I stood infront of the mirror, pinning up a plain black hijab that matched with my flowing black abaya. Finished with that I took a handbag from the closet, dumped my phone, a pack of tissues and my purse inside, then hesitated, my hand hovering over the lip balm and eyeliner on the table. I never left the house without applying both these things, the extent of my makeup on normal days, but since I was trying to do purdah…without wearing purdah…I grimaced and dropped my hand. Much to my shame, especially in light of what had transpired at both Zee’s and Apa Tasneem’s houses, I still wasn’t ready to go into niqaab. One step at a time…and the step into niqaab seemed like a huge leap over the Grand Canyon. I was trying to take steps, it’s not that I wasn’t. But I was treading slowly and carefully, not wanting to rush into anything and burn myself out. I had seen too many people rush into niqaab, then stop wearing it a few years later. I didn’t want to be one of those; if I did go into niqaab it would be for life, inshaAllah…
So far I had tried to lower my gaze and not speak to any ghair mahram men. Not speaking to ghair mahrams had been easy, since I hadn’t bumped into any that I knew. Lowering my gaze, though… I had expected it to be hard; I hadn’t expected it to be this hard. The first few days had been a bit simpler since I was only driving to and from madrassah, so the only time I had to avert my gaze was while driving. Though that had also been a bit difficult. I was so used to looking anywhere that I wished that it was difficult to train my mind and eyes to look away as soon as they landed on any men…while stopping at the robot, glancing automatically at the driver of the car that stopped next to mine…a young male, must be in his twenties…oops, look away!…drumming my fingers on the steering wheel, waiting for the pedestrians to cross…hmmm, that man is walking so slowly, wonder why…is he limping? Squinting at his face, trying to see if he was in pain…oops, look away!…stuck in traffic, watching the people walk rapidly by on the pavement to my right…lost in thought, noticing details abstractedly…young guy, fat lady, really tall man…oh my word, what’s that on his face? Looks like a huge wart…ouch, that
looks painful…oops, dammit, LOOK AWAY!!!!!
All that was still easier than the day mum sent me to the shops to buy a few things. I decided to go to the mall because I had a list of my own and wanted to kill several birds with one stone, so to speak. Once I’d parked off and walked in I was surrounded by people, male and female. The females were probably as many as the males but to me, there seemed to be only males everywhere!! I was used to looking around as I walked, noticing everything from what was on display in the various shops, to the most mundane and random things like what colour shirt some guy was wearing or whether some girl’s lipstick was too garishly bright for her face. Now I found that I couldn’t look anywhere because wherever I looked there seemed to be some guy in my line of vision. I tried to look down but I honestly couldn’t walk when I couldn’t see where I was going. How did people do it, look down?? Didn’t they bump into something or someone?? There had to be some trick to this that I was missing! And everytime I looked up, in any direction, some guy seemed to pop up like jack-in-the-box. I was so frustrated and distracted, trying to get it right that I walked right past PnP, where I was supposed to start my shopping, and forgot half the things I wanted to buy as well. With a sigh of frustration I stopped on one side.
Okay, Faz, you can do this. Everyone does it, no big deal. Just look down and put one step infront of the other and you’ll get there. Now, where’s PnP?
I turned around, got my bearings then started walking again, concentrating on the pattern on the floor that rolled past my feet. One, two, one, two…see, it’s not so bad….OUCH!!!!!!!!!!!!
I walked into a brick wall that had loomed up suddenly infront of me, banging my head with a resounding thump. “Ouch!” I cried out involuntarily, clutching my head, “what on earth??”
Looking up I discovered the “brick wall” doubled over in laughter, arms clutched around his stomach, causing quite a few heads to turn our way. Folding my arms I gave the top of his head a hard stare, hoping I looked stern enough despite my flaming face.
“It’s not funny.”
“Yes…it…is,” Brick-wall gasped, still laughing. He gasped and wheezed some more while I tried to get over my embarrassment, then straightened up.
“What were you doing? Trying to locate a bug on your foot?” And he burst out laughing again.
“No!” I scowled at him, my glance passing over the pristine white kurta and topi he was wearing, then shifting to his eyes, still flashing with amusement above his neat beard, before looking away again, “I was trying to practice looking down. Not looking at any men, I mean. I obviously don’t know how to do it, though,” I added with a sigh.
“I see.” Brick-wall sounded serious now, “I’m sorry for laughing at you. I had no idea.”
“It’s okay. I probably looked like a weirdo,” one corner of my mouth turned up in belated amusement.
“Well..you did look funny. Like you had dropped something and were trying to search for it. You don’t need to look so down, you know, or else you won’t be able to see where you’re going.”
“That’s exactly what is happening!” I exclaimed, “I can’t look around because I see guys everywhere, and I can’t look down because I can’t see where I’m going. Where am I supposed to look?”
“You look below face-level. Lucky you’re a girl so you don’t need to worry about seeing bare female legs when you look down,” he chuckled, “so you look at the shoes or legs of the men, then you can see things around you. Anything below face-level is okay, you know.”
“Hmmm, yeah. Makes sense,” I nodded and smiled at him before I realised that I was looking at him when I was not supposed to, and talking to him, again when I was not supposed to. With a hasty salaam and jazakallah I walked away, silently making a heartfelt dua for him when following his advice got me successfully through my shopping trip without further accidents. It was still very difficult, though. I still ended up looking at loads of guys unconsciously, without even realising it half the time. It was frustrating and so many times I just wanted to give up and go back to leading my former care-free life where I didn’t have to worry about such things. That night as I sat morosely in my room, combing my hair and contemplating my lack of success…it had been so many days but I still felt like I wasn’t improving at all…I suddenly recalled Ahmed’s words, spoken years back but reverberating through my mind anew, each word etched into its crevices indelibly like engravings on a rock.
The next step was guarding my gaze. The gaze is an arrow of shaytaan, and that’s the root of zina. I tried to lower my gaze as much as possible but it was so difficult! I was so used to just looking wherever I wanted to that now to keep track of where I looked was difficult. And at campus girls were everywhere. I actually started appreciating the cold weather here, because in summer girls barely covered themselves, and that just made it harder for us guys. Because if I looked down also I would be able to see her legs! Where was a guy supposed to look?
I tried and tried, and slipped up as many times. I would wake up everyday for tahajjud and cry my heart out in dua, begging Allah to grant me strength, pleading to Allah to guard my gaze and keep my nafs in control. Every day I would walk at campus, struggling to look down and not turn impulsively at every feminine voice I would hear; I would manage for a few hours then slip up again when my gaze inadvertently found another feminine face. Every time that happened I would beat myself up mentally; why wasn’t I improving? Why couldn’t I succeed? And the tears would pour down my face in dua; oh Allah, forgive me; oh Allah, grant me strength to look away.
Until finally the day came when I managed to go through an entire day without casting a glance at any chic. And when that happened, when I looked away for the sake of Allah, when I squashed my nafs for the pleasure of Allah only, wallah the sweetness of imaan that I tasted on that day made every tear and every struggle well worth it…
I found my eyes prickling at the memory. Ahmed had told me the story of his reformation back at campus. Those words had receded to the back of my mind but now they were there, as fresh as the day he’d uttered them.
If I could do it, so could you. I saw his eybrows raised at me in my mind’s eye, his gaze challenging me.
Yes, I can and I will, inshaAllah. Now shoo, you’re not supposed to be here as well. I shook off all thoughts of Ahmed but his words lingered. I would try it his way then, because only asking the Controller of my eyes to help me would make me succeed.
Now I grabbed my lip balm and eyeliner and dropped them into my bag even though I knew I wouldn’t apply them, then turned to go downstairs, firmly squelching the nerves that threatened to choke me. Tonight would be the most difficult battle I would face since I had stepped on the battlefield, preparing to fight my way through any and all obstacles, because tonight was the family braai, where the whole family got together. Everyone would be there, including all my male cousins. If you live through tonight you’ll win the battle hands down. My mouth twisted wryly as I walked down the stairs. I had no idea what I was going to do but I hoped that whatever it was, it wouldn’t turn out to be a disaster…