From Marine to Muslimah
by Emily W
The success of this story owes a lot to Bo_Emp. Some of the crucial moments in the story were the result of his ideas. If you enjoy reading this tale he deserves some of the credit for it.
The student union bookstore was full of students throughout the day. In between classes Carrie had swung by to see if the crowd had thinned out. At no point did it seem like the crowd would ebb and so finally Carrie figured she would have to deal with standing in line for over an hour to get her textbooks.
When Carrie entered the bookstore she saw the lines of people waiting to buy their heavy loads. The lines stretched to the opposite walls and curved along the wall. The rest of the store was nearly as crowded as students went from aisle to aisle. Carrie had to search for half an hour before she had located every book she needed. When she was finished she went to her place at the end of the line.
While waiting for the line to advance she flipped through her books. When this no longer kept her distracted she just looked around at the other students. Carrie became very aware of how much younger the rest of the freshmen were compared to her. She was nearly thirty and felt as if she was surrounded by children.
The line gradually moved forward. Every minute she was able to move forward a few paces. After advancing past one aisle she was able to look down another. It was down that aisle that she saw her. It was a woman wearing a veil. She was dressed in long black robes. Her hair was covered with a blue hijab and a blue niqab covered her face except for the eyes. She was on the opposite end of the aisle and was focused on finding her books on the shelves so Carrie was able to stare without being noticed.
Another girl behind Carrie must have noticed the veiled woman as well.
“Incredible, I never would have thought I would see a woman wearing a burqa at a university.”
“Niqab,” Carrie corrected the girl behind her.
“I’m sorry?” The girl looked like she was a decade younger than Carrie.
“She is wearing a niqab. A burqa is a specific type of veiled outfit in Central Asia. It is the blue thing that women in Afghanistan wear. What that woman is wearing is a niqab.”
“How do you know the difference?”
“I was a Marine in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I learned the difference after being deployed to both places.”
Carrie looked at the girl behind her. She gave the reaction that Carrie had long since been accustomed to when she shared what she had been doing for the last ten years of her life. People would become quiet and either stammer out some response that attempted to acknowledge how tough it must have been to be deployed to such places or they would just not say anything at all.
The girl tried to change the subject. “You must have seen a lot of veiled women while you were there.”
Carrie thought about her experiences in both countries. Most of the women she had seen in Afghanistan had worn burqas. During her time in Iraq she had been in a very traditionalist Shia area and after the fall of Saddam and the Ba’ath Party the Shia religious militias had made sure women were wearing the abaya and niqab.
Neither of them said anything more and Carrie returned her attention to the veiled woman. She found herself having mixed feelings at seeing her. She believed in freedom of religion and supposed the woman had the right to practice her religion how she wanted to. However, Carrie had seen the veiled women in the patriarchal societies of the Middle East. She felt a strong sense of revulsion at such backwards practices.
So when she saw a woman in America wearing a niqab she felt conflicted. She hated the sight of the veil and what it represented. However, she believed in the freedom of religion.
Eventually the veiled woman disappeared from sight. Carrie’s thoughts lingered on her for a few moments before being drawn to other things. There was so much for a new student to experience at university that it could be overwhelming. Carrie Jackson was attending college thanks to the financial support provided to veterans. It was a big change for her, especially since she had spent much of the past ten years fighting in the Middle East. Her life as a Marine was still fresh in her mind. She had not been in combat herself but she had been close enough to it several times during those days. Enough that the sounds of explosions was still fresh in her thoughts.
After paying for her books she left the bookstore and walked across the campus to the student parking lots. She was still becoming familiar with the campus so she occasionally had to check the map she had with her. Once she finally found her car she drove back to her dorm room and after eating dinner she sat down at her desk and began the readings assigned in her syllabus. Years of discipline in the Marines was helpful for keeping herself on track.
After she went to bed she began having intense dreams revolving around waiting anxiously in an armored vehicle as fighting was happening outside. She was constantly trying to load her weapon but she could not get the ammunition in. The sound of the explosions came closer and closer…
Carrie woke up with a start from her fitful sleep. She was covered in sweat but felt cold. Slipping out of the covers of her bed she went to her bathroom to take a shower. The water was hot and refreshing but after stepping out and drying herself off she still felt disturbed. Most of the time she was able to live her life without thoughts of her time in the Middle East intruding on her. She had not been in the kind of combat that other service members had. She knew fellow Marines who struggled with post traumatic stress disorder. She did not think she has PTSD but she did sometimes have dreams.
Walking up to the mirror she examined herself. Her shoulder length blonde hair was still damp. Her body was lean and slightly muscular but with appealing feminine traits. Carrie reached up and traced a line along her breasts. She had dated a couple of guys during the last ten years but being a Marine deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan had made maintaining a relationship difficult.
Carrie sighed before returning to bed.
After a couple of weeks Carrie adapted to college life. The campus became as familiar as home and her class schedule was as routine as waking up in the morning. She felt a little awkward interacting with the other students as they were younger and seemed so different than herself. However, she found that she was enjoying college life.
She was sitting on the grass quad of campus, eating the lunch she packed for herself and thinking about these things when she saw the veiled woman again. During the past several weeks she had seen a few other women on campus wearing hijabs. However she had only seen one who wore the face veil. As the woman walked past Carrie followed her with her eyes.
She wondered what the woman was studying at the university. It still seemed so strange that a woman who took her religion so far that she would cover her face would be taking college classes.
After the veiled woman disappeared from sight Carrie resumed eating her lunch and once she was finished she got up and went to her next class. It was a large lecture hall for Biology 101. She was not planning on pursuing a degree in the hard sciences but she needed to take the class as part of the core curriculum. During the lecture Carrie found her thoughts occasionally drifted to the veiled woman. Images of her covered face kept popping into her mind. She wondered what it must be like to go around all day dressed like that.
After class was over she was walking out of the building when she noticed something on the posting board. It was a flyer for the university’s Muslims student association. Carrie stopped in the hallway to read it. It had a brief description of the club and listed their regular meeting and prayer times. Carrie was not interested in attending, she had always considered herself agnostic, but as she walked away she wondered if the veiled woman would be at the meetings.
Carrie had finished her first semester with all As in her classes and a sense of confidence in her academic future. However, at the same time she felt a sense of emptiness. She was not sure what it was at first. She thought that maybe it was because she was not working while attending college. But being occupied with classes helped to fill her life with routine. Later she wondered if it was because she was single and alone. She tried creating an online dating profile but found that the guys she went on dates with often seemed to be intimidated by her Marine personality.
During that first semester she had occasionally seen the veiled woman on campus and whenever she did she was briefly fascinated by her. However, aside from those times she never thought about her.
When the spring semester began she found that the university felt as familiar as home. She was getting settled into her new schedule when she noticed a new flyer on a posting board. The Muslims student association was hosting a guest speaker on campus. It was apparently some sort of Muslim religious scholar and the lecture was titled “The Beauty of Islam.” Carrie looked at the time it was set for. It would be only an hour after her last class on Thursday.
Carrie decided that she would attend the lecture. Thoughts of seeing the veiled woman at the lecture occasionally came to her mind during the days before.
When the day came, Carrie went to the theater hall in the student union. It was half full by the time the scholar came onto the stage. About a third of the students looked like they were Middle Eastern but the remaining two thirds seemed to be non-Muslims. Amongst the Muslim students there were several women in hijabs and some without. At first Carrie did not see the woman with the niqab but then a couple of minutes before the event was suppose to start she came in and took a seat.
Carrie was seated several rolls back and was able to look down at the veiled woman and her friends. They interacted with each other as any normal group of friends. Far from being quiet the veiled woman was engaged in a conversation with a woman wearing a hijab.
While watching them Carrie became aware that she herself was sitting in a roll of empty seats. After her first semester at university she had not made any friends. She found it difficult to relate to people who were younger than she was and acted less mature. They seemed more interested in going to parties than studying.
Soon the speaker appeared on stage. At first Carrie was surprised by his appearance. He was dressed in a Western style suit and had only a very light beard. In her mind Carrie had been expecting one of the black robe wearing and long bearded clergy she was familiar with from Iraq. Of course she realized that was a silly assumption and she felt a little embarrassed by it.
She had not been sure what the lecture was going to consist of before entering. She had suspected it would be some sort of overview of Islam that emphasized the better parts and downplayed the bad parts. Carrie was not credulous, she knew that anyone trying to make a pitch for their religion would be careful how they present it. Although she did not like the way women were treated in the Middle East she knew that that it was partly because of the selective interpretation of passages from the Quran. Terrible things had been justified by selective use of the Bible. She was expecting that by the end of the lecture she would be walking away unconvinced.
The speaker actually turned out to be more engaging than she had realized. She was not convinced that Islam was the right religion, assuming there even was one. However, she found that the speaker made some very good points. Probably what impressed her the most was his praise of religious freedom in the United States. He said that Muslims were freer to practice their religion in the United States than in any country in the Middle East. Such things appealed to Carrie’s sense of patriotism and her love for her country.
After the lecture most people got up to leave which was common, but some others stayed and walked down the steps to get close to the stage so that they could ask questions. Carried reached the end of her roll of seats. She looked down the steps at the small group assembled before the speaker. She then turned her head the opposite way to look at the exit where people were filtering out of the theater. Next to her was a table where the student group had put out free pamphlets and English language versions of the Quran. She picked one up and flipped through it quickly. There was no Arabic script in it. From her time in the Middle East she knew Muslims were careful how they treated the Quran and so it made sense they would give English only versions to people who may not understand the care they were suppose to take in handling it.
A red headed woman who seemed to be Carrie’s age was ascending the steps from the crowd below. She stopped at the table and grabbed a copy of each pamphlet and one of the Qurans and then made her way to the exit. Her pace seemed determine, like she was eager to get home to begin reading them. Carrie wondered what she had heard down the steps that had made her so driven to learn more. She looked back down the steps where the speaker was talking with a young man.
Carrie reached out and took the pamphlets and a copy of the Quran and put them in her backpack. She then walked towards the exit.
When she arrived home Carrie began cooking her dinner. While she was waiting for the chicken to cook she sat down on her couch and began reading one of the pamphlets. It had some interesting things but after a while she put it down on the coffee table with the others and the Quran. Religion just was not something she was into.
Throughout the semester Carrie would see flyers for the regular meeting of the Muslim Student Association. She never seriously thought about attending because she was sure it would revolve around reading passages out of the Quran. She would have to feign interest in what was being read and it would just be a trial of her patience.
The spring semester was going just as well as the previous semester, at least academically. She was passing all of her classes and she entered each test confident in her ability to ace it. Her social life on campus was a different matter. Although she was able to interact with other students in her classes easily enough she never found herself able to make a connection with anyone. She spent every lunch alone. She would watch the other students walk past her. Occasionally she saw the veiled student. Every time she did she felt a little excited, as if the veiled woman was her friend.
Towards the end of the semester she saw a flyer for an event by Muslim Student Association. It was a halal bbq. Carrie made a note of when and where it was happening. She thought it might be something fun to attend and seemed more appealing than the meetings.
When she arrived at the plaza next to the student union several days later there was already a small crowd of people. Many were clearly members of the Muslim Student Association. There was a steady line of people by the bbq waiting for food though and most of them seemed to be non-Muslims. Carrie had noticed that anytime there was free food offered by a student organization that there was always a large number of people on campus ready to take advantage.
Carrie felt strangely nervous about showing up. She was not sure why. She got into the line and picked up a plate. The bbq featured some Middle Eastern dishes but also some hamburgers which she assumed had been made from cows butchered in the ritual Islamic fashion.
While she was in line she observed the various members of the Muslim student group working. Some where handling the cooking while others were seated at some tables and benches. Carrie noticed that amongst the women present there was the woman wearing the face veil. There was also a white woman with red hair that after a couple of minutes Carrie remembered. She was the same woman from the lecture who had grabbed the pamphlets and Quran and quickly left. She was talking with the other Muslim women, the veiled one included, with such ease that it seemed she was friends with them.
Soon Carrie was at the front of the line and after collecting her food she took a few steps forward and then turned in place. Most of the students were leaving as soon as they got their food but a couple were going over to interact with the Muslim students. Carrie stood in place, not sure which she was going to do.
“Hi, would you like to join us?”
It was the red headed woman. She had stood up and come over to invite Carrie to sit down.
“Er-ok.” Carrie followed the woman over to a table with several other girls.
“I’m Karen,” the red head introduced herself. “And these are Bikam, Farha, Aisha and Wathiqa.” The last girl she introduced was the one wearing the niqab. At last Carrie had a name for the face, or rather the veil that covered the face!
“Hi, I’m Carrie.” The girls greeted her and she sat down. They resumed their conversation which to Carrie’s surprise was not about obscure Islamic concepts but rather the usual end of semester anxieties that students suffer. Wathiqa was just as talkative as the rest and Carrie found herself listening more intently when she talked.
When the bbq began to wind down the Muslim students started leaving one by one. Soon Carrie found herself talking one on one with Karen. They had been discussing their respective classes but that topic soon ended. During the silence that followed Carrie felt an urge to ask something.
“So, are you a Muslim?”
“No. At least, not yet. I’ve only been studying the religion for a few months. There was a speaker on campus back during the beginning of the semester and he was the one that sparked my interest.”
Carrie realized that Karen was talking about the same lecture she had attended. She did not mention that she had been there, as if to do so would be to indicate that her interest in Islam was more than it was.
“What was it about the lecture that you found interesting.”
“I’m not sure I can specify something in particular. I mean, it was interesting to learn all of these things I never knew about Islam. I had really been ignorant about the religion before. Plus the speaker cleared up a lot of my misconceptions about Islam and women. After the lecture I asked him why Muslim women were forced to veil and he told me that forcing women to veil was wrong since it there was not suppose to be any compulsion in religion. No compulsion in religion, that is such a great idea isn’t it?”
Carrie nodded in agreement and Karen continued on.
“So I picked up some information they had out including a copy of the Quran. I started reading it when I got home and it really spoke to me. So I’ve been attending their meetings ever since.”
“What are the meetings like?”
“They are interesting. They start out with some Quran study and then they discuss various topics but halfway through it becomes more casual as you have a chance to interact with other Muslims.”
“So, you are interested in becoming a Muslim?
Karen paused and her face suggested she was trying to articulate the answer.
“I’m not sure. I can’t say for certain that I am going to become a Muslim, but I am learning so much and at the very least I enjoy attending their functions. I kind of think of them as my friends.”
Carrie thought about how she hadn’t really made any friends during the school year. Interacting with Karen was the most engaging conversation she had experienced, probably because they were both older than the average student. Could she become friends with the Muslim students? Would they want her around even though she was not a Muslim? Would they just spend all of their time trying to convince her to convert. How would they react if they knew she was a Marine who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Carrie and Karen talked some more while they walked back to the dorms. Eventually they reached the door to Carrie’s room and said their goodbyes.
Carrie did not see Karen for the rest of the semester. Summer break came and she had to move out of the dorms until the next fall semester. During those summer months she occasionally thought about Karen. Part of it was curiosity about this woman who was interested in Islam, but mostly these thoughts lingered on how well they had gotten along.
When the fall semester began Carrie was back in the dorms, using the same room as the previous academic year. A couple of weeks went by before there was a knock on her door. When she opened it she found Karen standing in front of it.
“Oh, hey!” Carried tried to contain her excitement.
“Hi Carrie. I hope I’m not interrupting anything.”
“Oh no. I’m glad to see you.”
Karen smiled at that.
“How have you been?”
“Good, and you?”
They both stood there smiling for a moment before Karen spoke.
“I was just dropping by because I’m on my way to a meeting for the Muslim Student Association and I was curious if you wanted to come with me.”
Carrie stood still for a long time. She could not think of what to say, she did not know how to answer. She really was not very interested in going, but she wanted to spend time with Karen.
After getting her coat she left the dorms with Karen.
“So I guess you are still interested in Islam?” Carrie asked.
“Yes. I actually started attending a mosque during the summer.”
“What was it like?”
“Well, at first I mostly just went to watch what was happening. I would stand in the back of the women’s room while prayers were happening. At some point I started joining in with the prayers. I did not know what it would be like, but when I started bowing it felt very fulfilling. It was like there was an empty part of me that was being filled.”
When they arrived in the room in the student union being used for the meeting there were already several students present. The women were seated on the left side of the room and the men on the right side. Carrie followed Karen over to the women’s side of the room. There were several women seated there. Most of the women wore the hijab but a couple did not and Wathiqa was present with her face veil.
A bubbly young girl with a bright orange hijab greeted Karen and Carrie warmly. Carrie vaguely remembered the woman from the bbq from the previous semester, her name was Bikam. Karen began talking with the other girls as if she had known them for years. The girls all introduced themselves to Carrie and welcomed her.
Eventually the meeting began. One of the men distributed Qurans out of a bag and they were passed around to everyone who did not already have one. When Carrie was handed a copy she held it in her hands for a few minutes. It somehow seemed heavier than a book of its size.
The man leading the meeting had everyone present turn to a particular passage from which he read the Arabic and then the English translation. Carrie actually missed it because she was still trying to find the page it was located on. The conversation about the passage then began in ernest.
Carrie found herself impressed with the quality and thoughtfulness of the discussion and despite feeling embarrassed for not finding the passage in time she still followed what was being said. She looked at the men on the opposite side of the room. Most were Middle Eastern but there were a couple of African Americans and a white student amongst them. She also noticed a group of four very severe looking students with long beards. Anytime she looked in their direction they diverted their eyes as if they did not see her.
After the discussion part of the meeting Carrie was able to spend some time getting to know the other girls. She mostly learned about them from listening to conversations between them and Karen. However, at one point Bikam sat down next to Carrie and engaged her in conversation.
“Hi, I didn’t want you to think people were ignoring you,” Bikam said with a cheery voice.
“Oh, it is ok. I’m really interested in hearing what people are saying.”
“Then you should like me, people tell me I never shut up,” Bikam said. The Middle Eastern girl smiled widely and Carrie found herself smiling as well.
Bikam continued talking. “I saw that you arrived with Karen. Are you two friends?”
“No. Well, I suppose you could say that we are friendly acquaintances.”
“Oh. Did she invite you to come?”
“Actually, she did.”
“I thought so. She isn’t even a Muslim and she tries more to get people to these meetings than we do. Tell me…are you interested in Islam.”
Carrie found herself at a loss for a response despite the fact that this was the most likely question she would be asked. “I uh, I guess you could say that I find it interesting.”
“Oh.” Bikam nodded and smiled.
“So…uh…have you always been a Muslim?”
Bikam nodded. “My parents immigrated from Algeria. Everyone else in the group has always been a Muslim too, except for Wathiqa.”
Bikam had gotten Carrie’s attention. Wathiqa wore the niqab and yet she had not always been a Muslim. Carrie had always figured that the niqab was forced onto women to one degree or another. To think that someone would wear it voluntarily was very intriguing.
“What was she before?”
“Well, her parents were immigrants from India but they were very secular and Wathiqa grew up without practicing Islam. She only got back in touch with her faith when she started university here.”
“Wow.” Carrie looked over to where the veiled student was talking with one of the other girls. She had only been a practicing Muslim for a few years and now she was wearing a veil, something none of the other Muslim girls present did. Carrie studied Wathiqa’s veiled form. The dark blue hijab and niqab concealed everything except her eyes.
After the meeting Karen and Carrie walked back to the dorms together.
“So I have to ask, what did you think?”
“It was definitely very interesting, and I thought some of the people were nice.”
“Well, thank you for coming.”
“No, thank you. I enjoyed getting out of my room. Do they meet every month?”
“Yes, but some of us women get together everyday for lunch in the lobby of the Education College. You are welcome to join us if you ever want to.”
“Thanks, maybe I will.” Carrie tried to act casual when she was actually excited. Memories of all the lunches she had spent alone came back to her mind. The loneliness of it had been bearable at the time but in retrospect she realized how alone she had felt.
Only a few days later Carrie walked into the Education College lobby. She saw Karen, Bikam, Wathiqa and a couple of other girls seated together at a table, eating lunch. Carrie paused for a moment when she saw them, then she swallowed the nervousness in her throat and walked towards them.
When Karen noticed her she waved which caused the other girls to look up. Bikam waved as well, in a much more excited manner than Karen.
When Carrie slipped into an empty seat she said, “Hello.” This caused all the girls present to respond likewise.
Bikam spoke up, “Everyone, this is Carrie. You might remember her from the last meeting.”
Farha spoke next, “Welcome. I hope you enjoyed the meeting.”
“Oh, I did.” Carrie regarded Farha. She was a young woman of Middle Eastern descent who wore a dark green hijab that was draped all the way down to her shoulders.
“I am glad to hear that. I think the meetings are much improved by having other students show up. Having Karen there has made the discussions much more interesting.”
Karen smiled at the compliment.
The women soon returned to their topic of conversation which was about the construction that was happening around campus and what a inconvenience it was for them. Before long Carrie was participating in the conversation and before long it was as if she had always been part of the group. Before long all the women had to go their separate ways for classes. When Carrie was walking away she felt a fullness that had been absent ever since she started school. She had hoped to make a friend, instead she had made five.
A couple of days later Karen stopped by Carrie’s dorm room and the two of them went out to lunch. When they were seated in the cafe they started by talking about the latest campus news but the conversation eventually changed to the topic of Islam.
Carrie paused for a moment, trying to make sure she phrased things in the right way. “Why are you interested in Islam.”
“Do you mean how did I become interested?”
“No, I already know about that. I was just curious why you were interested. What is it that you feel when you pray at the mosque.”
“Oh. Well, it is difficult to explain exactly. I grew up in a Christian household but after I left home I stopped attending church. I was so busy working during those years I just never was able to go. But even if I went…”
Carrie leaned forward, very interested. Karen continued, “I’m not sure I would feel anything. I don’t know if I ever felt anything in church. But when I pray at the mosque, I feel like maybe there is a God. That there is a God and that I’m making a connection to Him.”
“Oh.” Carrie thought about her own atheistic experience in life. She had never believed, and she did not think she believed now. But maybe that was because she had not yet had the right experience?
“I mean, I’m not just going to the meetings and the mosque just because I am in search of spirituality. I really have become friends with Bikam, Farha, Aisha, Wathiqa and some of the others. It was so nice to finally have someone I could interact with. Being older than the other students made me feel alone.”
Carrie sat up in her seat. “I know what you talking about! I felt the same way.”
The two of them laughed at their shared experience. Then Carrie ventured further.
“Do you think you will convert?”
Karen thought about it for a moment. “I guess I still can’t say for sure. But there is one thing, every time I perform the prayers I feel like I come a little bit closer to being a Muslim.”
“Oh. If you do, will you wear a hijab?”
Karen blushed for a moment. “You know, I’ve been already been thinking about wearing it.”
“Yeah. You know, I look at Bikam and Farha and Aisha and I just can’t help but think that they look really beautiful, you know.”
“Yeah, I suppose they do. Well, do you think you’ll ever wear the niqab like Wathiqa.”
Karen smiled and shook her head. “No, I admire her devotion but I don’t think the niqab is for me.”
“You know, Wathiqa and I are going to the movies this weekend. None of the other girls are going to be able to come with us. Would you like to join us?”
“Sure!” Despite meeting with the group of girls, Carrie had actually had very little interaction with Wathiqa and now she had the opportunity to spend an entire evening with her.
After a couple of days Carrie found herself waiting outside of the movie theater that was ten blocks away from campus. Eventually Karen and Wathiqa approached from down the street. They were both warmly dressed and Carrie found herself wondering it Wathiqa found her niqab useful during the winter.
“Hello Carrie,” Wathiqa said with a warm voice.
“Hi!” Carries responded. Karen greeted her too and the three of them approached the entrance of the theater. It was only then that Carrie realized she had no idea what movie they were going to see. When she asked, Karen told her it was a historical drama.
After they purchased their tickets and entered the theater Carrie slowly became aware of something. It was gradual, but she realized that Wathiqa was drawing long stares from several people inside. In response Carrie began walking right next to Wathiqa, as if to act as a shield against those stares.
When they were in their seats they chatted until the movie began. During the conversation Wathiqa talked extensively about her past. She described her experiences growing up in Minnesota as the only non-white student at her high school. Her struggles with her identity and how she reconnected with her family’s faith during her freshman year of college.
The film itself was ok but not exceptional. Upon leaving the theater Wathiqa asked if the other two women wanted to come over to her apartment.
Once they were inside Wathiqa began to remove her niqab. Carrie was of course aware that Wathiqa did not need to wear it indoors in the presence of other women, but she was a little surprised when it happened. Carrie held her breath while she watched this woman she had seen on campus for a year and a half but whose face she had never glimpsed unveil herself. Wathiqa’s hands reached up and after fastening the niqab she began to remove it.
When the niqab came off Carrie was greeted by the sight of a beautiful young Middle Eastern woman. There was not much time to dwell on this revelation as Wathiqa and Karen began getting ready for prayers. They went into the bathroom and washed their faces and feet and hands. Carrie then watched as they took out some prayer mats and began performing prayers.
She did not feel anything spiritual coming from what they were doing. She supposed she just was not inclined towards religion. It was still fascinating to watch the two of them though. Afterwards Wathiqa shared more of her life story and how she had made an effort to reconnect with her family’s faith when she started at the university. Carrie was completely engrossed by the story. However, Wathiqa then asked Carrie about herself and she suddenly found that she had a ten year presence in the Marine Corps serving in Iraq and Afghanistan to explain.
She worried about how Wathiqa would react. Would she be angry? Would she not want to be friends with Carrie?
Carrie decided to be honest. She told Wathiqa and Karen about her experiences.
To her surprise and relief Wathiqa did not seem upset. If anything she was fascinated.
“It is so interesting that you were in two Muslim countries. Did you develop an interest in Islam while you were there.”
“I don’t think I did. I learned some things though, like the difference between the burqa and niqab.”
Wathiqa smiled. She then asked, “So, are you just curious about Islam or are you looking for a religion?”
“I don’t think I’m looking for a religion. I’ve always been non-religious. I guess I just want to know more.”
“Well that is fine, the Quran encourages us to seek knowledge. ”
The three continued to talk for several hours before Carrie excused herself as she was tired and had to return to her dorm room. After checking her email real quick she then crawled into bed.
Her dreams that night were once again plagued by worries and anxieties from her time in Iraq and Afghanistan. When she woke up she was in a cold sweat. She wished there was a way to stop the dreams.
The weeks passed by and eventually another Muslim Student Association meeting was held. Carrie arrived with Karen and they took their seats over on the women’s side of the room. The meeting passed by like the previous one except after the Quran study there was talk of what the semester event for the group should be. There was talk about bringing another speaker to campus or having another bbq. One person suggested having an interfaith forum with the other religious clubs on campus.
Most of the members seemed to be interested in the idea and so it was decided to make that the event for the semester.
After the meeting Carrie, Karen and Wathiqa were gathered together talking. Farha came up to them with a bundle in her arms. It was a stack of English language translations of the Quran.
“We just got some more of these in. Carrie, were you interested in having one?”
Carrie looked at the stack of books with uncertainty. She liked hanging out with the Muslim students and she did find their religion interesting, in an intellectual sort of way. However, she really did not think she could make it through more than a couple of pages of the Quran without falling asleep. Still, she found her hand reaching out to graciously accept one.
Through the slit in her niqab, Wathiqa raised an eyebrow.
“Are you planning on doing some reading tonight?” She quipped. She knew Carrie was not planning on becoming a Muslim.
“Well, I might as well have a copy.”
During the meetings and preparations for the interfaith dialogue forum Carrie noticed one of the men in the Muslim Association. She did not interact with him at the meetings of course, but during the setup for the forum she overheard some of the other men use his name: Rakin.
She had to admit to herself that she found him attractive. He was lean but a little muscular. He wore glasses that gave him an air of sophistication. And she noticed that he seemed quiet and very polite.
When the evening of the forum arrived she found that she spent most of her time watching him as he prepared the stage. Her observations were interrupted when Karen arrived, she was wearing a bright blue hijab that completely covered her hair and ears.
“You finally decided to start wearing it, eh?”
Karen blushed and looked down towards the ground.
“It looks really nice on you.”
Karen blushed even more and smiled at Carrie. They then got to work setting up a series of tables along the wall. Every faith that was participating in the forum could put materials on a table. The Muslim Student Association had order a large amount of flyers and English translations of the Quran and these were place on their assigned table.
The forum went well as all the participants on stage were very respectful of each other. The Imam of a local mosque was the Muslim participate. Carrie had trouble following everything that was said at the forum as she was spending most of her effort watching Rakin. The more she watched him the more she found herself admiring him.
After the forum was over the students in the audience began filtering out of the student union’s theater. What amazed Carrie was that while students were taking pamphlets from all the tables, the Muslim table had the largest crowd and most of the students taking materials from it were women.
After the event was over and the cleanup was finished Carrie and Karen walked back to the dorms.
“Do you have any doubts, about becoming a Muslim?”
“Well…I suppose I do, otherwise I probably would have converted already. Why do you ask?”
“I was just curious, do you have any concerns…about the treatment of women in Islam? When I was serving in the Middle East I saw some horrible repression of women.”
“I know, I don’t like that either. But the Imam at the mosque explained that the people who do that are committing an error and not practicing true Islam.”
“Do you think so?”
“Oh yes. I’ve been reading the Quran a lot and it has lots of passages about women’s rights. It completely refutes what they do in those places.”
The semester ended soon after that night. During the winter break Carrie sometimes thought about Rakin. Sometimes she thought about the Muslim women, or about Karen.
It was not long into the spring semester before Karen came by Carrie’s dorm room. She was dressed much more modestly with a long skirt and long sleeve shirt and her hijab covered her hair and ears. They greeted each other warmly and caught up with each other after a month of being apart. The most important news Karen had to share was that she had decided to revert to Islam. She had been waiting for Carrie to get back into town so that she could watch her make her declaration of faith.
On the day that Karen was to take her Shahadah, Carrie rode in the same car as her to the mosque. When they arrived Carrie stared at the building while Karen sorted through her purse. The building had use to be a restaurant but at some point it had been converted into a mosque. When Karen got out of the car Carrie opened her door and joined her.
As they approached the entrance for the women’s section there were already several women walking into it from the parking lot. Many of them wore hijabs over their hair, but there were many others whose head covering concealed everything from the top of their head to their shoulders except for their faces. There were also more than just a few women wearing the niqab.
When they entered the building Carrie was surprised by the simplicity of it. The walls were plain white and the carpet on the floor was a simple green. Carrie noticed that the carpet had been laid down in long bands and that they were diagonal to the walls in the room. She figured this was so that the people worshipping in the mosque would be facing in the direction of Mecca.
Carrie was amazed by how many women were coming into the room. There had to be at least two hundred and presumably there were as many men in the other room. The women were busy performing the ritual cleaning before prayers at a set of fountains outside of the main room. Soon the call to prayers was performed over the loud speaker and the women filtered into the main prayer room.
The women lined up shoulder to shoulder into one line after another. Carrie stood at the back corner of the room and watched the scene unfold. Karen walked over and fell into one of the lines. Soon after all the women were lined up the prayers began.
Carrie watched as the women performed the various steps of the prayers. She had watched Karen and Wathiqa perform them several months ago at Wathiqa’s apartment. At the time she had remembered not feeling anything from it. Even though she did not feel anything spiritual this time, she was impressed with the sight nonetheless.
After the prayers Karen was brought up to the front of the room where a microphone was setup for her to speak into so that the men could hear her in the other room. Wathiqa and a couple of other women were standing with her.
There seemed to be an energy in the room and Carrie found that her attention was undivided on what was unfolding. Slowly, piece by piece, Karen began reciting the Shahada. After the first couple of words Carrie thought she saw tears running down Karen’s face. This was confirmed when Karen had to pause for a moment to wipe them away. She continued to speak the words, her voice was shaky and she even seemed to be trembling.
Carrie found herself becoming more and more engaged by the sight of it. She found herself hoping that Karen could finish. Carrie’s heart quickened. Here was a Western woman, beginning her official transition into a Muslim. If Carrie had seen this sight a couple of years ago she would have been bemused. But now she felt drawn to the sight of it. Each trembling word that escaped from Karen’s mouth brought the woman closer to her conversion. Finally Karen managed to finish and when she did the women in the room crowded around her to welcome her into Islam.
Carrie remained standing in the corner of the room. What she had just seen moved her. She had never experienced anything spiritual before in her life before. She still did not believe in God, but it had been a powerful experience watching Karen make her declaration of faith. Watching the tears come from her eyes, the power of the experience, could not help but make an impact. Carrie wondered what it must be like, to feel something so powerful.
Afterwards Karen dropped Carrie off at her dorm and they hugged each other and Carrie congratulated Karen again.
When she entered her dorm room Carrie paused in the middle of the room for a moment. Then, before she knew it she was taking the translation of the Quran down from her bookshelf. She lowered herself down on her knees, she did not know why…just that it felt like the right thing to do. She then opened the Quran and read the first Surah.
In the name of God, The Most Gracious, The Dispenser of Grace. ALL PRAISE is due to God alone, the Sustainer of all the worlds. the Most Gracious, the Dispenser of Grace, Lord of the Day of Judgment! Thee alone do we worship; and unto Thee alone do we turn for aid. Guide us the straight way the way of those upon whom Thou hast bestowed Thy blessings, not of those who have been condemned, nor of those who go astray!
After reading the last word she remained on the floor of her room for a long time. She was not thinking about the words themselves, in fact her mind was not thinking of anything. She simply remained still, surrounded by serene silence.
She wondered about whether there was a God. How could she know if there was one even if He existed? She got up from the floor and after undressing she got into bed.
Before long she was dreaming. At first it was the all too familiar dreams of war in the desert. There were explosions and guns firing. All of it was sheer chaos. Her fear and anxiety felt like a sea threatening to swallow her up. But then something happened.
Everything seemed to freeze. The sounds disappeared and silence was laid down onto the world around her. Carrie stood up and as she did the fear drained out of her. She saw everything frozen in place, the people and the explosions. Bullets seemed to hover in mid air.
At that point a woman in a black abaya and niqab appeared around a corner. She approached and all Carrie could do was watch her numbly.
“Salaam alaikum,” the veiled woman said.
Carrie did not say anything. She could not say anything. She could only watch.
The woman covered in black continued speaking, “You have long experienced unease sister. You carry a heavy burden with you. But you have begun your path to peace. Keep with the right way and you will know eternal peace.”
Carrie could only look at the veiled woman before her. When she had been in Afghanistan and Iraq she had seen women being oppressed by the veil. This person was not impressed. In fact, Carrie felt strength coming from the woman.
Carrie awoke from her dream. Unlike all the previous times when she had awoke with a start and cold sweat, she now felt something different. She felt a calmness wash over her. It was a stark contrast to previous experiences of coming out of those dreams.
She thought about this particular dream. She thought about woman in the veil that had appeared. Was she only in the dream because Carrie had seen veiled women the previous day? Maybe it was a coincidence. Or maybe…it was something else.
The next several days passed as normal for Carrie. She had lunch with her friends, though she did not mention the dream or reading the first surah of the Quran. She attended her classes, she did everything she usually did. Except for one thing, before going to bed she would read a passage out of the Quran. Each night she would go to sleep and there would be no dreams of the wars she had been in. No dreams of fighting or killing. All she would dream of was peaceful expanses of desert.
She also noticed that Karen seemed different whenever she saw her. She seemed more confident, filled with energy. Maybe Carrie was just imagining it it, but she could almost feel some sort of energy whenever Karen was around her now. And she still could not help feeling amazed whenever she thought about how this modern American woman had chosen to embrace Islam and wear the hijab.
Carrie also realized her thoughts about veiling had changed. The change had been so subtle she had not even realized it, but when she looked at Wathiqa with her niqab now, she did not feel any strong objection to it. All the women who covered their hair or faces she had met, they were doing it to be close with God.
At the first meeting of the Muslim Student Association that semester Carrie entered with a different feeling than previously. Before she had mostly seen it as a social occasion, she would see her friends and acquaintances there. Now she was entering it with more curiosity about Islam. During the discussion part of the meeting she paid closer attention when passages out of the Quran were read.
She did steal a couple of glances at Rakin, but she avoided looking at him too much. This was partly so as to not reveal that she was attracted to him, but also because she felt that this was not the place to be engaging in such thoughts and feelings.
After the meeting she was walking across campus with Wathiqa and Karen. A couple of times they passed people who looked at the two veiled women for longer than a passing glance. Previously Carrie had felt sorry for the other Muslim girls when they were subjected to such stares. However, when Carrie asked Wathiqa if the states bothered her the girl’s answer surprised her.
“Why should I be bothered when I am performing dawa. Everyone who sees me knows that I am a devout Muslim. Maybe a woman will see my niqab and become interested in learning more about Islam.”
Carrie had to keep herself from stopping dead in her tracks. She tried to continue walking along as if everything was normal when in fact she felt a storm inside of her. Wathiqa did not know that Carrie had watched her for a year without ever knowing her. Carrie had watched her because of her niqab. During the previous nights when she had been reading the Quran before bed she had tried to tell herself that it was just something to relax, that was why the dreams had stopped. But deep down inside, just below her conscious thoughts there had been the notion that there was something spiritual to it. Now, to hear Wathiqa describe her without even trying. In a way, Wathiqa’s niqab had guided her to this point. What if she went further…
After being left at her dorm room, Carrie found herself immediately opening the Quran. She started reading it and as she did she realized that she was feeling calmness and serenity. She read page after page with no effort at all. The words flowed to her and when she reached the end of a page, her hand would turn it and before long she had finished another.
Carrie paused for a moment, her mind weighed heavy with thoughts. When she had been deployed to the Middle East she had observed Muslims from a distance. She had seen plenty of things that she found objectionable: the subjugation of women, the fighting between Sunni and Shia, and other things. While at the time she did not consider herself to have a bigoted attitude about Islam, she had found her views on the religion colored by the experience. She knew that there were good Muslims but she had felt that there was something fundamentally flawed in the religion.
Now that she was reading through the Quran she was having trouble finding those flaws. With each passage she read she found no justification for the terrible things she had witnessed. Instead she found a beautiful, poetic expression of love. The previous nights she had read a little out of the book to help distract her mind before going to bed. But now, while reading it, she was feeling something.
Karen’s words about how the terrible things done in the name of Islam were being committed by people who were not true Muslims made sense in light of the readings.
Eventually Carrie stopped reading the Quran that night. She had to since it was getting late and she needed get some sleep in preparation for the next day’s classes. She reluctantly put the Quran down. She felt like she could read the whole thing but the constraint of her schedule forced her to wait. She went to bed and slept peacefully throughout the entire night.
The following days took on a pattern. Whenever she was not studying for school or socializing with her friends she was reading the Quran. She steadily read through it, one page after another. She would have marveled at how quickly she was reading through it except she was too immersed in the beauty of the words. The number of pages she read in a sitting did not matter. All that mattered was the new revelation of each verse. She was learning more about Islam than she ever thought possible.
During the entire time she was reading the Quran there was a lingering question at the back of her head. Why was she reading it? Was it because she was just interested in knowing more about Islam? Was it because doing so seemed to keep her from having bad dreams? Or was it because of something else? Carrie had never had a spiritual experience before so she was not sure if that was what she was feeling while reading the Quran. All she knew was that she had a compulsion to read it.
At the next meeting of the Muslim Student Association Carrie found herself much more involved in the Quran study portion of the meeting. She participated in the discussion and found her remarks to be well received. After the discussion she was seated next to Karen.
“You seemed more talkative than usual during the discussion,” Karen’s tone of voice made it clear she was pleased, and perhaps intrigued.
“Well, I’ve been reading my English translation of the Quran so I felt like I had more to contribute than usual.”
“Oh you have huh?” The way Karen asked it made it clear she was interested in hearing more.
“Yes,” Carrie said. She knew that Karen would be all to pleased to hear just how much she had been reading.
Their conversation was interrupted when the group leader got everyone’s attention. He mentioned how Ramadan was coming up in a few weeks. He then turned the floor over to Rakin who got up to speak. In polite tones Rakin explained that the local mosque would be providing meals for Muslims who were ready to break the fast at sunset. He then sat down.
Carrie admired the measured, almost quiet way that Rakin conducted himself in public.
Wathiqa came over to Carrie.
“You know Carrie, if you would like you can come to the mosque and participate in breaking the fast, even if you are not fasting.”
Carrie looked up at the veiled Muslim girl in front of her. With the niqab on, she could only see Wathiqa’s eyes. Over the past several months she had discovered her attitudes about veiling changing. They had transformed from disapproval to curiosity then acceptance and finally, admiration. Whenever Carrie looked at Wathiqa she saw a strong, independent woman who wore the niqab out of devotion to Allah. And now Wathiqa was going to fast for an entire month. The knowledge of it made Carrie all the more in awe of Wathiqa.
“Actually, I was thinking I would try fasting during Ramadan too.”
Though the slit in Wathiqa’s niqab Carrie could see her eyes widen in surprise.
“That is marvelous Carrie. If you need any help let me know.”
Carrie sat mostly in silence for the rest of the meeting. She thought about what it was going to be like to fast. For an entire month she would be unable to eat during daylight. Would she be able to follow through with it?
When Ramadan began she found it difficult at first. She was use to being able to eat when she was hungry. On her first day, despite trying to eat as much as she could before the sunrise she still found hunger pains developing in her stomach. The thing that probably helped her the most was the support of her Muslim friends who are going through the same thing. They still met up in the middle of the day but did not eat during that time.
At the end of each day they would go to the mosque. The mosque owned a neighboring building with a large meeting room where they had set up the food for the breaking of the fast. The women were seated on one end of the room and the men on the other. In the middle was a long row of tables where the food was placed. The people present would walk down the row of tables with a paper plate, women walked down one side and men the other.
Carrie enjoyed these meals a lot, not just because she was so hungry by the time she began to eat, but for another reason as well. During the meals she had an opportunity to see and interact with Muslim women other than just her circle of friends from the university. There were women from a wide variety of backgrounds it was fascinating hearing what Islam meant for each of them. Also, Carrie was interested to see the other women in the Muslim community who wore the niqab in addition to Wathiqa. Most of them wore an abaya and niqab of all black. While listening to them talk Carrie reflected on how, because of the niqab, she only knew these women because of their personality and character rather than by their physical appearance.
As each day passed Carrie counted down towards the end of Ramadan. The experience served as a constant reminder of the faith of her Muslim friends. Whenever the hunger began to overtake her she would pull out of her translation of the Quran and begin reading it. Doing so did not make the hunger go away, but it gave her something else to concentrate on. The ephemeral emptiness in her stomach faded into the background while her mind focused on the eternal wisdom of what she read.
During Ramadan she was able to see Rakin on a nearly daily basis. He was at the mosque everyday helping prepare the setup of the food for the breaking of the fast. Carrie would arrive early so that she could watch Rakin helping with the preparations. It was a pleasant piece of fantasy. She did not think she would really pursue a relationship with Rakin. Their cultural backgrounds were likely to be too different. She doubted that they would make a compatible fit, no matter how polite and handsome he was. Still, she enjoyed admiring him.
When Ramadan ended and Carrie and Karen attended the Eid feast they were both grateful they could eat during the day. After the feast they returned to Karen’s apartment where they watched television and talked about the rapidly approaching end of the semester. Their conversation eventually turned to the topic of the fast and what their respective thoughts were on their respective experiences. Karen seemed to beam about having finished her first Ramadan. Carrie also felt like it had had a profound impact on her, but she found Karen’s experience even more touching. Carrie watched her and could not help but admire this convert who was following her religion to its fullest. Carrie’s thoughts than went to her own experiences. She had read the entire Quran twice through during the fast. She was not sure if the experience was spiritual, but she did know that it was causing something to grow inside of her.
Karen looked at her watch at one point. “It is almost time for Isha’ prayers. You can stay if you want, I just need to do this.”
Carrie experienced a strange feeling. It was like something was prodding her, in a spiritual sense.
“May I join you for prayers?”
It took Karen a moment to answer. Her face showed surprise, but also eagerness.
“Of course you can.”
They both got up and went to Karen’s bathroom. Carrie was familiar with some of the routine of the prayers but not all of it so Karen explained the steps as they went along. First they performed the ritual cleaning of Wudu’. They made their intention of making prayers in their heart and then said, “Bismillah.”
They the proceeded to completely wash their hands, doing this three times. Afterwards they rinsed out their mouths, three times taking water from their right hand. Then three times they sniffed a small amount of water into their noses and then sniffed it out into their left hands. Next it was their faces and then their arms up to the elbows. Then they wiped their head at the fringe to the back of the hairline. They then cleaned their ears and then their feet.
Karen then produced a spare hijab that she helped Carrie put on. As the cloth was being wrapped around her head Carrie felt her heart furiously beating. She was surprised by her body’s reaction, rarely had she ever felt such energy running through her body. As Karen wrapped the hijab around her head, Carrie felt like she was going through a transformation. Each part of her head that the hijab covered felt like it had been cleansed. When Karen was done Carrie had a few moments to look at herself in the mirror. The sight almost made her gasp.
In the mirror, staring back at her, seemed to be an entirely different woman. Her hair and ears were absent from sight and she had a bright blue hijab framing her face. She looked incredible, beautiful and strong at the same time. She thought to herself that if she was a Muslim this is what she would look like most of the time. That thought caused a trembling in her. The idea of her being a Muslim, it felt…
Karen interrupted her thoughts to take her back into the living room where two prayer mats were unfolded. With both of them standing, they raised their hands up with their palms facing outward.
A thought was in Carrie’s mind. If Allah existed and he created the universe then surely he would be the greatest. The expression was so simple and yet it was so profound. Everything one would need to know about God in two simple words.
They then placed their hands on their chest with the right over the left.
“A’oothu billaahi minash-shaytanir-rajeem.”
As Carrie spoke the words she felt as if she truly was finding refuge with Allah. With a hijab on, with her body cleansed, ready to enter prayers…how could she not find refuge in that?
“Bismillaahir-rahmaanir-raheem. Al-hamdu lillaahi rabbil ‘aalameen Ar-rahmaanir-raheem Maaliki yawmiddeen Iyyaaka na’budu wa iyyaaka nasta’een Ihdinas-siraatal mustaqeem Siratallatheena an’amta ‘alayhim Ghayril maghdoobi ‘alayhim Waladdaalleen.”
Carrie thought about the words. They were performing this action in the name of Allah. If Allah created the entire universe then surely he alone was deserving of praise. It made so much sense that an all powerful and all knowing being would be the most merciful being in existence. What other being could be worthy of worship other than the one that created her and everything. If Allah did exist she would hope that He would help to guide her to the right path.
They recited another chapter from the Quran and each word filled Carrie with spiritual renewal.
They both raised their hands.
Carrie felt something inside of her. She could not describe if she had to, but she knew it was filling her with a certainty that Allah was the greatest. Karen and Carrie both bent at the hips so as to be bowing.
The moment Carrie’s face was facing the floor she felt something else. It was an awareness, she was submitting herself to Allah by doing this.
“Subhaana rabbiyal ‘atheem”
“Subhaana rabbiyal ‘atheem”
“Subhaana rabbiyal ‘atheem”
Each time Carrie said it she said it with more conviction, as if by doing so she was indeed bringing glory to the Lord Supreme.
Both women came leaned back up to standing position and as they did this they said,
“Sami’-Allaahu liman hamidah.”
There was a realization in Carrie. What she had just said was true. Allah does listen to those who praise him. Was it any surprise that she was feeling a connection to him for the first time in her life at this moment when she was submitting herself to him and praising him.
“Rabbanaa wa lakal hamd.”
As Carrie said the words there was a certainty in her voice, the knowledge that it was Allah that deserved her praise.
The two girls then prostrated themselves onto the ground, saying “Allah Akbar” as they did so. Carrie felt her nose and forehead touching the ground.
“Subhaana rabbiyal ‘alaa.”
“Subhaana rabbiyal ‘alaa.”
“Subhaana rabbiyal ‘alaa.”
Prostrated on the ground Carrie felt closer to Allah than she had ever thought possible. This was not just some whispered words or a strange ceremony. She was making actual contact with Allah, the one who created her. She wanted to stay in this position forever, to forever be in the calmness and serenity of being in submission to Allah.
Both Karen and Carrie came up to a sitting position, reaffirming “Allah Akbar” as they did so.
Each time she asked Allah to forgive her she felt certain He would. She thought about all the mistakes she had made in her life, her imperfections. But she knew that Allah was the most merciful and that he would forgive any transgression she had made.
Karen and Carrie then prostrated themselves again, saying “Allah Akbar” as they did so. As Carrie brought her body into prostration before Allah she felt an unblemished happiness fill every part of her body. Never before had she experienced anything like this. Her life, with its absence of spiritual experiences now seemed like a colorless prelude to this moment. During her time in Iraq and Afghanistan she would never, could never, have guessed that she would be prostrating herself before Allah. She was still a Marine, she was the same person. But something else was being added to her identity She was………becoming Muslim.
“Subhaana rabbiyal ‘alaa.”
“Subhaana rabbiyal ‘alaa.”
“Subhaana rabbiyal ‘alaa.”
The two women continued the prayers and repeated the process until they were done. When it was over they looked at each other for a long time. Karen looked like she had just had an experience as powerful as Carrie’s.
“Thank you for sharing that with me,” Karen said.
Carrie looked at her friend. She thought about all the ways their paths had crossed before becoming friends. She thought about seeing Karen briefly when the speaker had been on campus. Then at the bbq Karen had asked Carrie, of all the women present, to join her at the table. Karen had been the one who first invited Carrie to the Student Association Meetings. A conviction began to grow in Carrie that Karen had been sent by Allah to lead her into Islam.
“No, thank you,” Carrie said. She paused for a moment and then continued, “You are the one who has truly led me into Islam.”
Tears started rolling down Karen’s face and the two women, still kneeling on the ground, hugged each other for what seemed like forever. When they both finally let go they looked at each other for a long time, as sisters in Islam.
“Do you plan on reverting?”
“I’m not sure, I do not feel like it is the right time yet. I want to start visiting the mosque and wearing hijab in my life before I take the shahada.”
“Of course, baby steps.”
“I do know one thing though.”
“I believe in Allah.”
That night Carrie was wearing the hijab Karen had loaned to her when she went back to her dorm room. It was possible that people stared at her when she passed them. It was possible, but she did not know if it happened because her mind was so focused on other things that almost everything was blocked from her senses.
When the door to her room was closed behind her she took off her hijab. Looking at herself in the mirror she found the hijab-less reflection uninteresting. She thought about putting the hijab back on and wearing it to bed but decided not to because she did not want to risk damaging something that belonged to her friend. Instead she undressed and slipped into bed.
When she finally drifted off to sleep she experienced a dream. She was back in an urban neighborhood in Iraq. There were guns firing and explosions and then they stopped. Like before, everything froze. The militants were frozen still, as were the soldiers. Bullets hung in mid-air.
Then the woman in the niqab appeared again. Her body, even her hands were completely covered in black. Only a slit over her eyes was uncovered. She walked steadily towards Carrie. Carrie looked down at her own form. She was wearing a uniform and body armor and equipment and held a weapon in her arms. She looked up from herself at the black form that was coming closer to her.
Soon the niqab wearing sister was right in front of her. They looked into each other’s eyes. No words were spoken, no words needed to be spoken. The Woman in abaya and niqab turned and began walking away. Carrie followed her.
They made their way down a street away from the display of mayhem and carnage. They walked down the street for about a corner of a mile. They turned a corner and soon they were walking down another street. The further they walked, the more things changed. The modern buildings began to disappear. Instead of a 21st century metropolis they were in an 11th century Arab city. The pavement was gone, instead they were on a dirt road. The buildings were all of the era. Soon they were outside the doors of a mosque.
The woman stepped inside and Carrie followed her. The interior of the mosque was beautiful, with geometric designs all over the walls. There was no one else inside. All of a sudden Carrie understood that she was to disrobe. This was highly unusual in a mosque but these were unusual circumstances and she knew that they would not be interrupted.
She placed her gun onto the ground and began removing her body armor. Once her armor and equipment was on the ground she removed her helmet and added it to the pile. Then her boots were off and she was removing her clothes. Finally she was down to her underwear and soon these were off.
She stood naked for several moments, wondering what was to happen next.
To her amazement the clothes and equipment on the ground began to glow and change shape. Her gun changed shape into a circle that then turned into a woven basket. Her boots turned into black slippers. Her uniform and equipment turned into an abaya and pantaloons. Her underwear changed color into black. And her helmet changed into a niqab.
Carrie knew what she was to do. First she put on her new underwear. After that they pulled on the black stockings. Next came the pantaloons and a black blouse. She slipped her feet into the sandals and then put the abaya on. Once she was done adjusting it only her face and hands were visible. After putting on a pair of black gloves it was now only the face that was free. She reached down with her gloved hands and picked up the niqab. She placed it over her face and adjusted the eye slit so that she could see out of it.
She looked down through the slit at her concealed body. Black, everything was black. Her modesty was preserved. It made Carrie happy to know that her modesty was being protected, reserved only for her husband and Allah. She turned and looked at the other niqab wearing woman.
“Allah Akbar,” Carried said.
“Allah Akbar,” the woman answered.
Carrie then picked up the basket and walked out of the mosque. She paused as she tried to figure out where she would go next. She felt a swell of confusion as she looked back and saw that she had gone into the mosque. Why had she gone into the mosque? She was going to the market to buy the food for dinner tonight. Holding the basket close she began to walk down the streets.
The streets were alive with people. Men were busy going from one place to another. In the windows and in front of the homes women were doing chores or other sorts of housework. One or two women were walking with baskets towards the market like she was. They were all covered in black.
When she arrived in the market she found it crammed full of people. A multitude of women in dark black were also shopping in the bazaar. Walking into their midst it was easy to feel like one was in an ocean of black. All of these women, covered in black. They were showing submission to Allah. Carrie looked down at her own concealed form. She felt so hidden, so protected.
Carrie did not awake from the dream. Instead the dream faded to blackness and she eventually would drift out of her slumber.
For the rest of the semester Carrie awoke each day with the joy of knowing that she would be able to put her hijab on and go out into the world with her Islamic identity displayed for all to see. She had quickly purchase her own sky blue hijab and it was not long that wearing it felt as natural as wearing a shirt or trousers.
All of her Muslim friends were pleased to see her in hijab. They told her how beautiful she looked and Carrie felt overwhelmed with joy. Her friends were also pleased to see her coming to the mosque on a regular basis. For Carrie it was a truly fulfilling experience. She remembered the time she accompanied Karen on the day her friend took the Shahada. She had been impressed when she saw the women praying, but she had not felt anything spiritual.
Now that she was striving to submit herself to Allah the experience was totally different. Lined up with the other devout women she could feel their energy. When they all prostrated themselves in unison it was as if Allah had brought them all directly into his presence. When Carrie was prostrated on the ground, her nose and forehead touching the carpet, she thought that for just a moment her sight was outside of her body. She was watching her prostrating form amongst the hundreds of other women. All of them submitting to Allah.
Over the months that followed she found herself gradually changing. Her Islamic identity became more and more a part of her life. Increasingly she found herself basing her actions on whether they would be fulfilling the guidelines Allah setup for her in the Quran. She thought of Muslims not as a “them” but as an “us.” She still had not taken her Shahada but in every other way she was striving to live an Islamic life.
Then, near the end of the semester the Muslim Student Association hosted a speaker on campus. On the night he was to speak Carrie looked around the theater room in the student union. There were a lot of students present. She saw Rakin seated with the other male students. She wondered what he thought about her wearing the hijab and attending the mosque. Ever since she had begun making her transition to Islam she found that Rakin was on her thoughts more and more. Previously she had thought it was not realistic for her to be in a relationship with him. But now, as she came close to truly being a Muslim she thought it was becoming evermore possible.
When Dr. Mohammed Mahir took the stage he began with a short lecture. Carrie was delighted by how much of what he said, she was already familiar with. After the lecture a microphone was setup for audience members to ask questions. Carrie was impressed by the quality of the questions, and she was delighted to see that some of the students were asking questions that were for more than just seeking knowledge. Some of the students seemed to have a look on their face, as if they were looking for something. Carrie found herself hoping that Dr. Mahir was planting seeds into the students that would eventually bloom into Islamic transitions.
Carrie found herself silently praying to Allah that he would lead the students to Islam. Then something occurred to her. Why was she praying to Allah when she had not yet taken the Shahada herself? Carrie found herself standing up. Her feet were taking her to the microphone. The last person who asked a question had just walked away from it. She was now standing at the mic, alone.
Carrie cleared her throat.
“Dr. Mahir. My name is Carrie Jackson. I am a student at the university and I’m a member of the Muslim Student Association. I have been studying Islam for some time now. I…”
Carrie looked around at the full room. Her heart was beating and she was finding herself feeling scared. So many eyes were looking at her.
“…I…I want to take my Shahada and revert to Islam now.”
She heard some excited voices amongst the Muslim students and Dr. Mahir exclaimed enthusiastically, “Allah Akbar!”
Carrie smiled, now that she had said it she felt more relaxed.
“This is good to hear. First I must ask, are you convinced of Islam?”
“Is anyone forcing you to revert against your will?”
“Do you believe there is one God?”
“Yes, I do believe.”
“Do you believe that Mohammed is a prophet of God?”
“All right sister, do you know the Arabic for the Shahada?”
“Ok, repeated after me.”
“As hhadu an fa”
“As hhadu an fa”
“wa ashhadu anna”
“wa ashhadu anna”
“I bear witness”
“I bear witness”
“there is no god”
“there is no god”
“and Prophet Mohammed”
“and Prophet Mohammed”
“and servant of Allah”
“and servant of Allah”
There was a pause, a heavy pause full of meaning. Carrie Jackson had been living as a Muslim for several months. But now she had finally become a Muslim. Time seemed to slow. Every second was heavy with implication. It was as if Carrie could sense the entire working of Allah’s plans. From when he had the Quran revealed to the Prophet Muhammed to the spread of Islam to every new soul and all the events that guided her life to this moment. The tears began to stream down to her cheeks. Dr. Mahir the congratulated her and the Muslims in the audience started applauding and many of the non-Muslims in the audience also applauded.
The Muslim women then got up from their seats and came over to embrace Carrie. Karen, Bikam, Wathiqa and the rest crowded around her and repeatedly gave their good wishes. Carrie did not feel any strong feelings, rather she felt a calmness. Everything was serene. It was like she had come to the end of a long journey.
When the fall semester of her third year at university began, Carrie began wearing a black abaya. With only her hands and face visible she felt much more pious. When she walked around on campus she proudly wore her abaya. She knew that many people stared at her but she did not mind. In fact she was glad that people stared. She hoped that it might cause some people to become more curious about Islam and follow a path towards reverting just as she had done.
Besides, having people stare at her could not bother her when she had the peace and security that being a Muslim provided. She had submitted herself to Allah and now her life was in his care. Her dreams were free of the nightmares she had periodically had to endure. She went forward with confidence in everything she did.
As it turned out, Farha was in one of her classes that semester. When she saw the Middle Eastern girl sitting in the room when she entered she went over and sat down next to her. They warmly greeted each other. Farha was a friend, although she was not as close to Abby as was Karen or Wathiqa or even Bikam. Still, they enjoyed each other’s company. They were two hijab wearing sisters, a connection more significant than any of the other students would ever realize.
At the first meeting of the Muslim Student Association, Carrie entered the room to find a more an interesting composition of students. Some had graduated and were not present, there were however enough Muslim freshmen to replace them. The entire room introduced themselves. The clique of members with long beards and stern faces only said their name and made a point of looking over at the wall so as to not see any of the women. They were making it clear to the freshmen women that they were not to be interacted with. Carrie found their attitude rather distasteful. For the peace of the group she had never complained. She was sure that the other students, even the males found the excessively stern group to be a test of their patience.
The new president of the club was Ahmed. He was a senior who was only a year from graduation. In his opening speech he said that he wanted to focus more effort on making dawa. Carrie suggested that they fill out an application to have a table in the student union for a couple of days. Ahmed liked the idea and the club voted to do it.
Carrie and Bikam were sitting at the booth for one of the days. They were delighted that a large number of students, especially women, stopped to take some pamphlets and occasionally an English language translation of the Quran.
During the lulls Carrie and Bikam would talk. Finally, Carrie worked up to nerve to ask something.
“Do you know anything about Rakin?”
“You mean from the club?”
“Well, I know that he is Farha’s brother. Why?” Bikam asked. Then her eyebrows raised and she excitedly waved her arms in her seat. “You are interested in him!” Bikam exclaimed.
“Well….yes,” Carrie confessed. She felt shy, but was still amazed to learn to Rakin was Farha’s sister. She would never have guessed.
“Well you are in luck. I do know that he is not married. Though if you talk with Farha I know she can tell you more.”
Carrie was still daydreaming about Rakin when she noticed something. At one point Carrie had seen a girl lingering in the distance. She would watch Carrie and Bikam but seemed to keep her distance.
Twice during the day Carrie noticed her behaving in such a way. As the day came to an end and Bikam and Carrie were preparing to pack up their things the girl appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, and approached Carrie.
“Hello,” the girl said in a voice so quiet it was almost a whisper.
“Are you…the girl from the lecture at the end of last year, the one who converted to Islam?”
“Yes I am.”
The girl kept her eyes looking off to the side during the conversation. He auburn hair was pulled back into a ponytail. Her hands were held close to her chest and they kept rubbing against each other. She seemed very shy and nervous.
“Were you interested in getting some of the information from the table?” Carrie asked.
“Yes, no. I mean, I already picked all of those up at an event you guys did last year. What I mean is, I…I think your hijab is really beautiful and I think you are really beautiful and I want to become a Muslim, like you.”
Carrie was stunned into silence. She would never have expected the girl to say such a thing to her. It was an experience as humbling as it was profound. Carrie took the girl into a hug and soon Bikam was hugging her to. They went to a quiet place on campus where they could talk with the young woman. Her name was Kristen and she had been present when Dr. Mahir had been on campus. When Kristen saw Carrie take her Shahada she had found it inspiring. Over the summer break she had read everything she could find about Islam and had spent hours on the internet watching an endless stream of videos of people taking their Shahada. She even asked if it was possible for her to take her Shahada that day.
“You may want to slow down. We certainly will not stop you if you want to, but maybe who should try living as a Muslim first. ” Carrie said.
“Ok,” the girl said shyly.
Although she was shy, Kristen was brave enough to come to the mosque and all of the meetings of the Muslim club. She voraciously read through the Quran and before long she was wearing hijab. She was not the only non-Muslim to begin attending the meetings either. Between the events the club had begun hosting and their outreach tables they had begun to attract curious students. Some of them were men, but most were women. Several had been present when Carrie took her Shahada and had found it inspiring.
As exciting as the growth of the Muslim student club was, there was something even more pressing on Carrie’s mind. When she was in class with Farha she finally worked up the nerve to bring up the topic of Rakin.
“I understand that Rakin is your brother?”
“Yes, he is my brother.”
“I also understand that he is single?”
“Yes, he is not married.”
“Do you think that he might be interested…in seeing someone?”
“You are interested in Rakin?”
Carried looked down and blushed slightly. “Yes.”
“Well, he might be interested. You are interested in him?”
“Maybe. Can you tell me about him?”
“What would you like to know?
“What are his interests? what does he want to do with his life? What kind of women does he like?”
“Well, he is interested in science and that is why he is studying it. He also likes to read and he likes to work on improving his Islam. He is mostly interested in pious women. I don’t know if he is interested in you, but I do know he was very happy for you when you took your Shahada and he is impressed that you have been doing so much to help raise awareness of Islam.”
Carrie almost felt like leaping. Until this moment it was almost possible that Rakin could have been unaware of her existence. At the meetings the genders were on separate sides of the room and direct interaction between them outside of the discussions was not encouraged. Rakin had noticed her, and she had impressed him!
Farha spoke again, “I could see if he would be interested in going on a date with you.”
Carrie’s heart fluttered. She had never been this excited about a boy before!
Farha continued, “There is something though. In some ways Rakin is very traditional. He will not want to go on the date with you alone. He will want chaperones, one for him and one for you.”
“Yes, he would not want to disrespect you.”
Carrie was not sure how she felt about this. On the one hand she thought it was probably unnecessary. On the other, she found Rakin’s piousness appealing. Most of the boys she had ever been with were sex pushy to one degree or another. It was kind of nice that there was someone who would not be pushing for a bedroom encounter right away.
“Ok, I’m up for it if he is.”
Farha relayed Carrie’s interest to Rakin who then relayed his own. Eventually a Saturday arrived where the two would be free as would their chaperones. Farha picked Carrie up and brought her to the coffee house where Rakin and his friend were waiting.
“Hello Carrie,” Rakin said in a soft voice.
“Hello Rakin,” Carrie said as she lowered her eyes.
Everyone ordered some coffee and then sat down at a table. Rakin spoke first, “I am really glad that you suggested we do this.”
Carrie kept her gaze focused on a point just below Rakin’s neck. She only partially did this to avoid making him uncomfortable, she also did it because she was sure he would find a demure aura to be attractive. “You are?”
“Yes. I think you are a very admirable person.”
Carried smiled, and fishing for further compliments she asked, “You do?”
“Yes. It is so wonderful that you have embraced Islam. And I like that you dress in an abaya with only your face and hands visible. Even most of the Muslim women at our school do not dress in such a modest manner. I think that a woman who dresses modestly is the most beautiful because she shows her devotion to Allah. I also like that you have been so busy trying to raise awareness of Islam amongst the other students at the university.”
Carrie smiled, both on the outside and inside. “Well, thank you very much. I am glad that you agreed to meet me as well. You seem like you strongly practice Islam.”
“I try to follow the will of Allah. I do not always succeed, but I try my best. May I ask what drew you to Islam?”
“I do not think it was one thing. I noticed the veils Muslim women wore on campus, I attended some of the speaker series, I became friends with Karen who began bringing me to the club meetings. Gradually I just became more aware and knowledgeable about Islam.”
“I am glad that Allah helped to guide you to Islam. You have been guiding so many others to Islam. The new girl Kristen seems like she is genuinely interested in becoming a Muslim. When you took the Shahada in front of so many students it was probably the most powerful dawa that anyone could have made. A couple of the male students who have been attending meetings say they were inspired by seeing that. Hopefully they will revert to Islam, in’shaa’allah.”
“It is really flattering for you to be saying such things to me. I think the whole club deserves credit for welcoming me into Islam. Well, maybe not the ones who don’t really participate during the meeting.”
“Oh yes, Yusuf and his bunch.”
“You know them?”
“Yes, they are Salafists. They follow an interpretation of Islam that is too narrow. Many of the problems from people who do not follow the spirit of Islam correctly come from Salafists.”
“Carrie, may I ask a question?”
“Farha tells me that you are getting a undergraduate degree. You are older than the usual undergraduate. What were you doing before you were in school?”
Carrie swallowed. This was the place where any long term relationship with Rakin was going to end up. She might as well tell him the truth now and hope for the best. She dreaded his reaction, would he be wary? Would he be angry?
“Well, I spent several years in Iraq with the United States Marine Corps.”
“Really?” Rakin’s tone was not angry, if Carrie had to attribute a characteristic to it she would describe it as curious.
“That is very interesting. In an online forum for Muslims I subscribe to, there was a thread about American soldiers in Iraq who converted to Islam. It was something I often thought about. It is interesting that you are one such American warrior. Tell me, do you think that your time in Iraq helped to lead you to Islam.”
“I don’t think it did. I learned a little bit about Islam while I was there, but I don’t think I was interested in it at the time. I mostly learned about the distinction between Sunni and Shia.”
“Yes, it is very unfortunate that there is so much fighting between the two interpretations. It is not what Allah intended. Did seeing the fighting negative affect how you perceived Islam?”
“Well…” Carrie tried to order her thoughts on the matter, “I remember being very sad about it, there was so much violence and I saw many lives destroyed. It was also very difficult for those of us in the American military. When we were fighting the insurgents it was very difficult, but when the people in Iraq began fighting each other we felt like we were powerless.”
“That is very interesting. I have never met someone who was part of the American military there before. I hope you do not mind me asking so many questions.”
Carrie felt herself relax. She had been so worried about how Rakin would react to learning about her time in Iraq. Now Rakin was the one who seemed eager to avoid causing offense. “It is fine, I don’t mind. We are here to learn more about each other after all. I am glad you are interested in learning more about me. I was afraid that learning I’m a marine might have deterred you.”
“Not at all. It is a chance for me to learn. My family was very angry about the American invasion and called them ‘Crusaders.’ I think that the invasion was wrong and I was upset by it. But I remember reading about how when the American soldiers were leaving there were many Iraqis that were afraid that once they were gone there would be more fighting between Sunnis and Shia. And as I mentioned, I’ve been intrigued whenever I hear about American military personnel who revert to Islam. When I first read about that I began to wonder whether maybe the invasion was part of Allah’s plan. Maybe Allah meant for the American soldiers to go there so that some of them could learn about and then embrace Islam. Then when they returned to America they could teach others about Islam.”
Carrie was very happy to hear what Rakin was saying. She had been afraid that he would condemn the United States military outright like some other Muslims she had met. However, he was more nuanced about his views and did not seem to be angry at all.
The two of them talked for some time and shared information about each other. Rakin was due to graduate at the end of the year and already had a job lined up at a lab in the city. His parents originally came from Algeria and his father was a Civil Engineer.
After the date Carrie returned to her room. She thought the date went well but she was not sure until she received a text message from Farha that consisted of a single smiley face. Carrie felt her heart flutter when she saw it.
The semester went well for the Muslim Student club. They had their largest meetings yet and eventually had to switch to a larger room. There were more non-Muslims attending the meeting than any of the club’s membership had seen before. Three students reverted that semester, including Kristen. There were some problems because Yusuf and the other Salafist students did not seem to be pleased about the direction the club was taking but since they rarely reached out to anyone or shared their feelings there was little anyone could do.
As exciting as the success of the Muslim club was, Carrie was preoccupied with a blossoming relationship with Rakin. Every couple of weeks they would go on a chaperoned date. They gradually learned more and more about each other. They soon realized that their greatest shared passion was Islam. Both of them loved Allah with all of their heart. Carrie became increasingly smitten with Rakin and found his absence during most of her days was becoming increasingly unbearable.
Rakin had to work on an internship during the winter break so Carrie was not able to see him until the spring semester. They first saw each other at the meeting of the Muslim Student Association but they did not interact as both considered the seriousness of Islam too important to let other things get in the way. Carrie had to admit to herself that part of the reason why she did this was because she knew such piety would only draw Rakin closer to her.
As the semester progressed Carrie felt something building up in Rakin. It was like there was something on his mind, something he desparately wanted to share but seemed hesitant about. Finally, halfway through the semester he confessed his desire to marry her.
Carrie was shocked at first and her mind was so overwhelmed she was not sure how to answer. By Western standards it was a swift courtship. However, by Muslim standards it was not entirely unusual. In the long, profound seconds that passed Carrie’s mind tried to figure out what her answer should be. It was her heart that showed her the way. Inside she felt a calmness. There was a realization, Allah had guided her path to Islam…would Allah not also guide her path in this matter.
Carried accepted Rakin’s proposal.
They planned to marry during the summer after Rakin graduated and began his job. Carrie would move in with him and finish her final year at university. Very early in this process Carrie was finishing up her prayers in her room when there was a knock at the door. When she answered the door an older Arab woman in an Abaya was standing in front of her doorway. She held a couple of small boxes in her hands. In proficient, but still accented English she spoke.
“You are Carrie Jackson?”
“I am Aisha, I am Rakin’s mother.”
“May I come in?”
“Yes, of course,” Carrie said as she opened the door wide and the shorter Arab woman stepped inside.
“I understand that you are to marry my son.”
Aisha handed Carrie one of the boxes which turned out to be full of Middle Eastern sweets. “Welcome to our family.”
Carrie felt her heart melt. A tear began to stream down her cheek. Next, Aisha removed from the other box a silver coin that was wrapped in silk. She explained that it was to be tied to Carrie’s wrist and in a moment of great significance Aisha tied it to Carrie’s wrist. Carrie brought her hand up and looked at it. It was a physical reminder of the path she had now taken. She would soon be a man’s wife. The two of them embraced each other closely and Carrie began to cry at the joy of finding a new family. With both her parents deceased she had felt alone for several years.
The rest of the semester was spent in eager anticipation of the upcoming change. A couple of days after Rakin graduated with his Ph.D. his female relatives came over to Carrie’s place. Carrie was put into a yellow dress and her future sisters in law, Farha included, began to apply a turmeric paste all over her body. Carrie was told that this was done so her skin would glow. Afterwards an older Arab woman began the Mehndi ceremony and with skilled hands she began to paint elaborate scrolls and patterns on Carrie’s hands and feet in preparation for the wedding ceremony.
When the day came Carrie was wearing an elaborate white dress that Nakin’s family had helped to pay for since Carrie did not have family of her own. The silk fabric was decorated with ornate golden accessories and she was wearing plenty of Aisha’s gold jewelry. A white head piece covered her entire head so that only her face was showing.
The ceremony was held at the house of Nakin’s parents. Traditional Arab music was played and used to announce Nakin’s arrival. Wearing a black tux he looked dashing and handsome. Nakin’s family was present as were the their mutual friends from the Muslim Student club. An Iman was also present. First in the ceremony Rakin and Carrie read piece of scripture.
The Iman then began to read his wedding sermon, his eyes occasionally glancing down at his extensive notes, “I think it is important that a husband and wife remember their duties in Islam. A Muslim husband must take care of and provide for this wife and his children. Providing for them includes material matters. A husband it obliged to take care of his family’s daily needs. A husband must provide his wife with a home and if she chooses not to work he must provide her with an income. However, it is not just material things that a husband owes his wife. He must provide her with company so that she will not be lonely and he must fulfill his marital obligations. He must also provide for his family’s spiritual needs. He must ensure that the children are raised in Islam and know the Quran. The husband and wife exist so that children can be brought up in the knowledge of Islam. A husband must also help with the chores, and he should be glad to do this. And most important of all, a husband should follow the five pillars of Islam. He must be an example to his wife an children.”
The Iman paused a moment. In those brief seconds of silence Carrie stole a glance at her husband. To hear his Islamic duties outlined only served to remind her of the joy she was going to find in his companionship.
The Iman continued, “A Muslim wife must remember her duties as well. First, she must obey her husband in everything that it is legal for her to obey him in. A husband is his wife’s authority and she must follow his directions as she would those of her own father. A Muslim wife must also remember her obligation to ask permission. When she leaves the house she must ask permission first, and before she brings a person home she must also ask permission. A Muslim wife must also fulfill her marital obligations to her husband. She must also be mindful not to squander her husband’s money. It is also the duty of a wife to look after her husband’s children. She must teach them and help raise them in Islam. She must do these things because just as the husband is his wife’s guardian, so the wife is the guardian for the husband’s house and children.”
The sentiments expressed by the Iman were not what Carrie would have chosen to have read if it had been her choice. However, she did not mind the words. She found some of them disagreeable, but she knew that that did not matter. Her marriage with Rakin was going to be a true unity of two souls. She knew of course that it was her Islamic duty to obey him in all things. However, he would not make unreasonable demands of her. That was what would make their union work. She could never be submissive to a man who would not treat her like an equal, the marine in her would not stand for it. Rakin would treat her as his equal though.
The two of them signed a legal document and like that they were married. Carrie Jackson: American, Marine, Student, Muslim, and now Wife. There was an extended celebration that seemed to last forever. However, eventually Carrie and Rakin found themselves entering his apartment.
Once they were inside they hurried to the bedroom. Stopping at the foot of the bed Carrie turned around and faced Rakin who lingered at the doorway. She slowly, seductively removed her wedding dress. Underneath she had a surprise for Rakin. She had on a tantalizing display of lingerie. Her feet were perched on white high heeled shows. White stockings climbed up to her mid-thighs. they were clipped to her white panties. A white corset was laced around her torso, squeezing in her waist while augmenting her bust.
Carrie ran a suggestive finger along her cleavage. She looked up at Rakin with demure eyes and it became too much for him. He came over to her and took her into a deep kiss. The feel of his lips pressing against hers was like fire. She returned his kisses and their lips pressed and sucked on each other. They kissed for what seemed like an hour. Eventually they laid down on the bed…
The newly married couple held each other close. Rakin’s arms were protectively wrapped around Carrie. She was snuggled close to him, her head resting on his shoulder. They looked at each other and smiled. It was not Carrie’s first sexual experience but it was for Rakin. He looked at Carrie with the kind of awe that one would a goddess.
That summer they became accustomed to living together as a married couple. They moved some of Carrie’s stuff into the apartment and put the rest into a storage unit. A place on the wall was set aside where Carrie put up some of her Marine pictures and her medals.
Since she had no classes over the summer Carrie was able to spend all of her time becoming accustomed to being a married woman. She had never considered herself domestic in anyway so it was an interesting and enriching experience.
When Carrie’s final year at the university began she found herself elected as the club president for the Muslim Student group. Since so many of the senior members of the club such as Ahmed, Rakin and Wathiqa had graduated she had apparently been the obvious pick. Almost the entire club was happy with the pick, that is, except for the Salafist clique. They were visibly displeased, but as was their habit they did not try to interact with any of the other students and so the selection went ahead.
Carrie got the group to be particularly active that semester. They set up an information table at every campus event and it was not long before more non-Muslims were attending their meetings. Farha, Bikam, Karen and Kristine were all very pleased with the progress that was being made. Bikam also brought up an idea that Carrie embraced. Several of the Muslim students found it awkward to fulfill their prayer obligations since there were few places they could find on campus that offered privacy and quiet. Carrie and Bikam decided they might try asking the school if a room in the student union would be available for use in such an endeavor. They also decided to contact the other religious groups on campus to see if they wanted to combine together to have one room to share.
At home Carrie was settling into the routine of balancing her school work with her duties as a wife. Rakin was often busy with his new job but the two of them were able to spend at least a little time together everyday. If they were both at home when it was one of the mandatory prayer times they would pray together in the living room, Rakin in front and Carrie behind him. Of all the activities her and Rakin did, praying together was Carrie’s favorite. They were both submitting to Allah at the same time. Every time her head touched the floor she felt like she was open to the receiving of truth.
The school eventually permitted the creation of a prayer room provided that all the campus’s religious clubs had equal access to it. Carrie was able to arrange an equitable sharing of the room’s schedule.
When she announced this to the club most of the students were ecstatic. However, Yusuf spoke for the first time in all the years she had seen him in the meetings.
“Where are the women to pray?” His voice had an inflection as if he was asking a question, but the tone suggested he already knew the answer.
“In the same room,” Carried said.
“That is not acceptable.”
“At the mosque in town the men and women are in separate rooms. We can not be in the same room as the women.”
“Well, the school is unlikely to give us a second room. Besides, why can’t the women pray in the same room?”
“If a man sees a woman and his thoughts are filled with bad thoughts it will invalidate his prayer.”
“But the women will be praying in the back.”
“This is unacceptable. The women should not be in the same room. If another room can not be found for them then they should pray at home.”
Despite herself, anger started to build inside of Carrie. She did not care for Yusuf’s tone or his words. The Marine inside of her wanted to punch his lights out. Even though she was a married woman now, one who to a degree submitted herself to her husband’s will, she did not want someone dictating what she could or could not do.
“Women have as much right to pray as men do. We are spiritual equals.”
“You are a married woman and you are here, causing trouble. Does you husband know where you are?”
“You are the one who is causing trouble. I’ve just secured a room for us to pray in and you are now demanding the terms of its use, despite having done nothing for the club in all the time you’ve been here.”
“I am not going to stay here and be mocked by a woman.” Yusuf got up and four other students with long beards and stern looks joined him. Once he was gone Carrie felt herself trembling but was reassured by the remaining students who voiced their approval of her performance as club president.
When Rakin arrived home Carrie told him about what had happened.
“I hope I did not embarrass you.”
Rakin hugged her tightly. “I don’t know how any Muslim man could be embarrassed to have you for a wife.”
The rest of the semester went smoothly and Carrie was academically on track to graduate. However, in the weeks leading up to the graduation ceremony she started to feel uneasy about something. She was not sure what it was but the feeling persisted until one night she was having a dream.
In the dream Carrie was outside of herself. She watched herself beginning to perform prayers. To her surprise this version of herself that she was watching had on only a simple t-shirt and jeans with no hijab. When this Carrie bowed the first time and came back up she had a scarf tied loosely on her head. After the next bow the hijab was properly adjusted. Each time this Carrie bowed or kneeled her outfit changed. The t-shirt was replaced with a long sleeve blouse. The jeans replaced with a long skirt. Soon both the blouse and skirt were replaced with an abaya. Then Carrie’s hands were concealed with gloves. Then, on the last time there was a niqab on this Carrie’s face.
Carrie looked at her doppelganger for a split second before she found herself occupying the niqab worn by her now vanished other self.
Carrie looked down at her gloved hands. Then she reached up and felt the veil over her face. She felt…..complete. It was at that point that Carrie woke up out of the dream. She laid there for several minutes thinking about the dream.
The unease she had been feeling made sense in light of what the dream had shown her. She had embraced Islam but she was not practicing it to her full potential. She had been intrigued by the women who wore niqab, but she had never thought it necessary herself. She wondered if it was the right thing to do, if it was something she could do. She thought back to her time in Iraq, seeing the women in covered in black. At the time she had felt sorry for them having to cover up, but now that she was a Muslim she looked at things from a different perspective. By wearing the niqab she would be showing even greater submission to Allah than just wearing the hijab. She decided that once she had some time in the upcoming day she would further study the matter. In the meantime she snuggled up close to Rakin who was still asleep. As she rested her head on his chest she found herself thanking Allah for bringing him into her life.
Later in the day when she had returned home from classes she pulled off the family Quran and Hadith off the shelf and began reading through them for her answers.
And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and protect their private parts and not to show off their adornment except what must appear thereof, that they should draw their veils over.
It was a part of the Quran with which she was very familiar. She thought about the words and then looked at her own appearance. Except for her hands and face she was covered entirely in black. She was surely protecting her private parts and not showing off adornment. She continued searching for answers.
O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks over their bodies. That is most convenient that they should be known and not molested.
Carrie gave the passage great thought. It did not specify anything about covering one’s face, instead it concerned covering one’s body with a cloak which Carries was already doing. Carrie felt the black material in her hands again considered how lucky she was to have been led to Islam
And when you ask the Prophet’s wives for anything you want, ask them from behind a screen.
Carrie reread the passage several times and thought for a long time about it. It did specify covering the face. However, there inference that was clearly present was that it was best for the Prophet Muhammad’s wives not to be seen at all by other men. In principle, being behind a screen was not different from being completely veiled. Carrie turned to some hadith she had found in hopes that they would help make things more clear.
‘Aisha used to say: “When: ‘They should draw their veils over their necks and bosoms,’ was revealed, the ladies cut their waist sheets at the edges and covered their faces with the cut.
Carrie kept reading the part of the hadith that caught her eye, that they covered their faces.
Carrie knew what she had to do.
When Rikan arrived home dinner was waiting for him. Carrie greeted him warmly and they kissed for a long time before sitting down to eat. Carrie asked Rikan about his day at work and Rikan asked her about her day at university. During a lull in the conversation Carrie cleared her throat.
“How would you feel if I decided to start wearing niqab.”
Carrie watched her husband’s face very closely to see what he thought. Rikan looked neither pleased nor upset. He wiped at his lips with his napkin, something which Carrie had observed was a technique he used when he wanted to think about something before speaking.
“Do you want to wear niqab?” Rakin asked. His voice did not suggest that he was eager to hear an affirmative, nor did he sound like he was disappointed. Rather, it was his rational tone when he wanted to find out the facts before making a decision.
“Does it matter why?”
“Well, if you are doing it for yourself or Allah then I think it is a good idea. If you are doing it just because you think I might want it…I would not want that to be the reason.”
“I want to do it because I think it is what Allah wants.”
Rakin looked out the window for a few moments, his eyes seemed lost in thought.
“Then I think you should do it.”
Carried smiled at his response. She then became more introspective. She had already made her decision but she had not really dwelt on it. What would it be like? She thought about Wathiqa who had worn the niqab while attending the university. Suddenly Carrie felt herself becoming nervous. It seemed silly for her to be. She had been a soldier in a war, why was the idea of covering her face with a piece of cloth so intimidating?
Carrie studied herself in front of the mirror. She was wearing her formal Marine Corps uniform. It had been years since she had worn it. As she finished buttoning up the jacket she paused. It felt right to be wearing it. She was a Marine, and she would always be a Marine. But there was more to her than that. She was also a Muslim. These identities did not compete, they did not contradict. Rather they complemented each other.
Carrie took out her Abaya and put it on. After adjusting it there was nothing visible of her body except her hands and her head. The rest was covered in a sea of black. Next she put on her hijab and adjusted it so that all of her head except her face was visible.
Next she opened the box that had arrived in the mail. First she took out the long black gloves and put them on. She raised her hands up and looked at the black outline of her hands. Then she took out a niqab and began to secure it over her face. Once it was properly lined up she looked at herself in the mirror. She looked absolutely beautiful. except for a narrow slit over her eyes visible, she was invisible to everyone except Allah.
Even now it almost felt as if Allah was in the room with her. When anyone does an act that pleases Allah he is with them. She was wearing the niqab to please Allah and he was with her now. This was a good thing because she felt really scared. In a few hours she would be on a stage in front of tens of thousands of people, all of them looking right at her. Suddenly she thought Wathiqa, who had worn niqab when she graduated, was the bravest person she knew.
At the very least, going out in public in niqab for anything will seem easy after today.
When she came out into the the living room she saw Rakin standing there waiting for her. He seemed…..impressed, even awed by her appearance. He immediately came up and gave her a big hug.
“I am so proud of you.”
Carrie allowed herself to be held in his strong arms. She looked up at him. The expression of love on his face helped her feel at ease. She wondered what it was like for Rakin, to only being seeing his wife’s eyes at this moment? Carrie thought about this moment. It would be from here onwards that her face would be seen by no man except for her husband. Her beauty was for Rakin and Allah alone.
Between Rakin’s encouragement and Allah’s presence Carrie was able to muster enough courage to go to the graduation ceremony. They went out to Rakin’s car and began the drive to the university. Carrie watched the world pass by them. Somehow every detail she noticed seemed special, whether it was a bird flying from a tree or a piece of rubbish being blown along by a breeze. It was as if this first day of wearing the niqab was truly special and Allah was causing her to be extra aware.
Carrie looked over at Rakin who glance at her briefly to give her a smile. She smiled underneath her niqab and looked back out the window. She wondered what thoughts anyone who saw them must have. She knew there would be a lot of people who would look at her and assume that she was just a poor dominated woman whose husband kept her out of sight. They might even assume that since her husband was driving that she may not be allowed to go anywhere on her own. She knew there were places in the Muslim world where women were not allowed to drive. She felt angry about that. It was true, her attitudes and values had been changing ever since she reverted and since she had become a married woman. In her life before she had always been a hard charging person, a trait that was amplified by her time in the Marine Corps. She had always tried to be the dominant one in her relationships. Looking back she was beginning to believe that was why her love life had been such a chaotic mess. Her relationship with Rakin was much more stable. He did not dominate her. Rather, she voluntarily submitted herself to him. Previously she would not have understood the difference. She was totally convinced that the men who used Islam to dominate and abuse their wives were not only wrong, but were terrible sinners. Carrie’s submission to Rakin was a two way street. She would submit to him, but she had rights that he was not only obligated to respect but to submit himself to. She submitted herself to him…..only as long as he was worthy of submitting to.
When they arrived at the university Carrie felt herself becoming increasingly nervous. Soon they were passing by people and she could feel the eyes on her. Once she was in the student seating it felt a little better. The students were likely to have seen someone in niqab while at the university. Their parents were less so.
Soon she spotted her Muslim friends. She made her way to Farha, Bikam, and Karen. None of them had seen her in niqab before and they did not even realize it was her at first. Once Carrie was seated they could not help praising her for having chosen to wear niqab during this day of all days.
The graduation ceremony began with the President of the University giving a speech. It emphasized the importance of change. The subject struck a cord in Carrie and she closed her eyes and thought about the past several years and the change she had gone through. Her first day at the university she had seen the veiled Wathiqa in the bookstore and not been entirely sure what she thought about it. Her entire journey since then had been long but rewarding. It had ultimately led to this day. Not only was she about graduate from college, but this was her first day wearing the niqab. She felt less nervous about it now. A thought had been occasionally popping up in her mind about her decision to wear it. She wondered if someone seeing her wearing the niqab might make them interested in Islam. The idea that someone might would alone make it worth wearing then niqab.
Eventually the reach the point where students were to come up to the stage. They had one section at a time come up to avoid congestion and when it was time for Carrie’s section to come up to the stage she stood. Her heart pounding but her resolution strong. It helped that she was amongst her friends, several of whom wore hijabs. Some of the students ahead of them would glance her way. They did not stare, but they were plainly curious and their eyes would sweep over her. Carrie did not mind. Each time she took a step forward she felt stronger. She thought about her Marine uniform, it represented all the values of strength that she prized. Over that she wore her abaya and niqab that gave her a layer of protection beyond the uniform.
Eventually her name was called and she ascended the steps. As she reached the top of the steps she knew that the entire assembled audience was looking right at her. Some would be shocked, some might be upset, others would be accepting, perhaps a few might even be intrigued. She approached the President of the University who handed her a bundled paper. Her gloved hand reached out and took it and when the President congratulated her she thanked him.
As she was walking to the opposite end of the stage she felt more sure of herself than she ever had, she was Carrie Jackson: American, Marine, College Graduate, Muslim, and Niqabi