She’d ask me what was on my mind, but no matter what I told her, she had already made up her mind that my boyfriend had been forcing me out of this business. In all honesty though, I had become sick of being on display, for all their enjoyment. Do they really know who I am? Why are they cheering so fervently and calling out my name? They have no idea what is in my heart right now or what I like or don’t like, so why are they talking so highly of me in the streets? It’s all so fake.
I’m just an attraction, which will be replaced with a better attraction one day, and this exhilarating feeling will turn into emptiness and dejectedness instead. I kept on thinking, is this really what we’re here for? Is there more to life that the Creator wants us to experience? In which direction should I allow my life to be pulled so strongly? Something transient like a record contract that could fling my life full speed into the opposite direction that my heart has curiously been pulling me? Or should I listen to this nagging feeling that there is much more than this.
I knew it. I knew what I had to do, but it was so difficult from where I was standing. I knew I could not break free and do what was right for me because of my family, who was highly critical of this religion, and heavily pressuring me into signing with the record label; my job which was family owned, and hard to get out of; my band, which played regularly and made money. All these commitments that were locking me down, but I was really somewhere else entirely and they were in no way ready to accept it.
I could no longer handle the pressure from my mother to wear more makeup, put on more revealing clothes, do my hair nice like I used to, nor could I take the mocking that came if I attempted to explain the concept of humbleness or modesty. I couldn’t take the pressure anymore. After being told enough times by so many people, “you’re just doing it for him or you’re just in love and that’s why you can’t see that he’s brainwashing you!” I began to wonder, What if I AM doing this for the wrong reasons and I just can’t see it? What if I wake up one day down the road and realize that they were all right!? I had to leave.
I had to get away from all of the influence and find out for myself. I didn’t want to be pulled in any direction except my own. I would be free to listen to my heart and let God lead the way to what is good and true and pure. So I left.
The moment I was up in the air, an exhilarating feeling of freedom came over me. I was free to think, reflect, search. The fear of God was instantly felt as I gazed down at the world which symbolically looked so small and insignificant as I moved further and further away from it. Leaving my world behind, even if only for a summer, I think, was the most important think I’d ever done for my spirit. As I flew over the great Atlantic, I made a promise to never miss one prayer, no matter how difficult the situation. I felt an instant closeness to God; something I hadn’t felt so intensely since I first converted.
When I arrived in Italy, I knew very little of the language and was unable at first to communicate almost anything. This may have been a blessing in disguise because it caused me to stop and listen for a while. I was humbled and I had no one but God to talk to. About a week in, I had a dream that made me feel like He was with me every step of this journey because He knew that I walked upon it in order to seek nearness to Him.
Travelling through cities, I didn’t know how to find the Qibla (the direction towards which we pray) so I just put my rug in any direction that fit the room I stayed in. The dream endured only 3 seconds: I grabbed my prayer rug, adjusted it to the right, and woke up. So, I copied what I saw in my dream, because, who knows, right? SubhanAllah, I later found out with the help of a map, that my dream directed me perfectly southeast to Mecca.
By the second week, after much prayer, contemplation and supplication, I had already started to see things in a new light. I envisioned the world in its entire greatness, and my small existence in my city and it dawned on me that I was making this tiny insignificant thing out to be much greater than it was. Why did I fear those situations and people around me more than I feared Allah? I suddenly had this feeling of empowerment and my heart began to reach out in search of direction.
I desired it so fervently and I knew that nothing could change my mind once I reached it. It came to me all at once one night while I was reading my English Quran. I felt as if Allah had spoken to my heart in such a gentle and unique way and I had never been so sure of anything else in my life. I could already picture the reactions of various family members, and of the Italian community to which I somewhat belonged. People had already been talking about me in worried tones behind my back. And now, in a matter of moments, I had made a firm decision that would soon throw my so-called secure world of 18 years upside down. Not only was I ready to go public about being Muslim, I intended to step off my plane proudly wearing the hijab.
It is worth mentioning that my mother had given me the time off work and sent me off with high hopes that Italy would make me ‘see the light’ and leave all this religious play behind. There was no doubt in her mind that the atmosphere, which can be conducive to Islamic spiritual decay if you let it, would most definitely sway me from my plans to be with Mohammed and live an Islamic life of modesty – a life devoid of the parties and entertainment that I would soon be exposed to on vacation.
She thought it would be impossible to resist and even dropped hints to her cousins to really show me a good time. She even went as far as promising me that if I spend two and a half months with her family, and return still wanting to be a Muslim, that she would give me her respect and finally believe that I’m not doing this for Mohammed. She told me to go, clear my mind, decide what I really want for my life, and find what really makes me happy. So far, this had been happening, but to her dismay, it was the exact opposite effect that she wanted.
So I was off to Rome to visit my dear cousin. She was a bit of a wild child so I wasn’t sure how it would go. Earlier, I made a sincere prayer that if I noticed God was opening the doors for me, I would not hesitate to walk through them. I intended to tell my cousin of my newfound passion and my plans to wear the scarf. I am so overjoyed to say that when you do something sincerely for God that normally would’ve been horrifying, that you’d never have the courage to do, He somehow makes it so easy for you, like a breath of fresh air. He removed this burden from me the instant I put my trust in Him.
I expected my cousin to be very tough with me regarding my decision to be a Muslim. I anticipated that she would reprimand me for letting a guy brainwash me this much and encourage my independence from all of this. Instead, to my surprise the conversation went much differently. I told her, I have to tell you something. She said, Ok what is it? So I continued, I want to wear the Islamic headscarf. All the time? She asked. Yes. In fact, I was planning to just put it on, on the plane and return home wearing it.
She really shocked me when she replied, why don’t you just start wearing it now? I mean if it’s really what you want, why would you wait ‘till you go home. This left me quite beside myself. I took her advice and put it on that very afternoon.
Being a ‘ninja’ in Rome was a unique experience. My cousin had remarked that I was definitely the first scarf-wearing, English-speaking young woman Rome will have ever seen. There were some uncomfortable situations, but nothing beats when you’re in a huge tourist venue, like the Vatican and you spot the one other woman in the crowd wearing hijab and a comforting smile is exchanged between you, knowing that you are the only two out of thousands who look this way here.
There were also encounters with people who were so encouraging and uplifting that I could swear they were angels sent to ease my way on a road never travelled before. You’d be surprised how many unexpected people really do appreciate the hijab and have a deep, immense respect for dignified women who choose to cover themselves.
I can never stress enough how amazingly helpful it is to have even one family member give you moral support. From the moment my cousin showed me that she would stand behind my decisions, I felt that even if it would just be her and nobody else in the universe, that it was truly a gift from God and that I would be more than fine. All I needed to know was that Allah Himself was with me, and He showed that to me through many intricate ways.
Still, I worried about what my family would say or think, particularly since I had always judged myself through the eyes of others, but this trend, by Allah’s mercy, didn’t end with my cousin. To my astonishment, people that I expected to react the worst, ended up showing me the most love and open-mindedness. Even in Italy I received compliments and blessings of encouragement from people who I could only describe as angels.
Coming to terms with all that had been happening within myself, I realized it wasn’t going to be a passing thing, like everyone thought. Instead of moving away from Islam, I was steadily heading straight into the depths of it. Contrary to what I considered as a possibility, I knew I wasn’t ever turning back. And this trip was a necessary step to allow my soul to truly learn that.
I felt it was necessary since this important change in my life occurred, to touch base with my life back at home, so I called my producer, who was also the leader of my band. Since we had many important shows to play soon after my arrival in Canada, I found it only fair to give him notice. I gathered myself, and made the phone call, and told him, with some difficulty that I had begun to observe Islamic dress and that my life would be taking a new direction from now on. My heart was beating so hard, I thought he might hear it.
I expressed my apologies for the unexpected news, and explained it would be best if he found a new lead singer. He was definitely taken back by this news, as would anyone that knew me. Singing was my life; what could have possibly inspired such a change of interests in me? I don’t really expect anyone to understand why I would want to give it up, I just know in my heart where I would be right now if I hadn’t made that decision.
Contrary to what he promised, it seemed my producer had spilled the news to my mother who in turn spread it to everyone else in my life. She had not taken it well. Her husband told me that she had been crying and very sick for 3 days since she found out. It is very difficult to see people hurt so much when you know that there is nothing to be upset about at all.
Where you see peace and guidance, they see ugliness and nonsense. But this is expected since the Holy Quran attests to this fact. The more guided one is to the spiritual life, the more those immersed in the worldly life will mock at you and think you’re crazy. In there eyes, you have gone off the deep end, but in your heart, you have a certainty that can never be shaken. Anyhow, she made clear to me that I was no longer welcomed in her life if I chose to dress this way. She forbade me from even nearing the street where our business was and assured me that I was about to lose my entire family over this, so I better be really happy with what I’m doing.
When I look at the big picture, I find that this whole trip was a mercy from God and that He used this event in my life to guide me. When I left, I was a different person. Sure, I had said the Shahada and meant it, but there was so much missing in my life and also, so much negative influence. The things I was doing, the places I went and the people I surrounded myself with were of no benefit to my true discovery of what Islam has to offer. I was involved in many haram situations and most of the time, it never struck me as something that I needed to change.
I noticed a phenomenon that I later realized affects many people. I started off as a new convert, with an open heart and so much to learn. But then time went by in which I didn’t progress because I was too caught up in the life of this world and ignoring all that I had so recently been guided to. What happens is you let one small thing slide by without instructing yourself against it and you think God couldn’t possibly put me in hell for this.
Things are made to be fair-seeming to you, but soon enough that one thing grows into another small thing, which eventually spreads like a virus and soon enough, you find that you don’t even recognize yourself anymore because you’ve come so far from where you were, not too long ago. I’m so lucky that I broke out of this pattern, maybe as a result of some people’s prayers for me, but if I can tell of one thing that I learned from this trip, it was that you have to always move forward in your faith and you can’t ignore the things that Allah has put here for us for our benefit.
We must read the Quran everyday. Not to would be a shame and a crime against ourselves. If we don’t worry about the little things, they will eventually defeat us and our standing still in Islam will eventually lead us to move backwards. This is the greatest atrocity because with a faith as perfect as this, there is no reason to let yourself move backwards. Also, the people we surround ourselves with are paramount to our spiritual growth and moral development.
If we call ourselves Muslims and lead our lives like the average kafir, how can we expect Allah to look favourably upon us when we need Him? The thing is, He will have mercy on us when we’re in need anyway, even if we don’t deserve it, as I have demonstrated in my story today, so we owe it to Him and to ourselves to pay some attention to that certain man of history (saw) that brought us this message of truth and also, the man of the moment (atfs) who continually sees it through to it’s inevitable fruition.