Islam is easy, I've been assured. And I agree - Islam has been made easy, for those who are sincere to practice it. Very recently the month-long fast of Ramadan came to a close for 2011. In Al-Quran, Allah makes clear that spiritual disciplines have not been established to make us suffer:
The month of Ramadhan [is that] in which was revealed the Quran, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey - then an equal number of other days. Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful. - Surah Al-Baqarah 2:185
Often Muslims pray that Allah makes life easier for their brothers and sisters. We can pray this ourselves: My God, make my life easier for me: ربي سهل لي امري
This week when travelling back to the US from London, I wore hijab. I feel more comfortable concealing my hair from those who do not need to see it. Also, I sense greater solidarity with my local Muslim community when I am visibly Muslim. When I see a Muslim person, I know that I can approach them and receive kindness, and I want them to know the same of me.
Wearing al-hijab was painless. It does not hurt me to cover my hair, nor to dress modestly. Neither does it hurt anyone else. To my surprise, I appeared to be the only Muslim on our extremely crowded plane. The mother and daughter who were seated beside me treated me very kindly. I did not sense animosity from others. At the border entering the US I was asked about my conversion to Islam, and I explained honestly. Surely, I would have not have been asked had I not been wearing hijab. Unfortunately, I was asked if I've travelled to any Arab countries. The border agent failed to consider that only 15% of Muslims are actually Arab. Nevertheless, I answered him without arguing.
My kind Muslim friends have told me several times that there is no need for me to make the hijab an urgent practice. I can ease my way into the practices of Islam, and find a good time for the habits to unfold. I know at the moment that my hijab may make my mother, in particular, feel uncomfortable. There is no need to increase her stress, and therefore, when I'm with her, I simply make an effort to dress modestly, without hijab. I admit that in the past I may have misunderstood the hijab, and also, wrongly assumed that Muslim women wear the covering against their will. Now knowing many Muslim women from all around the world, and being in the position myself, I understand the gladness and willingness with which many Muslim women dress modestly. Coverings for women are described in the Quran, but not with the same propensity as fundamental Islamic behaviours, such as belief in the one God, prayer, giving, respect for parents, and avoidance of illegal sexual intercourse.
Friends, I remind you of the greatest challenge that I will face at home for the next few days. The respect for parents that Islam mandates has risen high the bar for my conduct and posture toward my mother. I would have said before, with conviction, that I love my mother. But I'm starting to sense how little I demonstrated love for her in the past.
Repeatedly throughout Al-Quran, the believer is instructed to worship only Allah, and in the same breath, commanded to care patiently for parents. Building on my previous post on the topic, one of many examples is as follows:
And [recall] when We took the covenant from the Children of Israel, [enjoining upon them], "Do not worship except Allah; and to parents do good and to relatives, orphans, and the needy. And speak to people good [words] and establish prayer and zakah." Then you turned away, except a few of you, and you were refusing. -Surah Al-Baqarah 2:83
Hand in hand with my belief in God must be complete respect toward my mother, kindness to relatives and those in need, and goodness to all people. Then prayers and generosity towards all in need. As I've learned, it is not appropriate to show even the slightest frustration towards my mother, whatever she asks, whatever I feel. I must respond to her with obedience and respect.
Shall I say that when I am following this instruction, I feel happier because she is happier. I feel that I have changed to the better. When she calls me to her from upstairs or downstairs, I count it an honor to respond, rather than whining at the request that I get up from whatever I am doing. Whatever she asks, I want to do. If she wants a cup of water, even if she tells me that she will get it herself, she deserves that I use the life that she has given me to bring sustenance to her right hand. Unlike the prior years of my life, I am making every effort to obey my mother, rather than seeking ways to ignore or evade her requests. She is happier when someone listens to her, and she deserves this small honor.
Unfortunately, I confess that in the time that I've been home, I have grown frustrated at times, and have not been strong enough to conceal it. I failed to keep my voice low to my mother, as it should be. Last night my mother, sister and I were stranded on the side of a Pennsylvania backroad over 70 miles from home, our exhaust system dragging on the asphalt beneath our car in the pouring rain, flash floods, and strong wind. We hardly knew where we were, or who to call for help. The confusion and lonely attempt to get home safely ourselves, without our father, without family friends near to us, went on for hours. At certain points, I could not control my anger at the situation, and finally I resorted to silence, perhaps the safest avenue in that situation. Thanks be to Allah, today is a new day, and I will make a new effort to treat my family well.