Sticks and Stones

21

sticksandstones

I first met Ayesha* when we were both in elementary school. Our families had met at the masjid, and as Allah willed, we found out they lived on the street right next to us. Although Ayesha was a year older than I was, and we were in none of the same classes, we still played like close friends. Whether it was chasing each other on hot summer afternoons during an exhilarating game of freeze-tag, or playing with pink Barbies in her cluttered but cozy bedroom, we always had a good time.

Three years later, my family moved an hour’s drive away to the suburbs, and although Ayesha and I no longer had our daily play-dates, my family visited her’s occasionally and I always anticipated meeting my childhood friend once again.

***

On a certain weekend visiting their house, when we were both in our high school years, I was surprised to see Ayesha clad in a silky black hijab that gracefully framed her round face. I self-consciously tugged my shirt lower and drew my hair over my ears in an effort to hide my too-big-and-dangly earrings.

A year later, I saw another change: Ayesha had now begun to wear an abaya full time, and although I was proud of her for making such a tremendous decision, I felt like we were both heading in different directions. While my clothes got tighter and sheerer, her clothes were becoming more loose and modest, and as hard as I tried to dispel the thoughts that came like swatting away a bothersome fly, I found myself feeling more and more uncomfortable around her.

***

The next year, that feeling changed as well. It was the summer of grade eleven, and I had already been wearing the hijab for half a year. When we went to visit their house one evening, Ayesha smiled and commended me for taking the initiative to wear the hijab.

“I’ve actually begun to wear the niqab full-time, too!” She told me happily. Not at all surprised by her incessant courage, I hugged her and realized that this time, I genuinely felt happy and proud of her, as well. We sat down while we waited for dinner, and caught each other up on what the other had missed.

“How did you find wearing the hijab for the first time?” She inquired. “Was it hard?”

“It was SO HARD!” I exclaimed. “I’ve lost all my ‘friends’ and I absolutely hate high school now! I can’t wait until it’s over! I’ve never experienced something so difficult in my life!” I dramatically told her. Ayesha smiled and agreed that yes, it can feel like that at times.  “What about you?” I asked. “How has it been like wearing the niqab?” Ayesha sighed and looked past me as if she were looking to a distant memory.

“Well, when I first began wearing the hijab a few years ago,” she began, “I lost all my friends… luckily, there were a few hijabis going to my school, so they became my new friends.”

“Oh that’s good,” I replied. “You’re lucky to have gotten new ones – unlike me – I only wish I had other hijabis in my grade.”

“Yeah, that’s true,” she continued, “but when I started wearing the niqab just recently, it got worse after that.”

Curious, I asked her what she meant by ‘it getting worse’. “You have hijabi friends,” I reasoned, “so what could have gone so wrong?”

“I guess my hijabi friends were embarrassed of me after I began to wear the niqab. They told me that I had ‘changed too much’ and that they no longer wanted to hang out with me, so now it’s basically me by myself at school,” she said. I didn’t realize that as she told me this, my mouth had slowly opened in horror. I couldn’t handle losing my friends once, let alone imagine it happening twice, especially by fellow Muslim sisters who I would have thought would support me in making such a huge decision like this!

“And then one day…” Ayesha continued, oblivious to my gaping mouth, “I was leaving school by myself because class had just finished, when a boy picked up a fistful of rocks, screamed ‘TERRORIST’ at the top of his lungs, and threw the rocks at me in front of everyone. All the people started laughing at what happened… so I quickly ran home.” She whispered timidly, almost apologetically, as if she had done something to deserve this.

I felt like I lost all the blood in my face. The silence in the room pressed forcefully onto my ears and a lump formed in my throat as I thought of something – anything – to say back to her; something to console her or provide words of encouragement, something to make her feel better for the horrendous ordeal she had gone through, but I was speechless. I had nothing to say, because I could not imagine something so repulsive happening. I was in utter shocked, and the salty tears that trickled down my cheeks, despite my desperate attempts to prevent them, proved it.

“Someone… someone… threw a rock at you?” I finally managed to stutter. I hurriedly blinked my eyes a few times to move the tears and focus on her face. She smiled a nervous smile and slowly nodded yes. “Did… did you get hit?” I asked again, hoping against all odds that the rock had somehow ricocheted back to that horrible boy for throwing them in the first place.

“A few of the rocks hit my leg, but I was okay.” She smiled again, and this time, for the first time, I realized I was talking to one of the bravest young women I had ever met. “I was more worried about the boy, knowing he was about to be suspended,” she joked quietly. I haphazardly wiped my eyes with one hand and let out a little chortle, amazed that she was able to joke about something that would have surely been the end of me. “It was probably one of the worst things that have ever happened, but I feel like it made me stronger. I mean, if I could withstand a hurling rock, surely everything else would be easier, no?”

***

The little story that Ayesha shared with me that evening has stuck with me since then. It made me realize that my “struggles” (if they should even be called that) in comparison, were absolutely nothing more than a cool breeze. They were a blessing from Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala , for He allowed me ease in fulfilling His commandments. Most of all, her story made me re-evaluate my life and be grateful to my Lord because I discovered that no matter how difficult the hardships I encounter are, someone, somewhere out there, has it worse than I do. So to be ungrateful over nothing would surely be a rock thrown in my own direction to hinder me… by no one other than myself.

*Name has been changed.