Fade in: red, blue and yellow paisley: my first vivid memory of a Muslim was at our girls-only high school. What a beautiful sight- loose dress and khimar- both the same cotton cloth. “That is so nice; why are you wearing it?” I asked out of curiosity. “Because I’m Muslim,” she replied softly.
White cotton: I was so determined to cover with whatever was readily available, I tore a square piece from a white sheet and pinned it behind my neck and let it fall behind my back “so as not to attract attention”. How silly. Did I think a white head scarf in a sea of bare heads would not attract attention if it was behind my back rather than in front? Either way I was very proud of my new look and my new life of guidance. The older sisters at my beginner prayer class told me to say I was a Sunni Orthodox Muslim should anyone ask what I was. Gladly…
My own red, blue and yellow paisley: was a shapeless long gown with a khimar both of cotton; my own attempt to cover in an age before internet browsing and one click ordering. It was just me, Simplicity, Mc Calls (and Vogue if I felt ambitious). Ambitious or not, when the seasons changed I knew it was officially summer because I would hear, “I know she’s hot in all that!” That’s okay, because 1: believe it or not the looseness and thinness of my long cotton dress is keeping me COOLER than your tight denim jeans and 2: the fire of hell is hotter. I never actually shot back fact #2, but on occasion where possible I would share the science of covering and how it actually put us in the shade from the burning sun.
Pink jersey knit: dress and khimar I made for a job interview. The interviewer actually complimented me on the look. I was so pleased that she noticed. Little did she know the dress had been constructed on the wrong side, but it was my design, and I liked it, thank you. (By the way I did get the job!)
The white stretch terry cloth abayah: had no cuts but an opening for the neck and was sewn up the sides. This was my response to the advice given in Jumuah (Friday congregational prayer) that Allah commanded the believing women to cast their juloobihinna (outer garments) over themselves when going outside so they would be known as believing women and not molested. No molestation here…
Chiffon and georgette for the face: by this time (roughly 1975) there was still no internet browsing, so when I and my companions decided to cover even more we took pieces of cloth and pinned them to either side of our khimars which by the way were still pinned to the back then brought to the front around the neck. We sometimes got fancy and added elastic to make it easier to wear. The detail of even the face veil, as we called it back then was very important. Here in Philadelphia Islam was growing by leaps and bounds with many variations, so minute details in dress served to distinguish one belief set from another. Then the small pieces grew to cover the entire face. I felt like I was in my own personal world under my total coverings. I discovered that you can see clearly through black and dark blue, but NEVER white!
Many garments later, the memory of the white terry cloth still remains clear in my mind because it was while wearing this one that I passed some youngsters and one yelled “Oh a ghostie!” Her companion, no more than seven years in age said, “That’s no ghostie, that’s a Muslim. As salaamu alaikum, sister!” I replied with my warmest salaam. She could not see my smile, but I think that was okay with her.
Fade to black: We wanted to be like the companions of the Prophet (Peace and blessings be on him) about whom it was mentioned looked like crows when they went outside, and crows are black. And so it began, fluctuating along the way from more to less, an occasional bright color to an event or the Eid, but the default was still black. So many years have passed since my first vision of red, blue and yellow paisley. Today I am happy to have access to a world of styles, shades and combinations shared by our sisters in faraway places with the same goal in mind, covering for the pleasure of our Lord. (Oh, and I finally put away that white terry cloth !)