Converting by Choice

Converting by Choice

by Emily W

1.

Snip-snip-snip. There was a certain gratification to the sound of the scissors cutting their way through the pictures. First she cut horizontally, then vertically and then diagonally. Once the image had been reduced to fragments and discarded into the trash another picture was brought out and subjected to the same treatment. This process was performed with almost mechanical regularity. The rhythmic sound of the scissors snipping was occasionally joined by the less regular sound of a young woman sniffing as she tried to hold back tears.

Lauren Brown had just discovered that her boyfriend of three years had been cheating on her. The explicit text messages she had seen displayed on his phone as it rested on the coffee table was the one strand that unraveled years of lies. He had been cheating on her almost from the very beginning of their relationship and with more than just one woman. So now she was purging her house of all trace of him. Most of the work was already done as he had packed up all of his stuff and left. All that remained were the pictures and she was eliminating them with industrial efficiency. Before an hour had passed she had decimated the contents of several photo albums.

Feeling accomplished but still sad she raided the contents of her freezer for the sole remaining pint of ice cream. She seated herself down in front of television and consumed it. Her attention drifted away from the programming on the screen and to the window behind it. The droplets of rain were accumulating on the window. This was not such an uncommon occurrence in Oregon, but somehow the timing seemed suspicious, as if the universe felt that the present moment was an appropriate time for some gloomy weather.

So she mined deeper into the ice cream and bitterly thought back over the last three years. She thought that Kevin had been the one. That this time it was going to work. Unfortunately Kevin had proved to be just one more in a seemingly endless series of losers that she had deluded herself into believing were gentlemen.

“Well Lauren, it looks like you are Zero for Five. Not exactly championship material in the dating game.”

The spoon in her hand scraped along the bottom of the carton as she contemplated her lack of luck when it came to men. She couldn’t understand it. She was good looking and in shape. She had a decent job at a bank and owned her house. She should be swatting away the best guys out there but instead she had to struggle just to land the guys who either cheated on her or just sat at home all day playing video games. With her spoon now unable to find anymore ice cream and her self esteem at a new low she resolved that there was only one course of action left: buy more ice cream.

***

It was only a couple of minutes worth of driving between Lauren’s home and downtown Bridgeport. There was a fresh market she was fond of shopping at and they carried some of the best organic ice cream around. Despite the weather the drive went smoothly enough until she reached the street the market was on and found that every parking space was taken. The market wasn’t usually this busy, but on a rainy day there isn’t anything better than some warm soup.

Lauren had to make a right turn and drive a block before finding a parking space. She got her umbrella ready and opened it up as soon as she was out of the car. She began the trek towards the market with her upper body mostly protected from the rain expect when a sudden gust of wind would cause it to fly into her sideways. As she walked along the sidewalk she looked at the different store fronts. She did not usually go on this street and was actually ignorant about the businesses located on it. There was a paint store and a tax service and…..

She paused for a moment. Instead of a store, there was an entrance way with a tiled covered archway. On the white tile was elegant looking black calligraphy of what she assumed was a Middle Eastern language. She tipped her umbrella back a little and looked up.

Bridgeport Muslim Community Mosque

A Muslim mosque? Now that Lauren thought about it she had seen more than one woman in a headscarf around town. In fact, she had seen several in the market before. The reason for that was obvious now that she knew this place was just a block away. Looking in through the glass window in front all she saw was an elegant wooden screen that blocked off the view of the rest of the establishment. About the only thing she could see was a small table setup by the door with a bunch of pamphlets arranged on them. They were all topical including one title “Women and Islam.” With a derisive smile Lauren continued her way onto the market. She was fine with people worshipping anyway they wanted but Islam was not for her. The news showed her everything she needed to know about women and Islam.

When she reached the market she took a small basket near the front and immediately headed for the frozen section. She spent several minutes in front of the ice cream cooler carefully deciding which flavors she would pick. She had to carefully weigh the immediate satisfaction she would experience now with the amount of exercise at home she would need to burn the calories. Selecting three different flavors she made her way to the checkout line. She was not in line for more than a minute when she noticed a Middle Eastern woman in a headscarf get into line a couple of registers down from her.

Normally Lauren would not have spared her more than a glance but discovering the Muslim mosque did more to draw her attention. She felt a momentarily bit of sadness for the woman. She could not imagine going through life having to cover her hair. The poor woman was in the United States now, she shouldn’t have to be made to do anything.

As it so happened they both finished in their respective checkout lines at nearly the same time. So Lauren got to follow a few paces behind the Muslim woman on the way to her car. Unsurprisingly the headscarf wearing woman turned the corner that would lead her to the mosque. A few paces later Lauren was turning the same corner. The rain was clearing up, enough so that Lauren folded up her umbrella. As the two women approached their respective destinations a Middle Eastern man got out of his car and approached the woman in front of them. Greeting each other they hugged and then kissed. Pretending not to notice Lauren walked past them and got into her car. She watched the happy couple break their embrace and then proceed into the mosque.

Letting out a sigh, Lauren muttered, “Great…even oppressed Muslim women are having better luck finding husbands than me.”

***

Over the next several days Lauren busied herself with work and did not think about the Muslim woman she had seen or the mosque. They had just been brief distractions on the roller coaster of post-breakup blues. That is, until a woman entered Lauren’s bank wearing a headscarf. This was a different woman from the one before. She was older, maybe in her late thirties whereas the girl at the market had been in her twenties. She also was Middle Eastern. Unlike the girl at the market whose hair was covered with just a scarf, this woman’s head covering reached down just below her shoulders. Her face was quite lovely and somehow the blue head covering seemed to accentuate her beauty.

Lauren watched her as she walked up to the merchant counter with a money bag. This momentarily surprised Lauren, she didn’t know that Muslim women could work. Then she realized that the woman must be running the bank errand for her husband who owns the business. The woman interacted pleasantly with Kimberly the teller while they conducted their transaction. Lauren couldn’t hear what they were saying but saw the smiles on their faces. She tried to remember if she had ever saw the woman before. She vaguely remembered Muslim women coming into the bank every now and then but she had never given them a second glance.

With the transaction complete the woman began to leave the bank. Lauren followed her with her eyes, breaking her focus just once to quickly look down at her papers when the woman turned briefly her way. Once she was out of sight Lauren got up from her desk. There were no clients to take care of at the moment so she walked over to Kimberly.

“Hey Kimberly, that woman you just took care of…..”

“Fatima?”

“Er-yes. What business does she work for?”

“Well, she owns some kind of meat company.”

“What?”

“Yeah, its called-” Kimberly paused as she looked at the receipt “-Halal Meats of Oregon. Why, is there a problem.”

“Hmm? No-er-no. I was just curious.”

Lauren turned around and walked back to her desk. Maybe the woman was single? Yes, that was probably it. If she had a husband she would be a dutiful housewife. Lauren returned to work, except more than once during the remainder of the day she thought about the woman in the head covering.

***

Lauren parked her car several spaces down from the mosque. She had no reason to park here. There was plenty of parking in front of the market. But parking there would not give her a reason to walk by the mosque again. She got out of the car and approached the entrance with the calligraphed archway. The lights were on inside although there was no way of telling whether anyone was around with the wood screen blocking the view of anything past the entrance.

She stopped when she was close enough to read the covers of the pamphlets. It was raining when she looked at them before so she wasn’t able to read the titles of all of them. That was the only reason she was doing this. At least, that is what she told herself. There were a dozen glossy pamphlets in total with a variety of subjects. There was also a stack of white printer paper with what she assumed was local information about the mosque.

She did not even have time to question her actions as she pushed the door open and quickly scoped up each of the pamphlets and grabbed one of the pieces of paper and before she knew it she was outside again and making a sprint for the corner. Once she turned around the corner she slowed her pace to a walk and continued on into the market.

While shopping in the market she kept giving brief glimpses at the pamphlets. When she was waiting in line she read the printout. It had a monthly list of events and listed times for services on Friday. When Lauren got home she kicked off her shoes and sat on her couch. She read more closely the pamphlets.

To her surprise one was about terrorism. As she read it she found out just how strongly Islam forbids terrorism. Each paragraph was accompanied by what she assumed were verses from the Quran:

…take not life, which God hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law: thus doth He command you, that ye may learn wisdom

…if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.

Lauren had to admit to herself that she was surprised to find such beautiful sentiments. Of course, when she really thought about it she shouldn’t have been surprised at all. All religious holy books were full of contradictory rules. Terrorists and the like just cherry pick what suits them. Despite some of the interesting things she had read, when she got to the pamphlet about women she had a hard time buying it. It tried to sell the veil as something that empowered women. Well Lauren had seen enough news about the Taliban and Afghanistan to know just how specious that claim was. She put the pamphlets aside and turned on the television.

***

Lauren twisted and turned on her bed. Her sleep that night had been fitful. She was sure that she had slept some but there were long stretches of time in which she was very much aware of being awake. She looked at the clock. It was still only four in the morning.

After remaining on the bed with her eyes closed but her body seemingly unwilling to rest she finally threw up her hands in the proverbial sense and got up. It was Saturday and she was not working today so it was not like she needed a full night’s worth of sleep for the day. If she became tired she could just take a nap later. After showering she spent a moment considering herself in the mirror. She took her long blonde hair and pulled it tight behind her head. Thinking about the woman she saw at the bank she took her towel off and wrapped it around her head to simulate the look. She remembered how beautiful the woman had looked. Lauren was beautiful, wasn’t she?

“Then why is it that only jerks and losers will date you?”

She let the question hang in the air for a moment and then undid the towel. Just then an idea came to her. She returned to her bedroom and turned on the computer. Once on she opened her web browser and started searching for videos about Islam. The first couple she watched were heavy analysis of the Islamic concepts that she wasn’t really familiar with. Frowning she tried searching for something different. She began looking for individual stories of people who had converted to Islam. This was just curiosity she told herself.

“Why would anyone choose to be a Muslim?”

She watched the videos and they included many different stories. Gradually she began to gravitate towards the stories of female converts. ‘After all, I guess I can see men becoming Muslims. But why would women convert?’ she thought.

The stories of the female converts truly surprised her. Many of them were smart, well educated, professional women. They seemed to have everything that women in Muslim countries were denied. And yet they all felt an absence in their life. Islam called to them and they began wearing hijab. For them it wasn’t a symbol of oppression. It was a symbol of their faith and when they wore it was because they wanted to be treated for who they were, not what they looked like. Many of them didn’t really practice religion before. Like Lauren they came from non-practicing Christian families but grew up to be atheists or agnostics. There was a spiritual hole in their lives. Was there a spiritual hole in Lauren’s life?

She felt like her heart had skipped a couple of beats. Trying to pretend that she wasn’t scared she closed the web browser and turned off her computer. It was time for breakfast, that was why she stopped watching the videos.

***

The sky was clear today so Lauren decided to go for a walk. Her problem was that she had been confined up in the house with all of this nervous energy and anxiety from her breakup building up in her. Out of boredom she had spent several hours watching videos on Islam of all things! Nothing like an hour long walk to work out the tension and clear her head.

Her house was on the side of a hill and from it she could look down into the center of Bridgeport. In the past she had often taken walks down into the city and then back. Ascending the hill forced her to exert herself and it was some great exercise.

As she descended the hill into the downtown area she began to think about getting a bottled water at the market. It was a good idea to drink something if you are thirsty during a walk. Of course, she wasn’t thirsty or feeling even particularly warmed by this walk yet. But she reminded herself that she would be thirsty when she walked back up the hill. So it made perfect sense for her to go into the market and buy a water bottle.

Of course she walked past the market, turned the corner and came to be standing in front of the mosque. She knew from the paper she had read that services were on Fridays. Since this was Saturday there would not be anyone here. She would just look in through the window at the wooden screen that prevented her from seeing anything, turn around and finish the rest of her walk. This would be where it ended.

There was a light on inside.

Lauren stood at the entrance to mosque for a long time. She just stood there. She didn’t try to reach out to try the door. She didn’t try to turn around and walk away. She was just standing there.

‘What am I doing?’ she thought.

Then she looked at the calligraphy written on the entrance. It was in Arabic so she couldn’t read it. Based off what little she had read and the videos she watched she assumed that it said something about Allah or Muhammed. The opening to many of the videos she watched said something about the two. Maybe she had swung by the mosque because she wanted to look at the calligraphy? It was rather pretty in its own way. Of course, that was not really why she was here.

She reached out and took a hold of the door and pulled it open.

Was there a spiritual hole in Lauren’s life? She supposed she was going to find out.

2.

When Lauren entered the mosque she hesitantly walked to the end of the wooden screen and looked around. What struck her first and foremost was the sparcity of it. She was more or less looking at a large, empty room. There was a pattern on the carpet that she recognized from some of the videos. Each repetition of the pattern was where an individual Muslim would bow down to pray. In the center of the room was a large partition that divided the room into half. At the far end of the room was a door that was left wide open. Lauren could only see part of the room inside. It looked like an office. Every piece of wall space was consumed by bookshelves containing all sorts of volumes. There also seemed to be a desk. From inside this office came the sound of papers being shuffled around. They stopped and then a moment later a man emerged from the office.

His appearance was so sudden that Lauren nearly jumped out of her shoes and she made a surprised sound. The man seemed to be similarly startled for a moment. He was older, late fifties or maybe even in his sixties. He was wearing a simple dark robe and a turban. He had a beard of moderate length and looked to be Middle Eastern.

“Sorry!” Lauren blurted out.

“Oh, no. It is fine. It is fine I promise!” The man regained his composure and stepped forward. “How may I help you miss?”

“Well…..”

Lauren began to feel her cheeks redden as she realized she had no idea what she was doing in this room.

“I uh…walk by this place all the time and I just thought I would see what was inside.” It was a good, vague response. One that would keep her from getting herself in any deeper conversation.

“Oh, I see. Well, this is the Bridgeport Muslim Community Mosque. I am the Imam here. My name is Ajwad.”

“My name is Lauren, Lauren Brown.”

“Welcome Miss Brown. If you like you can look around or ask questions-”

“Oh, thank you but I actually have to be going. I’m sorry, I just came in here to take a quick look.”

“Oh, well I wish a good day then Miss Brown. Please feel free to come by anytime.”

Lauren was already making her way towards the door. “Maybe when I have some more time I’ll take a look.”

Lauren ran the entire way home. Of course, she wasn’t so much running towards her house as she was running away from something…..

***

Two weeks passed before Lauren was no longer able to resist returning to the mosque. It was inevitable that she would return. She had spent the two weeks barely able to sleep. She went through the motions of her life, trying to pretend that she did not feel drawn to the mosque. It was no use. Thoughts of the mosques filled her conscious mind. At random times she would pause and contemplate God. During those moments she considered his existence. When she thought about the possibility that he existed she felt unsteady, as if the world was going to give way.

She had never been religious. Her parents were nominally Christian but were in fact non-practicing. They had taken Lauren to church so rarely that she could count the times on just one hand. She had always supposed herself a Christian, at least in a cultural sense since she came from a Western country. Not she had never worshipped nor, she supposed, believed.

And now she found herself intrigued by Islam. Islam of all possible religions. Of course at the moment she was still just intrigued, but it was quite possible that intrigue would turn into a genuine interest…and conversion after that. Sometimes when she thought about it seemed so crazy. Islam was a backwards religion that oppressed women. Why would she want to convert to that. But these thoughts were always accompanied by the business woman wearing hijab that came into her bank. How could a religion that oppressed women also allow them to be businesswomen? Lauren decided she needed to go to the mosque, she needed to ask questions. If she was just acting crazy, if Islam wasn’t for her she would soon see. If not…

***

The Imam was happy to see her again. When Lauren let him know that she had questions he seemed thrilled by the chance to answer them. They sat down in his office and across from his desk she began.

“I’ve already read some on Islam so I think I know some of the general ideas. But I think it would help if you explained the basics of what Muslims believe.”

“Yes, well we believe in the oneness of God. It is in fact the most important part of Islamic belief. Everything in existence originates from the one and only Creator. We believe that this idea should govern all aspects of human life. Allah is the sole source of power and authority and therefore entitled to worship and obedience from mankind. There is no scope for any partnership with the Creator. Tawhid teaches man that Allah is not born, nor is anyone born of Him. He has no son or daughter. Human beings, like the rest of creation, are His subjects.”

Lauren nodded at that. Some of it made a lot of sense. It seemed so instinctively right to her that there would only be one God. If existence was made by a Creator, surely there was only one. The part about God not having a son or daughter was familiar from what she read. She knew that Muslims did not believe that Jesus was the son of God.

“I know that Muslims do not believe that Jesus was the son of God but they still believe in him. What do Muslims believe exactly about Jesus?”

“Jesus, peace be upon him, taught that love and mercy overcome hate and anger and that only a true and sincere faith in the Creator and obedience to His will can bring a person salvation in this life as well as in the next.”

Lauren just sat for a moment. The words were so true that she could not help but marvel at them. These were very appealing sentiments and it made the prospect of becoming a Muslim seem a lot less scary.

“So, Muslims believe that Jesus was like Muhammad?”

“Yes, they were both prophets. Both part of a tradition that goes back to the creation of the first human, Allah has revealed His guidance to mankind by sending prophets, who all called to the belief of One God. The prophets who received books from Allah are called messengers. Whenever the teachings of a prophet were distorted by people Allah sent another prophet to bring human beings back to the Straight Path.”

Lauren again thought about what was said and decided that she very much agreed with it. For the next hour she asked him many more questions.

***

Lauren was meeting with the Imam on a weekly basis. At first it mostly was her coming in to ask questions. But as she became more knowledgeable about Islam their discussions became more profound and gradually Emily was able to understand more and more about the religion. The Imam even gave her a free copy of the Quran that she was able to read at her leisure. She also began attending a discussion group held once a week. After a while she felt comfortable enough to bring up a tricky topic to the Imam. As much as she was beginning to find Islam appealing and thought that she might like to convert, the issue about women still made her uncomfortable. All the women at the discussion group covered their hair. Some wore long flowing robes that concealed everything but their face and hands. There were even a couple of women who concealed those as well! Lauren had been shocked when she first saw the sight of them. She might have been able to understand the other women, but not these. So in her last question session with the Imam before she switched to just the discussion groups she decided to bring up the topic. She politely and diplomatically asked the Imam what the position of women was in Islam.

“As creations of God, women are accorded spiritual equality with men. They are rewarded for prayer and charitable acts, and likewise held accountable for their actions, good or bad, while on earth.”

Lauren nodded to this but something was still bugging her. “What about in matters other than spiritual?”

“Under the laws of Islam, women have the right to own property and businesses, engage in financial transactions, vote, receive inheritance, obtain an education and participate in legal and political affairs. Sadly, some Muslim societies do not always accord women all these rights. However, this is not because of Islam. It is in fact an example of how human beings can fall short of fully implementing the divine will.”

All of the things the Imam listed sounded like the sort of things a liberated, modern woman would want. “I’ve noticed that some of the women who attend the mosque own businesses.

“Yes, exactly. Islam grants women equal rights to contract, to enterprise, to earn and possess independently. A woman’s life, her property and her honor are as sacred as those of a man. If she commits any offense, her penalty is no less or more than of a man’s in a similar case. If she is wronged or harmed, she gets due compensation equal to what a man in her position would get.”

The more she talked with the Imam the more she found it difficult to criticize Islam on the subject of women. If anything it almost sounded progressive. But there was still the hijab. Lauren might be able to understand the intellectual reasons for it, but could she wear it herself?

***

Lauren was seated across from Mufeeda, a woman from the mosque. They were having coffee in a cafe. At one of the discussion groups sessions Lauren had shyly approached Mufeeda and told her that she had some questions she wanted to ask her about hijab. Mufeeda had seemed only too happy to accommodate her. For this day she was dressed in flowing black with her head and neck covered by a dark blue hijab.

“So, why do you wear the hijab?”

Mufeeda smiled widely, “To me hijab is a gift from Allah. It gives me the opportunity to become closer to Allah. Also quite importantly the chance to stand and be recognized as a Muslim”

“But do you need to wear hijab to do that?”

“I don’t see how I can without wearing hijab. We Muslims believe that our sole purpose in life is the worship of God alone, according to his instructions, as revealed in the Holy Quran and through the teachings of the Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him. As such, wearing the hijab is an act of obedience to God and, hence, forms the primary basis for wearing it.”

“I suppose I understand. If one believes in Allah they should try to do everything he wants them to. But I don’t see how wearing a scarf over one’s head is suppose to do that.”

“Well, hijab is not merely a covering. It Is more, it is your behavior, manners, speech and appearance in public. The headscarf is just an outer manifestation of my inner commitment to worshipping Allah.”

“Oh.”

“I understand Lauren. It most seem strange to you.” Lauren was about to protest but Mufeeda continued, “It is so much more than a scarf Lauren. Hijab is about living an upright life. When I go outdoors with my hijab I am not just trying to conceal my hair. I am trying to avoid doing things that would be bad for me, acting in a bad way or saying bad things. Do you understand.”

“I suppose I do…”

“You need time to think about it. Do not worry. It will happen when it is right for you. How are you enjoying the discussion groups at the mosque.”

Feeling grateful for the chance to talk about something she was more sure of Lauren was quick with her reply, “I enjoy it very much. Having the discussion groups makes it easier to follow the Quran. After I get home from them I immediate open it up and reread the sections that were discussed in group.”

“That is very good to hear. Is there any part of the Quran that you have liked reading so far?”

Lauren closed her eyes for a moment and tried to make sure she could say what came to mind without error, “O believers, you are forbidden to forcibly inherit women and to treat them harshly take away part of what you have given to them unless they are guilty of open lewdness, On the contrary, deal with them in kindness and justice. If you dislike them, it may be that you dislike a thing through which Allah may bring about a great deal of good.”

“My goodness. You are even memorizing the Quran. Very impressive.”

***

A few days later Lauren was in a department store when she came across a table with scarves laid out on it. These were not meant as scarves for hijab, they were just some department store back stock. However, Lauren paused for a moment and pretended she was in a bazaar in the Middle East, shopping for hijab. She tried a scarf over her head. Curious about how it looked she went to a mirror.

The scarf was pink with white flowers on it and it covered most but not all of her hair. This was not quite the hijab that the other women at the mosque wore. Indeed, compared to them she was still rather immodestly dressed. But it might be a neat way of practicing wearing hijab. If she did begin wearing hijab it would not be as big a shock for her coworkers if they were accustomed to seeing her with her hair covered. Lauren bought the scarf and a couple of others.

Lauren tried to wear them whenever she left the house, except ironically enough when she went to the study sessions. She worried that if she did and then decided not to wear hijab it might not look good.

In general she found she rather enjoyed the scarf. It made her less concerned about her hair when she went out. Instead of having to be insecure about her hair, she could go through the day confident it was not a mess. Her coworkers completed her on the scarf but didn’t comment beyond. Lauren hadn’t mentioned that she was considering converting to Islam so naturally none of her coworkers thought anymore of it than as a simple fashion choice.

***

It was Saturday night and Lauren was cooking dinner for herself. Her fridge was now well stocked with products from Halal Meats of Oregon. While the wearing of the scarf may just be testing the waters, she had been able to embrace other aspects of Islam, such as diet, unambiguously. After her meal she spent the rest of the evening reading the Quran. This was how she was spending many of her evenings these days.

At first she had tried reading from beginning to ending but later she found that the experience was somehow more fulfilling if she bounced around. As she was reading tonight she came across a passage that she had seen before.

O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters, and the believing women, that they should wear their outer clothes over their bodies: That is most suitable, so that they should be known and not be annoyed. And Allah is Often Forgiving, Most Merciful.

Between her conversation with Mufeeda and her gradual reading of the Quran Lauren was able to slowly come to understand what hijab was really all about. The purpose of dressing modestly was to protect oneself from unwanted annoyance. Lauren thought back to all of the lewd comments men had made to her during her life and wondered whether this could have been avoided had she been wearing hijab.

In her heart she was beginning to feel that maybe hijab was the right thing to do. She was still afraid of how people would react. But if something was right weren’t you supposed to do it no matter what anyone thinks of you? This of course was leading her to the inevitable final question she would have to confront. She had been on this path for many months. She had learned many things about Islam and was embracing some aspects of it but was she prepared to become a Muslim. It all came down to whether she thought God was real. Was he? She didn’t know. How could anyone know for sure.

A thought occurred to Lauren. She knew it was silly and wouldn’t amount to anything, but felt compelled to try regardless. She set her Quran down on the coffee table and opened it to a random page and read out loud what she saw.

And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty and protect themselves and privacy: And that they should not display their beauty and jewels except what appear; That they should draw cover over their bodies and bosoms, and not display their beauty except to their husbands…..

Lauren remained still on the couch for several minutes. The silence was heavy with implication. A sudden resolved filled her and she stood up. She proceeded to begin washing herself in the bathroom in preparation for prayers. She had not performed prayers before but now she knew she had to. She had to make the effort to reach out to Allah. As she washed she felt her past leaving with the dirt. Afterwards she put on one of the scarves she had bought and when the time matched when she was supposed to start she began the prayers. As she kneeled she felt something touch her heart.

***

The next Friday she let the Imam know that she was ready to the shahada and revert. So in front of the entire mosque she testified that there was no God but God and that Muhammad was his prophet.

“As hhadu an fa iliiha illa Allah wa ashhadu anna Muhammadan rasiilulliih”

After her conversion everyone in the mosque congratulated her. The women all came up and hugged her. The acceptance and love of her Muslim brothers and sisters overwhelmed her and for the rest of the day tears of happiness rolled down her cheeks

3.

Lauren looked at herself in the mirror. She was wearing a sweater and a full skirt. She had been dressing more conservatively for a while now. Ever since she hard begun to study Islam and understand what Allah wished for her to do. Still, in her heart she knew she needed to take one more step. This was why she was at Mufeeda’s house. A couple of weeks previously they had looked through a catalog and now what they had selected arrived.

Mufeeda came over with a long black abaya. The hem of the sleeves were decorated with a very simple red zigzag line. Other than that it was entirely black. Lauren held out her hands and almost experienced a jolt of energy when she first made contact with the fabric. Soon both arms were into their sleeves and Mufeeda was buttoning up the front. Once this was completed she went back to the box. While she was rustling through it Lauren has a chance to regard herself in the mirror. Only her hands and head could be seen. Her hair was pulled back into a simple and modest pony tail.

Next Mufeeda came over with a piece of burgundy colored cloth. Lauren’s hijab. Her friend helped to wrap it around her head and the dark red cloth was wrapped so as to only expose Lauren’s face, the excess material covering her shoulders and upper body.

If Lauren had seen herself dressed like this several months ago she would have been shocked. Veiling was a symbol of women’s oppression. Forced onto women by men in backwards countries. Now it seemed perfectly natural. Her hijab had not been forced onto her by any man. She has embraced it as a part of her new faith.

Mufeeda seemed to almost be beaming as she stood next to Lauren and examined her in the mirror. “How do you feel.”

A single tear streamed down Lauren’s cheek. “Closer to Allah.”

***

At first Lauren was a little apprehensive about going out in public in her attire. Not even most of the Muslim women in town dressed as conservatively as Lauren did. They were content with a scarf to cover their hair and a modest dress or skirt. Lauren on the other hand was dressed mostly in flowing black except for her dark red scarf.

Her apprehension melted away as soon as she was out in public though. She did get more than a few stares but these did not seem to bother her at all. It was as if her hijab was armor that deflected unwanted attention. It was reassuring to think of it this way as that was what Allah had meant it for. It was to protect her from harassment.

Not all of the attention was unpleasant however. Far more people were friendly towards her. In fact, Lauren felt as though she was being treated better by strangers than was normally the case. She noticed that people would often behave more circumspectly around her, apologizing if they swore.

The hijab also helped to change the way Lauren acted in public. She found that every action she took received more consideration. Was she acting in a way that would represent her faith well in other’s eyes?

***

Many months went by. Lauren’s faith continued to grow and she continued to wear the veil. She also became very involved in the functions of the Mosque. She helped to organize more social functions. She also worked with Imam Ajwad to do more to make the Mosque known in the community. Their efforts gradually brought in more people with various levels of curiosity. Steadily there were more converts that joined their mosque. A majority of them were women, several of whom had met Lauren by chance and had engaged her in conversation.

Inevitably these conversations would turn to the subject of hijab. Lauren explained what a difference the veil had meant in her life. How before her thoughts of herself were based on what others thought of her. But with hijab she no longer feels insecure. Her thoughts are of how beautiful she thinks of herself and knowing that Allah finds her beautiful. These sentiments more often than not had a powerful effect on the women who heard them. Many of them had been experiencing the same spiritual dearth as Lauren. After a while several of them could be seen at the mosque wearing hijab.

The membership of the mosque increased so much because of these converts that they had to buy the empty property next door in order to accommodate all of them.

All of this should have made Lauren happy, and it did. However, there was still the loneliness in her heart. She had not started dating anyone since becoming a Muslim. She realized that the reason her past relationships had not worked out was because the men she had been dating did not behave how men should. She needed to wait to find a proper Muslim husband who would treat her with respect and help her keep her faith strong. However, all the single Muslim men at the mosques were too respectful of her to approach.

Because of this Lauren had to ask for the Imam’s help. Together they discussed the various men of the mosque. Eventually they settled on Maula as the best candidate. He was nearly twenty years her senior. In the past Lauren would have been turned off by that. But that Lauren had suffered a series of heartbreaks from men who had treated her with no respect.

The new Lauren put aside his age and considered his other attributes. He was a successful businessman and a devout Muslim. In addition, he was a widower who had not pursued anyone since his first wife had passed away early in his life. He sounded like the opposite of every man Lauren had ever been with. With her permission the Imam began talking with Maula about the idea.

As it turned out Maula was very shy. Him and the Imam talked back forth for some time about the possibility of a relationship with Lauren. When she first interacted with him in the mosque at some of the social functions he was very polite and just a little bashful. He was not conventionally good looking, but such things did not mean as much to Lauren now. She understood now that true beauty was on the inside.

***

The rain reverberated on the roof as Lauren and Maula were getting ready for a potluck being held at the mosque. Maula was carrying a couple of trays out to the car while Lauren finished taking the last of their contribution from the oven. She wrapped up the dish and put it on the table for Maula to take out.

They had been married for five years now. It had been a relationship unlike any she had had. Their happy little Muslim household was absolutely loving in nature. Maula was the ideal Muslim husband. Lauren still worked out of the house and was able to socialize with others. In fact, Maula was a little to lax for Lauren at first and had been gradually and steadily prodded to tighten up his practices by his wife. Maula was at first reluctant to take the reigns of the head of the household. From what Lauren heard about his first wife she assumed that he had pretty much deferred to her on all matters. Lauren wouldn’t accept this however. Allah had made men stronger in order to protect women. Even though Lauren still worked out of the house and expected to have a say in all household matters she still felt that Maula should take the lead. Maula more than once joked that Lauren was the pushiest obedient wife anyone could ever ask for.

As Lauren walked through the living room towards the front door she paused in front of a mirror on the wall. In front of her was a hijab wearing Muslim sister. There was a visible bump in the black. Lauren’s hands came up to her pregnant belly and cradled it. She thought of all the blessings Allah had given her. A wonderful husband, a child on the way, and to live in the love of her creator.

 

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