Beneath Her Headscarf – Story Three

Ruqoyah enjoyed the iddah – three month waiting period – for the serenity and seclusion it brought. There were no arguments; no fights over sex, since sexual relation is not allowed unless the couple intends to undo the divorce, which in their case did not apply. Moreover, Ismail had been on his best behavior throughout, thinking that he might win her back. Little did he know that Ruqoyah’s mind was made up.

She memorized some chapters of the Qur’an, engaged in critical reflections to hatch a post-marriage plan, and she visited Aa’siyah frequently. Maimunah had returned from her journey and she, on some occasions, sat Ruqoyah down advising her to stay. She would tell her that Allah loves that people exercise patience, “tolerating abuse is not Sabr,” Ruqoyah would always reply.

Currently, Ruqoyah sat on the green praying mat, her fist supporting her chin, and her body leaning against the wall. She had just concluded the forenoon voluntary prayer – Salatu Duha. As she sat in her room that morning, various thoughts flooded her mind in anticipation of the new chapter of her life.

Today would be her last day under Ismail’s roof as his wife. She thought about Aa’siyah, her ever-ready-to-listen confidante who stood by her through the turbulent times in this matrimony. She marveled at how a Muslim sister could be so loving and generous. The day she had seen Aa’siyah again at a convenience store after almost three years always made her smile.

Four months ago, Ruqoyah had gone to a Nikkah ceremony at Oluyole Estate. While there she had changed her baby’s diaper and upon seeing that she didn’t have any extra diaper in her bag, she had decided to buy a pack at a store near-by. She had been searching for the aisle containing diapers when she bumped in to Aa’siyah. She recognized Aa’siyah instantly but since she was wearing a niqab, Aa’siyah couldn’t do the same.

“Aa’siyah, girl, how are you?” she had shouted from behind her.

Aa’siyah recognized the voice but couldn’t figure out who exactly it was. Ruqoyah quickly threw up her niqab, and there was her friend. They drew each other into a tight warm hug and exchanged pleasantries. After each had taken care of her needs at the store, they both walked to Aa’siyah’s car, a beige Toyota Camry 2009 Model. Aa’siyah insisted that they both go to her home that afternoon. Ruqoyah did not hesitate.

That had been their reunion. But the thought of Aa’siyah also brought a feeling of melancholy. Of course guidance is for Allah to give, but people come into our worlds leaving immaculate impacts on our spiritual lives. If there was any such individual to credit for Ruqoyah’s awakening, it was Aa’siyah.

***

Ruqoyah began her freshman year at the University of Ibadan with the type of clothes not considered Islamic. Her five daily prayers were irregularly observed, and her knowledge and devotion to Islam were begging for improvements. Aa’siyah had been God sent as they started sharing an apartment at a street near the school’s campus. Ruqoyah had been searching for a room when a friend told her that Aa’siyah was living all by herself in a self-contain apartment and was looking for a Muslim sister to share with.

A meeting was scheduled, and they eventually became roommates. Over the years, they grew closer and became intimate friends. The turning point in Ruqoyah’s life had come three weeks after they became roommates. It was during Fajr prayer on a Friday. Aa’siyah had grown accustomed to waking her for prayers but she would not answer. On that Friday, however, something profound happened. Ruqoyah had a terrifying dream which ultimately cultivated in her the seriousness for her daily prayers.

How could she have let anything destroy their relationship? She thought. Aa’siyah had been like a mentor to her in almost every aspect of the Deen. Aa’siyah Bello, the daughter of a local Imam from suburban Iwo. She had memorized the entire Qur’an by age twelve. Thus college life had been a continuation of her religious fervor. She had become a member of the Muslim students’ association two weeks after the commencement of her first semester, and she had already been in her sophomore year when Ruqoyah joined her.

Aa’siyah’s decision to study Liberal Arts was met with cold opposition from her elder brothers and uncles. Being the only daughter of an Imam, they had expected her to invest her brilliance in promising courses that would provide lucrative jobs in the future. But for Aa’siyah, education and higher institution were more than that. She had argued with them on several occasions that university was originally instituted for the Liberal Arts. The Liberal Arts, she would explain, combines various courses from both the physical and natural sciences, with much emphasis on history, literature, the understanding of social phenomenon. By the time Aa’siyah finished her first year, she had become a book addict. She could not be seen anywhere but with a book.

However, her love for books was not restricted to history, literature and contemporary world. In fact, the majority of her reading had been about Islam. She read lots and lots of Islamic literature, and being that she understood Arabic enough to make out meanings of sentences, she would occasionally buy theology books which could only be found in Arabic texts. Her special area of interest was Islamic history. Most of her Islamic books had been about the 1400 years of Islam: The Rightly Guided Caliphs, the Ummayads, the Abbasid, Mongols, Mamluks, Ottoman, up to the time of Arab Nationalism.

Her exposure to the history of Islam from both the mouths of Muslim scholars as well as non-Muslim academics had infused in her distrust for division among Muslims. She had seen through her readings how Muslims continued to fail miserably from the order of the prophet, which commanded them to hold on to Qur’an and Sunnah. She had seen how the companions of the prophet had truly been the best generation, but she had also seen their humanness. And because of that, whenever she heard some Muslims portray them as angels she felt uneasy, and when others tried to downplay their importance she felt more infuriated. And so, in her own daily life she had tried to make the Qur’an and Sunnah her guide, with no affiliation to any of the groups or sects, claiming a pristine legitimacy of Islam.

She had chosen to wear her Hijab in accordance with the criterion given by the Qur’an and Sunnah, as opposed to the extra requirements and models which different groups had tailored upon it. The most remarkable thing about her however was her determination to emulate the prophet’s mannerism and ethics. This she knew couldn’t be accomplished a 100 percent, but she had resolved to strive towards a commendable level. Her generosity, mannerism and kindness had formed an irresistible appeal which exterminated all the stereotypes and prejudice Ruqoyah had been harboring about practicing Muslims.

Ruqoyah in her ignorance had thought Hijab sisters were mean, judgmental and dismissive of everyone who did not dress like them or practice Islam with similar devotion, but living with Aa’siyah showed her a different reality.

***

Ruqoyah’s sojourn to spirituality had been a gradual process. She had started to pray regularly after the intervention dream she had on the fourth Friday of living with Aa’siya. But other aspects of Islam took some time and practice. Aa’siyah showed Ruqoyah Islam through her actions instead of boring her with perpetual evangelism. She did not rush Ruqoyah into using the Hijab. It was on a Saturday that Ruqoyah’s dressing took a stunning turn.

The Muslim students’ association had organized a conference about Islamic views on contraception. An Islamic jurist, a social worker, and a Muslim gynecologist were all invited for presentations. Ruqoyah took a special interest in the conference and unlike previous conferences that she had found one or two excuses to evade, she was determined to attend this conference. At that time Aa’siyah was the secretary of the female wing of the MSA, and as such, was busy with the planning. Aa’siyah left the apartment quite early that morning to make sure everything was in order.

The female wing of the Muslim Students Association had been committed to organizing the conference competently and perfectly to show their abhorrence for inadequately organized events. This was the second event of the semester which they had taken the responsibility for. The first one had been unofficially dubbed, the most well organized and decorated event of the school’s MSA in recent history. And now they wanted to outdo themselves by keeping to time. They wanted the event to start at exactly 11:00am and finish at 1:30pm as scheduled. If achieved, they would forever be able to brag about their efficiency in planning and organizing to the MSA brothers whose events were always unimpressive. One time, the brothers had scheduled an event to start at 4:30pm but at 6:00pm, the sound system was just being set up.

Ruqoyah decided to leave the apartment at thirty-five minutes to eleven when she began to experience wardrobe malfunctions. Not one of her clothes seemed appropriate for an Islamic event.

“What kind of dress should I wear tomorrow?’’ She had asked Aa’siyah the previous night.

“Whatever you feel most comfortable in,’’ had been Aa’siyah response. When Ruqoyah started praying, Aa’siyah had given her a black overall Hijab – incorrectly called khimar  by many – which covers the entire body leaving only the face and hands bare. From Islamic jurisprudence, prayers observed without the covering of awrah are invalid and unacceptable before Allah. So, Ruqoyah had been using Hijab only when she had to pray. As she searched for clothes which would be at least appropriate for the gathering even if not fulfilling the Islamic requirements of hijab, her eyes fell on the purple abayah hung on the wall.

The abayah had been smoothly ironed by Aa’siyah the night before but she had decided against it in her rush to the event and had instead chosen a black Egyptian abayah and white floral Hijab. However, both the modest nature and fashion elegance of the purple gown appealed to Ruqoyah.

“Hello, Aa’siyah.’’

“Salaam alaykum.’’

“Wa alaykum salaam. Has the event started yet?’’ Ruqoyah asked, trying to cover the real reason for her call. ‘’No, it will start in about twenty minutes. Are you on your way yet?’’ Ruqoyah bit her lip, as she found it hard to ask if she could wear her abayah. “You’re still having concerns about what to wear, abi?’’

‘Aa’siyah is a mind reader’, she thought. ‘’Ehn yes, I still don’t know what to wear, and I don’t want to look different from other sisters.’’

Aa’siyah, realizing that one of the female lecturers had arrived, responded quickly to her friend’s concern. “Listen, just wear what is appropriate to you. At the end, your Hijab is between you and Allah, and not anyone. If you want, you can wear any of my abayahs.’’

“Well, I was thinking of your purple abayah.” She struck herself for uttering it out loud.

“Of course! Ma shaa Allah. Please do.’’ The genuineness of Aa’siyah always astounded her. She knew well beforehand that she wouldn’t decline but the way she had replied had simply been heartwarming.

Ruqoyah admired herself as she gazed at her reflection in the mirror. It was as though the abayah was personally tailored for her. She thought about the already sewn Hijabs which formed the bulk of Aa’siyah’s Hijab collection but decided against them. She instead chose a purple mixed with touches of grey pashmina scarf of a silky texture, and wrapped it fashionably on her head. Is this what I have been missing? She thought to herself as her eyes began to tear. A feeling of contentment was strong at that moment. She did a double take admiring herself in the mirror. She was finally ready to show herself in public modestly, as ordered by her Creator. Beneath her Khimar was a young woman ready to rise above the petty definition of fashion society had created, and instead, chose the Qur’an to be her guide to style. “Alhamdulillah,” she muttered, wiping her tears. Although her initial reason for wearing the abayah was to appear like all other Muslim sisters at the conference, after wearing the abayah, a calmness settled on her, making her love the dress and changed her intention to submission to God. Her immodest dressing became history as she stepped out of the apartment that morning.

***

Ruqoyah opened her eyes to realize she had drifted to sleep still on the prayer mat. She gazed at the round wall clock above the window: it was already 3:34pm. In a short time, Dhur, the afternoon prayer time, would be over, and Asr would commence, so she hastened towards the bathroom to make Wudu.

As she made her way into the sitting room, she bumped into Ismail who was about to sit down on the couch.

She had almost forgotten they still lived together. Ismail greeted her with salaams and she responded quickly. Their gazes met, and Ismail, with all the animosity he had been nurturing against her, couldn’t but admit that Ruqoyah was a beauty. Her bronze-toned petite face and lustrous eyelashes accentuated by a mild application of antimony, Kohl, made her face all the more beautiful. Ismail felt a churn in his stomach. After today, she would cease to be under his house. Ruqoyah covered her hair and used the remaining part of her emerald scarf to cover her face from Ismail’s intent gaze. Ismail’s anger sprung. “Now, what does that mean? I’m still your husband until the Iddah finishes.”

“You were, but not anymore,” she darted back. “I ended my third menstruation last night, so, you are no longer my husband. I have to cover my face from you now. Aren’t you the one who used to say a woman’s face is fitnah for non-mahram. Abi be ko ?’’

Ismail’s face grew hot. Ismail wanted to say something back, but he knew Ruqoyah was right. They had ceased to be husband and wife, and as such, the same ruling that applied to any man who is not Ruqoyah’s immediate family applied to him also. He walked away silently back to his bedroom. After the prayer, Ruqoyah called her father to check if they were still on schedule for the next day. She had called her father a week before and told him of her divorce and that she was coming home. The number you have dialed is not reachable at this moment. Please try again later. ‘Why don’t you call Maryam?’ Her mind told her. And so she immediately dialed her little sister’s number. “Hello, Maryam.”

“Sista mi, everything alright?’’

“Yes, I’m fine. How is Abdullah?’’

“He is fine. Dad said you’re coming home tomorrow?’’

“Yes, I am and that’s why I am calling. Is dad home?

I have called his number several times today but it didn’t connect.’’ “Oh, yeah, his number won’t. He is in a meeting. He called me that he would be coming home late.’’ Ismail dashed in. “If I am not your husband anymore, what are you doing here?’’

Ruqoyah could not believe her ears. “Excuse me?” She turned to Ismail, demanding an explanation for his sudden outburst. ‘Hello? Hello?’ Maryam’s voice continued in the background. “Maryam, let me call you back.” Ruqoyah disconnected the call. Turning to him, “Ismail, what’s all these?” she asked

“Well, it’s simple, your Iddah has finished. I am no more responsible for you. So what are you still doing under my roof?”

“You want me to leave now?’’

“Yes, leave!’’

Ruqoyah felt anger soar inside her. How had she gotten herself involved with such a callous man in the first place? But she had to stay calm for the sake of Ra’ianah who had begun to cry. She picked up her baby, pacing gently to hush Ra’ianah, while simultaneously dialing Aa’siyah phone number. Aa’siyah did not pick up.

When Ismail saw that Ruqoyah wasn’t going to argue with him – something he had silently hoped for – he left the room. Ruqoyah decided to gather her things which she had already packed earlier in the morning in anticipation of her departure the next day. But now, if she had to travel to Osogbo that evening by commercial bus, so be it…


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