"I'll be right down," I yelled into the door buzzer. Racing to the closet and rummaging through my colorful collection of hijabs, I impulsively selected a pink one. "Pink it is!" I said to myself, waving the scarf around in the air as I ran over to the mirror and wrapped it around my hair and tied it up in the back. I slid my feet into my flip flops, grabbed my purse and keys and turned out the light. "IKEA here we come," I said to Emily as I bounced down the stairs outside my apartment building. "Can we grab some coffee for the bus ride?" I asked her. "Yea, sure. Espresso 77?" she asked. "Is there any other place?"
The next place I found myself was in aisle 20 searching for chairs to match Emily's kitchen table. Throughout the day I was feeling a growing need to reach up and rip off my hijab. Just like that. Take it off and continue with my day. This was not a new thought but an uprising personal realization that had been on my mind for weeks. Because of this, I began wearing my hijab wrapped up and tied in various fashions at the nape of my neck. This simple change felt amazing, and I hadn't even realized I felt un-amazing. I was standing at the innermost part of the aisle, as alone as I could be. My hands reached up and felt that familiar fabric, while my fingers eased it gently off my head. Emily turned around and saw me standing there frozen and waiting for her to notice. She walked towards me smiling incredulously and laughing in between words.
"Are you okay? What the heck is happening?" "Yea, I'm fine." I said. I stuffed my hijab in my bag and searched for my ChapStick. "It keeps sliding off my head. It's as if my hijab keeps saying, "take me off, I don't belong here anymore!" I was trying to fluff out my hair, embarrassed to be in public with flat hair. (You have no idea. It's much worse than hat hair.) "How do you feel?" Emily asked. "I don't know, good, fine ... relieved actually. Come, let's finish shopping," I said as I gave in and pulled my limp hair into a ponytail.
As we walked the remaining aisles at IKEA, I reflected upon the many personal experiences that take place in public spaces -- in New York City most anything happens in public -- and in my case, unveiling. Amused with myself, I let a laugh escape my mouth. "This is absolutely absurd!" I thought. Emily kept glancing back at me. I'm not sure if she was checking to see if I was OK, or if I had indeed unveiled. Probably both. I looked around and thought about how the people around me had no idea as to what just transpired. A Muslim woman had just unveiled -- steps, feet and aisles away from them. It was remarkable how unremarkable this occurrence felt. Of course, I knew this was a serious decision that I had been allowing myself to consider over the last couple of months.
When I embraced Islam as my religion in 2004, the women at the mosque put a hijab on me before I went to the office to take my shahada, or testimony of faith. I wore it the next day at work, and I continued to wear it over the next six years. I never questioned my reasons for wearing it though. Until recently. I now realize that I never chose to wear it, as it had been put on me. It must be a choice, as the Quran states, "Let there be no compulsion in religion" (2:256).
I had also not considered my own individuality. I let the hijab become me. I became silent and demure. I gave up singing. I did so many things that simply were not of me, and I gave up what made me Kim Joseph. I wanted so badly to do all that was pleasing to God, that I forgot that all that I am is pleasing to God because God made me, me. I wasn't strong enough in my personal development to understand that Islam wasn't all that defined me. I can be an American Muslim woman who is a Singer, a Writer and a Poet. I can love Gospel music, blues and jazz. I can!
The cab driver dropped me off first, and I hauled my new stuff upstairs. I hurried back outside and walked to Isabel's Salon. The bells jingled as I opened the door and walked in, and Isabel and her assistant greeted me with smiles. "It's time?" Isabel asked, wondering if I wanted highlights and a cut. "Yes, it's time," I said smiling and thinking to myself, "You have no idea." I texted my closest friends Sana and David and told them what was happening. They had been witnessing my transformation over the last year and were watching and waiting for me and my "Kimness" to arrive. Kimness is what we call me when I am feeling űber connected to God, my essence and my work. It is me moving upward in my self development and making choices and decisions that are healthy for me. It is me operating, resonating and vibrating from the Light within me. Kimness is good!
Sana showed up just in time as Isabel was blow drying and styling my hair. She came in, camera in hand, all excited and ready to capture the moment. "Ahhhhh, oh masha'Allah masha'Allah you are blooonde! Oh I love it I loooove it!" Sana exclaimed as she began shooting away with the camera. I laughed and Isabel smiled, while I watched my multifaceted transformation in the mirror. Isabel spun me around dramatically then offered me a small mirror so I could see the back of my hair. We all "oooh'd and aaah'd," and I thanked Isabel and went to the back to pay. We said our goodbyes and headed toward the train to meet David in Union Square.
It has been four months since that day at IKEA. I let go of fear and liberated myself from my comfort-funk of a job at Starbucks. I let hope in by developing my own work through a creative writing workshop called "Muslim Like Me.". Layer after layer, I am unveiling my sincere self and surrender. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, "Whoever knows himself, knows his Lord." I am beginning to know both, all praise and thanks to God. Labaik Allahumma labaik. Here I am at thy service Oh Lord, here I am.
Follow Kim Joseph on Twitter: www.twitter.com/muslimlikeme