In Hijab for Good
Posted by MERYEM CHIN
It has been slightly more than a month since I made the promise to Allah (s.w.t) that I'd put on my hijab for good from this Ramadan onwards. I started slightly earlier before Ramadan itself, on 11th May, right after I had arrived at Haneda Airport in Japan. Truth was that I was afraid. Of discrimination in a strange land, of not being able to integrate into the Japanese culture because I don't drink and look so obviously foreign, of sticking out as the only hijabi amongst the morning peak crowd.
I kept wondering if I should wait. Until I properly integrated at work, until I got the job, until a memorable date like the start of Ramadan or something so I could also do 'Da'wah' to my new colleagues.
It was like that back home as well. I had said I will commit to wearing the hijab when I can commit to wearing it always- and my family was one of the reasons why I had still not worn it. But if I think really hard about it, there'll always be a reason to keep from wearing it, or conveniently choose the easier way of wearing it on occasions only.
“And whoever fears Allah, He will make for him a way out. And will provide for him from where he does not expect. (65:2-3)
I experienced the full impact of this verse, not the moment I started wearing the hijab, but the moment I had made up my mind to do so.
The courage to start putting it on the moment I landed in Japan was given to me by S, who surprised me at the airport even though he was supposed to be miles away.
The worries of not being able to fit in and socialize with my colleagues because I can't drink was alleviated, when I found out my colleagues didn't really do much drinking parties (also known as 'nomikai' in Japan) because they were mostly middle-aged and had families. Even the welcome party my colleagues held for me was thoughtfully arranged during lunch time, at a restaurant that used only seafood in its menu, and none of them were drinking.
It's really the little miracles that Allah swt puts in front of me to ease my journey, like finding halal chicken in a small grocery store close to the place I stay, or having colleagues who would go out of their way (without me asking them to do so) to enquire restaurant staff if the food had alcohol in it or if the meat was cooked with the oil they used for cooking pork.
Of course, people have said that I was brave, some said it was a waste to hide my hair, some even thought I was forced to wear the hijab. But as I found myself explaining to them why I chose to wear the hijab, I found it easier to explain the other aspects of Islam to them, because no matter to a Muslim or a non-Muslim, the hijab completes the image of a Muslim woman presented to the world. I've experienced many times before when I had said something about Islam and someone else would veer totally off topic and interject, "How come you're not wearing hijab even though you're a Muslim?", and I would have to explain a whole lot more to clarify that hijab IS a compulsion set by Allah SWT, not a choice.
When I wear the hijab, I experience a different sort of beauty- of greetings of salaam and friendly nods with Muslim sisters whom I pass by along the street, of people going out of their way to accommodate my dietary and praying needs, and of opportunities to tell people about Islam because they start by asking you about it first- all these, without the need to utter a single word.
Alhamdulillah, I have come far since my last post a year ago on my struggle to be hijab-less. I've come far from being concerned about physical appearances because I can now see the glow (Nur) in the faces of the women who are truly at peace and joy with their faith, and that is the most beautiful appearance of all because it shines from within.
I felt a little sad reading your first sentence “More Muslims should be this nice!”, although I’m still happy that you do not hold bitterness in your heart towards the Muslims who haven’t been that nice to you. :( It’s also why many converts like us say sometimes… Alhamdulillah we discovered Islam before we discovered Muslims.
You’re very kind yourself, I honestly didn’t expect you to read my reply since this post is embedded so far back, and you didn’t leave a contact. Although we are both set in our ways, I have always loved discussing about religion with my Christian and Catholic friends, I actually have a pastor friend whom I really enjoy talking to about our similarities and differences, and there is this mutual respect for each other’s religion that I love. I feel like even though you may have left the faith, you’ll be someone who will be just like that friend of mine, a trait that is needed so badly in the world today.
Tolerance, and respect, go very far. I am so glad you posted a message here. God willing, we may cross paths one day. I wish you well, and may God Bless you.
And to you be peace and blessings,
I am grateful for your gentle words and your kind thoughts. More Muslims should be this nice!
It is not in my place to re-convert you but let me just say that the Catholic Church does recognise that God’s plan for salvation includes practicing Muslims because ultimately we believe we worship the God of Abraham, who is God of all creation.
Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium 16, November 21, 1964:
“But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place among whom are the Muslims: these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.”
I believe a similar stance is found in the Quran for people of the book (Quran 2:62).
As mentioned earlier, I am indeed aware that there are fatwas that prohibit the killing of apostates. I personally believe that such fatwas make more sense than those that support violence. Perhaps I wasn’t clear before but my main concern is this – the Muslims who threaten violence or even kill apostates do not care for peaceful interpretations – they will point to the Hadiths that call for our blood as proof and this is why we ex-muslims are so afraid. As an ex-muslim, I of course want to support islamic interpretations that do not call for my blood to be shed but this matter bears little on the minds of Muslims who believe it is their duty to kill those who leave Islam. While I may live my life freely (or as freely as I can) in Singapore, I feel that it is a great injustice that other ex-muslims in muslim countries cannot. I hope you understand where I’m coming from.The Quran is beautiful and it reads like poetry, with beautiful rhyme and rhythm. I have favourite verses (4:135 which commands mankind to do justice even if it goes against oneself and one’s parents) but I just believe that the Christ is the truth. You’ve read the Bible and you know of God’s love through it. I think you know what I mean.
I have been called by Christ to Catholicism just as you have been called to God (Allah) in Islam.
We are both set in our ways dear Meryem and I wish you only the best.
Once again, thank you for being so kind and gentle in your words. You made me smile, even if it was just for a moment.
Peace and blessings be upon you
I received a message from D, a reader who is trying to leave Islam. He/she has asked me for my thoughts, and since there is no other form of contacting, I have to post my reply here in the hope that D may read this.
May Peace be with you. (This is also a greeting that Catholics wish upon one another). As I have been in your shoes, I know what it feels like to want to leave a religion. Hence, I will be addressing your message in a way that does not lean toward any religion in particular (not even Islam), but some pointers to help you continue, or conclude, your objective search for the Truth.
#1: Have you exhausted your belief in your religion with the learned?
Having been in the Catholic faith for close to 23 years, and with a strict, pious Catholic upbringing and regular attendance at Sunday Masses, I was reluctant to leave the Catholic faith just because of the doubts that I had regarding it. My entire family, including my extended family, were all pious, practicing Catholics. I was taught that I would face eternal damnation, if I left the faith.
Therefore, when I began searching, I was desperately trying to find something that I could hold on to, so that I wouldn’t have to leave my Catholic faith. I did not start my search with any other religion. I began with my own faith, my own Bible, and consultations with the learned in my Catholic community: the priests and nuns. It was only when I realised that I was going in circles, that I had no choice but to leave the faith and start from scratch. (There was a period of time where I was not Catholic, nor Muslim, but just a Theist- where I only believed in God.)
Have you, likewise, begun your search within your own faith, with the learned asatizah, for the answers to your questions, before you decided to leave it?
#2: Are you searching for the Truth, without bias?
You mention that we no longer have Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) to point out which interpretation is correct, and thus any opinion that supports non-violence, or violence against the apostates, are valid. However, you came to the conclusion that violence is the rightful ‘fatwa’ for apostates to Islam, because it happened to be that you chanced across more sources that ‘support’ this opinion.
When I began my search in Islam after a long period of procrastinating, I was swayed by all the online sources that showed how violent Islam was, and how the apostates would be ‘killed’. That was because of my initial ideas too, that Islam was a violent religion, oppressive, etc. It took me ages before I could take in the information with an objective eye, and even so, I could not be sure to conclude on anything because for the simple fact- I am unlearned, and the unlearned are the most susceptible to believing anything that agrees with their unlearned mind.
You are right- in this time and age, almost everything you see online will paint Islam in the most negative of light, because everyone and ANYONE would want to be a Google sheikh, and have a say in it. That, unfortunately, is the reality we cannot change. What we can, though,is our objectivism, and knowledge, towards it.
Therefore Dear D, do be fair to yourself, and to the Truth, before you conclude on any opinion being perpetuated. Note that I mention the “Truth” and not any religion in particular, because you do have the right to start your search totally free from bias. Look into yourself, why you decided to fall to the conclusion that Islam is violent? Was it because some online source, an unknown author, said that you will be killed for leaving Islam? Would you put your trust in someone unknown? You said that Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) is no longer around to guide us, which shows the importance you place on true, verified and authentic sources of information. So hold true to your strong sense of wanting to sift through Truth from falsehood, and resume your search with an objective mind.
“O you who believe! Obey Allah, and obey the Messenger, and those charged with authority among you.” (Quran 4:59)
#3: You know you won’t be killed in Singapore, so this is out of the topic.
“There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong.” (Quran 2:256)
There is nothing to envy about me. I have caused pain to my entire family who brought me up, the community of Catholics who taught me since I was a child, and I am, too, seen as an apostate to Catholicism that will receive damnation because though I still believe Jesus (Peace be upon him) is the Messiah, I believe too that he is not God, but a Messenger of God. I converted “as I pleased”, without the blessings of my parents or the support of my community. Everything may look like unicorns and rainbows on my blog, but that’s because I have chosen to protect my parents by not talking about the years of problems we faced as a result of my conversion. If you convert, you too should be ready to face this similar situation.
When you have exhausted all the above options and truly and objectively conclude that Islam is not the Truth, and not just a denial of your conscience, then you are free to convert as you wish, because, Thanks be to God, you will not be killed in Singapore. I’m sure you know this as well.
Your sister in Truth-seeking,
Hi. Please don’t publish this if you’re not comfortable. I just want to put my thoughts across and wish to know your thoughts about this matter.
I’m happy that you’ve found a religion that speaks to you. I understand your zeal and love for your faith as a convert but my situation is a bit different. Like how you have found Allah from a Catholic background, I have found Christ from a Muslim background. Unfortunately, I have no ability to freely renounce Islam without worry. I tell Muslims that the authenticity and strength of the narrations for hadiths supporting violent interpretations, supporting the killing of apostates are weak, that apostasy warrants the death penalty only in extremely restricted situations. I also remind them that the Koran does not speak of any earthly punishment for Apostates and even says that there should be no compulsion in religion but for every fatwa I find supporting the right to leave Islam free from the death penalty, there are as many (or even more) which support the right to kill ‘murtads’. Unfortunately, without Muhammad being here to point out which interpretation is correct, both opinions could be seen as equally valid because they both come from the Koran and the Hadith. I am grateful that I live in Singapore for I cannot imagine what would happen if I tried to leave Islam in a Muslim country which enforces the syariah.
What is the point of forcing me to remain in a religion that I don’t believe in any more. I just feel that Catholicism is the right religion for me and I want to be able to have that right to leave Islam like how you left Catholicism. Instead, I live in fear for my safety because these verses espousing violence against murtads are really there and not made up and there are Muslims who genuinely believe they are doing God’s work if they kill apostates – even if there are other non-violent interpretations for apostasy in Islam.
I envy you Meryem. You have family, your parents, and the right to convert as you please. I will have none of that if I dare to leave Islam.
Salam sister, i hope will come to Japan and meet with you