You Can Call Me Mary

Staring down at the glossy red ceramic platter in my hands, I wonder how a crispy stuffed bird or succulent medallions of braised meat will look against the lipstick red. Perhaps the antique white platter with the retro holly pattern will better serve my culinary masterpieces. The white one is actually already sitting in my cart. Admittedly, I am trying to justify getting both platters.
My frivolous concentration is interrupted by the joyful exclamation of a small boy riding by me in a cart with his baby sister sleeping in her car seat in the basket.

“Mommy, mommy! It’s Mary, it’s Mary!”

I glance over and give him a big smile. I’m not Mary, but I know why he thinks I am. The first couple of times I was mistaken for Mary were awkward moments. Even though I do resemble her somewhat, I was caught off guard, as are all the mommies whose children make this innocent mistake.

Today the little boy continues to try to get his Mommy’s attention, but she hurries down the isle without acknowledging either of us and they are quickly out sight, just as fast as the first time a child called me “Mary.”

Here, amongst the pine and pumpkin pie scented candles and plastic mistletoe, the boy was genuinely delighted to see Mary, too. He’s probably been seeing Mary a lot lately. She is popping up on people’s lawns and in pageants around town. She is even featured in the Oriental Trading Company catalog, surrounded by inflatable palms and stable animals. Like the little girl models in the catalog, I too cover my hair with a scarf. I am a Muslim woman that wears a hijab. Here under the soft department store lights that are somehow supposed to encourage rampant spending, I look a bit like the iconic Virgin Mary in the baroque style.

Really, I think I’m too old to look like Mary, but that just makes his comment all the more complimentary. Even if just a comparison in looks, I feel an immense honor to be mistaken for the mother of a great prophet. Isa or Jesus in the Christian tradition is also a prophet to Muslims. His mother Mariam (Mary) is revered as one of the four best women in paradise and the Quran has entire chapter written for her.

Loading my bags into my minivan, I realize that I still have a great big grin on my face. It will stay with me all day.

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6 thoughts on “You Can Call Me Mary

  1. Salaams.

    i of course look nothing like Meryem, nor do i tend to wear colors that might create such a confusion (though my first khimar was navy blue and came to my waist, and i was constantly mistaken for a nun), but i do recognize that sweet innocent child’s reaction. i also, unfortunately, recognize the mother’s reaction of pretending not to hear her child at all, so that she is spared having to explain anything. i think the tight-lipped-i-can’t-hear-my-child-and-i-can’t-see-you reaction is one of the more painful ones, because it spoils what could otherwise be a very simple and pleasant meeting of humanity. and it always annoys me greatly to see children just ignored by their parents anyway, it’s just mean, and it teaches a child to avoid certain things. anyway, alhamdulAllah that you had such an experience and despite an ignorant mother are able to retain a smile at the sweetness of the child. 🙂

    1. Aaminah- Walaikum Asalam. There’s a nun around town who wears a kind of different style of habit. Kind of like a monk’s robe with hijab? Maybe she’s Russian orthodox. Lol-she’s been salamed a few times! I always wear patterned shaylas and never abaya or jilbab and still get the Mary treatment, but only this time of year–which I really like. Moms have always been weird. Dads are cool or indifferent.
      I still haven’t figured out how to respond with my kids to Autistic children. With kids that are visibly impaired, they’re cool and get it. But Autistic kids have “surprised” us a few times–and then I forget to go there with them about it later–gotta do that, insha Allah.

  2. This has also happened to me in stores in America. Once a woman came to me and told me how beautiful I looked–just like Mary. I thanked her and quickly moved away so that I could bawl! It really hits me when people have such a strong and positive reaction to the hijab and it makes me think “this is what we are here for!” MashAllah. Then I make dua that they too will look just like Mary someday. InshAllah. Thanks for the nice post.

  3. oh what a beautiful story. honestly growing up one of the things that i loved about being around muslim women was that they were dressed like the women in my bible. i totally understand this lil boys exclamation. i was just reading the quranic verses about mary. and they were so lovely.
    a few days a shopkeeper here in cairo said to my husband: oh! this is your eid! happy christmas!
    not that we celebrate xmas. but it was still sweet and funny.

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