As a revert to Islam, it can often be scary to put on hijab and go out in public for the first time, especially in the South. But there’s always a first time, and it can make you feel like all eyes are on you. The first time for me came a few years ago. My children and I had been out all day, running errands and doing some shopping.
“So far, so good,” I thought. Sometimes I felt like people were staring, but I thought that was to be expected. As the day wore on, I began to feel lonely inside. I wondered where all the other Muslims were. I wondered if it was always going to feel like people were staring. I wondered if I’d made a mistake. The kids asked if we could go to dinner before going home, and I said yes. There was a line to get in at the restaurant so we put our names on the wait list and sat outside on a bench to wait. It was dark outside by then. I was tired, and I felt alone. I wondered if Allah had forgotten about me.
And then I heard it. A single voice coming from the dark.
“Asalam alaikum,” someone said. I looked around, but there were so many people, I couldn’t tell who had said it. But I knew, at that moment, that it was Allah’s way of reminding me that I was not alone. That no matter how tired, weary, alone I felt, He was always going to be there. And I knew, in my heart, that I was never going to be alone again.
Once we were out on the road when I had to stop at a gas station to put some air in the tire. My son and I were doing it together, when a man pulled in behind my car, got out, and said, “Sister, let me do that for you.”
Then there was the time when my son had saved up his allowance for a month to buy himself a prayer rug in his favorite color, blue. He was so excited to go in the market and buy it for himself. He came back out of the store with his rug and said, “A man bought this for me.”
I said, “What?”
He said, “When I got in line, there was a man behind me and he said, ‘Here, little brother, I’ll get that for you.’”
I got tears in my eyes. My son did too.
There was the time we were at Zada Jane’s Cafe in Charlotte. When I went to pay for the meal, the waitress said, “Some people paid for your meal.” I said, “Who was it?” She said, “They already left.”
On Eid-ul-Fitr last year, my children and I were traveling, and stayed in a hotel the night before. The morning of Eid, we whirled into the elevator on our way to the community prayer, feeling splendid in our new outfits. There was a group of construction workers already on the elevator when we got on. “Eid Mubarak!” one of the men said to us. And in his Southern accent, he proceeded to tell his co-workers, “For Muslims, today is the biggest holiday of the year.” He turned to me and smiled. I don’t know how he knew that, but he did. As we left the elevator, they all said, “Have a fun day!”
It’s encouraging to know that there are people out there who did not feel that Muslims are “the bad guys.” And in my heart, each time a kind deed was offered in my favor, it only meant God was watching over me, my children, all over again.
It can be lonely when you aren’t a part of the “majority religion”. It can be discouraging, thinking you’re the only one, I know. You can feel lost. But God is there, He never leaves you, even in the darkest times. Where is He? In love. In the laughter of children. In a gift given. In a life saved. In the quiet of morning. In the dead of night. In the sound of an ocean, or the sound of a bird. He can be found in anything, anywhere. He is in the fabric of our lives, our feelings, the people we live with, things we know to be real. Don’t feel lonely when all you have to do is look around you.
From Surah Ash-Sharh – “Did we not expand for you your chest? And we removed for you your burden which had weighed upon your back.”
From Hadith Qudsi, “I am with those whose hearts are broken.”
And then there comes a day when it all fits, when you feel like God is right there, has been there all along. Like when I’m at prayer, in the masjid, in a room full of women who don’t all speak my language. We aren’t all the same color, or come from the same place. But they are my family all the same.
And it is so beautiful. If only I could somehow communicate the feelings that it inspires in me. But that is the way it is with all of the important feelings and emotions and moments we have in our lives, words fail and don’t express even a fraction of what we actually feel. All I can say is it truly does feel like I am in the presence of divinity, in the presence of God himself. And I can’t move or speak or write or do anything but stare all around me and feel love, and awe, and humility. It is just so beautiful. And after feeling that, for the first time in my life, I truly knew what it meant to be close to God, and that I’d never be alone again.