Red Romanian Scarf

33

Not only do we have the ability to gain knowledge from people and places that we wouldn’t expect, we have the ability share our own knowledge as well, the knowledge of our Deen.

My ears popped. A sigh of relief left me as I peered out the plane window to see red roofs and grey roads. I left the English clouds three hours earlier and was greeted by Romanian rain. However, drizzle wouldn’t dampen my excitement of being in another country for the project which lay ahead.

The trip was for a European school project, which aimed to reduce violence in and around schools. Students from England, Germany, Slovakia, Turkey and Poland had gathered for a four-day meeting in Romania, all with a common-interest – to make change for the better. I was the only Muslim going from England and although, according to Google, the capital of Romania, Bucharest, does have a fair-numbered community of Muslims, I didn’t expect anything like the population of Muslims in my city.

With great anticipation, I walked to the car of the family hosting me as I remembered I left my keys for my suitcase at home. Oops. I communicated this to them with a laugh as they replied with a hand gesture not to worry about it. I stared out the car window, absorbing the culture the streets of Bucharest offered; my excitement couldn’t be contained and was released simply with a huge grin plastered across my face.

Romanian radio, Romanian family, Romanian roads, I was completely and totally immersed in a whole new world (that sounds so Disney), so unlike the comfort of my small city back home.

I was immediately whisked away in the busy activities of the project, immersed in an outlandish environment where spectrums of different cultures were spurting out at every angle. Amongst the dynamic environment of the discussions, I looked around and smiled. I was the only hijabi. Among the hustle of the mall, I caught sight of a few traditionally dressed Romanian gypsies; they wore loosely tied silk scarves on top of their heads and I was suddenly greatly aware that they were the closest to ‘hijabis’ I had seen.

I didn’t know what to expect regarding reactions to my hijab, but a random person did come up to me and say ‘Marhaba,’ – naturally assuming I was Arab. I smiled at them and said ‘Hi’. People asked me how I tied my hijab and that they liked the colours and the bands I wore with it. The mother of the girl who hosted me took a particular interest in my hijab and asked me questions about Islam. She asked what my ‘bible’ was. I explained as best as I could about the Qur’an and even played a recitation of a short surah in the house from my phone. She said she liked it, masha’Allah.

She asked me to show her exactly how I tied my hijab. So I showed her my different bandanas, some silk, some cotton. She stroked them and picked out a pink one. I tied it over my head and then draped a pink tie-dyed headscarf over my head. Her eyes followed the journey of the scarf around my head; around, under, twisted and folded – her eyes amazed with absolute awe. I smiled as I pinned it neatly in place and said ‘Ta-da!’ She clapped and asked me to tie it on her when suddenly I felt overcome with bliss and excitement.

My Romanian host became intrigued in my headbands and pins, while her mother picked out a soft pashmina shawl she fancied. I spread out the fabric and draped it over her wavy mousse hair. I wrapped the shawl around her head and carefully pinned it in place before handing her a mirror. Her smile and expression was that of true happiness and through the glee, which spread through the small apartment, I sighed as I saw how beautiful she looked vividly accompanied with a cheerful smile.

That night, after watching a theatrical performance, we went shopping. The lights of the shopping centre were magnificent and coloured fountains captured my attention while I looked around at the size of the mall. Hand-in-hand, my Romanian host and I visited different shops and boutiques with her mother who still had the same smile on her face. We walked into a small but flamboyant accessories store. I saw a fine, red scarf with gold threads weaved between the netted edges and soft tassels.

That would make a beautiful hijab, I thought with a grin, before delving deeper into the store and running my fingers across a row of silver beads and necklaces.

After a few minutes of glancing at the accessories and deciding not to buy anything, we walked out, before waiting a couple of minutes for my host’s mother to come out from the store. She emerged smiling with a shopping bag and handed it to me wholeheartedly.

‘Mulţumesc,’ I replied in a poor accent, Romanian for thank you.

I opened the bag and peeked in to see the same striking red scarf with gold threads intertwined between the fibres. I felt the soft fabric and thanked my host’s mother from the bottom of my heart for the gift.

The next day, when all the students from the different countries cohered at the partnered school, the Turkish students and their teacher approached me. They told me how girls couldn’t wear the hijab in their schools now – I felt strongly about this and asked how girls cope and about the controversy involved with this enforcement. I found a raging spark ignite when I thought about anyone taking away my right to wear the hijab.

* * *

On the journey back from the trip to the Romanian mountains and entering Bucharest once again, I peered out the window to see something I tend to take for granted in my city in England. I saw a minaret of a mosque. Standing tall, my gaze was captivated by this symbolic structure ceasing me to silence. This symbol of Islam made my heart yearn an Islamic presence, where girls in headscarves are the norm and the words ‘Assalamu Alaykum’ are spoken regularly when meeting someone, even if you don’t know who they are, and when answering the telephone.

We drove away from the minaret and I admit I felt the slightest tinge of missing home – but this thought was quickly diverged when I caught my reflection in the coach window. I, as a hijabi, am also a symbol of Islam. I suddenly felt filled with contentment and came to a conclusion that Islam is my home, a home that is with me everywhere I go. As a hijabi and as a Muslimah, I am never alone because Allah is always with me. Allah knows the depths of my heart and praying to Him is a way of being open and honest to myself as well. Having that bright glowing feeling inside me, I smiled and sat up on my seat to try to speak to a friendly Slovakian girl.

The thought of never being alone and some Slovakian words I was taught lingered in the back of my mind as we made our departing journey, but my mind was too busy thinking about what an amazing trip and opportunity this had been.

* * *

We were going through security at the Romanian airport when the man asked which language I spoke.

‘English,’ I replied.

I placed my bags into the container and emptied my pockets when the man asked me, ‘Can you take this off?’ pointing to his head.

‘No,’ I replied with a peaceful smile as I walked through the metal detector.

* * *

After being scolded a few times by our teacher for being too loud in the sleeping plane, my friends and I watched the videos we made of our trip. I looked out the window to see the view and I remembered this pictorial, while munching on some Oreos and I didn’t sleep the whole flight back.

It was an amazing moment when I took my first step out of the plane and off the stairway to feel the harsh English wind brush and flush my warm cheeks. I took a deep breath and looked up to the sky to see a beautifully clear night. The moon was shining with a magical glow and at that moment, everything felt so right. It wasn’t because I was back in Britain, but because even though I was back in Britain, I had a different mindset, to not depend on my environment to remind me of the light of Islam, but find it and renew it inside of me. Wherever I may be.

Walking into London-Luton Airport to pass through immigration I tried to get my mind around being back in Britain. It felt so surreal. I handed my passport to the woman at the desk and after I made her laugh when I commented on how I liked her glittery nail art, I passed through and walked towards the doors which led me out of international terrain and into Britain as I know it.

The first thing I saw when I opened the doors was a certain woman. I didn’t know her but I’ll never forget her. If I saw this woman a week earlier, I wouldn’t have remembered her. But the first thing I saw was this woman dressed in hijab. That’s how I knew I was home. That’s when hijab showed me home. I couldn’t help saying ‘Alhamdulillah’ and I couldn’t help smiling so widely my cheeks should’ve hurt.

The taxi that was to take us home had already arrived and I saw a car freshener hanging from the rear window with a short surah on it. I sat in the car, tired from the flight – but not wanting to sleep, with so much whizzing through my mind, so much to smile about. When I thought the moment couldn’t become any better, the driver put his car stereo on and my ears were greeted with the sweet sound of a melodic recitation of the Qur’an. At that moment, I felt true to my name, TheSisterWhoSmiles. I smiled so truly, so vividly, alhamdulillah, because of how Islam and hijab showed me to hope for home and showed that Islam and hijab are my home.

I wear my red Romanian scarf regularly and I am always reminded of how hard it was to explain what halal meat was, how they described me and my hijab as exotic and how after my host family had to break open my suitcase and buy another lock and key – I lost the new key again on the way home.

I had learnt things about people and languages I’d never thought could be known and the experience truly planted and produced saplings of change within me which are growing and beautifying the orchard of my character and perfecting the glitter in the sparkle of my smile.

Sisters, Islam should be less about how where you live affects you and more about how you affect where you live with Islam. Keep one fundamental thought within you always: you are never alone and you will always have the strength to smile.

TheSisterWhoSmiles :)

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