"Wearing a khimar is a jihad," said Hera Hashmi, 15, using the Arabic word for struggle that is widely mistranslated as holy war. "It just became harder."
When terrorists struck Tuesday and Muslims came under immediate suspicion, Hashmi's father, Syed Hashmi, worried that another daughter might not make it safely to their Columbia home from the University of Baltimore, where she is a freshman.
Pakistan and India: Why not take off your khimar for the trip home?
"This will be against the religion," he recalled thinking to himself, torn by principle and paternal love. "I felt very bad. And when she refused, I was very proud of her."
In Islam, the so-called "rule of necessity" allows the faithful to violate certain religious rules in life-threatening situations, said Imam Darryl Wainwright of Masjid Ul-Haqq, a West Baltimore mosque.
A Muslim stranded on a desert island could eat pork in good conscience, for example, if the alternative is to die of starvation, he said.
Likewise, a woman could shed her khimar if it put her in mortal danger, Wainwright said. He does not think the situation is that grave, at least in the Baltimore area, where there have been only a few reports of harassment. But he said the potential is there.
"That's the danger of this attack," Wainwright said. "It has begun to cause a type of separation in America. Those Muslims who didn't and certainly would not support any type of measures like this are still going to be victims, even it means to alter a [style of] dress that represents an integral part of their beliefs."
At a gathering in a Laurel mosque Friday night, Hera Hashmi and a group of other young Muslim women talked about whether they should bare their heads. They were all opposed. "I just don't think I could do that," the Wilde Lake High School sophomore said. "It's like those dreams you have of going to school naked."
Her mother, Abida Hashmi, 39, can't part with her scarf either. "It's like part of your body," she said.
But the mother of four is so worried about being attacked that she has quit going out in public - a decision that's saddled her husband with the task of family grocery shopping for the first time in his 47 years. "He came home with random boxes of cereal and chips and all this stuff that we really don't eat," Hera Hashmi said, enjoying a small joke in the midst of a difficult circumstance.
Cultural strain of a different sort was on display Friday when Howard County police got a public lesson in Islamic dos and don'ts.
Police met with about 150 members of Dar Al-Taqwa at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center to educate them about how to deal with possible hate crimes. The officials got a schooling from the moment they walked in the door, ready to pump the hands of men and women in a friendly hello. Muslim women are not supposed to touch any man who is not a close relative.
"I'm the first to admit I've had to get an education, something as simple as extending my hand to a female for a handshake," Chief Wayne Livesay told the group.
There were a few good-natured chuckles later when one of the officials suggested that the worshippers raise their profile by attending community events in T-shirts bearing the name of their "temple." Muslims pray in a mosque.
Howard County police, like departments across the country, receive cultural diversity training. But police officers could not remember learning anything about Muslims, a group they said they haven't interacted with much.
Police at the meeting learned another Muslim rule likely to complicate their job. Muslim women can't be alone with a man who is not a close relative. That means a woman at home alone could not allow a male officer inside or even speak with him at the door, except in a life-or-death situation.
To avoid that kind of problem, Steppe suggested to the women in the back of the assembly that if they want to report a crime they may request a female officer. But before he did that he asked the imam's permission.
Imam Mahmoud Abdel-Hady said it was OK for Steppe to speak directly to the women because they were in a public place.
"You certainly don't want to offend people in their own place of worship," Steppe said afterward. "It's better to ask."