As-salamu `alaykum wa rahmatullah
In life, we will at times be placed in situations just to see what we’ll do, or how we’ll react. These are often crucial moments because they test who we are, who we claim to be, and they test our loyalties and moral principles. It’s like a moment on the stage in front of judges…
One day back in school, I decided to attend an after-class seminar on Medicine/Biology. I was a bit late so I walked fast down the hallway until I found the seminar room and quickly settled in with the students. A few mins later, the lights were strangely dimmed down, and a lady appeared at the front wearing a ‘Save Iraq’, ‘No to War’ T-shirt or something like that. Hmm I thought, maybe this was just an advert/campaign. As I came to learn, she was actually an external artist who the college had brought in to talk about Art and Photography. Oh great, I realised I had walked into the wrong seminar; one for artists and actors! What was worse, I was squashed between students with nowhere to discreetly escape! I sighed and leaned back, thinking of an escape route.
But then something strange happened; the artist went on to introduce her best project… On the screen, dozens of pictures began to be shown of Muslim women in loose black Hijabs (they were models for the project), in dimly lit rooms. They had sad and weeping faces, with smudged mascara and tears running down. Some were on the floor in a fearful crawled up position, others bore bruises on their faces and arms. Some broken roses lay about, melting candles here and there, and it was perhaps the most shocking Photography project I ever saw. But let me tell you the worst part of it… the artist had cleverly put these shadows over the pics and bodies of these abused women, and the shadows were of none other than Arabic Qur’anic words. I sat up immediately and couldn’t believe my eyes. I looked around to see if anyone else noticed this, but the student-packed seminar room was dead quiet and I saw that I was the only Hijabi :/ Oh great, I thought. I watched some more and as she talked through the project, it was clear what she was getting at: the so-called ‘Islam’s oppression’ of women nonsense they continually feed us with. I was mortified. How did I end up in this lecture? My mind was racing on what I should do or say, but being a quiet teenager who found it nerve-wrecking to even breathe loudly let alone voice myself, I felt stuck!
As I weighed up the pros and cons of my reaction, I realised that the whole day wasn’t even mine; it was truly guided by Allah. You see, I was told of the medicine seminar very late in the day, I decided to attend just minutes before it was to start, I was late, and most importantly of all, I wrote down the wrong seminar room and didn’t even realise my mistake until it was too late to exit! I was meant to be here and I was meant to be the only Hijabi, and that only meant I was being tested to see how I would react. At that point, as if on cue, the artist said, “Any questions?” I struggled to put my hand up and although the artist saw me, she totally ignored me! Subhan’Allah, what a test it was to keep my arm up like that lol. She continued to ignore me until a college teacher had to step in and say that I had a question. From there, I asked about the message she was trying to send out to the audience, most of who had probably never seen written Arabic, I asked why was there even a use of Qur’anic verses over the bodies of abused women, what was she getting at, and what help were these women given if any etc. It was obviously not the discussion everyone was expecting as the students and teachers turned around to hear this dissident voice! One or two potential co-rebels nodded in agreement too! But nevertheless, it allowed me to engage the artist and put across my point of view, and at least try to get the students to see that being a girl in Hijab, I couldn’t agree with this sort of thing, let alone have it associated with me.
I admit, I must’ve looked like some funky art student with my Science textbooks, but this was perhaps one of the hardest things I had to do back then as a timid teen who barely spoke up in class. And this is in fact the essence of being a Muslim; learning to rise to the occasion even if you feel like your guts are being wrenched out! I realised early on that there’ll be many days to come when we all have to take a stand and do things that we don’t necessarily want to do, but *have* to. We have to go against the grain and speak up, even if our voice is lone and quivering on the other side. We have to prove our Islam and walk the walk, not just talk the talk when it suits us. Hypocrisy is not a flag we wave, and it’s not a world we should even attempt to roam in; our Islam has to be firmly rooted in us, and yes, most of the time, a fight has to take place within you in order for that Iman to take root in your heart, and in order for your body and limbs to submit and fall in line. Command yourself and do what needs to be done.