UNITED KINGDOM(Arrahmah.com) – My friend, Anisa from Barbados, who is also a muallaf (revert) invited me to her house in Tooting, for a farewell event. The family is going to emigrate to Cairo, wishing to taste life with an Islamic nuance, she said.
I was introduced to her friends who are multi-racial and colour, including pure British women, an Algerian woman of French nationality, Jamaican, Ethiopian and Nigerian. Unique indeed.
I was attracted to the appearance of Joana Rowntree, a native British Muslimah who was wearing a full Muslim dress. Similar to abaya, loose, gray in colour with light blue hijab. I greeted her and introduced myself.
Joanna, an English woman who’s about 26 years of age, has embraced the religion of Islam for only about 3 years. Joanna works as a Medical Researcher for the Guy Hospital, London Bridge.
She went through a very long spiritual journey. The story goes that, after finishing High School in the UK, she did not right away go to university, but decided to go for an adventurous venture. She believes that traveling can broaden our horizon.
“Travel can broaden your mind,” she said.
She thus registered herself to become a volunteer with the British Council. Teaching English language was one of the ways to go overseas, she remembered when telling the story of how she first reverted to Islam.
“I want to seek experiences by traveling,” she added. Joanna eventually chose Sarawak, Malaysia.
“The place is very far, it is in a village in the interior of Borneo island,” Joanna disclosed while watching her child who has a blond hair.
“The Malay people are very kind and gentle, I felt at home there. So much so that I lived there for not less than 10 months,” she added.
So what made her revert to Islam?
One day, while resting, as usual my students approached me. Normally they would come by giving salam. Apparently that day, they handed me a small and thin book.
“Miss.. miss do you know Prophet Muhammad, our Rasul?” one of them asked, they jostled and each one of them wanted to get the attention.
“Who is Muhammad?… I don’t know,” patiently, Joanna answered their question.
“Here miss.. read this book… there is a history of our prophet, Muhammad, here,” they said presenting a book about Rasulullah Salallaahu ‘Alaihi Wasallam (صلى الله عليه و سلم) to Joanna.
As the book is in Malay language, apparently Joanna could not understand it much. She had to refuse it gently so that those children would not get offended.
“….but miss, you are an English language teacher, you must learn our language, the Malay language. This is a gift from us and feel free to read it.” The book was accepted by Joanna while feeling amazed, thinking how kind they were.
Joanna appreciated the gift very much, as if she was given a special attention by those children, she was so touched.
It was since then that Joanna was interested in the religion of Islam. She found herself time to go to book shops when she was in Kuala Lumpur. The words of those children kind of left a trace in her heart.
Joanna found out that there are actually many books about Islam in English. Joanna bought a small English-Malay dictionary. She thought those kids would surely love it if they know that she’s learning Malay language. It was since then that Joanna started to get attracted to Islam until eventually she uttered the two kalimah of shahadah.
It’s a different story with Nini, this woman from Indonesia, who is also a resident (a settler married to a British) has a unique story. This employee at a Department Store has stayed here for quite a long time, more than 10 years. She was formerly a dancer.
Friendly and vivacious, her friends were everywhere. After joining a study circle with the Indonesian students in London, she found something new, she admitted that she felt happy to be in a comfortable environment, as well as having obtained many inputs.
One day, a rather drastic change happened. Nina wanted to wear the hijab. But she only wore it from home to the study place, and then to the supermarket or the station. But upon reaching the workplace, she took it off. There was some kind of a sinful feeling, but Nina was in the process of fostering her courage.
Every time she attended the study circle, the triangular shaped pieces of fabric always slipped off and fell onto her shoulders.
One day, I said to her, “Where are the pins, Nin?” I helped her to clip them.
“Wow, in fact, you look so beautiful, look in the mirror, your beauty is even more obvious,” I said convincing her. True indeed, she looks more beautiful and elegant. She smiled sheepishly, mixed with pride.
“If you have not dared to have it full-time, try it part-time first, get used to it first, so that we can have the self-confidence and the people around us are not surprised,” thus was my advice.
One day, she did an observation. She secretly tried to find out the total number of Muslimahs in her workplace. She was surprised, apparently the number is quite big. In the end, every time attending the study circle, she was busy discussing and telling about her hijab. Nini finally began to get obsessed with hijab. In fact, she even asked for advice, when could she start wearing it to work.
“I am waiting for the moment, give me support.. ok,” she added. “I’m afraid of getting fired,” she said, apparently anxious. And I calmed her by explaining that faiths are protected by the law. Just like the Jews in this place, who also wear something on their heads.
Once day, Nini took a day-off, she invited her friends for coffee. Of course, she’s wearing hijab. At the time of going back home, she suddenly veered towards her workplace to just say hello to her colleagues. Apparently she forgot that she was wearing hijab. Of course, all of her colleagues were surprised. Coincidentally her supervisor who is Muslim was also there.
“Ooh..I didn’t know you wear hijab, Nin,” he said. She blushed while saying that she does wear hijab.
“Why don’t you wear it to work,” he challenged.
“Really? Can I wear hijab to work?,” as if she could not believe hearing the offer which is valued as very exciting.
“Well of course you can.. I will talk to my manager and I am sure you have the right in this country,” he assured .
The feeling of joy in Nini’s heart could not be imagined that day. She got the full support from her supervisor. She went home in strides that felt so very light. She felt like shouting to the sky. Now Nini wears hijab to work, where the colours are matched with the uniform.
Interestingly, it was said that her move was later followed by a number of Muslimahs who all these years were hiding in their hiding places.
And as usual, the friends and companions who used to go to the discotheque or gather for fun with her, one by one distanced themselves from Nini.
One day, I got to know a woman named Jennifer, just call sister Jane. She is a muallaf whom I knew in front of the French Embassy, during a demo about hijab. Next thing we knew, we became good friends.
One day, through the telephone, she told me about her belief.
“As I have already professed the shahadah, which implies my witness and acceptance of the existence of Allah the One, as well as my witness that Prophet Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger, then this is a commitment and my promise. Meaning, I cannot just take half-and-half. I have to take whole, including wearing the hijab of course,” she said.
In the early period of her reversion to Islam, Jennifer didn’t know how to wear hijab. She bought two head scarves and then draped it over her head.
By wearing hijab, she claimed to be feeling more secure in the streets, without attracting the attention of the males who always think that women are sex objects.
“I feel free from the pressure to compete for beauty. I could then be more simple in appearance,” she disclosed.
Nevertheless, there are also those who stare with different kinds of look,but Jane doesn’t care.
“When I wear the hijab I feel the warmth in my heart and soul. There is the peaceful and secure feeling, even though I feel that I still have not been able to fulfill His commandments, I am afraid that I have not yet been able to obtain His pleasure,” said Jennifer.
I, Joanna, Nini and Jane and the Muslimahs in the UK (and the other European countries) indeed are very fortunate, in general the people are quite democratic, protecting our choice to wearhijab.
Indeed, the hijab does not come and approach the females in the UK at an instant or all of a sudden. Though there are certain Muslimahs who suddenly wished to wear hijab, but generally it is due to the influence from friends.
Nevertheless, just to drape a piece of cloth over our heads in this country requires its own “jihad”.
When a big incident happened in the UK, the 7th July (the case of a bombing in the Subway) for example, it forced the Muslimahs to take extra precautions. Not a few Muslimahs became the public targets. In the streets, the Muslimahs were insulted, spat at or shouted at, ‘Hey terrorist’ or receiving other unpleasant treatments. But for those who know the situation of the country, they will understand. Even my child could say, “Just ignore them mum, they are just so ignorant.”
According to the data, the number of Muslim population in the United Kingdom at this time is around 2.8 million (4.6 percents of the total population). The United Kingdom has the third largest Muslim community in the European continent, after Germany and France. The Muslims can be found everywhere, including the Friday prayer worshipers that spilled out onto the streets.
And hijab is now a part of the community in the United Kingdom as a diverse nation; whether in terms of nationality, ethnicity or religion, as well as color. You can see hijab everywhere, flowing. Except in Bromley, especially in my village in Pettswood.
I sometimes think, “Ah, maybe it is only me with hijab, where incidentally the population are 98.5% white/English.” Only that, I feel, the people around me do not feel threatened by my presence.
Though a minority, I keep blending in, not isolating myself from the people around, while displaying our Islamic akhlaq.
My do’a and from you I hope, is that, I and the other Muslimahs in the UK remain istiqomah in upholding the commandment to cover the awrah like in Surah al-Ahzab: 59, “O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.” [QS. 33:59].
by: Al Shahidah, Bromley, 5th February 2012