Sporting Hijab in Small Town America


by Lenna

At last, I’ve committed to wearing hijab, everywhere outside my home, all the time. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been grappling with the issue for some time, before coming to this firm decision.

Why now? Many reasons. Among them, tragedy, which once again, has prompted me to re-evaluate my priorities.

As I also mentioned in a previous post, we moved my mom to assisted living a couple of months ago at her request. We didn’t realize her time there would be brief. She fell ill after a few weeks with what we thought was bronchitis, but turned out to be late-stage lung cancer.

She died within a week of her long overdue diagnosis.

A few weeks earlier, an argument between my son and another boy escalated into a physical altercation, in front of a crowd of cheering teenagers. As a result of what should have been a minor scuffle, my son was blinded in his left eye. The blunt force of a well-placed punch ruptured his eye, deflating it like a popped balloon. We nevertheless remained optimistic until, two days after my mother’s death, when the specialist informed us his retina was not just detached, but shredded.

The eye is beyond repair. It has shrunk to about half its normal size, leaving him not only blind in that eye, but disfigured, at least for now. We have an appointment scheduled later this week to discuss removal and replacement with a prosthetic eye.

Removal. Of his eye. That thought still generates a little wave of nausea.

This situation is made worse by the fact my son was already visually impaired in the right eye. He suffers from amblyopia, commonly known as “lazy eye.” There is hope that, over time, the brain will engage the right eye, and his sight will improve. But for now, this is a difficult transition.

Life is so much more fragile than I like to think, and circumstances like this really do shake me to my roots.

We’ve also recently moved to a smaller place. A new home always causes me to benchmark. I evaluate reality against the optimistic expectations we had the last time we moved. Who could have anticipated all of this? Sad milestones.

A few years ago, we lived in a McMansion in the suburbs, with three finished levels, two kitchens, five bedrooms, and three and half baths. We had the house built to accommodate extended family, and at least for me, it was a dream home.

When we moved from there, it was under the duress of an earlier series of tragedies, and we gave away an incredible amount of stuff, including gorgeous, expensive furniture. I let the next door neighbors drag away a large, really beautiful neo-Roman style Pulaski bookcase, which they polished to perfection and placed in their front room. Standing with them, admiring the piece in its new home, I thought, “You’ll regret this later, giving up so many things in haste.” I had once loved that bookcase.

I’ve missed nothing we gave away. I don’t miss that house. Nor do I miss the smaller cookie-cutter house in the suburbs we rented for a while before we moved here. The last place had a nice swimming pool, where none of us bothered to swim.

We’re now living in a half double built more than 100 years ago. Like many older homes, this house has many quirks and lacks some of the conveniences of the modern houses common to suburbia. The kitchen is tiny and we don’t have a dishwasher. We have just one bathroom, clearly added as an afterthought, once indoor plumbing came to town. The ceiling over the shower is sloped, so that hanging a shower curtain requires creative ingenuity.

Our basement looks like a medieval torture chamber. The stencil in the dining room is hideous. The doorknob fell off the exterior side door yesterday. I almost fell down the jagged basement staircase, looking for the screw.

Nevertheless, we’re content here, in this modest old house, in the middle town, despite the difficult circumstances. What the house lacks in amenities, it makes up for in charm. Charm and a prime location. There is no pool, but the neighbors are friendly. Hardly a day goes by that we don’t have company.

None of the tumult we’ve experienced recently could have been mitigated by money. We would have been no better off under these circumstances if we were still living in our McMansion. Not even if we had a fat bank account to match. That realization puts things into perspective. All things, more or less.

I used to be too shy to pray in front of people. Not anymore. My Muslim friends aren’t shy. They pray at the airport, in the mall or a random parking lot. Wherever they happen to be when a prayer comes due. Now I do too. Sometimes. I stayed by my mother’s bedside for days, sleeping in a chair. I knew it was only a matter of time before I’d be “caught” praying one of my five daily prayers. But if the doctors and nurses minded my prayers–or my khimar–they certainly didn’t show it. Everyone was friendly, from the moment I arrived until the moment I left.

A Christian chaplain stopped by one afternoon, just after I’d finished praying. She said God had sent her to give me the message that my mom could see the angels and she was fine. I found this fascinating because in my mother’s last lucid moments, she was looking up at the ceiling, as if looking at something in motion, but when I looked, I saw nothing. After that, her eyes glazed over and she never spoke another word. It was soon after that the chaplain arrived to deliver her message. Before she took her leave, she asked if she could pray for us, and when I nodded, she took my hands in hers and said such a fervent, heartfelt prayer, I cried and hugged her. Twice.

For her to come at such a dark time and show me this kindness was amazing. Once before, years ago, when I was very sick in the hospital, a Christian couple visiting the woman who shared my room heard me crying. One stood by my head, the other at my feet, and they took turns saying a long, passionate prayer on my behalf. Then as now, I felt comforted by the mercy of believers, who showed up just when I needed them most. By pure coincidence. Or not.

If I left my mother’s bedside for a little while to buy a latte down the street, I’d come back to find the chaplain, or one of the nurses, sitting by my mother’s bed, soothing her, contemporary gospel music sometimes playing softly in the background. They didn’t have to sit with her. This was pure kindness. They left us alone as soon as I returned, and in the quiet times between their rotations, I wondered what mattered to my mom in the final lucid moments of her life. What will matter to me in mine?

What will matter then is what should matter now, I decided. A simple observation with profound implications.

As I often do these days, this evening I walked to dinner at a small outdoor cafe, my latest haunt, where I always order exactly the same thing. I had the patio to myself on this occasion because the bees swarming about had chased all the other patrons indoors. The bees buzzed around my table, my food, my head, stopping from time to time to inspect my plate and share my Diet Coke.

The weather was perfect, and the food was delicious, as always. Even the bees were amazing, and we got along just fine.

When the waitress came to pick up the check, she smiled and said, “We’re glad you come and sit on our patio. We’re so happy to have you here.”  Me? Really? Sitting here in my favorite blue hijab, in a small town, where there are hardly any Muslims.This town, filled friendly people, and some bees to keep you company, if you find yourself alone.

I felt a deep sense of gratitude and happiness then, as I do now, alhamdulillah (all praise is due to Allah). My decision regarding hijab feels surprisingly liberating. A symbol of deeper reflection, and all the precious gifts that come through patient perseverance.

Alhamdulillah, in spite of everything. Alhamdulillah, because of everything. 🙂

What did you think of this article? Let me know below in comments. You also reach me via email at or find me on Twitter: @LennCat.


  1. Wow that was really deep and moving.
    Tragedies and lessons to learn.
    Days to grow and weep some more.
    But with each tear,
    Come closer to seeing
    Who you really are as a whole.


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