Cleansing Tears


Having made her decision already, guest writer Heba Youssef remembers the strength it took to overcome her own personal obstacles in wearing hijab.

It was difficult to distinguish between the tears streaming down my face, and the warm, comforting water flowing out of the showerhead. Quietly sobbing as I bathed had become routine for that week; it was the only outlet in my day where I could mediate the painful battle that ensued between my heart and mind.

Just weeks earlier as I poured thoughts into my journal, I convinced myself that I would wear hijaab in two more years when I was done with school. As I flipped through those journal pages, the increments of time I had given myself to wear hijaab kept getting shorter and shorter. I challenged myself to experiment during the coming Ramadan, but even that seemed too distant in time. So my new goal was during the summer break, in order to allow some transition time before I returned back to school. Yet even that seemed far off.

There was something inside that was changing and it scared me to know I had no control over it. I remember pulling hoods over my head all week and realized that the times I spent in my shower were much deeper than just a physical cleansing. I thought I would somehow be able to wash away the essence of spiritual impurities I felt emanating through the pores of my skin. Yet no matter how much soap I used, or the hours spent immersing my body in water until I became pruned and wrinkled – I could not find a cleanser powerful enough to polish the darkness that hovered around my heart and soul.

I am sometimes embarrassed to think of the situation that sparked my intention to wear hijaab, but in fact it was part of God’s awesome Plan and I cannot help but submit to Him for all the Mercy He has showered upon me, alhamdulilah. I was a junior in college, and one day, a brother asked me: “As beautiful as you are, why don’t you wear hijaab?”

His words struck a nerve that I would never recover from, and from that day forward, I found myself struggling with the same question: “Why don’t I wear hijaab?” This thought was never far from my mind. I would sit through class day after day pondering my existence and the weak excuses I had conjured up as to why I was not a better Muslimah: None of my immediate family wears it; I can wear it when I get married; I want to change myself inwardly before I change myself outwardly; what if people look at me differently; I have already established myself, things are going to be difficult.

The excuses kept piling on one after the other, pouring over the balance on one end of my imaginary scale, yet the scale barely budged. On the other end of the balance rested my desire to please Allah and it was something so heavy and unshakeable. In a moment’s instance, I came to this profound realization and suddenly felt as though everything was right in the world, knowing what I had to do.

I visited my parents the following weekend during a break from school. As we were in the car pulling into our driveway I blurted out: “I started eating halal meat!” That was my weird way of laying groundwork and easing the transition to tell them I wanted to wear hijaab. I could hold back no longer, so in between choked sobs and clouded tears, I told them I was going to start wearing hijaab. I might have freaked them out by revealing so much at one time because my father’s instinctive reaction was to ask if I had joined a terrorist group and that I needed to stop hanging around the MSA at my University.

I managed to compose myself and explain where I was coming from, but even then they were trying to convince me to wait until I got married and explained that I was perhaps not ready for it. I acquiesced at the moment, but I already knew in my heart what the final decision would be. As little as I knew about my Deen, I knew enough to know that there was not a force in the world that could stop me from submitting to my Lord. And so I woke up the next morning feeling like superwoman looking for her cape. I stood tall, scarf draped over my chest, wrapped around my head – and I was ready to take on the world.

It has been almost four years and alhamdulilah, I have grown and changed in more ways than I could have ever imagined. I realize more and more, as Imam Ash Shafi’e once said, that without Allah’s Mercy, I could not have done anything.


Submitted to I Got It Covered for our May 2010 reader-takeover month. For more from Heba Youssef, you can read her earlier contribution to IGIC, “Behind the Veil: An Interview.