I knew the beliefs as to why I had to wear the hijab were limiting.
There was not anything wrong in my wearing the hijab, in itself. I wouldn’t take back a second I spent wearing it.
But why I believed I wore the hijab…that had been getting murkier and murkier. I had these moments before and I braved through them. I triumphantly continued to compare my hijab to a marriage, a marriage that just grew stronger with each phase of self-doubt.
It was worth the fight, it was worth hanging on for as long as I did, it was worth taking seriously. But the time came to change. It is almost as if the events of the past few months–only one of which was getting married–somehow shook my brain and set it down so it completely reassembled itself and started to operate differently.
I feel relieved now, not because the hijab itself was a burden. It is because it no longer made sense to me to be a sort of paradox, to go to a yoga retreat or dance class while being a hijabi. Five years ago, I thought there was nothing more splendid than a hijabi girl who plays the saxophone. After trying to live that ideal, I now understand, fundamentally, that that it is not for me. It is not only the issue of explaining the paradox to others: it was having to live it, to reconcile things that (I feel) can never be reconciled, given my understanding and experience of religion.
There are things I still love about the hijab: being recognized, exchanging salaams, embodying and always depicting the importance of prayers, of fasting, of dhikr, even when I wasn’t doing those things. I loved being asked about Islam. I loved that I always depicted the things I always thought about, that I wore on my sleeve my specific interpretation of that fact that the world is truly only transitory.
A part of me will never really know if I did the right thing. But on that first day I stepped out without it I remember thinking that this is fate, and this was always meant to be, and the time had come to let it be.
This is NOT meant to be a commentary on the spiritual state of people who love wedding planning and are fully invested in it. I have found spirituality in far too many unlikely places to think that weddings are completely devoid of it. This is only my subjective experience.
To those who have been through the process of a South Asian wedding, they know it’s never as simple as: “It’s your wedding, you should do it your way.” There are people to engage, norms to follow, and expectations to fulfill. It’s about something much bigger than you. So the onus is on the couple to honour their parents’ wishes and ways of going about things.
Plus, I acknowledge the importance of a milestone event like this. It sets clear in everyone’s (including the couple’s) minds that a transition is taking place, and it’s a big deal.
All that said: at the end of the day, wedding planning gives me a strange kind of sickness. It feels like I am indulging in something that is spiritually depleting. In terms of negative energies, it gives me same kind of queasiness that the following things do:
- Junk food
- Too many tv shows/movies in a row
- Too many social outings in one week
- Working too hard
- Not praying
In short, I’m not the nicest person when I am wedding planning or doing any of the above things. Just like the woman who wrote the vent “My big day? Yeah right…”, my bridezilla flares up, but not because things are not turning out as I want them to. Rather, it’s because I have to undertake an endeavor I couldn’t be less interested in undertaking.
Since I got engaged, most people I am surrounded by can be divided into two camps: those who wish me well and then continue talking to me as they always have, (thank you, bestie) and those who think I spend my evenings and weekends contemplating the event from every angle. The latter folks always end up giving me loads of unsolicited advice (an experience also bemoaned by a fellow writer in her piece “Bad bridal priorities”). Just…why?
Moving on to a solution: to keep myself intact from the wedding industry complex, I have devised a strategy to do the work of wedding planning while not letting it get to me:
- I won’t linger over any decisions for longer than I have to. I know that I’ll be equally happy on the day whether or not the décor or dress turn out as I’d like them to. Why spend time fussing over the details?
- I’ll focus on planning something else to take the focus away from wedding planning–honeymoon planning, for instance.
- I won’t bring it up with people (which I don’t) and try to change the subject if anyone else brings it up with me (which I could do better at).
- I’ll continue life as normal and enjoy the usual old stuff and new stuff like cooking and skating, since life will continue long after that day is done.
- I’ll plan and look forward to my marriage: from financial planning to brushing up my cooking skills to enjoying the growing bond I have with my fiance.
- I’ll practice mindfulness and remember death, for it’s a bigger challenge to do that when life is treating one well.
May Allah save us from weddings being nothing more than a money-sucking plight.
This book seems awfully scattered at times and I am sure it could have done its job in two-thirds the number of pages it takes up. I didn’t read all of it. But I did come across a review of it and wanted to share a key point:
Guard your mind. Yes, it’s cool to live in the dazzling array of electronics, but while it’s convenient that you can instantly find out how much the Empire State Building weighs that doesn’t mean you always should.
What could be more purely Islamic than the notion of guarding your mind?
Other things that speak to the same theme:
- Steve Pavlina’s case for why social media should be dumped for good
- An article on “what happens to your brain and body when you check your phone before bed“
- The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure by Catherine Blyth
- How wedding planning can become nightmarish if I overdose my mind with Pinterest. More on this later.
I am doing my best to prepare for my marriage every bit as much as prepare for my wedding. As part of the former, I am reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed. I had heard about the book’s topic, but was never interested enough to read it until recently, since its relevance has increased by a hundredfold.
I am glad to be reading it now. The book is a researched meditation of sorts on the subject of marriage. Gilbert writes it on the eve of her own impending marriage, weaving together history (Western history, that is), research, and insightful personal reflections on the topic. It’s good. And much, much better than her last book.
Halfway in, I read something which was glorious, but of course did not make the connection with Islam—which is why I am sharing it here. It is the perfect explanation for why Islam discourages monasticism and celibacy. It explains why the Prophet urged his followers to marry and establish households. It’s also a much beautiful and precise version of what I was trying to convey in my previous post.
With all respect to Buddha and to the early Christian celibates, I sometimes wonder if all this teaching about nonattachment and the spiritual importance of monastic solitude might be denying us something quite vital. Maybe all that renunciation of intimacy denies us the opportunity to ever experience that very earthbound, domesticated, dirt-under-the-fingernails gift of difficult, long-term, daily forgiveness…Maybe creating a big enough space within your consciousness to hold and accept someone’s contradictions—someone’s idiocies, even—is a kind of divine act. Perhaps transcendence can be found not only on solitary mountaintops or in monastic settings, but also at your own kitchen table, in the daily acceptance of your partner’s most tiresome, irritating faults.
My birthday was a few weeks ago, but I only got to fine-tuning this piece now.
Dear Sarah from five years ago,
What hasn’t changed about you throughout the years is that you believe things happen for a reason, that moments of dullness, confusion, and unhappiness are as crucial to your path as those of self affirmation and happiness. A part of me wishes you did several things differently. I know, however, that you always did the best you could at a given time, given what you knew, given what you had.
So all I want to say is: it gets better. By better, I mean, calmer. For the past few days, I have watched myself looking out to a lake, a lake that is clear, that ripples softly. I have to look at it very intently to see the currents, to see that it is not as still as it may seem at first glance.
Things have gelled. It was with great bewilderment that I read about people talking about their thirties being calm, being centered on who they are. Now, however, I am starting to taste what it is like, to just be all right with things as they are and as they will be.
Before, when you did well, you shone and were bouncing with energy. Now, doing well looks different. It’s a gradual adoption. I process more, react less. I know myself more. I am able to see myself in relation to others and see why things work or don’t.
There are no silver bullets, I have learned. There is no magic formula by which to live life. There is no one thing that has been cruelly held back from you. Things are what they are. There are thousands like me, thousands close to me, and thousands who are nothing like me. I will do my best. My life now is both remarkable and unremarkable in its own ways. I have no idea what’s in store, but I am okay with what I have now. All I hope is that I never forget God, and He never forgets me.
Hang in there. It’s nice to be here. It’s worth the wait.