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Islam, Women and Feminism ( 3 Dec 2012, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Religion Isn’t an Inheritance but Is an Active Decision


Testing Conviction Part of Faith Journey

By Mariam Khan

November 30, 2012

At the time I decided to wear the Hijab to school I did not realize the impact it would have on my life. It was as if my conviction was being tested.

There's a verse in the Quran that says: "Do people think they'll be left alone saying `We believe' and that they will not be tested?"

I realize now that being tested is a necessary process that solidifies one's belief.

Among young children, finer details often go unnoticed. As a kindergartner, I didn't think about the effects my decisions would have on the rest of my life. I went crazy on the jungle gym and scribbled during art, not worrying if what I was doing might affect my relationship with my peers.

I was comfortable enough in my own skin that I felt no matter what, there was no way things could change. It's crazy the things we don't appreciate when we're busy waiting to grow up.

However, change means taking responsibilities and finding your inner conviction.

I grew up in a small town in Connecticut where there were few Muslims. There was a mosque in a neighbouring city where my family was active in the Islamic and interfaith communities, so I had a good amount of exposure to Islam.

I understood what my beliefs were and how to fulfil them as much as a kid in elementary school could.

I began to wear my Hijab at the end of first grade with the support of my family and my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Q.

Hijab is a practice of modesty and privacy in Islam. It's more than the act of covering one's body; it's the act of identifying oneself as a Muslim, which affects how one carries oneself.

Covering one's body practically demands respect because it requires that judgment should not solely be based on one's beauty, but rather on intellect and the content of the heart.

I think there is something quite "feminist" about that.

Projecting this outward aspect of my religion is definitely a challenge in America, where our beliefs are not reflected in the best light and are under much scrutiny.

As a 7-year-old, people would marvel at the fact that I was already wearing a Hijab to school. But this seemed completely natural to me, since for as long as I could remember my mom wore the Hijab.

Initially, my classmates were curious and inquisitive about the Hijab, yet accepting. But by time I reached third and fourth grade, the affects of 9/11 had sunk into the hearts of everyone around me.

My classmates took on a decidedly negative attitude toward my wearing the Hijab that was completely surprising. They were at that age where they could spit out what they hear their parents or others say without a second thought. It was both shocking and disheartening.

In the face of this difficult test I didn't want to take off the Hijab but blamed my mom for "tricking" me into wearing it.

By the time middle school came around, my peers were used to the way I dressed and it became old news. Now my relationship with those kids who may have said some unkind words has evolved to the point where we can be friends.

It was also during this time that I formed a more concrete understanding of the reasons why I must wear the Hijab. While I made this pivotal decision without being truly informed, my understanding of my faith evolved to a point where I am not willing to compromise, regardless of the daily struggles due to the views of others.

I hope when my past teachers and classmates see negative things on the news about what Muslims are doing, or hear negative comments about Islam, they may recall that first Muslim girl they met, studying and laughing with her friends.

I hope they conclude that no stereotype or generalization can accurately define an entire religion.

In retrospect, delaying wearing the Hijab could have resulted in me succumbing to peer pressure. I hold the highest respect for those girls who start wearing their Hijab later in life. I understand how difficult it is to break away from societal norms to fulfil one's faith.

Although I grew up within a religious atmosphere, I still had to make a conscious decision that practicing my religion was something I wanted to pursue.

I believe religion isn't an inheritance but is an active decision, and testing is essential in that process.

Mariam Khan is a member of Baitul Mukarram Masjid of Greater Danbury and is a freshman at St. John's University.