by Emily W
Anita walked through the front door of her family’s house. Her father was still at work but she could hear her mother in the kitchen.
“Anita, is that you?” Her mother called out from the kitchen.
“Yes,” Anita answered.
Anita dropped her book bag near the door and walked into the kitchen. Her mother was busy slicing some carrots with a large knife.
“Hello dear,” her mother said warmly.
“Hi Mum,” Anita said as she walked up to her mother and kissed her lightly on the cheek. Her mother had been born in Britain and had met her father when he immigrated from India. They had fallen in love and eventually their Anglo-Indian daughter was a product of the union.
“Everything go well at school?”
“Yes, I got back my math test. I got every question right except for two.”
“Well that it superb. You were studying very hard for it.”
“I know. I have another exam coming up. Do you need help down here or can I go study before supper.”
“Go ahead, I have everything under control here.”
Anita retrieved her book bag and went up to her room. After emptying the bag she opened the book she need to finish first and began reading. A hour passed and eventually she reached the end of the assigned reading. She put the book down and then leaned back in her chair. In doing this her gaze was brought up to the cross on her wall.
She closed her eyes and thought about God. A quiet descended on the room and her thoughts drifted beyond the confines of the walls. Her mother was a devout Christian and her father was a convert from Hinduism to Christianity. For as long as Anita could remember, God had been a big part of her life. At one point she had even wanted to be a vicar, and the idea still had some appeal to her. Even though she had elected to attend a secular college her attachment to her faith was still strong. Every time she thought about the teachings of Jesus she felt reminded to do her best to help others.
Eventually her father arrived home and Anita descended the stairs to greet him. After hugging each other they made their way to the kitchen where supper was waiting for them. During the meal they all exchanged stories of what their respective days had been like. Anita liked this part of sharing supper with her family because even if she spent the entire day alone, hearing their stories made it seem like she had spent the day with them.
A few days later Anita was at school. She was in her chemistry class and the professor was announcing the lab groups. Each student had signed up for the times they wanted to work in the lab and their groups were compiled through a computer. Anita went to the table her lab group would be using. Three other students went to the same table. To her shock, the three students that were to be her lab partners happened to be the exact same three students in the class that were Muslims. Two of them wore hijab headscarves and another wore a full face covering niqab with only her eyes visible.
Anita tried to conceal her shock that she signed up for the exact same section as the Muslim students. She did not want to appear upset, but in her mind she was already wondering if she could switch sections with someone else. Anita did not hate Muslims, but she did not have a positive view of Islam. Aside from all of the troubles in the world that seemed to be caused by Islam she had an additional reason for her views. Her paternal grandparents had lived in India during the partition and seen family shoot by a Muslim gang.
One of the girls, a short girl with a bright orange hijab introduced herself, “Hi, I’m Rafif.”
Anita soon made introductions with the other girl in a hijab, Hafa and the girl wearing a niqab who was named Abrar. It was clear the three Muslim girls knew each other but the greetings between them and Anita were relatively friendly. Soon they got to work preparing their lab section equipment for the assignments that they would have during the term. Anita actually found it easy to work with the girls. She was really surprised how well she got along with Abrar. She had expected the veiled woman to be quiet and distant but she was actually pretty friendly and helped Anita with a couple of things.
After the end of the assignment the idea of changing lab sections was gone from Anita’s mind. There did not seem to be any reason for it.
The first couple of lab sessions with her partners went well enough and Anita began to feel more comfortable around them. She gradually learned more about them, from their life’s ambitions (each far more ambitious than she would have expected from a Muslim woman) to smaller things. She learned that Hafa to liked collect seashells, Rafif was fond of Chinese food as she always brought it with her to the lab, and Abrar had spent the previous semester in the United States helping a team studying bees.
One Sunday while she was at church with her family Anita found her thoughts preoccupied with her Muslim lab partners. They seemed nice enough, but their adherence to such a terrible religion was unnerving. Anita felt sorry for them. Gradually a thought developed in her mind that maybe she was meant to be their lab partner. Perhaps this was her chance to lead people to Christ. The idea began to grow heavier in her mind, more definite. She was gradually becoming convinced that it was something she was meant to do. If she could show them what it was like to have God’s love and love Jesus she might be able to help them. Maybe she could not convince them to become Christians, there were still some things she had difficulty understanding in her faith, but maybe just opening their eyes a little might have an effect.
At the next lab session Anita carefully made her opening salvo. Her and Rafif were sitting at a table waiting for some materials to cool down. Rafif was telling her all about her weekend and a trip she had made to an art museum. When Rafif asked Anita about her weekend, Anita casually but enthusiastically talked about her experience in church on Sunday.
“So, you are a Christian?” Rafif asked.
“Yes, did you think I might be something else?” Anita replied.
“Well, I thought you could have been a Hindu or an atheist or anything. I did not think you were a Muslim, but I was not sure.”
“My mother is a Christian, my father use to be a Hindu but he converted to Christianity.”
“Oh, that must give you an interesting perspective on things. Have you investigated Hinduism any or have you only practiced Christianity?”
“I have been a Christian my entire life. Out of curiosity, may I ask, have you always been a Muslim?”
“Yes,” Rafif answered.
“And, are you happy being a Muslim?” Anita intently watched Rafif. Would she see any sign on the girl’s face of doubt?”
“Yes,” Rafif answered in a firm way. “Is there a reason you wouldn’t think I would be?”
“Well, there are a lot of negative things involved with Islam.”
Rafif’s eyes narrowed a little in a display of incredulousness. However, her voice was steady and not angry when she spoke. “What sort of negative things do you mean.”
“Well, there is the terrible way women are treated in Muslim countries. I can’t imagine that you would disagree that bad things happen to women in the Middle East.”
Rafif considered Anita’s words and then spoke. “There are very bad things that happen to women in the Middle East. However, there are very bad things that happen to women in many places in the world. In the Muslim countries where these things happen the people doing them at not truly following Islam.”
“But what about things like having to veil, surely you can’t think that veiling is not oppressive towards women?”
“I think that it can be misused and abused. However, I do not think there is anything wrong with hijab. I have made the decision to wear hijab, what is wrong with a woman making such a decision for herself?”
“Well, nothing I suppose.” It was becoming more difficult to proceed with the debate than Anita had expected.
“Anita, if you want to talk about Islam I would be happy to have that conversation with you. Perhaps on the weekend we can meet and discuss this further?”
Anita spotted Rafif seated on a park bench. The hijab wearing Muslim girl quickly noticed her and stood up. As Anita walked towards the bench she felt nervous. Why did she feel nervous? She supposed because the fate of this young woman’s life might be in her hands. If she could convince her to become a Christian she could really change her life for the better. Anita had read the Bible and prayed the day before. She felt confident, not in her own abilities to convince others. She still was uncertain about some of the things in her own faith after all, but she was confident that the message of Jesus could overcome anything.
The two girls greeted each other and began to walk down the pathway through the park. At first they discussed trivial things like how their school weeks had been. Eventually Rafif asked if Anita wanted to talk about their respective faiths.
“Perhaps you should start,” Raid said.
“Oh, ok.” Anita found herself at a loss of how to begin the whole conversation. She thought about it for a moment and finally asked, “Why do you believe Islam is the right religion?”
Rafif thought on that a moment and then asked a question herself. “Why do you believe Christianity is the right religion?”
Now it was Anita’s turn to think. “Well, I think that what it teaches morally is right. Also, it feels right to me.”
“I understand. It is the same for me.”
Both girls were quiet for a time. Anita then spoke up. “Do you believe the Quran is the word of God?”
“Why? Why not the Bible? Why not the Torah?”
“Because the Quran has remained unaltered ever since it was reveal to the prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him. The Quran was written directly by God. The Bible was not written by Jesus, peace be upon him, but other men. How can I believe they accurately recorded his teachings when they do not always agree with each other.”
“Well…you have to think of it this way. What those men wrote is no the important thing. What is important is the message of love that Jesus preached.”
Somehow it did not feel like a step forward to Anita. Instead, it felt like Rafif was merely solidifying her position.
Rafif then asked as question. “Do you believe that Jesus, peace be upon him, was God?”
Anita felt her stomach knot up. That was the one thing she never was able to understand about Christianity. She always believed that Jesus was divine, but she was never quite sure that he was God. “Well, I have some uncertainty about that so I don’t to get into that.”
“If you are uncertain isn’t that reason enough to talk about it.”
“Well, it isn’t that I’m uncertain. I just don’t want to answer a question that I don’t know.”
“I don’t expect you to know it or not, I just want to know what you think.”
“Well…I’m not sure.”
“As truthful an answer as can ever be given. Ok, well I think we shoulder consider that Islam is the only other religion that acknowledges Jesus, peace be upon him, as a message of God, that he performed miracles and had a miracle birth, that with the permission of God he raised the dead. So if you think about it, Christians and Muslims share a lot with each other. No other religion, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism or anything else shares this with Christianity and Islam.”
Anita had never looked at it that way but it was a good point. Rafif continued.
“The main difference between the two is what they think of Jesus, peace be upon him. For Muslims he was a prophet, one of the finest prophets. For Christians, most Christians at least, he was God. But when I read the Bible there was not a single part of it that I felt was an unambiguous statement by him that he was God.”
“You have read the Bible?”
“Because I wanted to know more about my religion. I believe that Jews and Christians are Muslims, I think they have gone astray, but I think they are my sisters. The Torah and Bible, even through they have been distorted by men, still have truths in them. There are many Muslims who do not think it is a good idea to read these books because of the corruptions. However, I think the truths will be manifest to all who read them.”
Anita could only nod in appreciation of such a sentiment.
For many weeks following that day Rafif and Anita would meet up on their days off an talk. Their conversations were not limited to religious matters. In fact, they spent most of their time talking about school. They did talk more about religion though. She found Rafif to be a lively partner for deep conversations. She began to think that she may not be able to convert her to Christianity, which made Anita sad, but she found herself becoming friends with the young Muslim girl.
One weekend they spent a long time talking about veiling.
“Look Rafif, I can appreciate the reasons you wear the hijab. But I think the way people go overboard with it, with women covering their faces is too much.”
“Why is it too much?”
“Because it is oppressive of women.”
“How is it oppressive?”
“Well…men force women to wear it to control them.”
“Do you think that is why Abrar wears the niqab?”
Anita paused to consider that. Abrar wore the niqab but she did not seem withdrawn and dominated. Quite the opposite, she seemed quite outgoing. “Well, I don’t really know Abrar that well…”
“You should talk with Abrar sometime, ask her about the niqab.”
“Maybe I will.”
Rafif eventually gave Anita an English language translation of the Koran. Anita did begin to read it, a little bit at a time. To her surprise she found it nothing like what she expected. Like the Bible it had its share of battles, but also its share of beauty. Reading the Koran made Anita think about her own faith more and more.
The dream was so vivid. Anita was in a Hindu temple. In the middle of it a young woman was laying on the floor, clothed in a white gown and beautiful. As Anita approached she was shocked to see that it was herself on the floor. There was movement.
Anita saw her father come into view. He carried a glowing Hindu symbol in his hands. He reach the unconscious Anita on the floor. He bent down and put the symbol over her heart. She was not naked anymore, instead she wore a sari and looked like an Indian maiden.
Anita stared with a gaped jaw at this doppelganger. It was what she might look like if she had been born in India she realized.
Soon there was more movement. Anita’s mother approached with a Christian cross. She placed it over Anita’s heart and the sari transformed into a British school uniform. The Hindu temple turned into an English church.
Anita looked intently at the transformed representation of her, the person that she was now.
Soon there was more movement, this time a third Anita emerged into view. She was dressed as the Anita who was laying on the floor…only she carried a star and crescent. Anita could only look on in shock as the Islamic symbol was placed down. The British school uniform disappeared and was replaced by a black hijab. She looked like a pious Muslim woman.
Her father, mother and other self disappeared. The church turned into a mosque. Soon the Anita laying on the floor stood up and approached. Anita could only state in shock.
Soon the Muslim call to prayer began. Anita could only watch as her doppelganger began performing Muslim prayers. Anita found herself without a voice. She was powerless to stop the scene.
When Anita awoke in her bed the memory of the dream was still vivid in her mind. She sat up in bed, it was still dark out and the room was only dimly illuminated. Anita felt her hands shaking. The dream had been vivid, but more than that it had unnerved something in her. Why? It was just a dream? Anita supposed that her talks with Rafif might be responsible for the dream.
But there was something else. She had not been persuaded by what Rafif had to tell her about Islam. However, she had found herself discovering that Islam was not the evil thing her family seemed to think. Maybe her familiarity with it was making part of her insecure?
What did she have to be insecure about? After all, there was no way she would convert to Islam.
Anita tried to reassure herself of this as she drifted back to sleep.
At breakfast the next morning Anita thought about the dream. There was something about the dream that knotted her stomach. She had been having her talks with Rafif for a while. She did not think she was going to convert the girl, but they enjoyed each other’s company and had become friends of a sort. During their time together Anita had shared Christianity with Rafif and Rafif had shared Islam with Anita.
It had been an eye opening experience for Anita. Having come from a Christian household, and having Hindu grandparents who had lived through the partition of India she had had a bleak view of Islam and Muslims. Obviously that had changed. When she started reading the Koran that Rafif had given her she even found that she was impressed by what it said.
Islam had become more familiar to her, less alien. And recently she had been having a one question in her mind. It was not something she was seriously contemplating. It was simply a subtle idea that entered her mind. What if Islam was the right religion.
Her active mind had quickly discarded the notion. She was a practicing Christian, she was confident that Christianity was the right religion. But still, it made an interesting hypothetical and once the idea had entered her head it may have been dormant but it was there.
Was that why she had the dream last night? Dreams were often the result not of what people thought about during the day, but what they tried not to think about.
Anita tried to picture herself as a Muslim. A hijab concealing her hair, her already modest fashion sense now more conservative. She pictured this new, Muslim version of herself doing things like in her normal life but as a Muslim. Always wearing the hijab when outside. Walking down the street with the hijab on, declaring her identity as a Muslim for everyone to see. She pictured herself praying like a Muslim, bowing and kneeling.
“Are you all right Anita?”
Anita was jerked out of her daydream by the sound of her mother’s voice.
Her mother looked at her from across the table. “I asked with you were all right. You’ve barely touched your food.”
Anita looked down at still full plate of food. Had she been thinking about Islam for all of breakfast.
“I’m fine.” Anita proceeded to finish her breakfast and said goodbye to her parents as she left for school. She picked up her backpack and carried it out the door, all to aware of the Koran that was inside of it.
When she arrived on the campus she went to her first class of the day and then went to the library to study. She had a single person desk in the lower level of the library, the only lift from the florescent bulbs overhead. No one else was around and so Anita was able to study in quiet. Once she completed the chapters assigned she put her textbook away and leaned back in her chair. After a few moments she reached into her bag and felt the Koran in her hands. She pulled it out and placed it on the desk.
Anita looked over her shoulder to make sure she was alone. She then returned her attention to the Koran. She opened it to where she had left off and began reading. With each word she read she felt something. There was a nervous energy in her legs. A thought went through her head that the more she read the more likely she was to convert to Islam.
Part of her wanted to get up and run away from the desk, leaving the Koran on it. She tried to tell herself that it was a silly fear. That there was no threat to her beliefs on these pages.
However, as she read she did not find anything that felt wrong. It all seemed to make sense. Where were the flaws? Surely there had to be flaws? Even her own faith had aspects to it that did not entirely make sense.
Anita wondered what would happen if she continued reading the Koran, if she finished it. By the end, would she have become a Muslim? Thoughts of a new Muslim self began to enter her mind again.
Despite her insecurities, Anita continued to meet Rafif to talk about their respective faiths. In fact, Anita felt compelled to keep showing up. If she stopped it would be like admitting that she felt insecure, which meant acknowledging that there was something to be insecure about.
Their talks began to grow longer and longer. Anita became more familiar with many of the concepts that Rafif talked about. The conversations began to have a strange duality to them. When she was not with Rafif she could put these Islamic ideas aside, they were the beliefs of someone else. However, when she was with Rafif the ideas were less distant. It was if for a brief time their respective universes blended into one. During the talks Anita would think of Jesus, not as God but as a Prophet. She thought about the one, indivisible God.
Gradually her thoughts began to linger on these things after she was done talking with Rafif.
One day Anita was in between classes when she ran into Abrar,
“Hello Abrar, how are you?”
“I am good, and you?”
The two girls chatted for a while and finally, Anita felt herself unable to resist asking a question.
“Abrar, how come you wear a niqab?”
“To protect my modesty.”
“But is it really necessary to cover yourself as much as you do? Wouldn’t a long skirt and a long sweater be just as good.”
“Perhaps for other women, but not for me. I do not want to be judged by my physical appearance, but by my character and accomplishments.”
Anita was speechless.
“If you are interested Anita, you can come by my place and try on a niqab yourself.”
“Ok.” Anita was amazed how effortlessly the words came out of her mouth.
When she did come over to Abrar’s place the veiled girl greeted her at the door. Once Anita was inside however, Abrar removed her veil. Anita was shocked to see the girl’s face for the very first time. Abrar was absolutely gorgeous.
“There are no strange men here so I can take off the niqab.” Anita still could not get over how Abrar was actually astonishingly beautiful. Most women would give anything to look like Abrar, and yet she hid herself under the veil.
Soon Abrar had led Anita to her bedroom. Before Anita could really contemplate what she was doing she was fitted with an abaya. Next came a headscarf. Anita looked at herself in the mirror. It was just like the image from the dream. Is this what Anita would look like if she became a Muslim. Anita had not been planning on converting to Islam. It had been becoming more intriguing for her over the last several months, and she had felt a pull but it had still seemed distant, abstract. However, being covered in black, all her body concealed except her hands and face suddenly gave it a concrete, real feel.
Anita thought about how if she had been elsewhere, this might be how she would dress everyday. Anita was seeing a version of herself as a Muslim.
Soon Abrar was fitting a niqab over Anita’s face and with a pair of gloves on, all that was visible of Anita were her were her eyes.
Abrar then declared that they should go outside, so that Anita could get the full experience. Anita felt anxiety, but also excitement. Abrar put her niqab back on and soon the two girls were outside.
It was a surreal experience. She could not help but notice all the stares. Of course, they could not actually see Anita but still she could feel the gazes. Anita realized with a shock that despite the fact that she was British, when people looked at her all they saw was a Muslim foreigner.
At one point they passed a group of young women her own age. They were wearing cutoff shorts and revealing tops. It was a display of the body that Anita did herself. She had always dressed modestly, long skirts and tops that did not reveal cleavage. As the young women passed them, their flesh parts wobbling and bouncing and on display for all to see Anita tried to picture herself dressed in such a manner. Just the thought of it made her feel insecure. She could not imagine displaying her intimate parts in such a way.
A startling thought occurred to Anita. She realized that given the choice between dressed in such a scantily manner and wearing the niqab she would prefer to wear the niqab. Anita took a hold on the abaya that concealed her body. Suddenly it felt less like an encumbrance and more like a protective shield
At the end of the excursion she felt a variety of conflicting emotions. She did not think she could wear the niqab, even if she were to become a Muslim. It was not an expression of piety that she thought was necessary. On the other hand, she felt like she had a better understanding of what Abrar got out of wearing it. She thanks the niqabi girl for sharing the experience with her.
When Anita got home she went to her room and laid down on her bed. Her eyes were looking at the ceiling, but her thoughts were far away. She wondered about the possibility of whether Islam could be true. It did not intuitively seem like it could be. How could God express himself through a religion that had been used for horrible purposes. But then she thought about how Christianity had also been used as an excuse to commit terrible crimes. Whatever the true faith was on the planet, it was likely to have people abuse it for purposes that had nothing to do with God.
Anita wondered what it would be like if God had indeed sent the Koran as a revelation to people. The thought gave her a lot of unease, and yet it was a compelling notion and she found herself unable to stop thinking about it. She thought about herself putting on a hijab, praying the Muslim prayers.
Anita walked towards the entrance to the mosque. Several days previously she had done an internet search of mosques. She had found one that was mostly attended by people from South Asia. This seemed like it might be the one that would be best for her to try visiting.
For every moment that had passed since she had written down the address she had run through what she as doing in her mind. She knew that this was something more than intellectual curiosity. She was feeling a pull. Where this pull would lead, she did not know. But she was feeling something.
As she approached the entrance of the mosque there were several men of Southern Asian descent standing in front of it. Gradually their attention gravitated towards her and her pace began to slow until she came to a stop before them. Their faces were a mixture of discomfort and annoyance.
“Er…hello. Is this the entrance to the mosque?”
The men were silent for a moment. Then, one of them spoke. “It is, but you cannot not enter.”
“You cannot enter.”
“Is there a separate entrance for women?”
“No, the mosque is for men only.”
Anita found herself at a loss for words. She had not been expecting this. As far as she knew, Rafif, Abrar, and Hafa all attended their respective mosques all the time. Anita felt embarrassed and immediately turned around and walked away as quickly as she could.
When she got home she collapsed into tears on her bed. She felt crushed.
Anita felt like a fool. She had strayed away from her faith to pursue some stupid dalliance with something exotic. She sobbed into her pillow until she fell asleep.
That night she dreamt of the same mosque that she had before. Anita looked down at herself, she wearing the same black hijab that her doppleganger from the previous dream had been wearing. The call to prayer sounded.
Anita was startled to find herself lining up with a group of Muslim women. Soon they began to bow, to kneel, to press their foreheads to the floor. Anita participated and found herself eager to submit to God. She felt herself taking on the identity of a pious Muslim woman. Afterwards she rose up from the floor and walked down a corridor of the mosque. When she reached the end she found two young women seated on the floor. Both looked like her. The one on her left wore a sari. The one on her right wore a British school uniform.
Anita thought her identity. She had roots in Indian. She had Hindu ancestors and family. But she was also English. She had Christian ancestors and family. What was she?
Suddenly a figure in a black niqab was standing between the two reflections of herself. Underneath the opening for the eyes there was only a bright white light.
Anita continued to learn about Islam. The incident at the mosque had shaken her. However, she was not deterred. If anything she felt more motivated. The next week she tried a different mosque. This one did permit women though they had to pray behind a partition. When Anita preyed in the manner of a Muslim for the first time it was a revelation. It felt pure, it felt simple. She was making a connection with the God she had always strongly believed existed.
Over the next several months she would attend church on Sundays and mosque on fridays. The former she did with her parents, the latter she did alone. She thought she believed in both, but her visiting of one informed her thoughts of the other. She started to see that Islam was not too different from Christianity. they complemented each other in various ways.
Gradually her identity transformed as Islam began to fill the gaps in her Christianity. Gradually she transformed…
There was one step in her conversion process that she was not looking forward to at all. She knew she would have to tell her parents at some point. Eventually they were going to find out somehow. It would be worse for them to find out in a way that did not involve her telling them. Also, they were her parents and it was wrong for her to lie to them.
It was on a Saturday that Anita had resolved to tell her parents everything. She spent much of the morning in her room, trying to work up the courage to sit them down for the talk. She wondered if this was what it was like to come out as gay to one’s parents. She ended up doing some nervous pacing back and forth across her room.
In order to be more focused for the task at hand Anita tried to calm down. She focused on the thing that had given her the most comfort in her life: God. Regardless of what happened today, or how her parents reacted, she knew that God loved her. If she did what was right and respected her parents God would love her. Even if she failed at this, God was ever merciful.
Anita sat on the edge of her bed and took out her copy of the Qu’ran. She did not open it up, she did not read any passages. Instead she simply contemplated what its words had done for her. Her faith had always helped to fulfill something in her. For all the years of her life she had been a Christian it had been a source comfort for her. Reading the Qu’ran, becoming Muslim…it did not feel like a change. She still received the same feeling, only now there was a sense of completeness to it. It was not that she was changing from Christian to Muslim, rather, Islam was helping her to complete her Christianity.
Anita carefully placed the Qu’ran back and stood up. With a heart that was beating hard in her chest she left her room and descended down the stairs. Both of her parents were watching television in the living room. She walked over to the side of the couch.
“Mum, Dad…can we talk?”
Bother her parents looked up at her. The look on their faces suggested that they were unsure what was coming but they answered in the affirmative and turned off the television. Anita sat down on a nearby chair. Her gaze was down towards the ground and when she dared raise it up she saw both her parents’ faces looking right at her. It was a good thing she was sitting, if she were standing she might have fainted. She looked back down at the ground again struggled with how to tell them the truth.
“I…” no other words came from Anita’s mouth. How could she possibly say this in a way that wouldn’t hurt their feelings?
“I have something I need to tell you.” Despite her best efforts Anita found her gaze lowering to the floor again.
“I’ve been changing over the last several months.” Anita paused for a moment. There was nothing but silence from her parents. With shaky knees and a pounding heart she continued.
“Lately I’ve been reconsidering some of the things I believe. I have always loved God and I know that he has always loved me. I believe God exists but there are some things that I have had doubts about,” Anita said in a shaky voice. She wondered if they had any idea where this conversation was heading. Almost certainly not. They might think she was going to let them know she had decided not to become a vicar. or maybe they might think she was changing denominations. She supposed she was, but not in the way they could guess.
“So I have come to a decision about some of the things I believe and how I want to worship God. I still want to serve God and I still love Jesus…as a prophet,” Anita said the last few words as a way to lead into what she was about to share. She wondered whether it might give her parents a clue as to what she was about to reveal. She glanced up and saw that they were watching her with worried eyes, worried but confused…they did not realize it yet.
“And so I think it is best to serve God in the way that makes the most sense to me…..as a Muslim.”
What she had just revealed to them was clearly so unexpected that it took them several moments to process it. The idea that their daughter could become a Muslim was so impossible that they surely needed time to comprehend it. Her father’s mouth slowly slid open as if her meant to say something but no words came out. Her mother’s face twisted into some strange emotion Anita did not recognize. It was not anger, it was something closer to…disappointment.
Anita felt like the ground was giving way underneath her. She had finally told them, in a way the hard part was now over. However, she would have to endure what was coming.
Her mother spoke first. “Oh Anita……”
There was not anger in her voice. There was sadness though and in a way this made Anita feel much worse. If it was anger she could sit here, she could endure. But she had made her mother sad and there was nothing she could do to fix it. Anita lowered her head and looked down at the floor.
There was a long moment of silence and then her mother spoke again. “I don’t understand what we did wrong.”
Anita raised her head and looked into her mother’s eyes, she looked so lost.
“You didn’t do anything wrong Mum. You did everything right, I love you.”
“But I must have done something wrong. I don’t know what, but I did something wrong. I tried to raise you in the loving protection of God but I made a mistake somehow.”
“You didn’t Mum, I still love you and I still love God.”
“How can you love God when you have rejected his religion?”
“I do not think I have rejected his religion, I’ve made the decision to convert to Islam because I think it is his religion.”
“How can it possibly be God’s religion. Anita, you watch the television, you pay attention to the news. All the terrorist attacks, the terrible things that happen in the Muslim countries. You cannot think that is what God wants?”
“I don’t. I don’t think the people who do those things are true to Islam. It is just like how what some people in Northern Ireland do is not true to Christianity.”
Her mother was sadly shaking her head. “Anita, I wish I knew what happened to you. You wanted to be vicar when you were younger, remember? You know that a Muslim gang murdered members of your father’s family. Why would you choose to betray your family?”
Anita looked over at her father. He shifted in his seat uncomfortably from the spotlight being focused on him. His own gaze fell to the floor. Anita looked back to her mother.
“I do not feel like I’ve betrayed my family. I still love my family. But I have to do what I feel is right for me and that means being a Muslim.”
Anita’s mother was quite for a long stretch of time, and almost as if she was changing the topic she announced, “I’m going to the church. I have to pray.” She then stood up, put on her jacket and walked out the front door. A moment later the car started and she was gone. Up until this point Anita had been holding herself together, now the tears started to stream down her face. She stood up from the chair and while wiping away the tears with one of her wrists she quickly retreated to her room. She wasn’t sure if her father was watching her leave or not. All she wanted to do was retreat to her room and cry.
As soon as she was in her room she allowed the stream of tears to run like rivers out of her eyes. She started grabbing tissues to dry her eyes but the tears kept coming. It was worse than she had expected. She had been prepared to be yelled at, but there was no yelling. It was worse, she had broken her mother’s heart. She felt absolutely dreadful.
After several minutes there was a gentle tapping on her door and it opened slightly. Her father stood in the hallway.
“May I come in?” His voice was calm, soft.
Anita could not speak, but she nodded. Her father came in and sat down next to her on the bed. There was a pause, and then he placed a hand on her shoulder. It was a small comfort, but it was enough, she collapsed into his arms and began crying into his chest. She sobbed and sobbed for what seemed like forever. Eventually the tears slowed, and once her father’s shirt was soaked with her tears she leaned back.
“I’ve ruined everything Dad. I’m so sorry, I’ve ruined everything.”
“No, you haven’t. Everything is going to be fine.”
“But I feel like I’ve let you and Mum down. She was so hurt.”
Her father nodded. “She was hurt, and I imagine she will be hurt for a long time. But things will get better.”
“But she thinks I’ve betrayed my family.”
“She does think this, but you know that you haven’t betrayed your family. You still love your family very much. She will see this in time.”
Anita looked up into her father’s eyes. She did not see any anger or hurt. Just concern for his daughter.
“You are not angry?” Anita asked.
“No. How could I ever be angry at my daughter who has done so much to make me proud?”
“But, I’ve become a Muslim.”
Anita saw a momentary wince on her father’s face but it was quickly gone. His face was in deep thought. “I understand what you are going through Nita. Remember, I use to be a Hindu. It was a difficult experience for me when I became a Christian. I had to give up one certainty for another. But it was the right thing for me. I know, deep down, that this must be the right thing for you.”
Anita never realized how much she loved her father before this point. She gave him another hug and he wiped away a few tears from her eyes.
Anita met Rafif outside of the mosque. It was a big day and Rafif smiled widely when she saw Anita.
“Are you ready?”
“I am.” Anita felt so nervous, and yet at ease. The two girls continued talking outside of the mosque for several minutes. Under the blue hijab that she had begun wearing Anita would have just looked like another Muslim to an casual passerby. It had been a little trying on her mother when she first saw her daughter wearing it. Even now every time Anita put it on to go outside she could see her mother feel sadden by the sight. It broke Anita’s heart every time she saw it.
Things in her house were not normal, but they were not bad. Her mother mostly seemed to be content not to argue with Anita as long as Anita did not bring up her new faith in conversation. It was an uneasy peace, but peace nonetheless. Her father quietly accepted the situation and he even tried to act like nothing had changed.
Anita briefly reached up to touch her hijab. Even though today was officially when she would become a Muslim she had felt like she was one for some time. It was not because she was wearing a hijab. Rather, it was because of the thoughts and feelings she had. In her mind she accepted that Allah was the only God. And in her heart she had love for his prophets, including Jesus and Muhammed.
Inside the mosque Anita made her Shahadah and everyone in attendance was ecstatic. Rafif gave Anita the biggest hug she had ever experienced. Anita felt a tear run down he cheek. It was a tear of happiness, the happiness of having found peace.
In the time that followed Anita’s faith grew. Each time she prayed she felt as if she was establishing a direct connection to God. The experience was enough to completely replenish her with contentment no matter how draining her day. She often reflected on the journey that had led her to this point. Not too long ago she had been a practicing Christian. But, much like her father’s conversion from Hinduism to Christianity she had found a path that worked better for her. If she had not encountered Rafif she may have gone on being a Christian, or she may have chosen a new faith. If she had grown up in India she may have been a Hindu.
Things had not been easy. Her father had accepted her conversion easily enough but her mother was still very uneasy. About the best she was able to experience with her was a tacit understanding that neither of them would bring up the topic. Some of her more distant relatives were more upset. Her father’s family were able to grudgingly accept his conversion to Christianity, but her conversion to Islam was completely unacceptable.
Even though Anita had no doubts about the decision she had made, she still felt bad about how she had hurt some of the people she loved. However, she had to do what was best for her.
She thought about all of these things as she examined herself in the mirror. A red and black hijab covered her hair. She had just finished the ablutions in preparation for the morning prayer. With her prayer rug set out on the floor she was ready to begin her first prayers of the day as she had done many times before. Before she began, Anita raised a hand to her hijab and touched it briefly with the tips of her fingers.
She thought about how simple the hijab was, just a small piece of fabric. However, it was also ever so much more than that. It was an outward expression of her faith. When she wore the hijab she was declaring herself to be a Muslim to everyone who saw her. She finally understood why Rafif, Abrar, and Hafa wore their coverings. When Anita wore hers she did not feel oppressed. She felt a connection, she felt her faith complete.