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.