Islamic life was pretty uneventful for awhile after I took my shahadah in February ’97. I ended my last relationship with the failed marriage attempt with the Pakistani boy and was mostly done grievieng for my boyfriend. I write mostly because there are parts of me that still grieved years later. But the bulk of the sorrow process was complete.
I vaguely remember fasting some of Ramadhan. The days were short then but even still, I would pop appetite-suppresant pills. I think they were called Dexatrim. I remeber they were popular back then but I think they have since been yanked from store shelves. I think one or two co-workers asked me why I was fasting. Probably the only answer I could give was ‘its what Muslims do’. I would come to learn over the years that this type asnwer would be commonplace for the majority of questions about Islam.
In the beginning, my tryst with the hijab was intermittent. The most I knew about it was that I had to wear it to the masjid and that I had to wear a special prayer suit. I initially didn’t know about the prayer suit but heck, I didn’t know about prayer. Looking back, I realize I took charge of most of my early learning of the basics of Islam. I used to think the Muslims didn’t bother with converts back then because of race issues. Now I think they just didn’t know what they were doing and why they were doing it. I think many immigrants wanted to get away from Islam but it was more the convert spouses, who at the very least were accustomed to church, who propelled the growth of Islam.
There was another woman who accepted Islam around the same time I did and she also worked at the library. We were mutual acquaintences with the employee who first talked to me in detail about Islam. He was responsible indirectly for both of our shahadas and introduced us. She and I briefly walked the same path but eventually would go in different directions. Sometime during the spring or early summer, the sisters at the masjid threw us a ‘New Shahadah’ party. I got to meet many women who would later become regular friends in my life.
The two of us were given the standard gifts of books. Some were a loose collaboration dealing with different basic principles like salat. The others were a set that was created by Dar-Us-Salam containing five books on the most important things every Muslim should know. The set came in a nifty black, cloth container and has since become commonplace at new shahadah parties. At least in those communities that have the cash to spend on such items. I also received my first prayer gown. Receiving the garment was similiar to getting my first set of maxi pads, giddy and apprehensive at the same time while not having a clue what to do with the darn thing.
Like birds getting kicked out of a nest, after the party the new shahadas were sent on our way with phone numbers if we ever needed anything. However, no female shahadah escapes the masjid without a little birdie dropping a seed about the most important aspect of living as a muslimah: marriage. Back then, it started in hushed undertones but now it is yelled blatantly out loud with a bullhorn. Men swarm around like ravenous wolves ready to devour, I mean marry, the new Muslim girl.
After that party I would read the books given to me and teach myself how to pray. In the beginning, four rakats could take up to thirty minutes. In the end, four rakats could be knocked out in five minutes or less. Because I was working and still didn’t quite understand that hijab was meant to be a full-time thing, I would dutifully wear it to jumu’ah. But the more I read, the more I increased wearing it. I quit my job as a Department Manager in August of ’97 and took on another job. I was getting more familiar with terminology of muslim women’s dress with words such as jilbab and continually increased my knowledge.
The new job only lasted a few months because I was laid off in December. This small time was where my growth with hijab was exponential. Use of the internet was picking up steam amongst everyday users(and not just corporations with a webpage) so between reading books, the Quran, and articles on the internet I came to the understanding that it is required for a muslimah to cover 24/7 when not in her home or around non-mahram men. I also came to the conclusion that women, especially young pretty ones, should wear the niqab/face veil.
Ironically, my face veil choice was fueled by wearing the hijab. It seemed like the more I wore the hijab, the more men would hit on me. The longer my dress got, the more propositions I received. I read about women who stated that our beauty needs to be hidden from men to keep them from committing sin. In other words, these were my first lessons on how Islam frees men from personal responsibility of their actions. So with brothers hitting on me left and right and seeing they needed a little help in that department, the next natural step seemed to be to don the niqab. I was fine with being laid off because I would receive unemployment and could start my new life veiling full-time.