I plastered a smile upon my face and tried to hide the restless nervousness and fear that consumed me. I struggled to hold back the tears as I hugged my daughter.
“You’re going to have so fun much at school today.”
My husband was giving me the eye and nudging my shoulder. It was time to leave, but my feet wouldn’t move. Aleena was sitting at her desk, hands in her lap, head down. No tears. No smile. “I love you, Momma,” was all she said as I left that Wednesday morning, the first day of school.
At meet-the-teacher-Monday two days prior, I had stood outside the school with all the other parents of the 114 kindergarten students waiting to be let in the building, and I realized with some apprehension that I was the only Muslim. Though I had been in many crowds where I was the only one wearing a hijab, this was different — and I felt it in every cell of my body. It occurred to me that not only was I suffering from the usual ailment of separation and anxiety over letting Aleena navigate new experiences without my constant supervision and intervention, but I was suffering from my own fear.
All the kindergarteners were given a letter at meet-the-teacher-Monday to open the night before the first day of school, complete with a bag of jitter glitter. The letter spoke a tale of wondrous things she would learn in school and jitter glitter to spread under her pillow the night before the first day of school to calm the bubbling splendor that filled her every pore. Yet for all her excitement, I was the one twice as anxious and needing my own bag of jitter glitter. I feared she would be treated differently because of me and the choices I made in life. I feared that peoples’ enmity towards Muslims would be taken out on my five-year-old-daughter at her school when I wasn’t looking.
Before the start of school, it was time to have that conversation again. I broke it down in small words. Mustering much courage, I told her “The Holy Quran has asked that men and women dress modestly. Momma chooses to wear the scarf also known as a hijab or purdah, which is a covering of our heads and bodies — but most important, a covering of our mind and soul against evil thoughts and actions. If we can abide by these standards and hold ourselves with dignity, honor, and humility, not only will we help braid and mend the beautiful, intricate tapestry of life, but also Allah has promised to us ‘falah’ (success) in this world and the next. One day it will be your choice. Do you understand why momma wears purdah?”
Different, but the Same
In professional circles and in society, I was prepared to deal with the divisive, hateful rhetoric I would face for choosing to wear purdah, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the fallout of my decision, the negative impact on my children. I was swimming in my own thoughts on that meet-the-teacher Monday and frankly quite startled when someone said to me, “ Hi. My name is Mary.”
I paused just for a moment. The parents were now touring the classroom, meeting the teacher, laying out the school supplies, adding their names to the volunteer list, asking the many questions that plagued us, and of course meeting the parents of our childrens’ soon-to-be best friends. My growing bubble of what-ifs and fear was quickly popped to reveal a smile and a hand warmly extended to me.
“I’m Angelina,” I said quickly, “and this is my daughter, Aleena.”
In that very instant my fear vanished, and I was filled with the flame of hope. I opened my eyes to find that, though I was different, we all shared the nervous disposition of kindergarten parents, the unsettled mind apprehensive of our baby birds’ first flight. My heart reached out to the mothers introducing their kids to their classmates, to the fathers that found comfort in a circle of conversation at the back of the room. My soul bonded in comradery to experience the warm humanity of parents all alike, easing the path of our children into the world. I opened my eyes to find that we were different in race, color, religion, and ethnicity — but we were one, and equal in the sight of God.
What an incredible story! It reminded me of my own experience when I went to a school as a substitute teacher and a child asked me, “Why do you cover your head?” And I replied, “Have you ever seen the picture of Mary, the mother of Jesus?” He said, “Yes.” And I replied, “In the picture, you must have seen that she always has her hair covered. That is why I cover my hair too.” The child understood, his face lit up, smiled, and said, “Oh, I understand now.”
That is a really nice analogy, a way of breaking the concept down to a child’s levels. Thank you for sharing .
What a beautiful reply. That is exactly it. Women in other religions BEFORE the advent of Islam also covered their heads
It is wonderful and quite productive when we recognize our differences but focus on what we have in common thus creating a far safer environment for all children to learn and grow.t. Thank you for sharing.
I definitely agree, our diversity makes us stronger, however this being a learned behavior the onus rests on us as parents to seek ways of developing healthy interactions with “the other” in a safe environment. Does anyone have any examples of this in there own experience I would love to hear of it?
I, too, had some fears about wearing the hijab but once I started, I realized that I actually got more respect from others.
Beautiful story Angelina! We are all one and we must respect each other. By doing this, we set a perfect example for our children.
Thank you for your comment Rabia, respect for each other’s religion, choices in life, color , opinions, upholding the rights of our neighbor /friends/stranger and dealing in equity is indeed the foundation of peace and the beginning a true , just society.
So true Rabia. Islam teaches that the primary meaning of ‘ Paradise lies under the feet of your Mother’ is that she bears the responsibility of her child going to Heaven or Hell. A Mother should be the best role model for her child.
Indeed it is a very hard thing to do …be a role model. How many times I have seen my actions and my words echoed in my children, and it made me pause and reconsider . It also seems sometimes that no matter what I do my children will grow up resentful of one thing or the other. I truly believe that our only avenue of strength is in God, the All Knowing , the All Seeing , the All Wise.
Lovely article! Makes me curious, how did that first day at school turn out to be? How did the child handle the questions of the other kids? The guidance of a parent is one thing but the decision making of a child without that helping hand is another. Keep up the good work, I’ll be looking forward to reading more.
Anthony, thank you for your thoughts, the first day of school turned out wonderful she came home with all smiles ready to go back the next day. However, girls aren’t required to wear the hijab/ veil until puberty so no one asked her any questions. When I dropped Aleena off one day, though, a girl in her class did ask me directly and I told her that I was a Muslim and we dress modestly.
What a great story! I have had similar experiences where I’ve had to explain the wisdom behind the Islamic veil/hijab, considering the widespread notion that it is a backward practice that deprives women of their rights.
The Holy Quran first commands men to lower their gaze and guard themselves from situations in which they may be aroused by women they are not married to. Only after putting this responsibility on men does the Quran reiterate these two teachings for women also, additionally instructing them to dress modestly by covering their hair and chests and to adorn themselves for family rather than society (24:31-32).
Rather than imprisoning them, the hijab actually liberates women. By diminishing the importance of physical appearance as a mark of self-esteem, and giving women the ability to shape their sense of self-respect by more meaningful standards like knowledge and character, for instance, Islam gives women dignity and honor through the hijab.