A Tale of Two Worlds

As a little bit of background on me, prior to moving to London I worked in a global role in a large company, which means that I worked at the company’s headquarters where I interacted with teams around the world and worked with people who were also far from home like myself. I now work in our London office on a local level. Though the job is still demanding, it does allow me more time than I had in my previous position to focus on my personal life.

Being in a local office is different also in how people interact with each other – friendly at work but as most of the people have lived here their whole lives, they have a very separate existence outside of work. This is good as I have been trying to dig into my studies and trying to meet other Muslims and reverts.

A few weeks ago I went to a work meeting where I ran into so many friends and colleagues that I have lost touch with since I converted or since I moved to London. And while I absolutely do not want to go back to my old job or my old life (that is a whole other story), it was great to catch up my old friends. I have to say I felt like myself again.

I miss my friends a lot, but they primarily socialise around alcohol and everything that goes with that. And they don’t quite understand why I am not dating a nice single banker that I met at my local pub or some bar now that I am in London.

I don’t really have any friends here in London yet, but I really love my Tajweed classes and plan to start taking Arabic in the Autumn. And I am starting to meet people.

Bottom line, it feels very strange to have these two worlds that don’t really connect with each other.

I understand why many Muslims spend most or all of their time in their Muslim community. But I don’t really have that community yet, and with my family, work life and most of my friends being non-Muslim, I have to (and want to) be in this other world too, though following the straight path. And I will keep striving to find my own Muslim community.

It just feels a little schizophrenic to be honest. Do any of you ever feel the same way? How do you manage it?

Little me at London Fashion Week

I was absolutely thrilled when I received the invitation. Imagine, little me going to London Fashion Week! I am somebody who loves fashion and had put together quite a closet full of designer clothes before I became Muslim.

After I converted, I really struggled. What would I wear? How would I look? What was I going to do with all my clothes? And how could someone so shallow as to love fashion be a good Muslimah!

Well, I adjusted much more easily and quickly than I could have imagined. But the real first step for me was the discovery of a brilliant Muslim designer – Barjis. Once I found her web site, I breathed a sigh of relief. I knew I would be able to find clothes that were beautiful, comfortable and modest.

And a few weeks ago I received an invitation to her first showing at London Fashion Week. What an honour.

For the event, I  mixed and matched pieces from my old and new life: a dress by Alexander McQueen, a skirt by Barjis, a black shrug by Temperley, and I turned one of my Hermes scarves into a hijab.

I was ready for the night!

And I have to say it was better than I imagined.

The people attending the event were a fantastic mix – very artsy progressive men and women and stylish sisters and brothers. The sisters were in hijab and niqab – and I am sure many who did not cover. And one brother had the most amazing multi-coloured dress socks to go with his elegant black suit. Children running around excited for the show to begin added the perfect energy to the evening. So fun!

Of course, the best part was the show itself.

The collection included modest dresses, tops and trousers in wearable colours, including muted greys and browns with splashes of vibrant orange and soft pink. These are beautiful elegant clothes that can be worn by anybody. Appropriate in the work place or out for an evening. Women who wear hijab can feel just as comfortable in these pieces as those who don’t.

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The collection also included ethereal abayas and long dresses. Her abayas have a simple elegance yet always with an unexpected twist – an unusual cut of the neck line that is still modest, and fake fur or colourful decorations that are fun but still chic.

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After the show, winding her way through the crowd in the simplest black abaya and blue hijab was Barjis. About my height (i.e. very short), she is stunning and spent her time talking to everyone who came to the show. (I met her brother too! He was so happy for his sister and so appreciative of all those who came to the event. As well as having an adorable daughter and niece!)

It was a memorable evening and I cannot wait for the clothes to be available for purchase.

Thank you Barjis!

(PS, I found out later that some of the children at the show were there as a result of a contest Barjis ran at her old primary school in order to encourage working-class ethnic children to experience the arts. They were asked to design a print and two of the winners attended the event. Wow. Amazing!)

 

Sharing the load, bit by bit

I have never been someone who was comfortable letting people do things for me. For whatever reason, I felt like it was not okay to rely on anybody else. I believed that I had to take care of myself by myself. And this is pretty much how I have lived my entire adult life. Not that there have not been moments when people have helped and supported me, but not very often.

To be honest this had been something that had made me proud – being very independent and self sufficient. Knowing that no matter what happens I can take care of myself. It has also sometimes made me feel lonely. If there is nobody around to help, sometimes that means there is nobody around.

Even before I became a Muslim I realised that I was not really alone or in control. I knew that there was something bigger than me in God. But upon making the decision to follow Islam, I realised the importance of submitting to Allah (swt).

But what does submission mean practically? Why are we tested and challenged? How does he support us through difficult times? I have been thinking about this a lot lately as I still often feel overwhelmed with the changes in my life.

It is not about doubting Allah (swt) or my decision to follow Islam. It is the day-to-day of ordinary life that I have been struggling with.

I’ve been reading a bit on why we are tested in this life and two things have really resonated.

First is that Allah does not give us anything we cannot handle. If we think we are doing this by ourselves and if we approach a situation with dread and reservation, then we very likely will fail. It will be painful. But if we know that Allah is always with us and is our support, then everything is doable. Perhaps the outcome will not be what we initially want, but Allah always supports us and knows what is best. He will bring ease to those who believe and submit.

Second is that in some respects the question of ‘Why?’ with Allah (swt) is irrelevant. He is not like us so does not have the same needs and motivations that push us to ask the question of ‘Why?’ Thus, our concept of a rationale behind a decision does not make sense with Allah (swt). Simple submission to the straight path is a blessing. Obligations on this path should be viewed with joy and bring us closer to Allah (swt) and to Jannah, in shaa Allah.

Now, I believe I need to be an active participant in my life. I don’t believe that submitting to Allah (swt) means being passive. And I don’t believe the straight path is always black and white. But Allah (swt) has and knows the greater plan. And if you really think about it and believe he is with you…. it is both empowering and a great relief. Finally, I don’t always have to take care of myself by myself.

And with this notion, I have even begun to let people help me. I am still wary about trusting and relying on others. However, in the past months I have been in positions where I had to rely on others for help and support. I never thought it was smart to rely on someone because — well — what happens when they disappear? What happens when they are not there for you anymore? Allah (swt) will always be there. But people? People have a way of disappointing.

But, never-the-less, I have begun to rely on certain people in the past months more than I ever have before.

And you know what? So far it has been okay.

Its funny. I thought that I could only really love someone if I could be sure I was independent of them. That somehow it would make the love more pure if I was not reliant on them.

It turns out that is not the case at all. Be it Allah or particular people in my life, giving up some of my self-reliance has actually made me love them more. Scary. Terrifying even. But amazing.

Now, I have not undergone some Hollywood-movie style change in how I relate to others. But I think I am headed in the right direction. Bit by bit.

Reflections

The responses to my last two posts (To Hijab and Family Matters) have been wonderful and encouraging. I love reading about everyone else’s experience with hijab, and about their telling friends and family about their choice to follow Islam.

And while I still am glowing at having told my siblings and am relieved that they have by and large accepted it, it has really made think about the rest of the people in my life.

I still have not told most of the other people in my life. I am sure this must sound odd. How can I have been a Muslim for more than a year and my friends and family have not noticed?

Well, as someone who lives in a largely ex-pat environment, my family and many of my friends live elsewhere – either because I have moved or because they have moved. When I do see them or talk to them, we just don’t talk about religion or faith.

My job for the past two years when all this happened was extremely consuming so friends who I work with simply think I have been too busy. They view certain behaviours and the way I dress as a bit odd but that is it. (They have not seen my in hijab… yet.) They are simply waiting for me to “get back to normal”.

If you asked me why I have not told them I would tell you that I am afraid of their reaction. Afraid that they will not accept me. Worried that I will lose them in my life.

But really, because of not telling them and not including them in my life as I used to, I am already losing them.

One the one hand, if they really are my friends, they will accept it. They will see that I am the same person as always. Perhaps even a better person, in sha Allah. And if they don’t accept it… well, why am I trying to hold onto people who won’t love and accept me for who I am. What good does that do me?

I think telling my siblings is just a baby step on the way. (A wonderful and liberating step – but only the beginning.)

I have no question that Islam is the right choice for me. And I feel so amazingly blessed that Allah (swt) chose to guide me to the straight path.

So why am I holding onto the image of who I was for people who might not love me enough to accept me for who I am?

To Hijab….

Since I moved to London, I have started wearing hijab. Admittedly only in my personal life, not my work life.

But this is a HUGE change from where I was just a few months ago when I first wrote about my struggles with Muslim fashion and wearing hijab.

I have read the books recommended by several of you on this subject, including “Rethinking Muslim Women and the Veil” by Bullock. Incredibly enlightening and helpful.

To be honest, I am not somebody who thinks wearing hijab and a long skirt provides more protection to me as a woman. Yet I do feel more comfortable and more secure when I wear it, and I love that it is a visible symbol that I am a Muslim. And, of course, it keeps me warm in the cold days of winter!

The best part of wearing hijab is the hijabi mafia. What is this you ask? Well, I have found that when I wear hijab I go from being completely alone in London to receiving smiles and greetings of salam as I walk down the street from other hijabis. Further, I get offers of help and local tips from hijabis whenever I look lost or confused. It is fantastic. When I have had a particularly bad week, being acknowledged by fellow Muslimahs makes me believe I will get through this challenging time.

As for work, I do contemplate how I will manage the to transition to wearing hijab. I have read so many news stories recently about the prejudice in the corporate workplace regarding women who wear hijab.

I have changed my style of dress and I am very open that I don’t drink alcohol anymore – but wearing the hijab is different. As someone in the workplace already and fairly senior, perhaps I could break a barrier. But I could just as easily find myself out of a job and deported.

I am not sure if I am being a coward or being considered in taking my time to figure it out. Perhaps the biggest thing is that I am thinking about how I could do it. This is something I could not even imagine a year ago.

Do any of you have the experience of being established in the corporate culture and making the change to wearing hijab?

Single female revert looking for a warm and welcoming Mosque

I was not sure what I would write about this week. With my recent move and starting a new job, I feel like I am constantly exhausted and am not as engaged as I normally am.

So I thought I would give a quick update on my Islamic explorations and get your thoughts and advice.

I have spent the last two weekends exploring Mosques around the city. There are still a few really big ones I have yet to visit, but so far I have visited nine Mosques.

To be honest, I am not sure I have found ‘my Mosque’ yet. Though, I don’t really know what I am looking for, or what I should be looking for.

I guess I still have in my mind the notion of a congregation dressed in their Sunday best that meets for pancake breakfast after Mass and being welcomed by the parish priest. It is so odd how parts of my upbringing pop up at the most unexpected moments – especially since I did not feel particularly strongly about these things growing up.

So… what am I expecting or hoping for? I suppose I am looking for a place where I can pray all of the five prayers, including Jumua – which I definitely did find. (I may pray mostly at home, but I would like to option.) I also hope it is a place where I can continue my education, and learn about lectures and other events around the city. (Though I have signed up for an Arabic and Qur’an class at a local Islamic Institute, which I will start in October. So excited!!) And I would like a Mosque where I can meet a diverse group of people to hopefully connect with.

So, what does it mean to you to belong to your community Mosque? What makes it feel like your community? Where did you find information about the Mosque – or from whom? How does one search for a Mosque?

London calling

When I was a young girl in California, I wished I would live in London when I grew up. I am not sure why exactly. I just felt like I was supposed to be in London. My mother thought I was crazy.

I did move a fair amount as an adult: different cities within California, other states in the US and two countries in Europe, but I never came close to moving to London. Really, I did not think about it much or make an effort to move there. It was just something I had wished as a child.

Several months ago after I said my shahada I felt that I was ready to move again and wanted to live where I had a greater opportunity to find a place within the Ummah. I also felt like I wanted to live in an English-speaking country again. I was not ready to move back to North America however. London was back in my thoughts but was not sure how to get there.

Then, just a few weeks later, my boss came to me to let me know a position had opened up in our UK office and I would be perfect for it. I had not even told her I was thinking about moving there.

And now – completely stressed and surrounded by the mess that is my apartment – I am moving to London in just a few days!

I am trying not to put too much pressure on the place, but I feel this is going to be a great move for me. A place to start fresh along with my new life in Islam. Not that everything before is to be forgotten, but I feel this move is at the direct hand of Allah – about 35 years after I first wished for it but at exactly the right time. Alhamdulilah!

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