When I say I am a Muslim, everyone knows what I am talking about. When I say I am a Daudi Bohra, I get blank looks. Daudi Bohra is a Muslim sect that believes in Allah and Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) as all other Muslims. However, we have our differences. One of these includes the way we dress. Men wear beards, gold-rimmed white hats, and “saya kurtas”, and women wear “ridas”. At the age of thirteen, I was required to vow to do all things that a Daudi Bohra woman should do, including wearing the rida. Before taking this vow, “misaak”, I put on a rida for the very first time. When I looked in the mirror, all I could do was stare at myself. It was a surprise. A surprise I loved. Something clicked inside of me then and I knew that it was time I started taking my religion seriously.
A year later, I finally gathered the courage to start wearing my rida to school. On the first day, I was the center of attention. Everyone stared. I was pretty scared. But as I started appreciating the rida, I got immune to the stares. I knew I had done the right thing, and I liked myself much better because of it. Through this knowledge, I gained supremacy over all the people who spoke against the way I dressed. I realized that not caring about what other people thought or said as much as caring about my own priorities and values was what defined power for me. I believe that power flows in any relationship. It is everywhere, and it comes in many different forms. And although it is in each of us, it is up to us to find it within ourselves. For me, power is fighting my fears so I can stand by what I find important regardless of other people’s contradicting views.
Being scared of stares, stares that carry thoughts, thoughts that carry judgments, and still making my way to school with the gut wrenching tension of being judged unfairly became my meaning of power. It has been two years now since my first day in school with the rida. I still remember the looks I got, the way people’s heads turned, the whispers they tried and failed to cover with their hands on their mouths. They had enough energy to make me want to go hide in a corner and never come back out. Yet, the knowledge that I was not wrong gave me courage when I was terrified.
After the first week, I got used to the stares. I now knew that they only mattered when I let them. Now, when people say something rude to me about the way I dress, I don’t bother with a response, because I know now that it is not important to be liked or understood by anyone as long as I like myself, as long as I know I am making the right choices and not doing anything wrong. This knowledge has helped me find power within myself. It has shown me that my beliefs are more important than other people’s judgments about me.
Once I realized that what others thought did not matter more than my own thoughts, I became confident in myself for my decision. No one can hurt me with rude comments anymore because my knowledge of my own ideas’ importance truimphs over others’ disagreements. My own approval of myself is much more important than anyone else’s acceptance on how I choose to dress or live or be. I know now that I made the right vow by accepting the rida as a part of my religion, and by accepting who I am – and this knowledge gives me even more power. It makes me respect and be content with myself. It helps me see myself as a courageous human being with independent thoughts that rely on no one else’s feedback.
I have power over all who speak against my rida because it has helped me aknowledge that my identity is stronger than anyone’s ideas on how one should dress. This power can only be taken away from me if I get too terrified to believe in myself, believe in the values I have grown up with, and instead choose to go along with the tide of other people’s thoughts and opinions instead of my own. The rida is now a part of me. It keeps me from drifting from my religion by being a constant reminder of my priorities as a Muslim, and I hope that the boldness it has given me will keep me from ever abandoning it or forgetting its importance in my life.
Published on: May 4, 2008