I remember my first summer as a new Muslim. It wasn’t that long after I converted, and I was barely into the transition phase.
I knew that hijab is obligatory, but I was definitely not ready to tell my family and the world what I had just recently discovered myself.
And I remember standing in my room looking at my shorts, short skirts, and tank tops thinking, “I have nothing to wear!”
I always got invitations to go to the pool with my friends but I turned them down, I just couldn’t imagine being in public in something as revealing as a swim-suit anymore.
Slowly, the sleeves of my shirts got longer, as the hems of my skirts descended, and I did the best that I could with what I had. I may not have worn the headscarf at that point, but I was definitely all over the modesty part.
At the end of summer, I moved away from my family to finish my university education out of state. I used the move as a way to begin again in a new place with new friends and a new identity.
Away from the pressure of disapproval, I was able to wear the headscarf and begin to figure out who I was as a Muslim. But the next summer, I returned home during the vacation and faced the same hard decisions again.
I still wasn’t ready to face my family and, even as painful as it was for me, I removed the headscarf upon arrival. I still dressed modestly, more modestly than I had before I moved, and my family always questioned why I wore so much clothing.
Coming from the land of 10,000 lakes means that being on the beach or boating is a part of local culture. While all of my friends and family were in their summer clothing, I still covered my arms and legs, and I could never find a good answer to all of their questions.
I wanted to just tell them, but I didn’t have the strength. Thankfully, I had always been viewed as a little bit different from the rest of my family, so most of them just accepted me as I was. And I can tell you that long sleeves sure made a difference when the mosquitoes came out at night.
Besides the clothing issue, I found that merging my Muslim identity with my American identity was much easier than I had thought it would be. I could still be me while adhering to my religious principles and I could still be with my family.
It wasn’t until the summer after that I really was able to complete the transition. I had been Muslim for two years and I felt strong enough in my belief to face anything.
I graduated from university that spring and I went to Egypt for my best friend’s wedding. It was there in Cairo that I met my husband and got married myself.
When I returned to the US, I also returned to my home state to live, and came out to my family as a Muslim. They were not happy with my choice, but still loved and accepted me, and I was able then to wear the headscarf and practice openly without hiding.
It felt good to be able to enjoy the fulfillment of my religion while still enjoying the love and comfort of my family.
I still sit on the beach and go boating and, in fact, now that I have worn the headscarf in front of all of my family and friends, it is even better. Now I can go swimming as well while wearing Islamically-acceptable swimwear.
Whoever said you can’t have your cake and eat it too?
(This article is from Reading Islam’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.)