Use Your Gifts


Guest writer Amna Hasan shares with us the events and reflections of an interesting day.

Image courtesy of Ummanaal

It all happened on exam day. I noted that perhaps I was the only one in the examination hall who didn’t look that tense. Well, I was a little nervous but of course, I tried not to show that. I sat with both my hands at the back of my head and watched the panicking girls around me. It was fun. My fun didn’t last long though, as the invigilator started distributing our exam papers. However, even that didn’t put off my mood. I was more amused at the sight of the extraordinary reactions of my classmates but it all soon changed when the invigilator gave the paper to a girl next to me. She looked at me and smiled. I could tell that she had a few things to talk to me about but before she came to me, a voice boomed into the hall.

“May I have your attention, please?”

All heads turned around to see the speaker. There was a stern-looking teacher standing at the door with her hands on her waist. She didn’t look very happy.

“Let it be known to everyone that no one is allowed to write the exam with a hijab on!” she declared.

Exclamations could be heard from all corners. I was horrified –what, without hijab?!  I hadn’t even done my hair today, I was in such hurry because of my exam. (Note: Our classroom was all-girls)

Still I scolded myself for thinking that way and angrily asked the teacher, “I don’t see why a hijab makes a difference now. We have always written  our exams with our hijabs on and it was totally okay!”

She shook her head, “The Dean gave strict orders. We just caught a girl trying to cheat with her hijab. She had headphones on and everything was recorded in a MP3 Player that she had hidden somewhere.”

“Well,” I snapped, “Then check our ears but we won’t take it off.”

The invigilator who was also my teacher hurriedly took my side, “Yes, of course, I’ll check all the hijabi girls.”

“NO! They just aren’t allowed. We have considered this problem and now we are making sure that no men come near the examination hall but you girls ARE NOT ALLOWED TO WEAR THE HIJAB!” She yelled the last part and then went away.

My teacher, after muttering something went out of the examination hall, perhaps to talk to someone about this absurd idea. There was chaos in the hall. The few hijabis exchanged worried looks. We knew that the whole keeping-men-away deal never worked. Someone always had to walk in by ‘mistake’. Despite that I attended a women-only university, there were still a lot of men there. I gave up easily, muttering to myself and slowly took off my hijab. My hair was static and totally messed up. I sighed. This was going to be a really bad day.

I patted it down and fixed it as much as I could. I was aware that all the girls were staring at me but I didn’t have the energy to glare back at them. By then my teacher was back. She announced to the class, “Look, I have gone and checked myself. They have seriously made arrangements. Those who wear hijab can safely take it off… we will guard you.” With that she laughed.

I had to smile despite my sour mood. The teacher came back to her position. She looked over the class and then she frowned, “Where did Amna go?” She asked, confused.

I waved my hand, “I’m right where I was, Ma’am!”

She looked at me and then her eyes widened, “Oh wow, Amna, you look so…”  she paused, “…changed. I couldn’t even recognize you.”  I grinned at her. It was the first time she had seen me without my hijab.

Then it was time for us to start our exam. I forgot all about the hijab affair and was writing away all I knew. After three whole hours when I finally finished, I handed it in and stepped out of the examination hall. I was met by a little crowd of my friends. They looked eager and excited. Upon seeing me, they all started talking at once.

“Look, you promised that you would show us your hair.”

“Oh God, you looked so different! I couldn’t believe my eyes!”

I sighed and took my hijab out of my bag. Without a word, I started to put it back on my head –where it belonged.

“NOOO!!!” they all cried in unison. I stopped and looked at them surprised. “No what?”

“Oh just let us see your hair for once.”

I wasn’t in a mood to argue so I simply said, “Okay, find me a men-free zone.”

They already had a place in mind and quickly dragged the unwilling hijabi behind them. When we finally reached an empty class, they all poured in it and shut the door behind them. I still couldn’t see why all this excitement was just for seeing someone’s hair. Anyhow, I let them have their time of day. There was nothing exceptional  about my hair yet I received a fair share of praise and then awkwardly put it back in place. I was putting my hijab on when I heard a comment worth-mentioning:

“It’s a shame, Amna that you hide hair like that. Its such a pity that folks out there can’t see this beauty.”

This didn’t flatter me. I sniffed disdainfully and looked scornfully at that girl, “Well, I don’t call that a shame or pity. My hair isn’t display material to be looked at and admired.” I was finished with my hijab and then fixed my niqab on my face and picked up my bag.

“Anyway, I’ve got to head home now.” I said tonelessly. This day had started and ended bad.

The girl continued without even realizing that her comment had offended me, “I mean look, you even wear niqab when you are so pretty. I always feel sad when pretty girls wear niqab.”

Normally, I’m patient when it comes to handling these sort of comments but for some weird reason that day my patience was worn thin. I dropped my bag and faced her rather angrily, “So, you’re trying to say that only ugly girls should wear niqab.” I hoped that my eyes could tell her how annoyed I was.

“Well, no.” The girl said after a while, “but still, pretty girls should be grateful for what Allah has given them and use it.”

“USE IT?!” I was outraged, “and how do you suppose I use pretty hair and a pretty face?”

“It has an effect, you know,” she continued without any shame. “You could prosper in your career and get what you want with all that charm, wherever you go.”

I opened my mouth to tell her off when suddenly I stopped. Her confident face showed that she truly believed in her ignorant ideologies. I suddenly felt sorry for her and decided to deal with it calmly. “Well,” I asked her, “how would you like it if you applied for a job that you rightly deserved on the basis of your merit only to have that position be taken by a girl with a better smile?”

She didn’t even need to think before answering, “I would be outraged. That wouldn’t be fair.”

“But that’s natural.” I replied sweetly, “You see, Allah gifted her with that beautiful smile, she used it and gained an effect on the potential employer and ta-da!”

She was serious, “but that’s not fair. The employer should concentrate more on the merit and experience of the candidate.” She frowned, “But whose kidding who? Most employers fall for that stuff. It’s appealing.”

I nodded eagerly. “Now imagine, if that girl was covered. Unless the potential employer was kind of biased about hijabis/niqabis, he or she would have judged the candidate based on quality. The merit and experience is what he or she would use for making a decision because there wouldn’t be these ‘charms’ to lead him or her astray from a just decision. All that Allah commands is for our own good, you know.”

“Maybe…” she was thinking but then she resolutely declared. “I still think beauty shouldn’t be hidden away like that. I feel sorry for covered girls.”

I sighed and then replied tersely, “then I’m afraid covered girls don’t really need your sorrow or pity. Those who cover, do it for the pleasure of God.” I picked up my bag and then turned to leave, “I really must run now or else I’ll miss my bus. Later then, bye.” I left.

Later that night, I stood in front my mirror and critically assessed myself. I was a normal girl; not exactly the celebrity-kind neither was I hideously ugly. I still had many things about my face and hair that I could be grateful for, in fact I should be grateful for everything I have. Everything I had was what my Creator had fashioned and it all was where and how it should have been perfectly, if not the way society believed as perfect.

Yet suddenly something made me pause. I looked at my hair, healthy and nourished, then suddenly there was an image in front of my eyes. It was the image of my tear-stained face, a few years back, looking at my hair in the mirror. It had been getting unhealthier due to heavy hair fall. I had done all I could have to stop the hair from falling but Allah had Willed otherwise. I remembered the helpless feeling I had over something that I claimed as mine. There was nothing I could do, it was beyond my control.

Another image flashed before me. It was the image of my worried face peering at the awful pimples that had taken over my face. All the measures that I had taken to remove them had failed. There was nothing I could do, it was beyond my control.

I looked back at my reflection. No pimples and my hair was better. It was funny how things that I owned and called as mine could be so out of my control. I realized then that they weren’t mine; they were Allah’s gifts that He had given me in my life in this temporary world.

Contentment and peace filled my heart; there was no better reason to cover up than what I discovered right then. My hair, my face and my body weren’t mine to claim. Everything I had belonged to Him and the best way to use what He had gifted me with was the way He was pleased with.

To Him we belong and to Him we return. After that tiring day, I realized that the best way to return to Him as a woman was to live a life of modesty, pretty or not. For the things we are proud of are so temporary that they slip out our hands even during our lives, so why not ‘use’ them (till we have them) for earning the pleasure of He who gifted us everything? Why not cover up?