I always thought there was something wrong with women who wore the niqab. Why on earth would one go into isolation by covering every part of her body and especially the face? Did the niqabi think that she was a superior Muslim, one who had attained true salvation?
That’s what I thought before I interacted with niqabis. I was averse to them, and I always thought that they were the “extremists” everybody talked about.
Honestly speaking, I was wrong, and I was a victim of my own ignorance. Born and raised in a life of comfort and luxury, I had forgotten that there was a world beyond designer clothes, shoes, and make up; a world where true beauty meant character and a beautiful heart. Perhaps I was walking on a path whose architects were the type of people who were never satisfied with anything.
I was a slave of the world.
I knew where to get the best food, clothes, and accessories, but I didn’t know where to get a good character. Wherever I went, many men would look at my face twice, and since that was the criterion of how people dealt with me, it worked perfectly for me. At one time, I even wanted to be a fashion model when I grew up, but being Muslim was the only barrier.
My paradigm shift came when my friends tried to get me to do things that would displease Allah. I was betrayed and shattered by their behaviour. So I cried to Him; day and night I cried; eating and bathing I cried. I only made one du’a, a du’a from the heart – I prayed to Allah for good company.
Hence my journey to the beauty of Islam began. He blessed me with some of His followers who made me realize the beauty and significance of hijab.
I took baby steps as advised by one of my friends, FH, and after the piece of cloth was on my head, I wore an abaya. But my baby steps didn’t end there, for an abaya was still too little for what I wanted to achieve. I attended some classes on spirituality, and there I met the most amazing people I’d met on earth – niqabis.
They had the most beautiful hearts. Their character helped me refute those claims I had made about niqabis all my life. These were all well educated women, professionals from prestigious universities, and they were not isolated in any sense. Each of them played an essential role in society. Some were doctors, some were full-time mothers, and others were architects, lawyers, and teachers.
I fell in love with these women. For whenever I saw them, I always got a chance to look within myself and evaluate my heart. What was my relationship with God whom I loved so much? I wanted to become a niqabi, but at the same time I knew that my face veil would turn me into a stranger in the eyes of the world.
I asked a lot of my friends for advice, and they told me to make niyyah (intention) and leave the rest to God, and so I did that. I had to crush my desires, I had to step on my ego, and I had to do things differently. My friends helped me a lot. One of them pointed out that any man who saw my face could keep a mental picture of me. This thought was a shocker since I had removed all my pictures from Facebook so that men couldn’t bug me.
I also asked my friend, MJ, if the niqab was obligatory, and she told me how she didn’t get involved in the fiqh issues, but did it for love of the Lord of the Universe. I asked myself if I loved God enough that I would dress for Him, and the answer my heart gave me was not in the affirmative. I was upset, but I didn’t stop praying to Him.
I prayed to Him for guidance, I prayed to Him for righteousness, I prayed to him for modesty, I prayed to Him to make me live up to my name, Maryam, and I prayed for His love. My du’as gave me so much strength that the same day I went to an Islamic shop and bought myself a face veil and wore it right there.
I didn’t tell anyone, not even my family. My mother was at a family tea party, and I decided to disclose my niqabiness there. The result wasn’t pleasing. My dear mother stopped talking to me; perhaps she feared that I would remain single for life. I felt homeless, miserable, and alone. My father didn’t know because he didn’t live with us, and at that time, there was too much friction between us to go to him for help. My friends told me to treat my mother even more nicely than before, to never hurt her, and to be extremely kind to her.
It was a difficult time. While at home, I would cry in my room and pray to God for support. I would spend much of my time in the Masjid.
One day I happened to go to a family brunch, and when one of my uncles saw me, he mocked, insulted, and shouted at me. He told me that I had joined some “mad women club.” All I did was smile under my niqab and assure myself that he loved me and said that only impulsively. My dad was there too, so my uncle told him to keep a check on me as though I had joined a terrorist group or something.
Alhamdulillah, my dad supported me, and somehow I felt that the friction between us two was melting away. I was intimidated by my uncle and decided to stop going to places where he was present. When he invited me and my family for dinner, I decided to skip it.
I called my dad and told him that I wasn’t going. He told me not to be afraid of anyone and that I had taken the right step. Islam stays the same no matter if sometimes people refuse to practice it. My dad told me that he was proud of me and that I had the support of the Lord of the Universe.
So I went to my uncle’s place, and he asked me if I thought that I was better than everyone else. When he repeatedly shouted at me, misquoted me when I defended myself, and refused to understand what I was saying, I felt like someone had stepped on my heart.
I couldn’t stand there anymore as fat tears rolled down my cheeks. I rushed home and cried like a baby. Then, my mum came home and hugged me. Her hug after days of silent treatment meant a lot. She told me that she defended me at my uncle’s and that I hadn’t done anything wrong.
The aftermath of the niqab was that I learned to focus on my character. I became even closer with my mum, and the barriers of communication between me and my dad ended. I learned not to judge people. I learned to be patient. Now when I look in the mirror, I tell myself to be on my best behaviour wherever I go instead of focusing on my outer beauty.
My niqab is my safeguard; it reminds me that my heart belongs to God, and that He is the only one who deserves my sincerity and love. I am not afraid of the world and all the comments people throw at me anymore. I remind myself that people have been imprisoned by others, but I am a free woman who can dress to please my Lord and not His creation.
Islam gave me a right to live my life in a very honourable and respectable way. Islam taught me to love myself. It taught me that the beauty given to me by God was a gift not to be exploited, that I was not chattel who would be manipulated by others, that there was more to me than my looks, and that I had a brain that worked perfectly and an intellect that differentiated between what was right and what wasn’t.
We forget our purpose in life. Our sole purpose is to obey Him, for He didn’t create us for any other reason. I am on a journey to the Hereafter. Perhaps you might be averse to the way I dress, but I want you to realize that it’s time we transcend trivial issues like our dress and focus on more important issues like loving Allah ta’ala and emulating Prophet Muhammad sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. Niqab, hijab, and abaya are all secondary.
What’s more important is to understand the purpose of our creation. Once we do that, then all the secondary things will fall into place inshaAllah. This life is transient and takes only a few hours in comparison to life in the Hereafter. For Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala reminds us in Surah Yunus Verse 45:
And on the Day when He will gather them, [it will be] as if they had remained [in the world] but an hour of the day, [and] they will know each other. Those will have lost who denied the meeting with Allah and were not guided.
Beauty doesn’t last forever, what lasts forever is good character and obedience to Allah ta’ala – for if we train our limbs now to obey Him, it will be much easier for us when we grow older.