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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 9    Issue 23   16-30 April 2015

An American Non-Muslim Hijabi Shares her Story

Amanda lives in Sacramento, California. She is a recent graduate of the University of Utah where she earned a B.A. in International Studies and Arabic. Amanda intends to pursue a Ph.D. in World Cultures.

I am an American non-Muslim woman who has chosen to wear the hijab. Yes, you did read that correctly! I am not conducting an experiment on what the hijab is like or trying to explore the lives of Muslims. I have made a permanent life decision to only show my face and hands while in public, and I love it!

When I was younger, I found the hijab to be beautiful, but unfortunately I thought that a lot of the myths about the hijab were true, and so I was daunted by it. When I started college I studied Arabic and made friends with the Muslim students in my classes. A few of the girls wore a hijab, and even though I liked the look of it and respected their right to wear it, I thought that it was oppressive.

Unfortunately, around the same time, I began to notice that some of the men at my university would openly speak about their female classmates as though they were moving pieces of meat. I would often have to hear stories that I rather wouldn’t about what these boys would like to do to this girl or that one, and I began to notice their looks. Before entering university, I would catch men looking at me in an inappropriate way from time to time, and I would just ignore it, but after hearing these conversations and feeling their many looks, I couldn’t just ignore it anymore.

I mentioned how I felt to some of my classmates, and often I got responses like “boys will be boys,” or “it’s just their biology, they can’t help their behavior.” At the time, I bought these responses, and I thought that my discomfort was just my problem. I thought that these people had a right to behave the way they were, and I had no right to try and stop them.

Finally, one day I saw one of my hijabi friends at school and ran over to say hi to her. She started to walk towards me, and for some reason I was just struck by her. She was wearing a scarf and an abayaa like she normally did, but in that moment she looked regal and powerful. In my mind I thought, “Wow, I want to look just like that.” I started researching the hijab, and I learned more about why Muslims wear a hijab, what makes a hijab a hijab, and how to wrap scarves. I watched youtube videos, browsed online hijab shops (including Haute Hijab) and the more I saw the more I was impressed by how these hijabi women exuded class and elegance. I wanted so much be like these women, and couldn’t get the hijab out of my mind. I even started dreaming about it!

There were many things I liked about the hijab. I liked the thought of having so much control over my body and how the outside world saw it, but what I also liked was how well it fit with my feminist beliefs. As a feminist I believe that women and men should be equals in society, and that the norm of treating women like sex objects is a form of unequal and unfair treatment.

Women in American society are looked down upon if they don’t dress in order to be attractive for others, but I believe that women shouldn’t have to conform to some ridiculous and unattainable standard of beauty. The hijab is a way to be free of that.

However, the way the hijab best complemented my feminist beliefs was how it was about so much more than women’s clothing. As I understood it, the hijab is about how men and women should interact while in public. Men also dress in a non-revealing way, and both men and women are supposed to treat each other with respect. I was happy to learn that both men and women were expected to be responsible for their own actions, and impressed at how egalitarian the ideals of the hijab are.

At this point, I was certain that I wanted to wear a hijab, but I had a problem. I was afraid that wearing a hijab as a non-muslim would be offensive, and I was too afraid to ask my friends. I found one youtube video on the subject, and though it said that it wouldn’t be offensive, I still wasn’t sure. But eventually, after weeks of thinking about the hijab, I finally asked one of my friends. She told me that she wouldn’t be offended, and then pointed out that Muslims aren’t the only ones who wear headscarves, many Jews and Christians do as well.

I started wearing it off and on for a few weeks after that, and once I felt comfortable I always wore it when I left home. Soon after, I left for an internship in Jordan. I was afraid that the Jordanians would not like that I was wearing a hijab, but quickly after I got off the plane I found otherwise! When I told people that I was an American non-Muslim, they were excited to see that I wore a hijab. People often told me that they thought it was a very good thing that I was wearing it, and some people were touched that I would show such respect to their culture. Best of all, I will never forget the sight of a fully grown man jumping with excitement because I was wearing a jilbab! These memories will always bring warmth to my heart, and they give me strength back in the states when I have to deal with angry glares or awkward questions about my hijab.

Sometimes I will still catch men looking at me in a disrespectful way, but I take joy in knowing that though they may try, they still cannot see what they want to. Because of the hijab, I understand that my body is my right, and I will be forever grateful to the Muslim women who taught that to me.

Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh, sisters and brothers.

Last August, I wrote a post for this site about my experience as a non-Muslim hijabi, but alhamdulilah I have since embraced Islam. I am so happy that I can finally greet you this way, and to tell you about my journey to al-sirat al-mustaqim (the straight path).

I can see quite clearly now that I was always meant to be a Muslim. Even though I was born into a society with little connection to Islam, I see now that Islam was always there, always a part of me. I was born in Utah and raised in a Latter Day Saint (commonly known as Mormon) family. I was your average Utah girl. I went to school and was active in my church. I knew very little about other religions, and certainly nothing about Islam. But subhanallah, Islam still managed to reach me in the most unlikely of places.

Unfortunately, I was first exposed to the word "Islam" because of September 11th. I was in the fourth grade when it happened, so I didn't really understand. When my mother first told me that terrorists had blown up a building in New York I thought she said "tourists," and while everyone else was in a panic around me, I spent my day trying to understand why people with cameras and flower print shirts would want to blow up a building that they had just traveled to look at. Eventually, I learned what actually happened, but even though I would hear things from adults about these "muslims" who had attacked our country, I was never told much about what Islam actually was. In the sixth grade I did learn a little, and subhanallah of all things I was taught about salat (prayer). My sixth grade teacher explained that Muslims prayed at five specific times a day, "When it's time for them to pray, it's time for them to pray. I have even seen them at disneyland doing it." I remember feeling surprised and I wanted to learn more.

Growing up I was always eager to learn and I enjoyed reading. I constantly had my nose in a book, and had even taught myself how to read while walking so I didn't have to stop on the way to and from school. In addition to the books I read for fun I always took time to read the LDS scriptures, but once I turned fourteen I began to see problems and contradictions in them. I began to doubt the LDS faith, but at the time I brushed my doubts aside.

Around the same time, I started learning more about Islam little by little. When I was in the ninth grade I took a world civilizations course and was taught about the five pillars of Islam as well as the basics of Islamic history. It was in this class that I first heard the adhan (call to prayer). It was unlike anything else I had heard before, but at the same time I was drawn to it. Alhamdulilah, I realize now that that is what makes it the call to prayer. When I hear it today I feel that same pull within me, beckoning me to salat.

After this course, I remained interested in Islam and the Middle East, and while in high school I continued learning little things at a time. For my junior English class I had to read and write a report on any book I wanted and I chose to read the Quran. (I will admit now, that I did not read the whole thing... even though I told my teacher that I did... but alhamdulilah, I did at least read some...) During my senior year I attempted to fast for Ramadan (hahaha I gave up the first day when my alarm went off at five AM for suhoor). Overall, I only took small steps toward Islam as a teenager, but alhamdulilah the deen was always there within me, quietly waiting for the right time to come out.

I did change a lot as a teenager in regard to my faith in the LDS church. The more I learned about the church the more I struggled to believe it, despite how much I wanted to. I remember feeling deeply conflicted about it one summer during the annual girl's camp. In the LDS church, the teenage girls and some female adult leaders have a week long retreat every year. Normally there is a religious theme, and many of the week's activities are connected in some way to it. The theme that year was, "A Mighty Change of Heart." I spent the week singing songs, participating in skits, and making crafts all about how if one doubts the church or goes astray, they need to have a "mighty change of heart" and let God back into their lives. I felt extremely guilty the entire time, as though my doubts in the church were my fault because I was not open enough to God. On the last night I made a resolution. I was sure that if I tried to be really open, I would know that the LDS church was true and my doubts would just go away. I went off by myself praying in my heart to God to please show me some sign, anything at all that the church was true. Nothing. I prayed, saying please, I want to believe, please show me that this church is true. Nothing. My guilt was overwhelming, I wanted so much to have this "mighty change of heart" my leaders had been talking about all week, and so I stopped moving to make a formal sincere prayer. Subhanallah, sisters and brothers, you know what I did? I went into sujood (prostration).

You have to understand here, this is not how Mormons pray. Mormons normally pray standing or sitting with their arms crossed in group settings, and on their knees when making personal prayers alone. Even though I had learned a little about salat in school, never had I actually seen it. Rather than praying the way I had been taught all my life, in that moment, the moment when I wanted to be more sincere than ever before, I got down on my hands and knees and put my head to the ground in what I now know is called sujood. Subhanallah! With my head to the ground I prayed, I begged, and I asked, that please, God, make me see that the Mormon church was true. I felt peace wash over me, and in that moment I felt comforted. Subhanallah, little did I know that in that sincere moment, Allah subhana wa ta'ala was giving me that "mighty change of heart" I wanted so badly, it just wasn't in the way I thought. The peace I was feeling was the peace of Islam.

When I turned seventeen, I finally decided that the LDS church was not true. I spent my senior year learning and exploring, and by the end of my senior year I decided that not only did I not believe in Mormonism, I did not believe in God at all. I was an Atheist, but I preferred to call myself a Secular Humanist. I believed strongly in treating all human beings with kindness and in the pursuit of knowledge. As a Muslim, I obviously still believe in these two things, but alhamdulilah I feel that they have been enhanced now that I have a connection with the Creator. Once it was time for me to go to college, I thought that I had everything figured out. I thought that I knew the absolute truth about the world, and that I would be able to make the world realize what I had. But I had so much more to learn.

I chose to major in International Studies and for the major I had to pick a language. For reasons I couldn't totally explain at the time, it only felt natural to me to study Arabic. Alhamdulilah I had excellent Arabic teachers and did well in my classes. The more I learned about Arabic the more I loved it, and I felt drawn to study Islam as a way to learn more about Arab culture. I made friends with the Muslim students in my classes whom were always happy to answer any questions I had about Islam. At the time, I felt that learning about Islam was just a part of my Humanist ideology, and stayed quite firm in my conviction that no religion was true. I was so certain, in fact, that I eventually became the president of the university's Atheist club.

Overall, as I am sure none of you will be surprised to hear, my time as president of the Atheist club was miserable, but I do think that there were some good things that came from it. I was able to clear my mind of all the incorrect things I had been taught in the Mormon church, and I learned quite a lot about leadership. Ironically, I also learned quite a bit about Islam while in this role. For example, the first time I visited a mosque was for one of the group's weekly activities. Alhamdulilah, truly, Allah, subhanu wa ta'ala, is the best of planners.

My last year of college is about when I started to change. I left the Atheist club, and continued to keep up with my studies. My fascination with the Middle East was growing every day, so I decided to try to fast for Ramadan again. Alhamduliah, that year, I managed to do it. It was hard but rewarding. I learned a lot about my own body and how to push my limits of self control.

It wasn't much later that I started thinking about hijab. As you know from my last blog post, I felt drawn to hijab and the standards with it, and as a non-Muslim I began wearing it. At the time, I thought that I was doing it for purely secular reasons, but I see now that my desire for a hijab was really just Islam calling out to me.

Like I mentioned in my last post, I spent my last semester of college in Amman, and not only did my Jordanian friends welcome my choice to wear a hijab, they made a lot of effort to make dawah to me. Alhamdulilah they went about it just the right way as well. They were always kind to me, and I always felt more like I was being educated rather than being preached to or put down.

After I left Jordan and graduated from college, I couldn't get Islam out of my head. I found myself constantly on the internet looking up if this or that was halal or haram (permissible or forbidden), and I started to implement small changes in my life without really understanding why I was doing it. I started eating only halal meat, cleaning my home regularly (I was such a slob before- yuck!), and tried to develop better relationships with my family members. I was inching closer and closer to an Islamic lifestyle, but I was afraid to dive in and just take the shahada (testimony of faith). I was afraid for all sorts of ridiculous reasons, but at the same time, I couldn't go back.

Finally, last October, at one o'clock in the morning, I was once again browsing the internet for information about Islam, and it hit me. In that moment, I knew that Islam was what was meant for me, and I stood, shaking in my apartment, and said, "La ilaha illallah wa Mohammad rasul Allah" (There is no god but Allah and Mohammad is His Messenger).

Alhamdulilah, I have never looked back. I cannot imagine my life without Islam. My life has been enriched and improved in every way, and I have only just begun. I have been so blessed as a convert, and have not had to suffer as other converts have. My family has not only accepted my Islam, but my relationship with each of my family members has improved. I am able to pray and read the Quran in Arabic. I have not been judged by other Muslims as I have gone about halalifying my life, on the contrary, I have felt welcome in the Ummah, and the Muslims I know have been an invaluable source of support.

Alhamduliah, Alhamdulilah, Alhamudlilah! I am sooooo grateful to Allah (subhanu wa ta'ala) for making me a Muslim, and for making this process easy for me. I have learned so much already, but I am excited for all the knowledge that awaits me as I travel al sirat al mustaqim.

(Source: Haute Hijab (http://www.hautehijab.com/blogs/hijab-fashion/8553371)

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