To modest, or not to modest? To hijab, or not to hijab? To beard, or not to beard?

Questions I’m sure occupy the minds of Muslims the world over – but especially in countries where Muslims are the minority, where there’s a constant mix of emotions based on the varied experiences one could go through, where any form of visible Islamic identity might be seen as different, be hated, loved, admired or even be said to make others feel uncomfortable, or unsafe.

I believe that somewhere within all Muslims there is a deep-rooted desire to want to face the outer world with a somewhat “Islamic identity” due to one or a mixture of the following reasons: doing so for the sake of Allah;  being proud of one’s faith; wanting to change the misplaced narratives that sadly associate the usual “Islamic attire” with terrorists; doing so purely because of tradition and cultural reasons; or perhaps even simply to please family members. The list goes on, but whatever the reason that resides within you is – it’s there and can always be refined and continuously purified, as with all of our intentions and actions as Muslims.

But the obvious caveat worth mentioning is the risks that come with adopting a more “Islamic identity” in one’s form of dress. Although I am all for encouraging fellow brothers and sisters to purify their intentions and adopt a more modest or Islamically-aligned sense of dress – which is not to say that I don’t respect those who don’t – I am also aware of the intense inner-battle between wanting to wear a headscarf or grow a beard, and not wanting to face the backlash of family, friends, colleagues, the general public – or worse, facing more harmful consequences, like losing a job or being the victim of abuse or even physical attacks.

So how can one achieve the balance of retaining a link with one’s faith via clothing or appearance without attracting negative attention or the feeling of rejection or discomfort?

There’s no easy way to say this and I’m sure you might have been expecting a more delicate “this is how you can do it with no difficulty whatsoever” hack, but the truth is that there isn’t.

You simply have to do it.

Purify your intentions and decision to do it – grow your beard, start wearing the hijab or start dressing more modestly, and don’t ever discount any effort made, no matter how trivial it may seem. Do it. The backlash will be dealt with when and only IF it comes. Just like we are told not to let fear stand in the way of doing other good things in life, that there is never a “right time” for making decisions like applying for a job or proposing to someone – the same applies here. Waiting for your colleagues to “like” the religion more, for your family to become more “open” to it, or waiting to get married before dressing “more Islamically” isn’t really worth it.

In no way am I ignorant of the potential repercussions or ostracisation that might result from choosing this path, but I do know this – when your intention is pure and sincere, and discomfort towards others is not intended (let’s face it, when is it?) – you will get through each and every situation thrown at you. Some moments may be a bit more difficult and uncomfortable than before, but at the end of each day, week, month and year, the feeling of gratitude towards Allah, in being true to yourself and firm in your decision, will ultimately overpower any of the negatives.

I speak from personal experience. When I first started wearing the hijab, my boss at the time told me that I should be more considerate of how uncomfortable it made others feel. He also told me how much of a “shriveled up thing” I looked like. Publicly, there was also the typical stares and comments – like the time a lady walked past me and said, “What the f*** is that?!”

But don’t fear – it’s not all doom and gloom, as I also view it as an opportunity to see the blossoming of mindsets around you. My family, who are not themselves Muslim, were initially genuinely apprehensive due to the fear of public attacks on me – but a while down the line I’ve experienced the sweetest moments, such as my brother adjusting my hijab when he sees hair sticking out – the beauty of how our religion improves the character even of non-Muslims definitely shines through!

Lastly (and don’t come at me with “it’s not my duty”), I think there’s something undeniably heartwarming about knowing that, by the grace of Allah, you could be paving the way for one more person to have a fresh and positive view on Islam because of your beautiful character and Islamic identity being merged together, and let’s be honest – what a blessed honor that would be!