A sister spots a sister.
I saw you on that warm and sunny day in the park. You had achieved a beautiful feat with your eyeliner, and you had your arm around your friend, swaying a small bit. Your hijab was fashioned in a Pippi-Longstocking-meets-turban style, and the tails of fabric hung over your chest. You were blowing smoke expertly from your mouth and from your nose (I think).
In the moments before I noticed you, you were probably still enjoying that hazy state of youth under the sun, maybe you were singing along excitedly with your friends to that fast, semi-rock, semi-pop, wholly teen song (in which case, I heard you before I saw you).
But in the instant when you noticed Meryem and I, our scarved heads, fabric across our chests, and our dresses nearing the ground, your eyes calculated the figures before you at the speed of light, and you made the decision to pull up your hood, turn around, and turn your friend around with you, so smoothly and quickly that she probably thought it was part of the easy swaying dance.
I had seen you before you saw me, but the moment you looked at me, I looked away and maybe you thought my eyes were scanning my surroundings in general (which they were, to be fair). I didn’t want you to know that I had seen you.
What things we do when our parents can’t see us. What lives we live when we are unsure of who we are and what we want.
I probably don’t know anyone in your community to report you to, and I had no intention to. I am not a judgmental aunty and have no intention of playing the role. And I can barely remember your face, to be honest. Either way, you didn’t need to hide. I know that I am probably not much older than you, but like a younger sister of mine, I wish I could have told you the following:
Try as many new things as you like
But know what is good for you.
Curiosity is a beautiful thing. There are so many things in this life to see, to try, to know. God gave them to us to explore, so we can be grateful, be knowledgeable and enjoy life. Likewise, the same God that created all of these exciting and beautiful things for us to know, has given us rules and guidelines as to what things on this earth are dangerous for us, and are a test of obedience to avoid. Know, dear sister, that Allah does not prohibit a single thing without prohibiting the world of harm and self-destruction that comes with it. Know that it is with love and in your best interests that there are things created that are off bounds for us. Know, with certainty, that Allah has better, more truly pleasant things in store for you in this life and the next when you avoid what He has told you is harmful. These are guarantees from the Creator, The Most Wise, Loving and Generous.
Know who your friends truly are
And know where to find them.
A true friend is someone who wants the best for you, who makes you happy, and who makes you a better person. A true friend meets all of these criteria, all the time. I know that you are thrown into groups, and friendships form by association, by coincidence, by spending time together. I don’t know your friends, and I don’t doubt that they are good people. But it is okay to want more. To want the people who know and understand you, appreciate you and respect your values and hold you to your own standards.
Consider, in terms of both this life and the next, what it means to have someone who wants the best for you — they want to see you succeed and flourish now and in the afterlife. And someone who makes you happy then, would help you have fun in ways that are pleasing to Allah. And someone who makes you a better person, makes you a better Muslim. And you do the same for them, and you both journey towards Allah and His pleasure hand in hand, and with love for His sake.
Do not be ashamed of who you are
And do not be ashamed of what you have inherited.
Your beautiful brown skin, and the body that God has given you are precious gifts. For girls like us, sometimes the eyes around us cannot behold our beauty as much as it deserves. Sometimes the bodies around us appear more desirable than ours. It’s a trap, sis. You, for a fact, are beautiful, as you were created by the One who is Beautiful and loves beauty.
When you look at your mother’s face, do you wish away her nose or the size of her lips? When her hands give you life and warmth, do you wish they were a different colour?
When your father speaks wisdom into you, when his voice carries his mother tongue to you, his daughter, do you try to hush his accent? Do you cringe at the forefathers whose proverbs he tells you?
You were born exactly where you were, when you were for a reason, with a purpose to fulfil, all as part of Allah’s wisdom. I know it feels that girls like us are misplaced, destined to not belong in countries where our parents weren’t born. These thoughts come and go, and we float neither here nor there, but don’t forget that this means that the world is our playground. The liminal space we have observed and experienced is a blessing that means we can see life in ways others can’t.
Just like we see our mothers and fathers and how they carry heritage and beauty, we should see ourselves as the beautiful products of noble people. We have every right to live and love unapologetically with our culture and cultures. The same way they felt comfort in their bones under a warmer sun far away, we will exist at peace with ourselves, wherever we may find ourselves.
We may try to fit in one way or another, looking for the next way to feel like a part of something. But wherever we go, we hold the badge of who we are and where we come from proudly. We never leave parts of ourselves behind.
Don’t be ashamed of the truth you hold
By the scarf on your head, I know the faith your parents passed on to you. And by the way you tied it, I sense that it is a challenge for you to understand where and how it fits in the world you find yourself in.
Find the why. For more than just fabric and rituals. That same curiosity can be harnessed in a powerful way, with results that are life-changing. I urge you to get the answers to the questions that you may have never asked aloud. Seek, with a critical open mind and humble heart, the reason that this faith has been preserved by your forefathers carefully and passed down and destined to reach you.
Do not forget the Lord your parents have introduced you to. Introduce yourself to Him, personally, too. Do not forget the stories of your childhood, where the protagonists were brave and sincere men with the same common theme of a connection to God. Find the pen and write your own story.
Find your square root.
And find your tribe. And with that same energy and grace with which you danced in the park, throw yourself into your calling. I have a feeling you are an artist, I don’t know why. Perhaps it was your eyeliner.
Be comfortable — armed with your curiosity, identity, and your quest for truth, let the best of you shine through. Touch lives and leave your mark in the way that you were destined to. Enjoy the ride and take advantage of the shining days of your youth.
Don’t forget to look back on your fluorescent adolescence with eyes of hindsight and wisdom, and laugh from a better place, about the choices you made, who you thought you needed to be, and who you will have grown to become.
Know that you can always return
Perhaps you know all of the above, and I am here, on about ideals and confidence and connecting with your faith, and you feel like you don’t need to hear it. Maybe when I saw you, it was in a moment of weakness, a bad habit that you wish you didn’t have, something you’re trying to kick.
It goes without saying that I am in no position to judge you in the slightest, as someone who has so many of her own flaws to lose sleep over.
But just like the idea of another Muslim seeing you in that state made you want to hide, the idea that the All-Seeing sees far more should make you shy to do it too. I remind you that there is no sin, flaw or shortcoming beyond His pardon’s reach. Allah is Greater than any of our mistakes, and He is the One who will forgive them and help us overcome them.
“O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful.” — Qur’an 39:53
Know that there is a world of love from others waiting for you too, from all the fellow sinners who strive and repent and support each other in goodness every day. The girls that you turn away from, that dress like me and Meryem, are some of the most creative, hilarious, soulful, kind and intelligent young women of our generation, which I can say with confidence. They are your kind of girls. (I have pictures and videos of what good craic sisterhood really is, as well as the secret lives and adventures of hijabis, but I won’t get carried away as this is still the internet).
No one really told me this when I was your age, but I tell this to my sister now that she is fifteen, and I hope to tell my other sisters too, the many many young women who are unsure and in-between.
I am aware of sounding preachy and hope that I didn’t repel you, but this is the sincere advice on which we are founded and grounded. I also do not say this from a place of esteemed wisdom and knowledge, I’m just a twenty-year-old, part-time elder who loves you as a sister in Islam and wants the best for you. There is much good in store for you, dear younger sister. Take steps towards Allah and towards the best version of yourself.
It’s funny, that day in the park when Meryem and I couldn’t finish our pizza, we knew you and your friends are of the age to be ecstatic to receive any sort of free food (we are too). Then you, vape or cigarette tucked away, held my gaze unashamedly and we could recognise each other as the Muslim sisters we are.
Dear sweet sister of mine, let us not deprive ourselves of these moments by having to pretend our eyes did not meet.
For Munzee G, my tall queen, neither here nor there. ❤