By Jacquelyn N. Crutchley
My journey into Islam started with gaining knowledge and practice, but it ended with heart. I am a firm believer that what you put the effort in, will grow and become a part of you. Even as we work through the trials of life and our failures, our efforts will be tested just to see how far we will go to achieve our goals.
My first taste of Islam started at 21 when I began to dabble in prayer and reading books. The very first book I read, borrowed from a classmate, was “The Veil and the Male Elite” by Fatema Mernissi. To this day, I will claim that Islam is the most feminist religion, despite what the world portrays it to be.
My curiosity grew as I began to learn truths about Islam and unlearn ideas behind the Western perception of a religion blamed for its terror and oppression. Learning about the veil became my obsession. Was it really mandated or was it a choice? Why were the Western and the Islamic communities so obsessed with a piece of cloth? For every religious video, it seemed that there were two or three just on Hijab. When did Hijab become the 6th pillar of Islam?
Islam seemed like a puzzle that I did not quite have all the pieces for and if you know anything about me, it is that I love myself a good puzzle. Not only did Hijab perplex me, but the whole lifestyle also seemed out of reach and unattainable. Yes, like many things in life, you have to experience them to understand. So just as I did with prayer, implementing it slowly one at a time, and as I did with fasting, starting with Lent and doing fully fasting three years of Ramadan prior to reverting, I decided that the obsession had become too deep and it was time to take Hijab into practice.
Perhaps it was how I was perceived by everyone around me, which was different from who I was at the time or how I grew up. I no longer fit into those societal boxes that limit us as humans; I began to confuse people and make them question their preconceived notions. Perhaps it was receiving the Salams from other Muslims and having a moment of mutual recognition and wishing goodness upon one another. Or perhaps it was feeling valued for what I said and brought into a space as opposed to how my body looked – finally escaping the male gaze I was accustomed to. And while all these things were true, at the end of it all, Hijab was truly just inscribed in my heart by Allah swt and I pray it never fades.
At 23 years old, in February of 2016, I decided to go on a retreat in New York City and I devised a plan. I would wear a scarf the entire weekend, no one would know me, and I would see how it felt. Just as my journey to Islam had begun with knowledge and practice, so did my journey with Hijab. While my hijab was not perfect, I wore it like a turban and my clothing was not nearly as loose-fitting or modest as I like today, it made an incredible impact on my life. Unlike the slow implementation of prayer and of fasting, once I put on Hijab, I knew I would never want to take it off
At the age of 24, one week before Memorial Day Weekend and subsequently Ramadan, Allah SWT inscribed Islam in my heart. I took my Shahada surrounded by those who have supported me on my journey and I began to fast and pray as a Muslim woman and not just as a bystander. And I pray that Allah SWT preserves that as well and that it never fades, Ameen