Dare to be Free


Guest writer Bint Yousuf details her friend’s journey towards finding inner freedom.

A smile in passing, an “Assalamu ‘alaykum” when our paths would cross and an occasional “whats-up-with-you?” was the limit of our contact.

However, towards the end of our first year of university together, that changed. In class, attendance was low since we were nearing the time of our term exams. Often a few of us would loiter in the back of the lecture hall and talk about every conceivable matter: talks of the Sahabah, dowries and extravagant weddings, deceiving appearances, what we heard in a lecture, and  amazing incidents from the lives of people who had tawakkul upon Allah. Our talks together  felt out of this world. Just as the teacher would walk out, we would instantly draw closer and immerse ourselves in iman-lifting, thought-provoking conversations.

We were changing. Together.

Being a niqabi, my change was more internal, while hers was a mix of both. Pre-university years, she was the very definition of a high-society party girl. Tights, drop-shoulder shirts, intermingling, high-fives, gossiping, back-biting –the regular stuff. I didn’t know her then, but apparently she was a lot different. It’s hard to believe that though, as I now know her to be the sweetest, friendliest person imaginable.

Once she had gone to the cinema with her friends in just such an outfit, when an auntie asked her to wear a scarf on her head. She carelessly draped it on, not really thinking about it. Later, she felt eyes on her. People were laughing at her, wearing hijab with such clothes. She felt really hurt.

When she started university, she decided she’d cover her hair and dress modestly –at least within the bounds of university. Outside, she felt conflicted. Her friends weren’t really the sort to accept this change of hers, and neither were her family.

Second year started. We started listening to Islamic lectures together. Sometimes we’d even sit in the library just to read  the Tafseer of the Qur’an together.

One day, she walks up to me and a group of friends and points at her eyebrows. She had stopped getting them plucked! She looked very delighted, too. We hugged and congratulated her. She said it had just stopped mattering.

A few days later, while sitting together with her and another friend who wore an abaya,  she was telling us about how this girl she knew had gone to a popular spot in Karachi and had been mistaken for a “not-so-good” girl. She admitted that had really scared her….  As we shifted onto another topic, and with a million thoughts swirling in my head, I finally asked her: so what’s stopping you from taking that next step?

She looked at me, speechless.

After a moments of screaming silence, with a new light in her eyes,  she could say nothing.

“Has not the time come for the hearts of those who believe to be affected by Allah’s Reminder…?” (57:16)

She messages me the next morning, before class: she wanted to start wearing the abaya! Apparently, that question had left its mark on her. Having admitted that there was nothing stopping her as such, she was eager to plunge ahead. However, her friends were discouraging her saying she was taking things too quickly, and to first focus on changing herself internally and all that. She really wanted to start though. I hurriedly texted her a reply:

Only you know when you are ready. People will always talk, but it’s the pleasure of Allah that’s important. And eventually, you’ll see. Allah SWT will put love and acceptance into other people’s hearts as well. Go for it!

I told her what made my sister take the next step. She was sitting in a lecture during her Hajj. The Sheikh  had made a du’aa: Oh Allah, we wish to adorn ourselves with the uniform, the outer appearance of a Muslim. So too adorn our insides with the character of a Muslim.

We should do what we can, I thought; whatever it is that we are ready for at this moment, and to not delay it even a second. And leave the rest to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.

She replies, “I know I am ready. I was planning to start in third year, but who knows whether I’ll be alive till then. If I want to swim, I’ll never learn unless I get into the pool first. Insha Allah, I’ll start and hope for the best.”

She wore an abaya the next day. Inspired by her, another of our classmates who had wanted to start for a long time but didn’t have the courage to do it alone- came wearing an abaya too. They looked gorgeous. Sweet and innocent, with an inner glow. It was a wonderful day. We were on a iman high. And it was Ramadan.

I was so happy for them; for the start of their journey to attaining the pleasure of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.

Her family ridiculed and mocked her. The first day she wore it, everyone took a turn to comment on her. She cried in front of her mom that day, and later in front of us. Her sister would comment, when she was going out to an iftaar party wearing perfume: “Huh! So you’re wearing perfume?!” Another time, when she was planning to visit UK, her sister would mockingly ask her, “So what will you wear there?” With tears in her eyes, she’d exclaim to us: why do people expect me to be perfect overnight?

Once, she was advising one of her hijabi friends in class how it is just not okay to talk to guys so freely. It really touched me how sweetly, entreatingly, she was saying: “Listen you know me. You know how I was. And now I’m not like that anymore, I feel so good. It feels so right inside.”

Once she came up to me and told me how she wore an abaya to her first big gathering. A lot of people appreciated her step, but one auntie was like, “Hmm, this isn’t fun… oh well, its okay. You’re just going through a phase. Even my daughter in Ohio went through a two-year abaya period. She got over it.”

With that light in her eye, she said to me: “I will not get over it. I don’t understand how anyone can.”

Hijab isn’t just something on the outside. And she’s taken that to heart. To give another example of how ready she was to change, she told me, “I know I cant shake hands with my brother-in-law anymore. Or uncles. But I don’t know what to do when they approach me. I just sort of shuffle my hands and hold them close to give them a hint.”

Her brother-in-law even said to her, “Hey so now you’re not going to celebrate your birthday, right? I hope it means you’ll still give us presents when its ours.”

That got me thinking: inside, we all really do know what’s right and what isn’t, but we  just aren’t willing to accept it. We know there’s one God and that we obey Him because that’s what’s right; why don’t we just embrace it?

So are you ready to take that next step? It won’t be easy, or hey –it just may be a joy ride if you’ve got the support! But remember this: insha Allah it will be oh-so-worth-it in the end.

“And whosoever is conscious of Allah, He will make a way for him to get out (from every difficulty). And He will provide him from (sources) he never could imagine. And whoever puts his trust in Allah, then He will suffice him. Verily, Allah will accomplish His purpose. Indeed Allah has sent a measure for all things.” (65:2-3)