My name is Zahra Summayah I chose my first name a day after taking Shahada in skype on September 7 2011; witnessed by my fiance and his family. Zahra, after Syeda Fatima Zahra(s.a.) the Prophet’s daughter, the Light of Islam, the Queen of all believing women in Jannah (swt), the wife of Imam Ali (a.s.) and mother of Syeda Zainab (s.a.) and the Imams Hassan (a.s.) and Hussein (a.s.). Syeda Fatima Zahra (s.a.) a social justice activist who stood firm against all oppression and who taught her daughter Syeda Zainab to stand against tyrants in order to save Islam from destruction.
A month later, upon hearing a Boona Mohammed recitation of ‘Heros’ I learnt about Summayah the first martyr for Islam; another strong woman who stood firm in her convictions to protect her Deen. And I felt compelled to complete my Muslim name with hers. From then Zahra Summayah was born, Alhamdulillah.
For me, my journey in Islam is all about testing the courage of my convictions to walk in the footsteps of my namesakes and role models. Wearing hijab in a non Muslim country, surrounded by Secularists/Atheists, Christians and Jews is my personal jihad – a jihad of compassionately and with honor striving to hold onto my Deen.
I put on hijab within a week of taking Shahada, at the time living on my own in a small country town – and wearing my hijab at home but not in public for the first couple of weeks. Then I took the leap and wore hijab up to the village shops – yes I was the only hijabi I had ever seen at that stage being where I lived there were no Muslims. Alhamdulillah within 6 months I was living on campus doing my Masters in the city and among a sea of hijabis, every day. For the first year and a half of being Muslim I got to exist in an Islamic oasis where being a hijabi on campus was normal. My hijab jihad however was with my family, despite being clearly identified as a Muslim woman to the general public, I was not a hijabi to my family. They were the last to know that I had reverted, and indeed the last to see me in hijab – at first neither realisations pleased them.
My pivotal hijab jihad moment was on the plane returning from 6 weeks in Pakistan visiting my fiance and his family. I had spent those weeks just being Muslim, wearing hijab and not having to live a double life, I was called by my Muslim name and felt ‘normal’. On the plane returning back, I was seated and fighting with myself as to when to get up and take off my hijab in order to greet the family who would be waiting on the other side of the gate. Do I get up now on the plane? Would I be able to reach a toilet on the plane after it had landed and take it off then? Would there be a toilet between customs and the arrival gate? OR DO I JUST KEEP IT ON AND THEY SIMPLY ARE FORCED TO ACCEPT IT? I prayed to Allah (swt) for their ease and acceptance and for my courage and chose the latter. So on March 17th 2013, I came out of the arrivals gate in hijab (Kashmiri style) for my family to see.
Since then, I finished my degree and moved off campus in December 2013, away from the only Muslim community I have known. I am feeling alone now that I am back to being in an area where I am the only hijabi to be seen, surrounded by wealthy under dressed non-Muslim women. In saying this, Allah (swt) does work in wonderfully mysterious ways – though I am out of my comfort zone of living among hijabis on campus and living normative Islam within this oasis of Muslims; now my hijab jihad is being lived with my mum, who went from having an asthma attack when she first saw me in a black dress and shawl around my head (not even full hijab) to now where she is buying me pretty headscarves and discusses the relative sizes and materials of head scarves for the purpose of pinning with ease. Alhamdulillah.
My family still believe it is possible to be modest and not wear hijab, that hijab is not for all time but some time long ago. They say Christianity modernized – to which I say yes, now they have some churches marrying gays. To which they nod ominously. I just keep pointing out that if we the practitioner keep fashioning the religion according to our own egos and desire, then the word of God is lost.
Though my mum completely agrees that the immodesty of women in Secular Consumer Culture is disgraceful, she can’t let go of the notion of ‘individual freedom’ over ‘societal benefit’. Though my mother is a follower of Jesus, she has no love of the ‘Church’ and believes that all the rules are made by corrupt men. She seems to be like many people these days that want to follow their fitra but in ‘their’ way. Believing that God exists but not believing that any of the documents/doctrines are actually from God. Believing that God does not care what you eat or wear and if you are ’10 commandments’ good then that is all God wants. This I feel is the stumbling block – belief that the Quran is the word of God, being that many Christians and Atheists do accept that the Christian and Jewish books are ‘man made’ so they assume so is the Quran. Sadly, I think there are some Muslims who may also question whether the Quran is from Allah (swt)
The biggest hurdle on my Hijab Jihad is getting the point across that:
a) Hijab is a command from Allah (swt) in the Quran.
b) The Quran is the exact word of God as revealed by the Prophet (saw) and not altered.
c) That hijab is for men first – in their conduct and dress that their modesty is our dignity
d) That yes there are Muslim men and women that do not live Hijab – they are practicing their free will to DISOBEY ALLAH (swt). Just as there are Christians that do not follow all the 10 commandments properly, just as there are Secularists that break the State laws. None is reason to conclude the rules are wrong or unimportant, simply conclude people are disobedient and cherish their own desires.
These days I am finding the big Hijab Jihad issue is trying to explain to non Muslims when they point out the Hijab Fashion phenomena. I was with my mum at my favourite Halal Thai restaurant near campus and sitting next to us was a young Muslim woman in tight faded jeans, a tight t-shirt, high heels, lots of ‘bling’ and make up and a tiny piece of material on her head that barely covered the back of her neck because all the material was covering the ‘bee hive’ on the top of her head. Mum remarked that she looked, pretty and trendy as if to say see you can be ‘modern’ and modest. All I could do was shake my head and say “mum that is not hijab”. Yes that sister may have a connection to Allah (swt) deeper and stronger than mine, indeed she may go to Jannah and I do not, true on this I can not judge. BUT there is a difference between making such a ‘final judgement’ and discerning what the normative ideal of hijab is, and speak out confidently promoting it; knowing that none of us are perfect hijabis and we will spend our lives striving to meet this normative ideal.
I guess what I have learnt so far on my hijab jihad is the importance of dua, praying to Allah (swt) to fill both my heart and the hearts of others with compassion, acceptance and mercy. Dua to Allah (swt) that He guide me always toward courageously standing up for my Deen convictions just like Syeda Fatima Zahra (s.a.), Syeda Zainab (s.a.) and Summayah.
The dua I make for the Ummah is that Muslim men take up THEIR hijab jihad – too many of our brothers do not lower their gaze, they involve themselves in all manner of immodest entertainments, dress like non-Muslim men, and have ‘female’ friends be they Muslim or not. I believe because of this we now have Muslim women struggling to live the command of Allah (swt) of modesty; feeling the need to compete with non-Muslim women for these Muslim men’s attention. And now we have “Hijab Fashion” – surely an oxymoron if ever there was one.
The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said:”There will come a time when holding on to your Iman (belief) will be like holding on to hot coals” Tirmidhi}
Ya Allah (swt) grant us the courage to live your Perfect Path as You have commanded, Ameen