rather for the sake of pleasing people, because otherwise I would’ve been quite confused. 

My experience as a hijabi in the last six months in New Zealand has been a very positive one, alhamdulillah. I think the only instance I've had someone say a rude remark to me was the time I went shopping with Lamya. Otherwise, people have been so nice to me, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. I honestly can't ask for a better outcome or experience as a hijabi in a Western country. In Malaysia, it was a little hard, I have to admit. I think it was mainly because that's where I go for my holidays and to have fun, and dressing up and wearing  relatively sexy clothes (operative word: relatively!) was part of that fun for me. Every woman wants to feel desired and beautiful but I'm not saying Islam is trying to make women feel less desired by 'hiding' their beauty.

In Islam, a woman's beauty is skin-deep. It is everything that makes her gentle yet resilient, humble yet dignified. Everything that makes her special. 

In Islam, a woman's sensuality is not suppressed. It is sacred. 

In Islam, a woman doesn't have to be 36-24-36 to be beautiful and valuable. She doesn't even have to be anything   society deems to be 'so hot right now'. Shocking, I know. 

The day I started wearing hijab was the day I slowly started to leave behind my old lifestyle and bad habits. It wasn't easy but I realised I had to start somewhere. The essence of modesty is how you feel and not just what you do. Modesty truly begins on the inside and it upsets me whenever I hear people saying things like,

"If you don't wear hijab, you're not a good Muslim woman."

"If you wear jeans and make up with hijab, you look like a clown." (Oh trust me readers, this has been said in a couple of khutbahs (sermons) in our masjid)

Saying that to people is just arrogant and ignorant. That's not how you educate people about Islam. You don't attack them by making them feel bad about themselves. You're suppose to inspire them so that they will take the steps that they need to understand why modesty is required in Islam. Surely when modesty is sown and nurtured in one's heart, it will blossom and branch out into actions that are beautiful in God's eyes.

Plus, it wasn't like I immediately made drastic changes. For example, I didn't start to wear loose tops until a couple of months ago and wearing make up was an everyday routine and a must (and while I still love make up today, I don't feel like it's a must anymore). I didn't go on Facebook and started deleting all my old photos. In fact, all of them were left there for a good six months. I think it was just before my birthday on September the 8th that I decided to delete my non-hijab profile pictures and even that I didn't have the heart to do. I got my trustworthy friend, Amina, to delete them for me. Shortly after that I had my old photo albums set to 'Only Me'. Again, I didn't have the heart to delete them. I felt like doing so would be like deleting my entire past and I didn't have a terrible past, I had a happy one. But there's always room to grow and I told myself to keep moving forward in life. Not go backwards or stay stagnant.

So I took a leap of faith and then moved a step forward. Today I am at peace with myself and I am grateful to God for making what I once thought was impossible, possible.

... stay tuned for Part III: Frequently Asked Questions! 

P.S. Feel free to ask me about hijab and hijab-related questions. Write away in the comment box or via the contact form here.

Me, Myself and Hijab (Part I)

Friday, October 01, 2010

Over six months ago I made one of the best decisions of my life.

I started wearing the hijab.

I’ve been meaning to write this post for an incredibly long time, however, the words didn’t seem to flow. There is so much to be said but at the same time I didn’t want to turn my story into something overrated. Words are powerful. They can take something meaningless and translate it into something more meaningful. They can also do the complete opposite.

In many ways, my hijab is the same. It’s a piece of material that covers my hair and neck.

Or is it?

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It was noon on a summer’s day in March. I had just arrived in Auckland from my summer holiday in Malaysia and I was exhausted and jetlagged due to the ten hour flight from Kuala Lumpur. Despite that I decided to meet up with my friend Shaymaa who lives in Auckland before I would fly to Dunedin the next day. During the holiday I had been talking to Shaymaa about wanting to wear the hijab full-time someday. Yes, “someday” I would always say but I was never sure when. I wore it a couple of times while I was back home, you could say I went for a test run, but would feel self-conscious and awkward in it. However, that particular day I felt confident and determined. I carefully picked a bright blue hijab to match my colourful dress, wrapped it carefully around my head and took one good look at myself before stepping out. I was happy and no longer felt anxious for looking “so Muslim”. Amazingly, I also didn’t feel out of place and the irony of that is the day I decided to don the hijab full-time was the day I returned to a Muslim-minority Western country. I couldn’t have picked a tougher challenge for myself but I wanted to do it. I felt ready and it felt right.

I met Shaymaa at the front steps of her home and we both squealed with excitement. Shaymaa has been wearing hijab almost all her life and it must’ve made her feel happy to see a friend make the same choice she makes everyday. That’s right, for women like Shaymaa and myself, wearing the hijab is a choice we make every single day. She complimented me and assured me that I looked nice. As we spent the day together she assured me this many times and I think if it weren’t for supportive friends like Shaymaa my transition into becoming a hijabi wouldn’t have been as easy. There were days when I would catch a glimpse of my reflection in a mirror or glass window and I would look twice because I almost couldn’t believe that it was me. I wondered where the girl in the short dress, tights and high heeled boots had gone. There were times when I would miss styling my hair before heading out into town.

But those days and times faded away. I always reminded myself that I was doing it for all the right reasons. I wasn’t trying to impress anyone nor did I have any intention of getting married thus felt obliged to start covering up to please my future husband as some people had assumed.

I did it to show my gratitude towards God. I did it because life is precious but it is unpredictable and short. I did it because I knew nothing else mattered as much as my relationship with my Creator.

I did it for me.

The next few months of my transition were really about me adjusting with my new ‘fashion statement’. I learned that embracing the hijab isn’t just a physical endeavour but also a psychological and spiritual jihad (struggle). In the beginning I would always wear earrings to go along with my hijab simply because I felt I looked too plain without them. I also wore my hijab in various styles because I wanted to show my non-Muslim friends at my university that there are all sorts of hijab styles and that my decision to wear hijab didn’t mean I had to compromise my love of and taste in fashion. I had a lot of fun shopping for hijabs as well and probably went overboard a few times but hey, a fashionista hijabi can never have too many scarves! As my friend Zahra once told me, you can’t change your hair colour everyday but you can change your hijab colour. That’s the fun part about being a hijabi. The best part, however, is feeling closer to God. There is no substitute for this feeling. Knowing that what I am doing is what He wants me to do because it is what's best for me makes me feel like I am going towards the right direction in my life and that I am growing as a person and as a Muslim.

Now, the interesting aspect about wearing hijab or being a new hijabi is the reactions I get from people. When Muslim women find out that I’ve decided to wear hijab they would congratulate and hug me.

“Mabrouk! You look beautiful, mashaAllah!”

“Really??? Oh congratulations my dear, it really suits you!”

“Sha! I’m so proud of you!”

It was as though I had accomplished something difficult or went through a rites of passage. As I walked into shops or bumped into friends, both Muslim and non-Muslim women would stop to compliment me, be it on my hijab or my clothes. Again it would always amaze me because women have never been nicer to me in my entire life! A Brazilian friend of mine, Marcela, always and I mean always as in literally every time we see each other, tells me how beautiful I look after I started wearing hijab. She doesn’t have to but she does it anyway because I think she knows it was a huge leap of faith for me. Sure, there were also women who didn't quite approve as much but for the most part they were very understanding. 

Men, however, well that’s another interesting observation.

… to be continued.