What We Choose

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| This is the 462nd story of Our Life Logs |


I was born to a Muslim family as a middle child, squashed between my three brothers. My family lived in a small, underdeveloped town named Hasilpur in Punjab, Pakistan, which lies between the Sutlej River and the border with its neighboring country, India. Here, my father owned a business while my mother was a housewife. Despite our town’s lack of resources, my father always tried to provide us with the best of every opportunity, and my mother supported him through thick and thin. She was the pillar of our family who never let us drift apart no matter the circumstance.

Now, being the only daughter of the house, as it is the culture of our area, I was lavished in exceptional attention and care. I got anything I wanted…early on. I say this because things began to change for me as I entered puberty—no, not just my body, but how I was treated.

My father expressed his desire that I should veil myself. He believed that women are meant to be protected from the eyes of people as it was the culture of our area and a religious obligation as well. I didn’t like the idea. I thought of it as narrow mindedness and backwardness of my father. At this age, I was an energetic girl and was fond of being up-to-date on styles and trends. But since all the other girls of my family felt compelled to veil, my father forced me to wear a veil whenever I was out of the house. To say I was frustrated would be an understatement.

Fortunately, neither I nor my mother believed in doing it. Still, as I kept asking my mother questions about the rituals and practices of our culture and religion, I never got an answer. So, I just decided not to fool with it.

Okay. In hindsight, this was a mistake. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I will always support those who make their own conscious choice to live in the way that brings them peace. However, I didn’t really do this. I didn’t explore my options. I didn’t calm my questions. I didn’t chase my doubts. I simply chose what was easier. That was my mistake.

Section Break-Mountains

After abandoning the veil, I decided to fill my time and energy with study. I poured over my texts until my eyes drooped and I worked hard to score good grades. I wanted nothing else than to gain admission to one of the well-reputed universities. When months of work had passed and my exams came to end, I desperately waited for the results. This was a critical time for me because if I was able to achieve good marks then I thought I could get away from the irksome rituals of my family and society. It seemed that my life hinged on these results. I knew I had worked very hard, but I was only a young girl with the weight of her future crushing her shoulders.

Finally, the day came when they were going to announce the result. I was so anxious. I just hoped for it to be good. When one of my friends called me to tell me that I had scored really good marks, I was so enlivened. All I had ever wanted was unfolding before me. I applied to some universities and my grades helped me get admission to one of the well-reputed universities. I was so excited to move out of my town and live my life as I had always wanted.

Finally, I moved to Lahore for my higher education. Lahore, the city of dreams, the city that has each opportunity that you can dream about, and I was there. I was living the way I said I would.

Section Break-Mountains

I was having the best time of my life as what I had always wanted was at hand. Chilling out with friends, attending parties, and going to clubs became part of my routine. While I was enjoying the life of my dreams, something was missing. Eventually, the allure of the bright lights and strangers fell flat. I retreated into my thoughts, feeling more alone and misunderstood in a large crowd than I had ever felt back home. I had no idea what was happening either. I had worked so hard for this kind of lifestyle, believing that it would bring peace to my heart and mind. Turns out, I had everything that I wished for, except peace.

The lack of inner peace made me an aggressive person and I started living alone to have peace in my life but it didn’t work. These were the days when I used to spend most of my time alone but being alone only added to my mental problems. These were the days of despair.

There are times in your life when your whole perspective about life changes. These crucial moments tell you who you really are, what you decidedly want from life, what your true ambitions are. That time introduces you to the real you.

One of my friends suggested me some books about purpose and religion. Reading wasn’t my thing, so, I hesitated at first—but not for long. I had always been curious about that sort of thing and could not distance myself from the chance of finding truth. When I started reading, I felt like the writer, who was also a girl, somehow addressed my problems.

After finishing those books, I bought more books on Islam and, when I had read those too, I felt a change in myself. Something was calmer inside of me now. I started to feel close to the Lord Almighty. This made me realize that it was not the veil from which I was trying to get rid of. I was trying to get rid of the real me. I decided to live my life according to the instructions of Almighty but again I was afraid of the reaction of people. I couldn’t gather the courage until something happened that changed my mind for good.

Section Break-Mountains

I remember when I was walking in a garden towards a swing; I sat on it while someone was pushing the swing. The day was cool, my hair was blowing with the gentle breeze, and I was lost in the moment. All of a sudden, the motion of the swing became vigorous and I started slipping. The rope cut into my hands and gravity felt stronger than I had ever experienced. I was being pulled to the cracks of earth’s crust. Would I fall? Would I die?

I opened my eyes and realized that it was a dream. The swing was replaced by my bed and I was alone in my room. Suddenly, I realized that everything around me was shaking. My bed, the books on my shelf, the ceiling fan, my coffee mug on the table—even the door of the room was fluttering like a heartbeat. I got frightened and tried to figure out what was happening. I sprang out of the room to realize that it was an earthquake and I immediately sought shelter where there was nothing to fall or hurt me.

My mind was numb. Hundreds of thousands of thoughts were coming into my head and I was constantly thinking about the fact that Allah had saved my life even when I was neglecting him for so long. I realized that night that I had wasted my whole life but couldn’t recognize the real me. I don’t know what everyone will think about this, but I believe that I saw some spiritual visuals that day who called me closer to my Lord.  I burst into tears. My whole perspective about life was changed.

From that day onward, I decided to return to what I had always known and had taken for granted. I returned to my faith. And, wouldn’t you know, I returned to the veil.

Section Break-Mountains

I had made my decision, but deep down in my heart, I was afraid of how those around me would act because, honestly, a quality of humans is that we don’t encourage change. When I wore my veil, everyone criticized me, including my friends and family members. However, none of these compared to that of my mother.  She vehemently opposed it. She believed that wrapping yourself in a piece of cloth would not protect you from rascals or bring you closer to Allah—that it was just a piece of clothing, easily torn off and thrown to the side. My mother thought that I was wearing a veil just for the sake of my father’s happiness. She always wanted me to be a modern, independent girl, and she was afraid of how religion was going to affect me. She didn’t know that my priorities were changed and I had realized the actual meaning of life.

Though my mind was heavy with the taunting and negativity, I was able to withstand and ignore it. I found that a peaceful heart is the ultimate weapon in the face of hostility; an educated faith is the antidote to doubt. In this time, I kept reading and informing myself through the hurt. I know that I would have been broken down, but my father was a pillar of hope and light for me. He supported me throughout the journey. He kept on encouraging me and gave me the confidence to move out in society with my veil.

Self-actualization is the most challenging and most important thing in life and the people who have realized the actual purpose of life are successful. Despite living the life of my dreams, I couldn’t find peace and comfort of mind. Today, my life has become so peaceful. The criticism faded and, over time, things got better.

Now I’m studying in the final year of my degree and I try to spread positivity around me. Also, I got engaged to a person who loves me for who I am. He adores my veil and gives me the freedom to live the way I choose. I’m happy that I’ve succeeded in establishing a good relationship with the Lord and living a peaceful life.

 

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This is the story of Iqra

Iqra is a final-year medical student in Lahore, Pakistan. She was born in an impoverished city where she had to face family pressure and societal criticism for being different and rejecting her family’s traditions. During her five-year journey in medical school, she realized the actual meaning of life and established a good relationship with Allah and her family. Her story is a true source of inspiration for young girls who seek purpose and hope in their life.

 

 

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This story first touched our hearts on October 28, 2019.

| Writer: Afifa Sarwar | Editor: Colleen Walker |

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To protect the privacy of the storyteller and those involved in this retelling, some of the names may have been changed. (1)

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