By Asma bint Shameem
I remember the first time I went for Umrah was when I was about 16 or 17 years old. That was the time when my family was not really a ‘practicing’ Muslim family. Yeah sure, we prayed and fasted, but that was about the only thing I knew about Islaam…nothing much more than that.
Included in that was my ignorance of the rules of Hijaab. I didn’t cover myself except when I prayed and that also, not too well.
I didn’t know that Allaah required of me to cover myself, not just when I prayed; rather, all the time, in front of all non-mahram men, and I didn’t know exactly how I should cover myself, either.
You see, I had grown up with the erroneous understanding that it is ‘backward’ and ‘uneducated’ to cover yourself, and indeed, those who observed hijaab were looked down upon.
So there I was, in front of the Haram, the House of my Lord, with my tight shalwar kameez and a small scarf (or dupatta, as you call it in Urdu) just barely covering my head and shoulders, the rest of me exposed.
As I stood by the main entrance of the Masjid, I looked at the throngs of Saudi women who passed by me, fully covered from top to toe, in their ‘abaayas and niqaabs with nothing but their eyes showing. And as I looked at them, several emotions were going through my young and ignorant mind……emotions of amazement, pity and scorn, all mixed together.
These poor Saudi women…I thought to myself. Aren’t they hot? Poor things, they are so illiterate and suppressed. They are living in a world of their own. They have no idea where the rest of us are going.
But as I took pity on them and shook my head with hopelessness and disdain, I also noticed something else.
I noticed that they were glaring at me as they passed me by….each and every one of them!
Wow! I thought to myself. What’s the matter with them?!!
And just when I thought I had had enough of their awful looks and glares, one of them stopped abruptly and sharply tugged at my hair that was showing from underneath my short scarf.
“OUCH! Stop that!” I snapped at her. “Why in the world did you do that to me?!!”
The lady angrily muttered something to me in Arabic and left and I just stood there, hurt, angry, bewildered and disgusted. These Arabs are SO RUDE!! I hatefully and bitterly thought to myself. I didn’t understand the hostility, the angry looks, the resentment.
When I told someone about what happened, they said, “Oh, you don’t know. These Arabs are so racists! They don’t like Pakistanis!”
And that’s what I believed. That these Arabs are not only illiterate, suppressed, and uncivilized, but they are also racist, rude and mean….
And then, after some years, Allaah gave me another chance to go for Umrah. Only this time, it was different.
To my amazement, everyone was so kind to me!
The sisters smiled at me and treated me with respect. When they spoke to me, their voice was soft and their manners were the best. They said salaam to me, and hugged me and kissed me. They shared their food with me. They made space for me in the saff for prayer, when there was no space to be seen. In other words, they treated me like their sister.
“Surely, these Arabs have changed!” I thought, so pleasantly surprized and thankful. “They are no longer rude and mean. They have actually become civilized, polite and courteous!”
“What made them change….??” I wondered. “Why was it so different last time?”
And then, an awful and bitter reality dawned upon me. The painful and distressing realization crept upon me and made me shudder. The disturbing awareness that it was not them who had changed. Rather, it was me.
It was not they who were different after all these years. I was different.
Alhamdulillaah, Allaah had guided me. Now, I was now covered, from head to toe…..just like these Arab women, just like the way Allaah has told us Muslim women to cover.
And that was the difference.
It became clear to me, as bright as day, that, it was never me that these Arab sisters were angry at, when I had first come for Umrah many years ago. It was the laws of Allaah that I was defying that they were upset about.
All those years back, the fault was with me, not them.
When Allaah made me realize that it is an order from Him to cover myself and wear proper hijaab….. that was the difference.
I had realized that it is NOT backward or uncivilized to dress modestly and it is NOT a sign that I am oppressed. I recognized the fact that it was not them who were suppressed or illiterate. Rather, it was me that was so, when I disobeyed Allaah and didn’t do what I was supposed to do. They didn’t need to be pitied. I did.
When I believed that it is a sign of me obeying my Lord and an honor and a dignity that He bestows on whomever He wishes, that was the difference.
I also realized that these Arabs are NOT racist and it is not about us being ‘Pakistani’ or non-Arab.
Rather, it is our own actions that make people like us or honor us…or dislike us.
It also made me aware of the fact that so many times, we are so quick to blame others. We rush to see the faults that lie with others that we forget, that perhaps the fault, in fact, lies with us and not with them.
Just like I was so quick in condemning and blaming my Arab brothers and sisters for being mean and rude and racist. And I didn’t realize that it was my actions, my deeds, my way of dressing, that was the reason for their dislike and nothing more.
Remember, when you pick up your hand to point a finger at somebody, do realize that there are four (fingers of your own hand) pointing at you too.
May Allaah forgive our previous mistakes and guide us always to the straight path and enable us to see the Truth as the Truth and falsehood as falsehood. May He allow us to see our own mistakes and enable us to make taubah and rectify our shortcomings. Ameen.