To hijab or not…

In essence, a “Muslim” is one who is surrendering, or submitting the will to Allah. However, this journey to align my will with that of Allah has not been an easy road for me!

Through this walk I have come to understand the process of surrendering is not so black and white, as some would like to portray it. Some surrender may come easy, while other things just seems to be much more difficult. This, like much of our path, has a lot to do with how well we have managed to navigate through our childhood traumas, and the subconscious belief patterns we developed as a consequence.

For example, if a trauma we witness as a child goes unresolved into adulthood it can play a huge role in how we make our way through life. Thus, these traumas can be compounded and layered upon one another. As we cling to this unprocessed material, we then create a greater level of resistance to surrender.

In my case I decided to wear the hijab at the tender age of 10. For me this simple piece of cloth on my head was more a symbol of personal validation than any spiritual meaning I would have liked to romanticise. In those days it was unheard for girls of this age in my community to be wearing hijab. My family was not religious but more culturally attached to Islam at this time. My best friend was the local Imam’s daughter and looking back I think she inspired me to wear the hijab because she wore it. I wanted to fit in and feel that sense of personal validation.

Anyway, one day I put it on to the shock and surprise of my family, without any one ever asking me. Every day I put it on for a year or two. I didn’t really understand the religious implications of wearing it. I just wore it because it felt like I was connecting with my friend. Then a year or two later I took it off. I don’t remember why. After that, I just couldn’t put the hijab back on. Ironically, with time my family became more religious, while I went the other way.

Again, I’m not sure what happened. Something just put me off. I have been trying to connect the dots now and trying to find healing, but it has taken me a while.

What I do remember is my family was more culturally religious and not really Islamically aware. Consequently, they displayed a lot of ignorance and lack of understanding regarding correct adab and the proper character of a Muslim.

I was raised with double standards and cultural biases that often contradicted the message of Islam. On top of that, I was sent to the mosque to learn the Qur’an. The mosque soon became a place of deep traumas for me. It is where I would see children lined up like a factory line, with very poor educators screaming and shouting and even physically abusing children into submission.

Unfortunately, there was one Imam who I feel had a perverse nature and would touch little girls a little too uncomfortably when aligning them for Salaah. Overall, the madrasa was a complete disaster and moved me away from religion. I was being taught that God only punishes, and this is primarily all that we would hear. There was not much positive emphasis on the attributes of Ar Rahman or Ar Rahim. Rather, the focus was more on how we were going to be punished if we failed to do this or that.

These Imams even went so far as to justify physical abuse. There was one incident of a boy who was badly beaten up and the justification the Imam gave to the parents was that if an imam hits a child then that part of the child’s body would go to Heaven! Religion being the ‘opium’ of the people, drugging the masses into submission comes to mind here. Sadly, many elderly members of my community not only believed such errant nonsense, but taught their children that being physically abused by the Imam was an act of mercy!

In my mind, I began to slowly develop cognitive dissonance. I couldn’t understand why we are expected to follow this God who seems so angry and just wants to punish us for everything. How were we to adore and worship one who seemed to cruel, having His minions working for him in this world to torment us? It just didn’t make any sense why we were expected follow blindly and just accept such injustice.

I put on the hijab completely innocently and from a place of love at the age of 10. The love to connect with my friend. However, when I began to associate the headscarf with the same God that punishes, I became restless inside. It just did not sit well with me. I just couldn’t submit to this angry God.

Those two years, I tried so hard to be a very loving and obedient daughter. I would help with household chores, etc. But secretly, I felt like I was never really appreciated. My efforts were not being validated. This, combined with an angry God that doesn’t seem to be pleased with any of my efforts began to shift my perspective about that headscarf. It began taking on a negative meaning with this shift in my perception.

Internally I swallowed this cognitive dissonance and carried on for many more years struggling in trying to connect how Allah can be merciful and compassionate, when everyone around me focuses on an angry God. Eventually I took off the hijab.

In hindsight, the fact that my friend and I were separated in class and saw less and less of each might have also been a contributor.

What started as an innocent act of love, was eventually transformed through negative social influences and poor conditioning. The hijab began to represent ‘oppression’ for me. This clearly is a subjective experience as it stems from my own traumas. However, had I received the validation and guidance at the prime age when I first donned the traditional attire, and had the correct teaching of Islam been given to demonstrate God’s love to me, then I would probably not have ended up attaching such deep traumas and resentments to wearing the hijab.

In my community, as people began to move towards ‘outwardly’ looking religious, I found the hypocrisy and double standards to remain. Whilst spending ridiculous money on weddings, displaying extravagance, wasting food, even committing cultural acts that took people out of the folds of Islam, it was all accepted so long as culturally it was ‘allowed.’

Later wearing the hijab became a popular cultural trend– to ensure your daughter appears religious enough to find a suitable spouse– regardless of whether she is actually religious.

It was common to witness girls getting dropped off to school in their hijab but, by the time the parents would leave, the scarf went off and the cigarettes were lit, as lessons were missed, and secret boyfriends were tended to. Then upon school closing time, the perfect Muslim daughter would get back in her parents’ car, with her fully wrapped hijab. It was as if she could not even hurt a fly. I only wonder what cognitive dissonance those girls had to deal with and where they are today, mentally and spiritually. Have they managed to find the essence of Islam; or are they still living secret lives, double lives, or simply lies?

It took me a very long time to surrender and come into alignment with Allah’s will where the hijab was concerned. It really wasn’t until I healed the parts of myself that felt unlovable and deeply wounded that I slowly began to re-embrace the hijab. Reciting the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate, ‘Bismillahir Rahman ir Raheem’ dhikr continuously as I struggled with this at last resulted in a break-through! I brought conscious awareness of what my subconscious blockages were, affirming the truth so that falsehood could be dispelled. I fought and fought, while the ego resisted and could not surrender to Haqq.

Hamdu’llah! Only Allah can open our hearts and liberate us from our deep wounds! Each one of us is fighting a battle that someone else may not understand or know.

In this Sufi path, I am continuously reminded to not judge. Instead, I am taught to have compassion towards my siblings in faith and make du’a if I know of their struggle. We are all carrying around traumas that run deep. Many a times we may act in conflict with what we feel. This may be out of fear, or because of some deep-rooted unresolved issues of which we are not even aware. This is where we need to heal. We need to heal our traumas in loving kindness towards ourselves.

The paradigm of judgement is over. We need to transcend judgement towards ourselves or others and recognise that we all have deep wounds that we are carrying. Some of us may have brought some to the surface, while others may be completely unaware of any of them. Nevertheless, we are all on this spiritual journey together and life will teach us through our trials and tests, bringing us into surrender and submission. How long each person’s journey takes is dependant on how well they heal their wounds. Therefore, let us be gentle with one another on this journey. Tread on this Earth gently, walk gracefully, and speak compassionately.

May Peace be Upon you All.

–Rahma

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