Pretending to Obey Allah
Pretending to Obey Allah©
A Short Story
by Umm Zakiyyah
“No,” Amatullah said shaking her head, folding her arms across her chest defiantly as she leaned back in her chair. “I’m not going to cover just because you asked me to.”
Hakimah sighed from where she sat on a desk opposite the student she had taught for four years, her thoughts drifting momentarily. Her gaze rested on the row of windows at the back of the tenth grade classroom. Distant sounds of students laughing and running and talking could be heard through the glass, underscoring the vast distance between her and her student.
Perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to have asked Amatullah to stay after class. Hakimah wasn’t sure. But her heart could not rest until she at least made an effort.
“But, Amatullah,” Hakimah said softly, her eyes now on Amatullah who refused to look at her. Amatullah’s face showed obvious resentment toward Hakimah for causing her to miss spending break with friends. “It’s Ramadan. Don’t you think it’s a good time to start?”
There was a brief silence before Amatullah narrowed her eyes toward Hakimah, and that’s when Hakimah noticed the tears glistening in her student’s eyes.
“What for?” Amatullah’s tone was accusatory and defensive. “I don’t want to be a hypocrite like these other girls.”
Hakimah furrowed her brows. “A hypocrite?”
Amatullah rolled her eyes. It was obvious she didn’t want to have this conversation. “You see them,” she shot back. “They’re always walking around all covered up, but they’re no better than anybody else.”
“Who thinks they’re better than everyone else?”
“All of ‘em.” Amatullah gestured toward the window behind her. “And they do the same things I do. But at least I don’t claim to be someone I’m not.” She folded her arms on her chest again, shaking her head.
“I can’t believe you fall for it,” Amatullah vented. “And you think you know so much about Islam. You don’t know half the things that go on with these so-called religious girls.”
Hakimah drew in a deep breath, a bit offended by the comment. But it wasn’t the first time she’d heard it. Moments like this she wondered if she’d made the right decision coming to work as an Islamic studies teacher at the only Muslim school in her city. Islamic studies wasn’t her specialty, but she did try to make the class interesting by doing things like giving each lesson its own title; the last one had been “Making the Most out of Ramadan.” Sometimes she’d let the students choose the lesson title; other times she’d choose it herself. It was her way of giving them a sense of ownership, something she’d learned to do for clients while studying counseling for her master’s.
When Hakimah had applied for work at the private Islamic academy four years ago, she was applying for a position as a biology teacher, the same position she’d held at a public school at her last job. She already knew she’d suffer a huge pay cut, but after facing repeated racial and religious discrimination at the middle school that catered mainly to the middle and upper class residents who lived near the school, Hakimah decided it was time to move on. Besides, the political tug-of-war with the administration, staff, and parents was taking a toll on her health, and her faith. Hakimah was Muslim when they hired her, but it was only in the last two years of working there that she had made the difficult decision to wear hijab to work. That’s when everything changed…
“Amatullah,” Hakimah said, exhaling as she was reminded of her own confusion before making the decision to cover full time, “it’s not fair to call your friends hypocrites. They’re Muslim just like you.”
“If you knew the things they do, I think you’d call them hypocrites too.”
Hakimah shook her head. “I don’t think I would, Amatullah, no matter what I knew. Anyway,” she sighed, “I didn’t ask you to stay after to talk about them. I want to talk about you.”
Amatullah grew quiet, but her defiance remained. She shook her head at some private thought that disturbed her, but she said nothing.
“I’m just asking you to think about what I said.” Hakimah hoped her sincere concern showed in her voice. But she wasn’t sure. “Ramadan is a time for changes. It’s a time to look at your life and see what you can do differently.”
The room grew quiet momentarily.
Hakimah wasn’t sure what else she should say, or if she should say anything else at all. “I know it’s a hard decision, Amatullah. Believe me, I know, but—”
“Ms. Khan,” Amatullah interrupted, “I know you think you’re helping and all. But I already know who I am and what I need to do. And I’m not going to cover now, even if it’s Ramadan.”
“But why not, Amatullah? Allah promises th—”
“What’s the point of covering if I’m just going to take it off later?” Amatullah rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Like I said, I’m not a hypocrite. When I’m ready to cover, I’ll do it all the time. But I’ll do it for Allah, not because some teacher asked me to.”
“But even if you do take it off later, Amatullah, Allah is forgiving and merciful. You can—”
“Why would I even do something like that?” Amatullah wrinkled her nose.
“I’m not saying you plan to take it off later,” Hakimah corrected herself, realizing how her last comment sounded. “I’m just saying if you get weak, you can always ask for strength. Allah will be there for you. You just have to put in the effort.”
“But why would I pretend?”
Hakimah creased her forehead, taken aback by the question. “What do you mean?”
“If I’m not strong enough to cover all the time, I shouldn’t cover.”
“But, Amatullah, you can’t pretend to obey Allah. If you’re obeying Allah, you’re obeying Allah, even if you make mistakes sometimes.”
“Can I go now?” Amatullah’s nose flared as she met Hakimah’s eyes unblinking. The sounds of other student’s laughter rose near the windows.
Hakimah drew in a deep breath and exhaled, reminded that break would be over soon. She had a class next period. “Yes, you may go if you—”
Amatullah’s chair screeched as she quickly stood, throwing her book bag over her shoulder, not waiting to hear what Hakimah had to say. Seconds later, Amatullah was out the door, and the door closed behind her.
For a minute, Hakimah remained in her place, her eyes staring beyond Amatullah’s empty chair to the recess area beyond the windows. Amatullah, now outside, appeared several feet from the glass. Her profile displayed a wide grin as her friends approached to give her a hug. A moment later, Amatullah laughed at something a friend whispered to her, her voice reverberating in the classroom.
But why would I pretend?
Hakimah was reminded of a conversation she’d had with a former coworker after she started wearing hijab regularly. “The problem with you Muslims is you think your clothes make you pious,” the man had said. “For you, it’s all about image. For us, it’s all about faith.”
At the time, Hakimah had been so offended that she wasn’t sure if her response did her religion, or herself, any justice. She remembered saying something about hijab not being about image and how actions proved a person’s faith, but now she realized where the real confusion lay.
In the heart.
That was the missing piece.
But why would I pretend?
With a sincere heart, you wouldn’t. Because pretending simply wouldn’t be possible. And obeying Allah wouldn’t be a decision you have to make. It would be the natural reflection of the sincerity in your heart.
The bell rang, and the noise level near the window rose as students scrambled back into the building, laughing and talking as they passed the glass. Inspired suddenly, Hakimah stood and walked over to her desk, where she sat down and jotted down some notes for her next class.
She already knew what its title would be: “Pretending to Obey Allah: Is it Even Possible?”
Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of the novels of the If I Should Speak trilogy
and Realities of Submission.
Copyright © 2010 by Al-Walaa Publications. All Rights Reserved.