The whole day had simply been concocting the ingredients for a famous dish, fiasco.
I’d woken up for Fajr dreading getting dressed, because today’s dress code was to wear jeans and a t-shirt. How I could wear that modestly mystified me. I sighed and finally pulled on a long formal dress shirt that went just past my knees first, and then put the giant casual gray T-shirt on top.
When they had asked me for a size, I’d gotten the biggest shirt they had. The other girls, debating whether to get a size small or medium, had stopped arguing to gape when they heard my request. I knew it looked ridiculous; the shirt underneath was formal and the T-shirt was just so wrong. But there was nothing else to be done. I wasn’t going to ditch the eventful day just because I looked funny, so I braced myself with the thought that my mom liked what I was wearing, even if my other hijabi friends, the program coordinators, the important youth leaders and the famous people we were going to meet didn’t. I firmly lied to myself that what I wore could not matter less.
I should have known better.
“So you think I’m immodest?”
Her voice screeched to a higher pitch as she stopped to a halt, facing me. Everyone stared. I felt my cheeks bloom like a sunset in Arizona.
How had such a nice conversation suddenly turned into a confrontation?
I murmured some vague response, the image of the girl’s hurt, incredulous stare etched into my memory. She combed her fingers through her tumbling brown curls and strode through the door. The darkness of the room she entered emphasized her attractive silhouette, the shorts and the bright pink shirt fading into the outline.
I felt as if I had been branded with a red G – for guilty. What was an A compared to that, I wondered? This sin was surely equal to murder. Had I just pushed someone away from the truth? The other girls walked purposefully away, their T-shirts and jeans perfectly normal, their clothes only accentuated by the colorful hijabs they wore. I stood foolishly, and deservingly, alone.
But who was ever alone? Oh Allah, what should I have said? Was I being egotistical, or was I telling the truth? Oh Allah, forgive me!
Surely it was simply my wording. Despite my pity for those who dressed like she did, I certainly did not consider it permissible to belittle or offend them. In fact, I tried to show them the logic that glinted at every prism of the crystal clear law of God. Besides, we were getting along so well.
I had been making friends with a fellow smiley girl whom I met at a leadership program. Our group was jogging along the cracked sidewalk in the gloomy, gray rain towards the impersonal zigzag of buildings downtown. I was not the only girl wearing hijab: three other scarf-donning girls accompanied me, but I certainly felt alone trying to represent Islam. My primary objective for interacting with so many diverse student leaders was, of course, da’wah, and my least goal was to leave these people with a good memory of Muslims and a brief understanding of Islam.
Therefore, making new friends was a priority for me.
I fell into step with the tall girl walking alone and looked around hastily so that I could think of something to say to start the conversation. A huge beer ad leered down at both of us behind the fast paced river of colorful cars. Disgusted, I rolled my eyes and remarked on the senselessness of legalizing alcohol ads on the same roads it was forbidden to drink them on. As a conversation starter it worked impeccably, as she intensely agreed and further shared a story of a friend killed in a drunk-driving accident. I told her I felt strongly about alcohol because it was prohibited in Islam, and she said she abstained from alcohol as a Mormon. We soon discovered that we shared several strong moral opinions and enjoyed talking while we turned as sopping wet as the sidewalk we traversed.
Everything was going well until when we finally stopped for a break. I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to see my three hijabi companions smiling. “Want to come fix your hijab in the bathroom? We’re all soaked!”
“Sure, wanna come?” I offered to my new friend. Anne, her name was. We all headed towards the bathroom. The inevitable question came, and I was pleased, because I loved answering questions.
“So, why do you dress like that?” Anne asked.
“Well, in Islam women must dress modestly… it helps protect them and-”
“Yeah, I know that! Mormons dress modestly too. But how come they’re not wearing extra clothes like you?” Anne pointed at my friends’ jeans and blouses.
My friend turned her head to look at me with two pins in her mouth and her pretty print scarf rolled around her hand, waiting to see what I would say. “Well…some people interpret the command of modesty differently.” Anne raised her eyebrows.
I redirected the conversation by explaining.
“We actually have a few basic guidelines. Muslim women must, at the very least, make sure their clothes aren’t see-through or tight, for example. And just like you see with all of us, we absolutely must cover every part of the skin but the hands and face.”
Anne blinked, thinking it over in her mind.
Phew, alhamdulillah, at least there was one thing we had in common.
Her soft face suddenly contorted. Then she asked a question that left me momentarily stunned.
“So you think I’m immodest?!”
My mind didn’t go blank- it went wildly colorful. Should I say yes or no? Should I bring up Mary, the blessed mother of Jesus, peace be upon him? Should I talk about historic ideas of modesty in America? Should I mention it had never crossed my mind that women who wore shorts in public also considered themselves models of modesty?
All my responses were discarded in the recycle bin of my brain, one by one, until she walked too far away for me to garble a proper response. I still stood wondering – yes or no? This question haunted me.
Later on, when I was older, I understood. The very phrasing of her question stemmed from a different worldview than my own. “So you think…”
Did it matter what I thought?
Of course not. What I thought was irrelevant. What Allah thought – that was what mattered!
Human beings are merely one of the millions of creation of Allah. Our opinions, like the opinions of a star, a stone, an ant – are entirely irrelevant where the law of the Divine is concerned. It is the Law of God that stands towering, beautifully unconcerned about my opinion, her opinion, or anyone’s opinion. In fact, this is how our self-esteem as individuals, as Muslims, is also beautifully preserved, because we see things differently. Our self-worth is not measured by another creation’s assessment of our value. Allah judges me and you according to His omnipotent understanding of our struggle, our capability to obey Him out of our gratefulness and our love for Him.
My event with Anne brought a larger question to light.
The real question is, “Does Allah think I’m immodest?”