The Hijabi Network

It is a well known fact that men do not like to ask directions, which can be attributed to their ego and ‘I-know-it-all’ machoness. Well you know what, not only men but I too don’t like asking directions from random people. My reason being is the awkwardness that comes along with approaching people you do not know and making them aware that you are incompetent at following map/directions. Also, what if they turn out to be a psycho, or a serial killer. God knows, there are too many of them roaming around these days #JamesHolmes.

However, you do not have to worry about such things when you are part of the ‘Hijabi Network’ aka all the Muslim women who wear a wrap around their head to outwardly pronounce their submission to Islam.

Similar to how men wearing turbans are recognized as Sikhs, women wearing head scarves (common term is Hijab) are recognized as Muslims. Amongst us hijabis, we have this unspoken bond. Kind of like a ‘Sisterhood of Floating Hijab Heads’. While walking through crowds and two hijabis make eye contact they acknowledge each other by saying Assalaam Alaykum (May peace be upon you). They are basically saying “I come in peace and I wish the same for you”, very ET/hippy-ish. So when someone immediately claims that they wish peace upon you, you immediately let down your guards/fears and any inhibitions you have towards meeting a stranger. Think of it like an ice breaker. This makes it easier to have a cordial conversation with someone who up until a minute ago was a complete stranger.

Being part of this hijabi network has so many benefits, especially when you are in an unknown environment and in need of guidance. Last month, my best friend and I were vacationing in New York City. We had taken the double decker tour bus and gotten off at Greenwich village in hopes of trying to find the Islamic Centre at NYU to do our mid-day prayers. Two Torontonians, with incomprehensible maps, and no data on phone resulted in us being lost. We were just walking around trying to find our way until my friend spotted a hijabi. “Ask her, she should know, she’s probably going there herself”. So I ran up to her, said Salam and asked her if she can direct us towards the IC. Just like my friend said, she was also a student of NYU and was on her way to the IC so she would gladly take us there. We were delighted :D, lost no more! On the way we found out that her name was Janine, initially lived in Chicago with her family, did her bachelors in Biology at the NYU campus in Abu Dhabi and is now doing her masters at the NYC campus. She was very friendly (common traits of hijabis :P), pretty and when we saw her interracial/mixed gender group of friends we concluded that she was an uber-cool hijabi (like me :)! She showed us the wudhu (ablution) areas, prayer area and the cafeteria before she said goodbye. I absolutely loved the Islamic Centre at NYU, sorta like the multifaith centre at U of T but faaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrr better (will write another post on the NYU-IC). We had thought we saw the last of Janine that day, only to see her again that night at Olive Garden in Times Square and one last time at Friday Prayers. Its amazing how we form relationships with complete random people, hmm isn’t that how all relationships form apart from immediate family…

Another such incident happened at my workplace. I had gone to meet my friend on the 14th floor and as I was leaving I met a hijabi while waiting for the elevators. We started talking and introduced each other. I’m only 2 month old so I asked her who had access to the key to the prayer room. She told me to email her the next day and she will get me connected to the person with the keys. I did so first thing the next morning and she immediately replied with the key holder joined to the conversation. The key holder was very jovial and I immediately clicked with her. By the end of the day we had planned a lunch for the next day so we could all meet in person.

The next day I was waiting for the key holder at the lobby. I didn’t know how she looked like so I was wondering how old she might be. From the emails she sounded about my age. After about a few minutes I saw a hijabi come towards me, she said Salam, shook my hand and hugged me. I felt sooo welcomed and ecstatic to have finally found some hijabis at my workplace to connect with. She had invited two of her co-workers who weren’t Muslim and of course the hijabi I met at the elevator the day before. The five of us took a quick walk to a Thai restaurant [bad service, descent food]. I was the youngest at the table, that was clear but I still couldn’t pinpoint the age of the keyholder. I’d guess late 30s to early 40s but her mannerisms were like that of 20 somethings  (I later found out that she was near her 50’s, I was amazed!). Not in an immature childish way but she was just overflowing with joie de vivre. She had been with the company for 11 years. Seeing that she could still have so much life in her after being at a place for 11 years gave me some reassurance, that I too can last long at one company without growing bored/cynical. All in all I thoroughly enjoyed their company. The conversations were very lifey (kids & family) and mostly about upcoming month of Ramadan. After lunch, we stopped at Timmy’s. I was too full to get anything but the elevator hijabi bought me tea :). The key holder took me to her desk and gave me the key as she will be on vacation during Ramadan, so I am the new key holder :D. This means, that I get to meet more hijabis in the building. Actually meeting someone today for afternoon prayers as she is new too and needed help with finding the prayer room. So this key to the prayer room has become the baton in this relay of connecting hijabis at my workplace. This key and of course the hijab signifies our faith as it is the reason for this connection amongst random people who otherwise would never meet.