At the Border


At the crossroads of a difficult situation, sticking to what’s right always pays off… even if it takes us a while to realize it.

Last month I attended the Ilm Fest conference held by Al Maghrib in Downtown Toronto. The people, venue, and lectures were amazing, and upon leaving the conference I was in a content and peaceful state of mind. As it happens, I was supposed to drive with my cousin to New York right after the last lecture ended, so after it finished, I hopped into the car without taking off the beautiful black abaya I had worn for the day, and we began our two-hour drive south when it was well late into the night.

At around midnight, we reached the border between Canada and the U.S. While I presumed that we would pass relatively easily like we always did, for the first time in my life, the American security guards told us to pull over because they wanted to search the car as a cautionary routine check. We were told to wait inside the compound, and I remember when the officer opened the passenger door for me to exit the car, a slight pang of regret filled me as I realized I was still wearing my black abaya. I should have taken it off! I thought. I hated to admit that I felt uneasy and a little self-conscious wearing an abaya in front of the border officers, even more so that it was a conspicuous shade of black. It didn’t look right… I reasoned to myself. What if they think I’m guilty of something, or worse, my family? They obviously know I am Muslim. Negative thoughts began clouding every inch of my mind; the fact that my cousin was a non-hijabi and would probably easily slip under the radar while I would have to endure all the intrusive questions.

More than once, I thought about quickly slipping out of it. I was wearing proper clothes underneath, after all, so it’s not like it would matter. But for some reason, every time I came across that idea, something held me back and I grudgingly remained wearing it. Why did it even matter? I finally decided, so I clutched my hands in my lap, took a deep breath, and waited for them to come over to us.

We were asked standard questions: where were we going, what were we doing, who are we, where do we live, and how do we know each other. They told us that they were performing random checks on cars tonight so we needn’t worry, and assured us with a smile. It was after that that I relaxed and began to look around.

We were seated in a large area with several gray chairs and a counter and office at the front. There were several offices to the back, and the sight of heavily-armed officers patrolling the area was slightly intimidating. To my left, I noticed a sound-proof glass room in which two officers were interrogating a middle-aged woman. She looked utterly distraught; her hair was a mess, the strap of her white tank top was slipping off her shoulders, she kept rubbing her eyes and appeared as though she was slurring. She was either drunk or on drugs, I concluded.

“Hey… look,” I leaned in and elbowed my cousin. “They’re questioning her!” We watched as the lady continued to crumble under the officers’ glare. Eventually she began crying a little. I saw one officer glance exasperatingly towards the other, and then they both stood up and said something to the woman, who stood up as well. They opened the door for her, and she stumbled out of the room and walked slowly across the hall with the officers behind her. It was right then that I saw one officer take a look at her rear-end, smirk, and motion to the officer beside him. They both did that for a second time and continued to ogle her with covetous smirks and smug looks etched across their faces as she walked in front of them, completely oblivious to what was happening behind her. It was as if she was naked to them, and they did nothing to restrain their glances.

“Oh my God did you SEE that?!” My cousin whispered to me, incredulous. I felt disgusted. That woman was in such a sorry state and those officers had completely taken advantage of her. It was also at that moment that I had never felt so grateful to be wearing an abaya. They would have never done that to me… I thankfully realized, and for the first time I appreciated the sense of safety and comfort that wearing a hijab and abaya brings to oneself.

Alhumdulillah for Islam, I thought. Alhumdulillah for the hijab. Alhumdulillah for the beautiful verses in the Qur’an that instruct men to lower their gaze and for women to guard their modesty. Right there, in front of my eyes, lay the lucid example of what happened when that command was not fulfilled.

The Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wasallam said that the eyes commit zina (adultery), and that their zina is gazing. While a woman cannot control the gaze of others, it her duty as a Muslim to cover herself and dress modestly, and while the initial reason behind it is that it is done for the sake of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, it also protects her from illicit acts committed by men in situations such as this.

As I watched the woman and two men walk outside into the night, I made a silent prayer and thanked Allah for protecting me from Shai’taan’s evil whisperings to take off my abaya just moments before, and for giving me the courage to leave it on. Sometimes we may not see the benefit of something, whether it is a single act or a general command, but it is important to realize that Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala knows what is best for us, and it is in that affirmative knowledge that we should put our trust.

After all,

“…Indeed, Allah loves those who rely [upon Him]” (Quran, 3:159).