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Creative Nonfiction | In the Playground

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Shirt tucked, hijab secured – I swing my legs up onto the playground bar and quiver into balance. Awkwardly perched on the peak, I look down before I let myself fall backwards. Every fiber in my body yells a prayer that escapes as a whisper through clenched teeth. Bismillah-hir-rahman-nir-rahim. “In the name of God, Most Beneficent, Most Merciful.”

I circle around the bar. I feel my stomach swoop into my throat. One, two spins around. At the third I slip and fall to the ground, my face burning red with confusion. Am I really ready?

A girl comes over and asks if I am hurt. I shake my head and brush away woodchips. Bailey is six years old. Megan, her eight-year-old sister, joins us. I teach them some bar tricks. They are entertained, but Megan is curious about something else, too.

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“Why do you wear that on your head? Do you want to wear it?” Panic.

“Uh, this? It’s ‘cause of my religion. And I chose to…to wear it.” Trepidation.

“Oh, I guess that you don’t belong to the same religion as me.” Apprehension.

“Nope, I guess not.” Okay…?

“Bailey, she looks kinda like Gracia, huh?” Relief. Connection.

It was as simple as that. That is when I knew that within those ten minutes we had become friends. There was something about them accepting me that made me accept myself. For many years, I fought to muster the courage to start wearing the hijab. Finally I let go; all my reasons built up to one moment in senior year of high school. But I also fell; it had been a challenge adjusting to my drastic change in identity—until that point in the playground. It was an epiphany. If two little strangers I met could see past my veil, then there was nothing for me to be afraid of. My encounter with them gave me the push to make it over the bar.

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Meena is a writer, podcaster, high school English teacher, wife, and new mom. She loves working with Muslim youth and is interested in literature, arts, and culture. She studied Comparative Literature and Creative Writing at the University of California, Irvine and has a Master’s in Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She briefly dabbled in Classical Arabic studies in the US and is also studying the Asharah Qira'aat/10 Recitations. Check out her podcast and website Brown Teacher Reads: the brown literature circle you always wanted to be in. (brownteacherreads.com)

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Mehzabeen (iMuslim)

    October 11, 2011 at 9:32 AM

    Ah… bittersweet first day of hijab memories! :)

    • Farah

      May 7, 2019 at 10:39 AM

      It is too big

  2. Abez

    October 11, 2011 at 1:13 PM

    Oh man, my first day of wearing hijab was weird- I was a junior in a high school that I had been attending since freshman year, and very few teachers even knew I was Muslim. Out of nowhere, I show up with a scarf on my head, and on the first day, two teachers decide to start lecturing the class about how a woman’s hair is her crowning beauty. One was a PE teacher, the other English lit, and both were looking pointedly at me during the lectures. Strange coincidence, no? :p

    • shiney

      October 14, 2011 at 1:33 PM

      ASA, are you the same ‘Abez’ who wrote that story called “The Teacher”? Omg, the whole time I thought you were a guy lol! Because the story was from a man’s perspective but then here, you were talking about hijab so i’m like ohhh, she’s a girl! Btw, i absolutely loved that story! first i was drawn in by the title because i want to be a teacher insha’Allah. By the end of the story, though, i made a mental decision, “never be a private tutor, especially for the opposite gender lol!” but jokes apart, i loved the way the story was written-the transitions and the feelings and the word choice, etc. Everything was perfect! have you ever considered writing a book? Or maybe a collection of short stories and then publishing it?

  3. Yasmin

    October 11, 2011 at 5:03 PM

    Mashallah, this story was short but sweet with a beautiful lesson to be learned!

  4. Salahuddin

    October 12, 2011 at 12:53 PM

    LOVED IT! May Allah bless all of our sisters to experience such epiphany. Reward every single one of you for your struggle and strengthen you all with the Ever-Lasting Imaan. You sisters are THE MAN! :D

  5. hayaa

    October 13, 2011 at 10:15 AM

    Aww :).

    We really need to see a person for who they are.

    We get weird around hijabis, uncomfortable around niqaabis- when they are just normal people like us. They choose Islam’s fashion- why does that make them a different species?

    • Meena

      October 15, 2011 at 9:53 PM

      I totally agree! I was a little afraid and overly critical about niqab until I studied it a little more and met some AMAZING niqabis who completely changed my view on it :) aH! I think everyone reacts to something by rejecting it if they are misinformed/underinformed about an issue.

      Now I am so humbled and proud of all niqabis!!! masha’Allah!!!

  6. shiney

    October 14, 2011 at 1:28 PM

    loved this….it reminded me of the Orientation day at my community college. I was put into a group with 4 girls for an activity and one of them was a non-Hijabi Muslim and the other 3 were Spanish or something. A while later, when we were talking, I confided in them about my feelings about being in a non-Muslim environment after being in Islamic schools my whole life. I told them that after what the media shows about Muslims, people would probably be scared of me in my abaya but one of the girls told me she lives in Maryland where there are a Muslims and she doesn’t find Muslims frightening at all. I was so surprised but relieved at the same time.
    This matches my exact feeling when that girl said that and the others approved:

    “If two little strangers I met could see past my veil, then there was nothing for me to be afraid of.”

  7. Natasha

    October 14, 2011 at 3:42 PM

    I really like reading these kinds of stories where women have put on the hijab on their own. I’m still waiting for my epiphany. I have always hated wearing the hijab and still hate it today. My parents forced me to wear it when I was 12 and now my husband does.No body outside of my close family does it. Every where I go I’m the one getting attitude from people not him and I’m supposed to love this thing?And the most crap I get is from the muslims themselves so it’s not like I’m blaming kaffirs or anything. Whatever I hope something “comes” to me cos it is really hard to do this.I still wear it and I hate every inch of it.

    • Carlos

      October 15, 2011 at 5:05 PM

      Dear Natasha,

      Those who argue against hijab bans almost always argue that wearing the hijab is voluntary under Islam; a personal choice to be made by the woman, based upon her own conscience. Every once and a while, I see a comment like yours; someone commenting about being forced or overly pressured to wear the hijab, by family or community. I can understand why a minor can be compelled by her parents to meet a certain dress code, but, for an adult, such coercion is morally unacceptable. It is an affront to human dignity.

      I think most people are against hijab bans for the same reason that they would be against anyone being forced or overly pressured to wear a hijab. Clothing touches one’s body. Therefore, clothing is a very personal matter. Anything that touches one’s body should be at the choice of the individual who is that body. Bodily integrity is an essence of personal freedom. Violation of another’s bodily integrity is practically the definition of violence, and is a necessary element of almost any serious crime.

      I think you should have a frank talk with your husband about this. You should assert your equality, not just legally, but also Islamically. If he refuses to be reasonable, I think you should bring in a trusted third party, such as an Imam or a wise and neutral elder. Even in the most difficult of family situations, nobody can force you to do anything unless you let them. In the worst scenarios, there are shelters and organizations that help women prevent or escape unhealthy relationships.

      And just as people, whether they are non-Muslim or Muslim, should not give a woman grief or difficulty for wearing a hijab, nobody should give a woman grief or difficulty for going without a hijab. When it comes to such personal choices, other people should mind their own business.

      Yours,

      Carlos

    • Meena

      October 15, 2011 at 9:43 PM

      alhamdulillah, I am so glad that you came out and said something Natasha.

      I wrote this when I was a senior in HS (2 years later now, aH) and this happened to me a few months after I started wearing hijab. It was one hurdle just to start wearing the hijab and I thought the toughest part would be over once it was on, but I was wrong. It was a crazy adjustment with my friends, family, and sadly the other Muslims in my community because a lot of people were treating me differently and some of my relationships changed with people. It was one thing to get over the stares from strangers, but the comments from some of the people I thought were my friends, and sadly some of Muslim buddies as well, was what started to really get to me. Not only that, I became very annoyed at having something constantly on my head, with it always slipping and my pins sometimes coming out and etc. After I started wearing it, I kind of hated it. It physically felt uncomfortable and I was feeling overly self-conscious on top of that. This incident was one that helped me get over my internal insecurities because those were 2 little girls who were playing in my little brother’s school’s playground, and you know how blunt little kids are…they gave me the confidence I needed to find within myself to rock the hijab, and now aH I rock it well :)

      As far as you go, I hope that you don’t take your hijab off and that you keep searching for a meaning behind it so that one day when you put it on you LOVE IT. It is a fard upon a woman, and it should be your choice to wear it, but I think it’s not that uncommon to “hate”/dislike the hijab Like you, no one else in my family really wears hijab besides me and my sister, so we’re the odd ones out a little bit. And it’s a little tough feeling some heat in the outside…but as long as you have the conviction in Allah and the conviction in your act of actually wearing the hijab, then insha’Allah you should be rewarded for it and rewarded for it even more than someone like me who actually enjoys wearing hijab. The more you struggle for something, the more you’re rewarded for it and I pray that Allah gives you patience to overcome this trial in your life. Like me, maybe you just have to wait it out and that time will come when it finally feels good.

      I am keeping you in my dua’s
      <3 Meena

    • hayaa

      October 16, 2011 at 5:30 AM

      assalam u alaikum sister :)

      i understand what you’re going through, no body likes to be pushed into something. Because discovering it yourself is so much more meaningful and also, lasts you through forever- because you chose it, and thus, you cherish it.

      from what you’ve said, it appears you live in the west. well, see a lot of Muslims have become distanced from their religion, and they dont really KNOW Islam. Because knowing it is like falling in love with it, alhumdulilah :)

      Yes, no one should force you to wear Hijab. Thats your choice and your ticket to freedom- which you’ve got to embrace yourself. Why dont u do something, sister- find out why they’re making you wear it? i mean whats so special about hijab anyway? why does islam encourage women to adorn themselves with hijab? what is so great about it that Muslimahs treasure it?

      Dont listen to anyone around you- go get the facts, read about why so many muslim women have ‘chosen’ this for ‘themselves’.

      I encourage you to visit this beautiful website: http://www.igotitcovered.org

      Also, perhaps you would find this useful: http://dearlittleauntie.blogspot.com/2010/12/dear-veiled-wanna-be-non-veiled.html Its about a girl whose parents didnt give her an option, and she just HAS to wear hijab, and she finds herself wishing she loved her hijab :)

      And to really read what the Quran says. Read about the Mothers of the Faithful. They were such beautiful role-models, each with their own unique story.

      Learn why you’re here.

      We each have our own battles to fight, our mountains to climb, walls to scale. Your parents and husband probably felt they were helping you, sometimes you just worry about others too much, you know?

      But masha Allah, its so wonderful that you’re trying to accept. and waiting for your epiphany, i hope it comes to you soon, insha Allah :)

      Love you for the sake of Allah SWT.

  8. Carlos

    October 15, 2011 at 4:38 PM

    Nice story, Meena. I am glad you were not hurt, and that you had a positive encounter with those girls. All personal and cultural differences are surmountable if we choose for them to be.

    Perhaps you would have been more successful on the bar if you had been taught gymnastics. Had you been taught gymnastics?

    Is womens’/girls’ gymnastics halal? During the Olympics, I never see womens gymnastics teams from Muslim majority countries. I do not know if that is because they are not competitive enough to make it to the final rounds or if that is because Muslim majority countries do not field womens’ gymnastics teams. If it is not halal, is it because the attire required for complicated gymnastics is incompatible Islamic dress codes? If it is not halal, is it because women and girls doing gymnastics are being “too physical” in front of mixed audiences? Are both my guesses wrong?

    Carlos

    • Meena

      October 15, 2011 at 9:47 PM

      I’m not sure :) I’m no faqih.

      I wasn’t ever in gymnastics classes, but my friend in the 5th and 6th grade was and she taught me some tricks and stuff, which was really cool. I always wished that my parents put me in a gymnastics class, actually.

      I personally have very conservative views about women working out and etc. in public and women’s standard of clothing, so…I dunno, I’m not the right person to answer this question! But I guess you probably wouldn’t find me spinning around bars now unless there was no one around/it was in private and I was wearing something that would lend itself to this sort of activitiy.

  9. Abdul Quader

    October 15, 2011 at 8:39 PM

    Totally felt the same when I donned my beard, sort of… Loll. Alhamdulillah, us guys are a bit luckier, beards are much more of a gradual process. I don’t know what a sister goes through when she dons her hijab, but I love them for the sake of Allah, and I pray that Allah makes it easier for them, and that He rewards them every morsel of a struggle they experience. Us guys need to straighten up and rep the deen too iA!

    What really helped me was when I made more beardo friends, birds of a feather right?

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