I close my eyes. The train is grotesquely stuffy and humid as heaps of people try to squeeze their way in before the door closes. I hear a cough in the background; my hand slips off the bar as the train jerks back and forth. Something about being underground is suffocating. I open my eyes to a car full of people on their phones, sleeping, or staring into space. For a split second, I realize I’m on the train, alone, surrounded by strangers. Out of nervousness, I fix my hijab as I stare at my reflection in the window. Trying not to aggravate myself, visions shoot past in my brain of video clips I’ve seen in the past, of Muslim women getting pushed on train tracks, being battered on the street, and having racially-induced comments yelled at them. The train bell rings, I’m at my stop. I smile into space, say dua (prayer) in my heart, and walk out of the train and as if my mind isn’t racing like a meteor about to crash into Earth. Something about being underground is suffocating.
Something about being underground is suffocating. Something about being painted by a single brush. Something about the inability to express yourself, your interests, your passions, your aspirations and goals without automatically being classified and categorized. Something about being trapped feels unfair, trapped in the stereotype that follows you everywhere you go. Something about being confined within these set boundaries and having people assume you can or cannot do something because of you are. Being underground, being trapped, being unable, is all so suffocating, which makes it hard to breath.
On a brighter note, these thoughts seldom race through my mind during my morning commutes. If I’m pre-occupied with a friend, glancing at my phone, or studying (yes I study on transit; I’m one of those people), then I’m not engulfed by these thoughts that so effortlessly creep into my mind. Many say that I’m exaggerating, dramatic, over-the-top, which is easy for someone to say when they actually blend in with a crowd of people. Very, very, easy.
However, this dunya is not easy.
We’ve been taught all our lives the teaching and practicing of Islam. Eid celebrations with family, conversation and dialogue with friends about Islamic principles and laws, teaching us about the Prophet (PBUH) and how we should follow the way he lived. But no amount of Islamic teachings in the home or schools could prepare us for the world outside. The constant battle with ourselves, in which we say ‘well, if I weren’t a hijabi, it’d all be so much easier” keeps growing and growing. We see the media, and are influenced by the representations and images that Muslim have been given. We become brainwashed into believing that we are somehow associated with those on television, as our religion is defaced and insulted. We reflect on the name-calling and ask ourselves if it’s worth it? We are afraid of travelling, of travelling into the world in which our religion is not understood, stereotyped as being innately negative. We are afraid of “random security checks”. We are afraid of being seen as radical or extreme, afraid to let our beards grow long or our hijabs hang proudly. I don’t blame us; I don’t blame anyone. This dunya is not easy.
Allah is constantly testing us. He is the most merciful, but He does not make our lives without trial and tribulation, and every obstacles and downfall we face is a test from Him. I know it must be easy to not wear hijab. I know it must be easy to not associate oneself with Islam, and glance away whenever a Muslim brother or sister tries to say salaam. I know it must be easy to surround yourself with people who don’t respect your religion, as a way to distract yourself from the feeling that “I don’t want to be associated with those on the media.” I know it must be easy to simply not have to practice Islam while those around you deface it. This dunya is not easy.
But who said this dunya was easy?
And so, as I take the train every day, I am mindful.
I don’t stand so close to the ledge, not because I’m afraid, but because it is the reality I must abide by. This dunya is not easy, but I am humbled by what God has in plan for me. It is test that has been given to me and our ummah, by Him.