Her mother, grandmother, and all her aunts had never worn hijab. And for the first 44 years of her life, neither did Sandra Amen-Bryan, a third-generation American living in Dearborn.

But with the anti-Muslim backlash after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks weighing on her mind, Amen-Bryan decided to put on a head scarf in November 2003 on Eid, an Islamic holy day that marks the end of Ramadan. When in public, she’s kept it on ever since.

“I was not going to blend into the background,” said Amen-Bryan, 48. “I was going to stand up and say, ‘This is who I am, this is who I’m proud of, and this is what I’m willing to struggle for.’ “

But the decision strained her 15-year marriage to a Christian-raised man.

For most of her life, Amen-Bryan wasn’t particularly religious and had rarely attended mosques with her husband.

So when he came home one day from work to see her wearing hijab, “I thought it was a joke, that she was playing around,” recalled her husband, Keith Bryan. “To have that dramatic change was quite shocking.”

Bryan, who sees himself as more spiritual than overtly religious, wondered what friends and family would think.

I felt “kind of spinned off into a different life,” Bryan said. “She’s going this way, and I’m headed this way. … There was an uncertainty: ‘What does that mean for our relationship?’ “

Amen-Bryan’s decision came after months of internal debate in which she wrestled with questions about the meaning and purpose of life. The grandchild of Lebanese immigrants, she was attending more mosque events and associating more with religious women.

“The defining moment for me came when I realized how much legislation had been developed and passed and how much this administration was trying to convince the population that Islam is the enemy,” said Amen-Bryan, a mental health therapist. “And the more I saw that Islam was being demonized in the media, the question I put to myself was, … ‘Are you going to take a stand?'”


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