The day started. It was supposed to be a happy affair, but she couldn’t help but think how much happier she should be feeling. Today was the beginning of a new path, she had been told, where she could look into her soul and make better decisions. She knew exactly what that meant: i.e., where she should stop playing with these religious opinions and follow the family, just like a sheep, as was expected of her. This she refused to do, and was part of the reason why she didn’t feel as happy as she probably should have done.
It was her graduation: a time of celebration with her family. Except that half of them wouldn’t be there because they didn’t agree with those same religious opinions. They didn’t want to see the ‘oppressed’ cousin/ sister/ daughter/ niece that she had been turned into by brain washing “terrorists”. But she was determined to make the most of the situation and the day.
As she pulled on her long black skirt, her purple shirt and wrapped the shiny, black hijab tightly around her head, she smiled, content in her heart that she was doing things right. Her mother shouted her from downstairs telling her to hurry up so that they could get a space outside of the university. Louise had arranged to meet some friends for coffee an hour before the ceremony and looked forward to introducing them to her mum, to once again prove to her that this religion wasn’t as she thought.
Of all her family, her mother had been the most open minded about the whole situation, and for that she was grateful. She had never been close to her mum, living apart from her as she grew up; but now things were different. They had both lived their own lives and were beginning to come together in both similarities and differences.
Walking down the stairs, Louise was momentarily blinded by the camera flash and laughed as her mum carried on taking more pictures as she descended each step, feeling like a princess. She smiled to see what family was there, and how they looked at her full of admiration and pride; she was the first person of her clan to graduate from university. It made her a little sad - to think of all those people who were now missing out on this moment - but she couldn’t dwell on it… that was their decision.
On the 20 minute drive over to the university, she slipped in a Quran CD, after first asking her mum if that was okay. She needed the serenity, the peace, to get her through this day. Louise wasn’t nervous for the ceremony; rather, it was the events that could occur afterwards that sent her blood rushing and her heart racing.
“God knows best”, she told herself. That line, together with the sound waves coming out of the speakers, calmed her and allowed her to drift into her own little world for a short time.
They pulled into the car park, she stepped out of the car, and smoothed down the lines in her skirt. Her mum smiled as she walked around and pulled Louise’s arm through her own. “I’m so proud of you,” she told her daughter, as she gently kissed her cheek. They walked to the registration desk, arm in arm, quietly.
Papers were presented, documents recorded, identities proved, tickets swapped, caps tested and gowns adjusted; now everything was ready for the ceremony. Louise’s mobile vibrated. She smiled, pulling out the phone to see a familiar name calling her. She answered to a scream from the other end:
”Girl, where are you?’ asked her best friend from university, Laylah.
“I just sorted all my stuff out. Insha’Allah, I’ll meet you at the coffee shop in 10, ‘kay?”
“Okey dokey,” came the reply, and they said their goodbyes. She then pulled her mum to the side and quickly explained to her the plan for the next few hours.
As they wandered around campus, taking in details for the last time, snapping pictures to relish at some time in the future, Louise spotted a face that she recognised - she blushed when she realised that he was looking at her too. Her mum questioned her on her sudden change in attitude after she lowered the camera, away from the direction of the guy that she had only recently taken a shine towards. Just before she could answer the question, Laylah jumped on her back playfully to interrupt the conversation, and they all walked to the coffee shop to meet the other girls.
Sitting down waiting for the numerous hot drinks and other members of the group to appear, they randomly chatted about the things they had been up to since the end of exams just three weeks ago. Others joined in the conversation and started their own with people sat around the two tables in the corner of the biggest student hangout this side of the campus. Eventually, everyone seemed to be there and all the drinks had arrived. At this point, Louise noticed her mum chatting with another one of her best friends, Jessica, and how close they seemed.
Louise and Jessica had met during their A-levels, and hung around each other’s houses during those few years to become very dear to both families. They were equally happy when they were accepted into the same university. Although they were taking very different courses, it meant they could get a flat together and continue in their friendship. As time went by it also meant they came into contact with similar groups of people, and eventually they would say their shahada together, after Jessica met her Moroccan friend Zhor, and Louise met with local kids at the after-school homework clubs that she helped with. She always looked to Jessica for dawah where her family were concerned, and on her last few visits home, she had noticed a special bond blossoming between her best friend and her mother. It hurt her slightly, but she knew that there was no other person she would want that for than Jessica.
Now Louise watched in awe as this same best friend stood up to talk to the crowd of people that surrounded them: her grace, her beauty, her stance and the confidence that she oozed out in their presence. She talked about the upcoming ceremony and gave thanks to the people who had touched her life during those years at university.
In time people left for their own pre-celebrations and there remained only a group of close friends. Jessica cleared her throat to make another speech, welcoming Louise’s mum to stand with her. This one was quite unexpected, as could be clearly be seen by the look of both shock and happiness on Louise’s face.
With tears falling down her cheeks, Louise witnessed her mother repeat after Jessica:
“Ash hadu anna illa illalah”…… the declaration of faith for every Muslim.
Her mother turned to face Louise, grabbed her hand squeezing it tight “Thank you for opening my eyes,” she whispered and kissed her softly on the cheek, just as she had done a few hours before. “Now lets go see my girl graduate” she said pulling her daughter up to stand.