Are You Standing Tall?


When all the world turns against you for doing the right thing, learn to contently live the life of a stranger.

When I heard girls talking about their hijab anniversaries, I kept silent about mine although I had been a hijabi for over a decade.

What accounted for my silence were my sins. I wished I could become a true hijabi one day, but everything kept holding me back – sometimes it was my friends, sometimes my family, and sometimes the TV, but most of the time it was my nafs. So one day, I sincerely asked Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala for haya; something I never thought of asking Him for before, perhaps because I thought I had enough of it already.

I cried to the Rabb when everyone was asleep; on the balcony, staring at the sky, the moon, the stars, assuring myself that my Rabb was there and listening to my call, I asked Him to make me a steadfast Muslimah, one who was a hijabi, not just from her appearance, but also from her heart, her words and her deeds – a hijabi in her private sphere as well as in the company of people.

SubhanAllah, I didn’t know how easy it would be. My mother had to do some Eid shopping and we entered a shop where the first thing my eyes saw was a abaya. I looked at it and asked myself if I was ready to give up my party lifestyle for a abaya – a abaya that would replace my three-quarter sleeved shirts and kameezes, my jeans and translucent shalwars, my accessories, the company I hung out with, my accounts on social sites, dealing with non-mahram brothers both online and in public, and my treatment of my parents. This whole list seemed like a major jihad-an-nafs, but then a voice inside me comforted me by saying that this life is jihad, submission of my desires to my Rabb. So I pushed those thoughts away, said bismillah and purchased my first abaya – an investment that would pay me dividends in this life and the Hereafter insha’Allah.

I wore my abaya in public, and it wasn’t a very pleasant experience. Someone shouted out to me, ‘Hey, are you one of the Matrix people now?’ Someone called me a Talibani, “Become normal Maryam- what’s wrong with you?” Someone suggested that I become less religious because then I would have to get married to a maulvi – the stares, the looks, the taunts pierced my heart like arrows, but I lowered my gaze and said subhanAllah. I assured my nafs that this was for His sake only.

Once I took my brothers out for ice cream. As we entered the shop, I saw a group of college students, girls and guys, staring at me as though I was an alien or a criminal. I glanced at them, and my nafs said, “Maryam, you used to be normal looking like them.  Take off this abaya, reveal your hair, show your skin, wear make-up, go out with non-mahrams.” But then I lowered my gaze, said SubhanAllah, and told my nafs that this was to please my Creator, that this life was transient, and that it should be lived in His submission.

That night I went for taraweeh with my brother to Dr. Israr’s Masjid (may Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala have mercy on his soul and forgive all his sins ameen) in Model Town, Lahore. When we were done with eight rakahs, I was about to go downstairs where my brother would be waiting for me in the car, but he texted me that he would be a bit late because he had met some friends and he wanted ten minutes with them. As I waited in the masjid and looked around, an old woman sitting on a chair near the wall called me towards her. I went to her, and she asked me where I came from and said that I was doing an excellent job by coming for taraweeh. Then another woman joined us, this time a younger one, and we exchanged salams. I asked them who they were and if they were related to Dr. Israr Ahmed, and they replied that it could be said they were. When I persisted, they smiled, and the younger one said, “This is my mother and his wife, and I am his daughter.” I held the old woman’s hand and told her how fortunate she was. She smiled and said that may Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala accept all that we have done for His sake.

Her daughter started talking to me. She advised me to use the Qur’an as a book of guidance and told me to stick to it, reading it not just in Ramadan but every single day in the eleven months that followed and subsequently implementing what it said in my life. She told me “is dunya main ik ajnabi ki tarha rehna” – live this life as a stranger and you will be successful in both this world and the Hereafter. I kept sobbing as she talked to me, big fat tears rolling down my cheeks. She told me that only a minority obeys Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and said that one should always be in the company of the righteous so that one doesn’t feel lonely or sad while treading on the sirat al-mustaqeem. She said that I should join weekly classes at the Masjid and also said that we should keep in contact through the phone.

After our conversation, I went downstairs, tears rolling down my cheeks, sat in the car and asked myself, “How did she know what was on my mind? How did she know that I was struggling with my deen? How did she know that I wanted support?” I kept crying and thanked Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. He never leaves us alone. He is always with us. And subhan’Allah, after that entire abaya struggle, He gave me courage through some of the righteous people masha’Allah. This encounter reminded me of what Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has said:

And keep yourself (O Muhammad) patiently with those who call on their Lord (i.e. your companions who remember their Lord with glorification, praising in prayers, etc., and other righteous deeds, etc.) morning and afternoon, seeking His Face, and let not your eyes overlook them, desiring the pomp and glitter of the life of the world; and obey not him whose heart We have made heedless of Our Remembrance, one who follows his own lusts and whose affair (deeds) has been lost. And say, “The truth is from your Lord, so whoever wills – let him believe; and whoever wills – let him disbelieve.”

[Surah al-Kahf, 18: 28-29]

Now I am standing tall wearing that abaya. The taunts don’t stop, and the stares keep coming, but one thing never leaves you: Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. If He is in our hearts then it doesn’t matter if the whole world is against us – we didn’t commit any crime by following His commandments, dressing modestly, and thinking about Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala night and day. On the other hand, those people who mock us should be ashamed of themselves in their negligence of remembering God, going out on dates and wearing the most revealing clothes. So ask yourself who should be ashamed of themselves? If you are ashamed of being a Muslim and practicing Islam, then you should be ashamed of yourself. It’s time to stand tall.