For anyone just joining my blog, this post is part three of a four part series about my personal experience with wearing the veil (Hijab). Please feel free to read the previous posts dated April 11, 2012 and April 25, 2012.
We left off, in my last post, with me waiting to see whether I’ll be accepted to the Faculty of Pharmacy at Cairo University or to The American University in Cairo. As I waited, I was hoping that I’d be lucky enough to get both and be able to make my choice, I didn’t really have a clear preference in mind yet. Sure enough, weeks later I found out that I was accepted at both esteemed universities. I was ecstatic yet felt like I really didn’t want to make that choice. On one hand, I was strongly inclined towards joining the Faculty of Pharmacy at Cairo University for personal reasons. I wanted to be with others who I loved dearly and knew were accepted there as well and had asked me to join them. On the other, I had a strong passion for Computers and Computer Science and knew that I’d feel more at home if I went to The American University in Cairo. I was even crazy enough to contemplate going to both! It isn’t unheard of, so why not? Then I came to the realization that I’ve been pushing myself to my limits my entire life, always going above and beyond, so it was time for me to make a choice, one single university, one single faculty, one single future career path. I finally decided that I should do what will make me happy and help me achieve my goals and make me feel fulfilled rather than just follow others … and hey, if anyone wanted to stay in touch with me, there was nothing to prevent them from doing so, right? This was an opportunity too precious to waste, the opportunity to choose rather than have things predetermined for you. And so, I went with my heart, brain and most importantly, Istekhara prayer (a prayer Muslims do to, essentially, ask Allah to help guide them to the correct, righteous choice when they are not sure what path to choose amongst many) and decided to join my beloved AUC.
From the very first moment I stepped on campus, it felt right! So right. I felt like I have reached my destination (education-wise), like I was capable of achieving great things, that I have found the first stepping stone on the path of my future. Just being there made me feel so fulfilled although I was still getting to know the place, trying to understand how the courses work and things were generally in a state of chaos. I had no problem with my adviser (although everyone was complaining about theirs), no problem finding a spot in the courses I wanted and no problem registering in the very classes I had hoped for! Things were working out perfectly, to my utter surprise.
I had a blast that year, academically of course 😉 I registered for the most amazing courses, from The Foundations of Art and Design to Scientific Thinking. From Introduction to Sociology to Philosophic Thinking. Not to forget of course the very important Calculus, Computer Programming and Physics courses that were essential for my eligibility to declare my desired major, Computer Science. I discovered that I had a particular interest in Philosophy and wouldn’t have minded at all to continue down that line, but I saw no future for me in it career-wise … besides, I didn’t want to live my life questioning the existence of everything around me … or myself for that matter!
I had made a few friends but pulled away from them during my second semester because they were just not my type. When I wasn’t in class, I would be found sitting in the quietest area of the Main Campus, in the shade under the “big tree” behind the cafeteria. Almost no one sat in that spot since most people would go through the cafeteria and didn’t even know this area existed. I loved how calm it was, how I could hear the birds chirping, how I could concentrate if I wanted to study and how I could just lose myself in my thoughts if I wanted to wander off with my mind.
But something happened while I was seated in that spot, on a daily basis, something I never saw coming. I found myself observing and passing judgement on the other students around me! This was something so foreign to me, I was never that kind of person. Sure, I always had an impression regarding people I meet, but when it’s someone that I don’t deal with in a direct manner, it never mattered to me to form an opinion of them. What was even stranger was the fact that my judgement didn’t stand alone, it was mixed with fear! A very tangible, very dominating sense of fear. I saw how my colleagues were behaving, whether on their own, with their friends or with the opposite gender. I saw how they dressed, walked and talked. I saw how they discussed issues, had debates and sometimes even had fights. It was as if I had suddenly become aware of my surroundings, maybe even engulfed by them! And somehow, this experience struck me with fear.
I realized that the majority of my peers were too westernized, the way they did everything and the manner in which they conducted themselves didn’t necessarily match their Egyptian background and roots. It wasn’t just that, they also seemed to have some sense of pride in being this way. People would boast that their Arabic isn’t that good or they’d curse as if that was a socially acceptable thing to do or miss prayers on purpose because they wanted to “hang out” with their friends longer, it was unbelievable. Suddenly, it felt like being abroad but worse. See, the thing is, I knew that abroad certain things that happen are actually permissible and in fact expected, so when people do them they aren’t being vulgar or obscene or ill-mannered in anyway, they are just being “normal”. But for an Egyptian (an Arab and/or Muslim in general) to act this way in a society like ours was just absurd. Suddenly I feared for our country, for the generations to come … are those the future mothers and fathers? Are those the ones who will raise the coming generation? Are those the same people who will instill principals and integrity in their youngsters? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean that everyone around me was that way, I just saw that the majority were and that scared the wits out of me!
(Years later I discovered that, depending on which campus you were spending your time at, you’ll meet a certain type of people since different social cliques, if you will, hung out at different areas of the university.)
And from there, little did I know, the seed of my Hijab was planted. I felt a need to be a better person, to become the best person I can possibly be, to protect myself and my future kids from the ever-changing world and make sure that our beliefs and principals do not become extinct in no time. I looked at my life and came to the conclusion that I have always been a good student; achieving the highest grades, loved and respected by my teachers and looked up to by my peers. After talking to my mother, brother and grandparents, I realized that they loved me very much and always felt like I was there for them and I never let them down … they were proud of me and believed in me, there was nothing more I could do in that department except keep it up. On the social front, sure I didn’t have many friends because I was never the kind of girl to go out on mixed-gender outings or have a boyfriend or even have a late curfew (my curfew was 8 p.m and got upgraded till 9 p.m. when I went to university – till I got married in 2007 actually) but the friends I had were the most amazing ones anyone could ever hope for. I always wished I had more friends and wished that I wasn’t so shy around the opposite gender and made a promise to myself to work on those things in the coming years. The other aspect that I felt lacking in was the religious front. Sure, I always tried to adhere to the teachings of Islam; being honest, truthful, helping others whenever possible, be respectful of the elderly and be modest whether in the way I act or the way I dress, and that was the main reason why I gave up wearing swimming suits 3 years earlier and shorts the past summer. But I still felt like something big was lacking. I never wore sleeveless tops, short skirts or dresses or anything too revealing. I never liked makeup and only wore it at weddings since I was blessed with fair skin that I loved and always got complimented on. That’s when I came to the conclusion that I want to wear the Hijab, it was the logical next step and I absolutely loved it! The weird thing is, the issue of Hijab never ever crossed my mind before. Sure, my grandmothers, my aunts and a couple of my older cousins wore it, but no one ever talked to me about it nor tried to convince me to wear it. If anything, I remember the entire family waging war on my cousin Rania A. for wanting to wear the Hijab during her last year in university, if I remember correctly. Whenever I pictured my future wedding dress, it was an off the shoulder side draped satin and lace dress with long satin gloves … oh and the tiara, ever so important! I looked at pictures of tiaras far more than I ever looked at those of wedding dresses … being a princess on that one night is what it’s all about for a girl after all, isn’t it? So no, the issue of Hijab was never at the back of my mind even.
After a few weeks of contemplation, I was sure I wanted to wear the Hijab. I considered all the consequences (including giving up my dream wedding dress … believe me, that was heartbreaking and I took a long time to get over it) and how my parents would feel about it and whether or not I’d ever take it off. I didn’t even need to pray Istekhara, simply because I was so sure. I finally told my parents, my dad was abroad at the time so I told him on ICQ and I had a sit down with my mother and brother before then and told them. My brother thought I was too young and it’s a huge decision but if I am sure I will not take it off later on then I should go for it. My mother wasn’t for the idea, she said she’s proud of me for thinking of taking this step but I am too young and should wait till I am married then make the decision. Like most parents at the time, they feared that an unmarried girl wearing the Hijab will have less suitors than one who doesn’t. That belief stemmed from the fact that back in the day, when they were our age, no one wore the Hijab except for women of the lowest social class in society or when a classy woman got older. She even asked me if someone I liked at university was encouraging this decision! My dad was a whole different story. He was really upset and although we discussed the matter for hours, he wasn’t convinced one bit that this decision was stemming from me and me alone. He then proposed a solution to the problem, if after getting married I still felt this way then he’ll let me do it!
My dad was so upset that I was genuinely worried about his health, so I decided to postpone the matter for a few months and then try again. I waited for 3 long, miserable months. I wasn’t sleeping well, felt generally down and everything seemed really tasteless, including my studies which I loved. Finally, on Saturday July 14th, 2001 I asked my mother to take me shopping because I made my final decision and will wear the Hijab next week. She supported my decision and said she’ll tell my father. When she told him, he was very upset but didn’t try to stop me. So we went shopping and I bought what I thought I needed (turned out to be the tip of the iceberg) and on Friday, July 20th, 2001, in the middle of Egypt’s summer heat and 2 days before my Summer Session Physics finals … I was blessed to be a young lady, willingly wearing her Hijab 🙂