And what exactly is that on your arm there ukhti, the old ladies ask me with their eyes as my sleeve slips up my arm a bit because I am holding onto the handrail on the bus for dear life.
I try to pull my sleeve up and nearly fall over doing so, but they’ve already seen it and I can feel their stares boring into the side of my head.
Yes, it is a tattoo. And I am a convert. I think sometimes people expect to hear that I was just sitting alone in a room for the first 21 years of my life, waiting for Islam to come to me.
But I wasn’t. I was out doing all the things that normal, non Muslim, American people do. And being from a small (dare I say, a little redneck-y, town), one of the things you do as a young adult is get tattoos.
I got my first, a Celtic knot when I was 18. A few months later I followed it up with some script in Irish that reads “The girl made beautiful by sorrow” (what can I say, I was going through a rough patch!) This may seem depressing and silly, but really it is true. I would have never even come to Islam if I hadn’t been going through a period of major loneliness and depression in London.
The second one I got as a birthday gift when I turned 19-a lavender cancer ribbon representing all of the different kinds of cancer. This is what the aunties usually see on my wrist when they begin to get offended…but at the time I had just lost a grandma and an aunt to various types of cancer, had a cousin still battling, and numerous other people in my life struggling with the same awful disease.
So why, you may ask, did I not rush straight to the laser clinic when I converted to have them done away with?
Well firstly, because ouch. I have heard that the pain involved in laser removal is exponentially more than getting the tattoo in the first place, and that turns me into a big chicken.
Secondly, I don’t have that kind of money right now, and I especially didn’t when I first converted in my final year of undergrad.
And thirdly, besides the fact that tattoos themselves are prohibited, mine don’t actually depict anything bad. One is a testament to my heritage and a reminder that the bad things in my life have only made me better, and the other is a cancer ribbon. It’s not like I have pin-up girls or hazy cigarettes inked all over my body (bleh).
My tattoos are a part of who I was before Islam and still a part of my identity today. I have no intention of ever getting any more now that it is prohibited for me to do so, but I also don’t have any intention of having these ones removed in the near future.
Aunties on public transport can get offended all day, but I am not going to pretend that I had no life before Islam. I did not embrace Islam to erase my past, but to beautify my future.