Several years ago when my personal crisis of faith began and I knew that I could no longer pretend to fit into the neat and tidy box of devout, conservative Muslim that I’d packed myself into, I’d scour the internet looking for people who had felt the same as me. I didn’t need spiritual answers. I didn’t want to be told that this sheikh says blah blah blah and you have to obey because that’s just the way it is. I knew what my beliefs were and what they weren’t. I needed practical, been there, done that, and this is how I did it advice. I wanted to know that I wasn’t alone in the way I felt. I wanted to know that the way I felt was valid.
This post isn’t one where I want to discuss the issue of the nature of hijab. I don’t want to battle about which school of thought believes it to be mandatory and to which degree. I don’t want to know your thoughts about those who don’t believe the headscarf to be necessary. I don’t want warnings of hellfire and damnation or reminders about sacrificing our comfort in this life for the hope of the hereafter. There are plenty of other places on the internet to debate those things (like this post, for example). This post is about something different.
I want to talk to you about what it feels like to be abandoned as a Muslim, specifically as a convert, and specifically by other Muslims. But first, a little background info.
When people ask me about my journey to and through Islam, the question “How did your family take it?” usually arises. People want to know if my parents were supportive, if they threatened to disown me, or if it caused tensions in our relationship. Thankfully, with exception to minor issues that were remedied with time, education, and unconditional love, I can proudly answer that question and say that my relationship with my parents is stronger than ever and even when they don’t understand my faith, they support my choice and my right to practice it. But many converts are not so lucky, so they look to the Muslim community around them for support and guidance.
When I was considering converting to Islam, although I didn’t lose my family, I also searched for Muslims to supplement that family. My parents didn’t understand my beliefs or why I was considering embracing something so foreign. My friends thought the idea of things like fasting and hijab were strange and ridiculous. How silly that I could no longer relax and have a drink with friends. And what?! No more BACON? I needed a community of fellow Muslims behind me. I needed that common ground. I needed people to look up to and learn from. I needed understanding. And of course, as an eager, young potential convert, I received everything I was looking for.
The community in my hometown was small and people were thrilled to meet the new girl. I was invited to homes for meals and family celebrations, I was given gifts, I was allowed to ask questions during religious lectures I attended, and I never once in that two years of searching and studying that led up to my conversion felt pressured or forced into accepting the religion. Once I became an official convert, however, things changed. Support faded and the community seemed to be no longer interested in the shiny new toy that was me. I was expected to conform. Quickly and without hesitation.
I admit that I always found it hard to fit into my local community after I recognized them for what they were. Other than offering salaams to other hijabi women when I ran into them, I kept my distance. And thanks to the newly blossoming social media movement during that time, I did find a great community of friends online. I was excited to “meet” women from all over the country who were exactly like me: young, outspoken women who had embraced Islam and who were loud and proud of their beliefs and identities. It felt good to have that support.
I met one of those friends in a group for women who were considering hijab. I was 22 at the time and I thought that since the headscarf was a mandatory part of my identity as a Muslim woman, that’s what I was supposed to do. The love and support and encouragement flowed freely. Mashallah’s and alhamdulillah’s were showered upon me and I was congratulated for standing up for what I believed in and for what I believed was the right thing to do. I adopted hijab without a second thought and began to proudly defend my choice to do so to anyone who asked, even The Mr., who at the time thought it was a terrible idea (spoiler alert…he was right).
Time moves on and people grow in different directions. Many of these women are still my friends today. Some have married and divorced. Some have become more conservative or fiercely liberal. Some have left Islam altogether with whispers of “She wasn’t really a Muslim afterall” following them, which makes me wonder about the nature of the whispers that have included my name. The friend who I met in that group, after more than 8 years of friendship, became hostile and arrogant once our views on religion no longer complimented each other’s, and I ended the friendship without a second thought.
I still identify as a Muslim, but it’s obvious to anyone who knows me that my beliefs are of a progressive nature, which is obviously not the most popular movement with Muslims these days. People would rather defend the necessity of suicide bombing when no other weapons are available than the right for a woman to dress as she pleases and marry who she chooses.
I stand by my choice to remove the headscarf, but I can’t help but feel abandoned by my Muslim friends a lot of the time. The response of personal, long term friends to my choice has been mostly crickets, ya’ll. Those same friends who Mashallah’d and Alhamdullillah’d 8 years ago are silent. And I have to be honest and say that even though I’m doing what’s right for me, it hurts like hell.
There’s an obvious lack of support for Muslims who choose to take a non-traditional path. Why is that? If we as Muslims are willing to stand up and fight for a woman’s right to choose hijab and not be discriminated for it, why aren’t we also there defending a woman’s right to remove it and not be a social outcast for doing so? Where is the freedom of religion that Western Muslims hold so dear to their hearts when someone uses that freedom to practice their religion in a way that they don’t agree with? I don’t get it.
My journey to and through Islam isn’t something that is easy for me to talk about. I worry about what people will think of me now more than I ever worried what they would think when I considered converting. It’s hard to be outspoken about things that are supposed to be swept under the rug. But it needs to be talked about, because I know I’m not alone. I know that other women have faced similar struggles and I know that women end up on my blog because of it.
Hijab was the hardest thing to undo, especially as a convert. I’d spent so many years fiercely defending my choice to practice Islam and wear a headscarf that the thought of admitting to myself and my family and friends that I no longer wanted to wear it was horrifying to say the least. I wish I could tell you how many times I typed “I don’t want to wear hijab anymore” into the Google search bar, looking for the support and advice I so badly needed.
So if you’re one of those women who are searching for answers, I want you to know that even though you may feel abandoned, you’re not alone. Here’s the been there, done that, here’s how I did it advice that you’re looking for.
I can’t tell you if you should wear hijab, not wear hijab, cover your face, not cover your face, marry that man, allow that man to take a second wife, divorce that man, accept Islam, leave Islam, come out of the closet or not, move to Saudi or not, or go against your family’s wishes. But I can tell you that no matter what your choice is, I’m one person who will support it and be your friend through it.
People will abandon you and sometimes those people might even be your friends or family, but despite that abandonment, in whatever way you can, in whatever circumstances you’re in, find a way to be authentically you. Be just as proud to go against the grain as you would be do go with it. Don’t just march to the beat of your own drum, dance to that shit, too. You’ll never regret being true to yourself, I promise.