By Ashyanna Bangcola (Philippines)
Imagine walking along a path. It is full of bumps and rough edges, but otherwise goes in one direction. You continue to walk along that direction until you come up in a fork on the road. Left or Right, you wonder. You have no idea of telling where each path might lead. Either direction that you may choose however, will undoubtedly affect your course because you have deviated from your original path. If only life was this straightforward, with only two choices then we all would have an easier time. As it is, life is all about the forks in the road, not just one, not just two but a million possibilities. And only you can choose where to go. These forks are the “turning points” of life. I want to share with you this particular turning point, the time when I made a decision that would have a major impact on my life. My experience during a debate competition which prompted me to wear my hijab was significant because it paved the way for my spiritual and emotional development as a person.
This all happened when I was in my fourth year of high school in La Salle Academy in Iligan City (a Catholic school). Every year there is an inter-school debate championship held in Iligan City called YAPIS ILBRAVE challenge (Youth Advocate’s Productive Integrated Service Iligan Brainwave Challenge). As far as I can remember, our school’s debate society (LANTUGI) has always joined the competition and won every year. The LANTUGI Club sends teams composed of three members, each to battle it out with other schools for the prize. I have always had memorable experiences during YAPIS. During my first time when I competed as a freshman, I won top 2 Best Speaker; during my second time as a second year, I experienced crying because of a loss for the first time. During my third year, the championship round was an all-LaSallian battle with our school taking both Champion and First-runner up. Even with all these memories, I chose my fourth year experience and you may be wondering why. My reasons include it being my last year on the team therefore it was my last competition, not to mention that we had to defend our title as Champions for four years in a row with this year being the Grand slam championship for us. These are not the main reasons however, as you will soon find out.
It was during the semi-finals round. After all the sweat and tears, my team mates and I had finally reached that far. The announcer was to announce the winner for the semi-finals round (It was between La Salle Academy Team 1 and Integrated Development School Team 2, and if we were to break, we were to face Integrated Development School Team 1 during the Championship Round). His lips were moving as if in slow motion, “And the winner is……….” I could not hear anything else after that. I had plugged my ears and shut my eyes tightly. I could hear the erratic beat of my chest. “Breathe deeply”, I told myself “breathe deeply.” After a moment, I could hear cheers erupt around me. Who were cheering, IDS’ or ours? Slowly I opened my eyes and I found my team mates absolutely ecstatic. They were telling me, shouting actually “We won Alex! We won!” I could not help myself. I clung to them and bawled my eyes out. We actually won! But it was far from over. The Championship was up next and I could feel the pressure from my seniors catch up to me. We could not tarnish their legacy, and so I made a bargain. Looking back, I see now how desperate I was. I prayed to Allah (swt), “I beg of you please let us win. We can’t lose. I’ll do anything whatever it might be. I’ll even start wearing the hijab.”
The hijab is the traditional headscarf worn by female Muslims signifying modesty. I originally planned to wear mine the following year as a college student, but here I was making a bargain with God. And then I stopped, and my life literally flashed before me in the remaining time we had left. Every time I had a competition, I would always pray fervently to Allah and He would always answer my prayers. Not only during competitions, but at every major point in my life He was there. I revised my prayer, “I’m sorry for trying to bargain with You. No matter what happens I will accept Your decision and I will wear my hijab not because of payment but because I am proud that I am a Muslim.” After praying I went back to my team mates. We were given thirty minutes of preparation time to brainstorm, after which we went inside the room that would be used for the championship round. We were afraid, but we could not let our school down.
We won that day, but I gained more than just a trophy – I gained my identity. I wore my hijab to school the day after and I was a bit afraid. Turned out, there was nothing to fear. Some were curious and asked me the cause of this change, but generally they treated me the same as always. Now, whenever someone asks me when I started wearing hijab, I tell them it was during a moment of enlightenment. When they ask me why, I tell them I choose to and because I am proud of my faith.