suddenly, i was big and small again.
i was the new girl, and so was everyone else.
it turned out, for several people i was in fact the first Hijabi they had ever genuinely engaged with. being a visible Muslim woman in a predominantly non-Muslim environment is not only a fact, it’s a feeling.
i felt it.
some days it felt like a responsibility, some days it felt like an honour, and some days i barely felt it at all. some days i would forget i was the only one wearing a Hijab, i was busy, i was doing things, i was enjoying myself… i had more and more of these days as time went on. each campus open day and fresher’s event saw a few more Muslims and consequently a few more Hijabis. i found myself going out of my way to say hi, to do Salaam, to let them know where i was if they ever needed anything. student life can be strange and isolating, i was thankful i hadn’t felt this way, but this meant i was able to be a shoulder to anyone who did.
i was 20, i was 21. i was travelling, i was making friends, i was writing, i was performing, i was laughing, i was studying, i was cooking, i was learning, i was loving, i was doing life.
i was in spaces i wasn’t supposed to be. i was talking to people i wasn’t supposed to talk to. i was saying things i wasn’t supposed to say. by who’s standards? i’m not sure.
i was existing.
day to day, in-between, and ordinary.
by my final year of university, i could count on two hands the Muslims living on campus, specifically the Muslim Hijabis. it almost became a game, an inside joke between my friends and i- had i spotted the Hijabi? had i smiled in her direction yet?
at 23, i am sat by the fire and writing my Hijab story.
“i don’t want it to be political, i don’t want it to be emotional, i just wanna write” i tell my friends.
the more i learn and unlearn, the more i grasp being visible and Muslim is beyond factual, beyond feeling- it is fascinating, provocative, inviting. in this country and in this climate, my Hijab will receive eyes, questions, and every once in a while an insult.
i am mindful of the fact that oftentimes my Hijab is the first thing some will notice about me, that or my brownness. whether i am sitting by a group of strangers on the train, walking on stage, or just being.
i cannot always control my own thoughts and feelings; i will never expect to control those of others’.
it is not my job to educate, it is not my place to speak on behalf of.
i represent only myself.
if you are to question my Hijab, i ask you to question it fairly and objectively.
question my humility, my sincerity, my listening, my speaking, my manners, my tone… is this too not Hijab? years of fixation on women, and dress, and women’s dress have simplified my Hijab to cloth, fabric, fashion.
cloth, fabric, fashion it may well be to some and that is okay.
we are all living. we are individual.
at this stage in my life my inner Hijab is just as, if not more, significant as my outer Hijab.
i wish to be soft in the right moments,
strong in the right moments,
loud in the right moments,
listening in the right moments,
at 23, i have learnt the only people questioning me are the people who always did, and then i realise… i do not care. i am bored of explaining, and bored of expecting.
my Hijab is of heart and it fluctuates.
to my women:
there is an unspoken friendship, a warmness, a familiarity between us.
sisters, bound by cloth and vein.
part-time, full-time, baby-hairs, turban, Hijab, niqab.
good days, bad days, heavy days, long days, bright days,
i love you all the same.
happy international women's day!
“praying has never been an exclusive activity, we just make it that way sometimes. we are humans, and we are flawed.
we are humans, but my God is forgiving. listen,
every time my pen hits paper, every time my fingers hit keys, i am praying.
these are thank you, and it’s hurting, and i just wanted to talk.
these are little divinities, and i’m not afraid to say it.
my God wrote: speak to me- i am listening, think of me- i am here, ask of me- i will show you.
my God wrote me chapters, poetry, and prose.
who am i to ignore the greatest artist of all time?
this journal is my God and i, and i will always write back.”
when my body is fighting against me.
when my body is fighting for me.
when my body is fighting.
why not me?
life with a sometimes physically restricting condition means there are days when it feels as though almost everything is uncomfortable, painful, isolating.
some days the most i will manage is a shower and a meal.
some days i will climb mountains, build bookcases, sing at the top of my lungs whilst chasing friends through crowded streets.
whatever today is, is enough.
accepting help in any case can be difficult. accepting help with what seem to be menial tasks (i could easily complete the week before) is incredibly difficult, but it is humbling.
i am human. i was not made to work through life alone.
life is made up of moments designed to be shared, and i am fortunate enough to have people in my life who have never thought twice about sharing.
my people lift me when my body cannot, and hold me when i am tired.
my people love me when i am low, and love me when i am high.
i am fortunate enough to have people in my life who have shared so much, and given so much, and loved me so much; “why me?” has never been an option.
it’s not easy, but it is okay.
my body is a vessel.
to my heart,
to my humour,
to my compassion,
to my intellect.
i will refurbish when i need to,
i will turn the gas down when i need to,
i will do what i need to.
whatever i do,
whatever i do,
last year, in the summer of 2016, i turned 22.
these are some lessons and realisations brought to me in the years prior...
it seems heartbreaks and heartaches were universal this year, as i’m sure they are every year.
but this time the hurt was closer,
my own personal heartbreak.
and it would be silly of me to think i was the only person to experience something like this, but nothing has felt bigger or smaller to me than 2016.
nothing has been quieter, louder, smokier, wetter, stranger, fuller, emptier, colder, warmer, more giving, more taking, the most taking…
dreams i have held close to me for years were brought to life.
i visited mecca and medinah, and performed umrah twice. i completed university, and graduated with some of my best friends. my work was published in a poetry anthology, and is now in the hands of multiple people on multiple continents. i co-headlined an arts festival night with poetry royalty, lemn sissay. i was featured in a spoken word documentary on female performers. i got to mini holiday in norway, with 4 of the most beautiful women i know. myself and my university poetry society made the semi-finals of the largest uk poetry slam.
yes, i achieved many things this year- things i am proud of- yet i failed to truly acknowledge each accomplishment for what it was.
for this, i am sorry, to myself. but i am also forgiving.
i forgive myself for being distracted by my human, and neglecting my person. i forgive myself for floating through the good times, and becoming somewhat stagnant through the bad.
those dearest to me have been subject to hearing me say, “2016 has been the worst year of my life” more times than it would be wise for me to admit.
i experienced spectacular heartbreak, the best kind, but i no longer have any doubts regarding my capability of loving.
i found myself in the back of an ambulance more than once, but at least i know what that looks like, even if the memories remain blurry.
in 2016 i realised, cliches become cliches for a reason, and i was every one of them.
breaking down in public, leaving the party early so i could cry on the phone to my best friend, sitting on the kitchen floor until 3am with my head in my hands. i was all of it. and i’m still here. despite everything, i am here.
i always will be, and then one day... i will not. and even then, i'll never be gone,
because i live my life with love.
love is energy, spirit, shapeshifting- never lost, never gone, never not.
i refuse to allow myself the ignorance to forget:
how great i am,
the love that is within me,
that love that does surround me,
and that i do not know what lessons i need until i complete them.
2016- you came, you saw, you tried. i conquered.