A Day in the Life
My husband works night shift,
so it's easier for me
to sync my schedule with him.
We share the same car, so I pick him up at like 3 am usually.
I start my day at noon or so.
I'll wake up
every single day,
I make sure to cuddle with one of my cats.
I think it's a good reminder
to every single day
love the little blessings that are in my life.
I sit there, and take that love into my heart,
and I start my day.
After that, it can go wherever.
I study almost every day.
I'm always reading.
I'm also on a lot of social media.
I'm studying Arabic and Korean.
Sometimes I clean houses.
Sometimes I tutor people in English.
Sometimes I help people with religious studies.
I just do whatever I'm needed.
Moving to Lafayette
When I first converted, most of my family and friends were adamantly against my conversion. It was a very lonely time for me. I had met a couple of women here at the mosque and they suggested I move to Lafayette from Ladoga to live closer to a Muslim community. They got me a little apartment in a house on Columbia Street in Lafayette. It was a very tiny little apartment, but it did what I needed. It was my home for the next two years.
I immediately took to Lafayette. There was a bit of a culture shock for me though. A lot of people laugh at this, because they think Lafayette is so small, but to me, it was so big. I called my family, and I was like, "Guys, there's people that are not white, and it's awesome. I can actually interact with people, and interact with their cultures.” My family was excited for me, too. I called them to tell them that I could also get delivery to my door, that was so cool.
What was not cool was how many parking tickets I kept getting, because, you know, there's parking limits. In the country, you park, you stay there all day, very leisurely.
I really love the community here. I feel that they're just really kind. I love having access to a lot of organizations that have Muslim students my age, that's so nice. It's diverse in that way. A lot of converts, they convert, and they're in a community that has, let's just say, a large Pakistani majority, or a large Arab community, and they feel more pressured to adapt to that culture. But because I'm in a very diverse community, I don't feel that strong need to be a different culture. In fact, it helped me start questioning, what is American Islam? What does that mean to me? I really appreciate that.
Sometimes I think about moving to Chicago, because there's a bigger Muslim community there, a lot more converts. They even have convert groups, which sounds so nice to me. Because there's, like, thousands of Muslims, you have even more variety than here. There are a variety of mosques and restaurants. Here, we just have one mosque. If you don't like it, what can you do? Because there's just one.
Then, I also think, because there's so many people, it's not going to have that small town feel any more. What if I don't really fit in with the mosque? I like the community here a lot, even though it's always changing. Some of the other converts that I know who lived in town, some of them are moving away, too, so part of me is kind of wanting to move, as well, but I don't know. I love it here - I really do. I love the flatness even! I go to the mountains, and I'm like, "I miss flat land..just staring at nothing." My mom says that's so weird, but I think it just reminds me of home. I like the fact that Indiana has very distinctive four seasons. You don't get that in a lot of places.
After a year here, I got married. I didn't know my husband when I converted. Surprisingly, we're both converts, which is pretty rare. I converted in 2012, which would be 5-ish years ago, so he would have converted be like 8-ish years ago. He grew up very Catholic, so it was a little tough when we decided to get married for both his family and my own, but it ended up being okay. My husband found Islam through social media too, so we were able to connect on what drew us to our faith and to each other.
I always say, he met me before I met him. In our faith, we don't really date. He had seen me, and at the time, I didn't have my face covered. He was like, "Who is the other white girl?" I think, perhaps in his mind, he thought he would have already known me somehow, maybe went to school with me or something. He had asked his friend, who then asked his wife, and talked to me. At the time, I just thought he wanted to get to know me as a friend, but no. The stories all got back to him, and they were like, "Yeah, she's pretty cool."
Then, he finally, he was like, "Hey, I don't know if you'd want to meet up sometime."
I was like, "Yeah. If we do meet up, it's only for the intention of marriage."
He was like, "Okay, cool." And so we set a date to meetup to discuss if we were a decent match or not.
We met at Greyhouse and that was the first time I had really seen him. Really, I loved it. I actually got a parking ticket, because I stayed for like 3 hours. Everything he said to me led back to Allah in one way or another. I remember actually being scared that I was going to lead him on, and then decide later that I didn't want to marry him, but after two weeks or something, I was like, "No, that's not a worry. He’s pretty neat." Six months later, we got married.
They were terrified, his family and my family, because it's not in our culture to do that. They were like, "You need to take it slow, just get to know each other." They really wanted us to date, and we were like, "No, we really don't do that." They were like, "Fine, then stay engaged for like three years or something. Just really take it slow." I was pretty young at that point. My family knew that I was mature enough, but I think his family was very nervous, because they heard my age, and they were like, "Oh no." Because, at the time, I was 19. Both sides of the family were like, "No 19-year-old is ready for a forever marriage."
We live just right across the river from Purdue. It's a cool little place, because it's mostly international students, inside of my particular complex, and then, it's intermixed with people from a less fortunate financial background. There's a lot of culture going on.
Because I'm from a small town, I feel like I can interact more with the local people in ways that maybe others can't. Where I'm from, we wave at everyone. We try to get to know who our neighbors are, one way or another. There's times where I'll wave at people a couple of times, and then I'll introduce myself. I'll say, "Hi, I'm Tuscany, I live here, and I just wanted to know more about you," and I explain because I'm from a small town, I like to know my neighbors. I think it's also important for safety reasons, just to know who lives around me. There's a lot of interesting people.
One of my favorite people in Lafayette, I do not know his name. I call him Cat Guy, because he's so endearing to me. He has this cat that goes everywhere with him, this little black cat. He's an older man, and he just walks around. He is always happy and he just goes wherever with his cat. The cat's not on a leash, it just follows him. He never loses the cat. I feel like my cats would just walk away and never come back, but his cat always stays. When I first moved in, I would wave at him and he would just look at me. Now he always waves at me, and says hello. We've never even really talked, but I feel this connection with Cat Guy. He reminds me to be thankful for what I have and to always appreciate the small things.
One thing that was kind of surprising for me was how hard it was for me to find and maintain a job in Lafayette. I think that this is maybe a test from God or something. I usually don't go out professionally, with my face covered, because that would be impossible for me to find a job here, honestly. Even with hijab, I've been turned down from several places, which is what turned me towards writing, just out of a need to make money somehow.
I've been looking for work since I moved here. I've been in and out of jobs. I worked at a local company for a while but then they fired me, and at the time, the woman who let me go told me it was because she thought I was a terrorist. I took the issue up with CAIR, and again, I feel like God must have been involved with this somehow. My answering machine went out, and so I didn't get any of his answering machine calls, for just a couple of months. For a long time, the company wouldn't send the papers to even say that I was fired. Basically, I ran out of time very quickly. It was within two months.
It was so crazy! I finally figured out my voicemail problem literally two days after everything was due, so I couldn't continue on with it. That company officially said I took two lunches, and that's why they let me go, but it was not true. I harbored a lot of anger over that for a long time, because I'm definitely a woman of my word. I really find it important to have good character, and I feel like being fired for what seems like not following the rules is very damaging on my character. I think, especially because I clean houses and stuff, it looks really bad to be fired from the custodial department.
I haven't been able to find work, outside of me doing my own thing, but I haven't been able to find work anywhere else, permanently, since I've been fired. For a while, I started working out in Crawfordsville, which is 40 miles away, closer to where I'm from. That was only because I knew a friend who could get me in, and convinced the boss I was not going to be a detriment. I worked there for about a year, and during that time, I received threats on my life twice.
I know that the KKK is still active where I'm from, and that really surprises people. I guess it's normal to me, because I grew up with that there. They didn't believe that I was white. They wouldn't let me clean up after them. They said I was too dirty. At the time, I was banquet staff. It's just cleaning up their dirty dishes and stuff after they've left, and serving them food. Some of them came to my old boss and threatened my life. They said if they saw me, they would shoot me.
After I started requesting not to serve those banquets that had threatened me like this, the new bosses very quietly said, "I might be new here but I don’t believe people are that mean in this day and age. It’s not the 60’s, you know? I think maybe you should find a different job." They let me technically quit, they didn't fire me, but I've encountered that fairly frequently.
Other hijabis I know have a great time with finding employment, and have never struggled at work. I don't know why I keep struggling with this. For me, I run into a lot of really ignorant people, and a lot of really unkind people.
There was just a lot of having to figure it all out by myself. I still think that should have been people willing to help, but it is what it is. I think that there's reasons for everything to happen the way it did. I'm kind of glad, though, because it pushed me. Now I know that I want to do Islamic studies. This will be a lifelong thing, but I really hope, way in the future, to become an Islamic scholar.
Check out all Tuscany's latest writing at www.tuscanybernier.net.
I'm Tuscany Bernier. I'm married. My husband's name is Drew, and I have 2 cats. One cat is named Fluffie, and the other is named Dean. I have no kids yet, so my cats are kind of like my kids in a way. I'm a writer. I often say I'm a woman of many hats, because I take lots of little jobs here and there, and it's hard for me to pin down a singular occupation other than writer.
I moved here by myself in 2012, when I converted. I lived out in Ladoga, Indiana. It's about an hour south of here. Really, really small town. My family grows hay for other families, so it's really rural.
A lot of my life I was taught to view things through a lens that didn't have God in them. My dad was atheist, and my mom is Southern Baptist, but they're divorced. My mom always kind of wanted me to be Christian, but she's in Tennessee, so it's kind of hard to push a religious upbringing from far away.
When I was 16, I became Pentecostal. I think that I liked the idea of God. I started to change to a more religious lifestyle, but I wasn't quite there yet. I would wear long skirts everywhere, and the only exception is that I was still cheerleading, so I wore those short skirts. I remember my pastor was really like, "You should not be a cheerleader because it's really, really short." I was like, "I'm going to do whatever I want, I'm not going to let religion get in the way of what I want to do." I'm still kind of like that.
In some ways, I feel like some of it was very similar. I was already about the whole modesty thing. I had always struggled, personally, with the idea of the Trinity, so the idea of just one god, it made more sense for me. Before, I think I struggled with the idea of Jesus being God, yet he was a human. I didn't feel comfortable admitting that to people, because in a lot of circles, that's really sacrilegious.
I had never met another Muslim before converting actually. I had seen this girl on Twitter was talking about how she liked being Muslim. At the time, I thought, in my ignorance, that she was probably stupid, because I've always been a really die-hard feminist, and that's not really changed. At the same time, I realized I was ignorant, so I bought my first Quran at Barnes and Noble. I looked at chapter 4. It's called "The Women". I thought that's where it would tell me to hate women, and that ended up not being the case at all.
Chapter 4, in reality, is a lot of laws that dictate, I would say, obscure things in society. When I was reading it, it felt like God had thought of everything. After I finished reading that chapter, I started from the beginning of the Quran. I wasn't looking for any religion, but I would say, a month after I started reading the Quran I decided to convert.
I am really close with my family now. I think that, for a long time, when I was growing up, I had a tumultuous relationship with my family, both my mom and my dad. I was closer with my dad, but he also was struggling with his own form of depression. When you have two people in the same house that are battling mental illness, it can be very hard.
I am definitely closer with my parents, and I really think that they would say it's because I converted. It was impressed on me very early on that I wouldn't get to go to heaven if I didn't try to be kind to my parents. So I started really trying to improve my relationship with them, and they were amazed. They were like, "Whoa, we've never had a daughter that actually tries to be nice to us and really respectful." That made them come around to Islam a lot, especially my mom.
I'm currently going to school at Mishkah University for my Associate's in Islamic Studies. My life goal is to continue studying Islamic law, or shariah, and how it affects women. I wrote a book and published it last year, It's That Time Again: An Islamic Guide to Menstruation. Right now, it's available online at Amazon. It's a Kindle exclusive for $2.99. It's free if you have Kindle Unlimited. You can buy it at Barnes and Noble. It's available here at the library. It's available, basically, all over the web.
I had a hard time getting it into Islamic book stores, actually, because I'm not a well-known person. I think it's harder for women to break through that, because we say, in our faith, that only men can become imams. Really all that means is that they're the ones who lead the prayer. In a lot of places, that also means that the imam is put in a position to help the community when they need, almost like a pastor, but we don't believe that the imam has any special ties to God. He's just a person like everyone else.
Sometimes, you find that all the imam really knows or is good at is leading prayer, which is totally fine, but I've found, as a woman, sometimes it's easier for people who have that honor on their resume, like, "I'm an imam, I've worked here, I've done this ..."
For me, there's nothing that shows what I know. There are a lot of women who are resident scholars in Muslim communities. I know that this community probably cannot, honestly, afford a residential scholar, because we don't even have an imam yet. Maybe in the future though - I love this community. You never know what God has in store for me.
A lot of cultures say, "Just pray it away. It'll be fine." I think even to a certain extent, our Christian culture does that, as well. Just pray it away, and you'll figure it out. I tried that. With depression, sometimes you just can't even get out of bed. Then, I would feel very guilty that I wasn't even doing my 5 daily prayers.
I guess I was navigating, what does my faith say about mental health, what does it say about depression? Also, growing my own understanding of what I have. Obviously, in the English language, we say the word depression, and it means depressed. We also often say, "I'm depressed," when we just mean sad. There's always a lot of miscommunication, when people are like, "Just cheer up, you'll be fine," and it's not like that.
I tell people, "Half the time, I'm not even sad. I'm such a happy person. I'm always like, 'Yay!'" It's very rare where it actually manifests as sadness. Most of the time, and this is scientifically proven, the chemicals that are in your brain can misfire because of depression and they will accidentally be sent down your spine instead. That's what causes the pain to such extent that people with depression usually have. Telling people, "Sometimes I'm fine, it just hurts so bad, I can't get up. I don't want to go anywhere. I'm exhausted."
Some people don't get it. I think, some people who spend more time with me, they start to get it more, but there are still a handful of people, where they're just not capable of understanding. Even when they're seeing the symptoms in front of them, they'll be like, "Tuscany, why are you so grumpy today? Complaining so much?" I'm like, "I don't even think I'm being grumpy. I don't see myself being negative."
I would say that that's kind of been a little bit of a struggle, maneuvering everything that goes on with life, but also how it fits in with, because I try to be very involved in the Muslim community, how it involves with the Muslim community and everything. Yeah, sometimes ... sometimes I just feel like I get off on the wrong foot with a lot of people.
I recently got involved with Younger Women's Task Force, and I really love that organization. I can be involved with other feminists. Whereas before at home, I'd be like, "I'm a feminist," and I'd just hear the echo. It would just be me.
I would say that I maintain my feminism within the box of Islam. It's not a traditional feminism, by any means, because I do think that maybe traditional feminism is a little different than what Islam suggests or wants, but at the same time, I’m not very traditional in general. I fight for women's rights on so many things, and I feel that Islam naturally has women's rights in it.
I think that there's a lot of people who presume that as a Muslim woman, especially as a Muslim woman who covers her face, that I must be a really submissive person, that just follows whatever my husband says, and that I just don't think for myself, ever. That's so opposite of who I am. My daily life might be different in that aspect, that I'm always doing whatever I want within, within halal means, within what we believe God wants for us to do. I'm not out partying with alcohol or anything, but I'm very active.
Part of the reason why I started wearing the niqab, or the face veil, is because I realized that people don't have a right to my body. I have a right to my body, and whoever I want to show it to is my prerogative. I think, even people in the Muslim community misunderstood that at first about me. They thought, just out of genuine concern, "Is she an extremist? She's a convert, we don't know what she's gotten into,” which I think is actually a really good sign, because they care. Then, I explain it, and they're like, "Oh, that's really cool."
I find a lot of women here in the West that choose to wear the niqab wear it for the similar reasons. We feel that there's a lot of media and societal expectations on women to show more skin, and to show that they're female by showing off their curves or whatever. We're like, "No, at the very heart of things, we're all human, no matter how much skin one shows or doesn’t show."
It was an adjustment, starting to wear the niqab, because a lot of people can be mean. It's not just a Lafayette thing, it's everywhere. I usually go out with friends, or I go out with Drew, my husband. I do have places where I feel safe to go by myself. Here at the library is one of them. Or Sacred Grounds, in Lafayette. I spend a lot of time there because their coffee is so awesome.
I don't walk around town by myself, like, on long walks. When Pokemon Go first came out, I did, but even then, it was kind of limited. I don't really have the tolerance to deal with this stress all the time. I feel like I have to be on my best behavior for everybody constantly for a variety of reasons. I always wonder if they’ll associate me with the Angry Muslim trope if I’m having a bad day. People will validated in their abuses towards me if I am not kind to them, even for a second. I want to be seen as kind in general. I want people to see I’m a real living human being with feelings. I have aspirations, likes, and dislikes.
As a general rule, I always make sure to wear a lot of bright colors. This is very strange that I'm wearing a lot of black today, because I found that the more black I wear, the meaner people are to me. I think that there is, again, a cultural expectation that black equals sad, even though in a lot of Arab countries, black means you're very stylish, so I'm like, "Well, I know I look great somewhere on Earth."
Kindness is so important. I always try to infuse kindness into everything that I possibly humanly do. I don't always achieve that, but I really try, and I notice when people try it with me. A lot of people are scared of me. The first time I met a niqabi, I was scared. I was thinking, "All the media ..."
The media teaches you to fear that. I remember how I felt in that moment, so when people react with fear, I think, sometimes, people who've been around me for a while but aren't niqabis, they're like, "How dare that person look at you like that," or whatever. I'm like, "That's normal, though. They're just feeling this human range of emotions, and I'm not going to hold that against them for being apprehensive. I just hope they are working through it. Because that's the important part. Are you trying to be kind to me? Are you recognizing that I'm still a human?
When we're not practicing kindness with each other, that's when the world really starts to fall apart. I think that, regardless of if you're a religious, un-religious, non-Muslim, etc - if you don't have that kindness in your heart, and if you're not trying to inject kindness into every single thing you do, then what are you doing? I feel like people who don't try to be kind regularly are just hurting themselves. When you're hurting inside, you just hurt others.
Way back when I started wearing the niqab, I went to Hobby Lobby. I was there, and I was not having a very good day. I was like, "I just want to get in, get out, and go home." I saw this older woman, she was looking at me, and looking at me, and I was really not in the mood to deal with that. I was thinking ugly thoughts like, "She can go take her eyes and shove them where the sun doesn't shine, because I don't want to deal with this."
She finally comes over, and she goes, "I want to tell you, you look so beautiful today." I felt so bad inside, for thinking that thought just two seconds before. People usually don't compliment me very much, and she was just genuinely like, "I love this fabric." She was like, "I love this, this is so cool." It felt good. I normally don't pass judgement on people like that, and in that one moment, I did. And it was to the kindest lady!
There's also just so many little instances of kindness, like people who wave at me and smile at me, people who stand close. Like pre-Islam, I could enter the grocery aisle and people would also be there. Then, after I converted, I would walk into the aisle, and everyone would leave. It just makes things a lot more lonely for me,in general, to go through that again and again in my daily life. I’m a big hugger and people person so I just love being around other humans. I really appreciate if I enter an aisle, and somebody will just look, and then they keep doing their thing. They don't leave. They don't alienate me.
Maybe that's weird that I find that so nice, because really I'm just asking them to treat me like normal, but I wish more people would do that. I'll start to feel bad if I notice everyone's feeling uncomfortable around me, because I want people to feel comfortable with me.