I didn’t know how it would happen, but I really hoped that this project would somehow lead me to meeting up with a local member of the Islamic community. My Black Lives Matter friend EJ offered to make a connection for me with her friend Jasher.
I was excited to meet Jasher but my intestines bubbled, croaked and moaned as I prepared for this dinner date. Would she think I was mocking her? Would she judge me for using safety pins to hold everything in place? I was really tempted to leave the scarf at home, but that would not have been faithful to the experiment and I had no good excuse to do so. Me, my scarf and my safety pins met her at Shafiq’s Taste of India (which was delicious. I’m so glad Jasher introduced me to Chicken Korma!)
Something I love about this blog project of meeting people from different walks of life is how life-giving it is. Everyone has a story, and when you put yourself in a position of being willing to listen and understand that story, the telling of that story is a beautiful thing to behold. Its a sacred time, set apart from the everyday; a chance to not only expand your own realm of experience but to get a tour of someone else’s heart.
We talked about how as an Irish Canadian, she found her faith in Islam this past January. We talked about her initial curiosity and research into the religion. She stressed to me how intertwined peace was with the very centre of what it is to be a Muslim and the way that her past anxieties melted away when she decided to surrender to this way of life.
And Jasher looks like peace. Her countenance glows with an enviable serenity. She looks relieved of a burden. She looks healed.
We talked about the day she decided to make her commitment to Islam official and the ache of leaving one’s old self behind and the joy of embracing one’s new self. She described this experience of giving up who she used to be as something to the effect of, “It was painful because I had this septic limb that I needed to sever off.”
For her, giving up her past to embrace Islam has been more than worth it. She loves the rituals around praying five times a day, which include washing your mouth, face, hair, ears and feet before every prayer. She described the act of cleaning these areas as helpful for being conscious of making sure that what you say, hear, taste and where go are pure. What a beautiful thought.
She also spoke about her decision to wear her headscarf, and what hijab means for different Muslim women. Only about a third of Muslim Canadian women wear headscarfs in public. “Hijab” seems to refer more to a state of being similar to the concept of modesty rather than just a physical accessory. She’s been wearing the scarf for less than a year but was already able to give half a dozen examples of various confrontations with strangers she’s experienced because of it. She treats them as opportunities to correct misinformed people.
Her stories were a solid reminder that wearing a scarf on your head in our culture is an invitation to be treated poorly by bigots. Doing so requires a tremendous amount of courage and grounding in who you are. I must admit, I am a little jealous.