I stepped out of the bus and took a deep breath. At last. The first day of school. The sun was shining and the atmosphere was abuzz with lively chatter as teenagers laughed and talked with their friends. As I walked down the pathway, scrunching the leaves beneath me, I took a good look around. Regrettably, all I saw around me was a blur of flesh, sustained by an absolute disregard for decent clothing. I quickly checked myself and lowered my head as I made my way inside.
And it hadn’t changed. Four years later, the crowd hadn’t changed. The leaves made the same familiar crunch. The air smelled the same. The stairs stirred up the same morning drowsiness. But the clothes; I can deal with unchanging stairs and leaves and air, but the continued lack of clothing from the students around me truly disturbed me. It also made me realize just how much I had changed over the past year, particularly in the way I now dealt with girls.
Back in the day, I would have no problems with girls. Talk and smile, no problem. But ever since reality hit – in part due to an incident involving another girl who had asked me out in eighth grade – I started to distance myself from girls and became more involved with Islamic work in the Muslim Students Association (MSA). I ended up changing my talking style and began to entirely avoid speaking to girls. But since that never worked out, as I was forced to interact with many of them regularly, I would now instead look completely at the floor and just listen. It was especially hard at first to explain my new code of modesty to non-Muslim girls, but Alhamdulillah, I got past feeling awkward and became much more comfortable in explaining my position.
Sadly though, just when I thought the hardest part was over, I found out that it had all just begun. I soon discovered that many of the Muslim sisters at school actually had an issue with my lowered gaze. They thought that I was either outright ignoring them, or that I was just plain awkward. I remember one sister directly telling me this online so I decided to regress into my old ways of conversing with girls. And she noticed the change the very next day; they all did. But while they were happy, I was not. I didn’t like the renewed eye contact, I didn’t like the way they looked at me. I was scared for my future and was not sure if I could really hold myself back from falling into fitnah. I finally decided to revert back to avoiding eye contact, but this time, I tweaked it up a bit. Now, I began to stare right across their shoulder instead of gazing at the floor. This way, it would at least give them the impression of me looking at them, when really, I was just facing their general direction looking elsewhere.
I now had my method of speaking to girls figured out. Gradually, I also came to understand the importance and necessity of communicating with those of the other gender though my involvement in leading the MSA. What if I have to give advice? What if I have to talk to a young sister? What if I have to ask the teacher a question? What if I have an interview? Alhamdulillah, through the various experiences I have encountered, I have emerged with a more astute and mature understanding of the whole gender relations issue.
Even now, when it so happens that I hit a bump in the road, I just remind myself that I am doing this for the Creator, not for His Creation. I no longer pay any mind to those who think they have the right to call me awkward or weird. I now look past this, since I know I don’t have to please them. I have to please Allah. That phase is over. Trying so hard is not a problem anymore, for after all, my ultimate goal is to be able to live my deen to the best of my ability.