Inspired by a post I read at Happy Muslim Mama I thought I’d write something about my experience with hijab. I have only worn hijab a few times now. I wanted to be one of the strong Muslim women who wear it every day right from the start of their decision to put it on, but I realize that for myself, it is better for me to take it in steps. So I’ve worn it at my two visits to the masjid, and I also wore it once in front of some family members, to introduce them to the new me.
Throughout the years I would put it on in the mirror to look at myself and see what I look like and how it feels. I loved how it looked. It made me look so pretty and feminine. Make-up and tight jeans, revealing low-cut shirts and short shorts to show off your legs – these are the ways I’ve seen women show off their femininity, displaying the parts of their bodies that make a woman a woman. Yet with all of my physical attributes hidden, all of my beautiful curves and skin and shape covered up and with my face clean of all make-up, for some reason, I feel more feminine than ever before.
When I wear hijab, I feel like I am finally being who I really am. Instead of being the “closet” muslim, whom no one can recognize as being muslim, I am really out there when others see me with my head scarf on.
But it is one thing for me to be “outed” in a community full of strangers; it is another to show my close friends and family the person I now am. This for me has been the greatest challenge of all. I didn’t tell my family about my reversion for a long time; they didn’t know I was Muslim. It felt horrible – this important part of me was hidden whenever I was around them, and I never felt like I was being truthful with them. I also felt ashamed that I had not told them – how weak was my faith if I couldn’t even tell my own family that I believed in Islam? At the end, I figured that no matter what the consequences were, I had to tell them in order to rid myself of these awful feelings which held me back from further pursuing my new religion. I feel this is the way it is now, too – I have to show them the new Hijabi Me.
A friend of mine who is leaving for law school in a few days mentioned to me the sentiment that before she wore hijab, she used to be able to chose who she wanted to be: she could be the quiet girl, she could be the loud girl, she could be the smart girl, the fun girl, the studious girl – whatever she felt like being on that particular day at that particular moment. When you wear hijab, you automatically become the “muslim girl.” Your hijab BECOMES your identity.
While my friend was partially lamenting this aspect, we both know that it is a blessing for us. When you see a woman in hijab, there is no doubt that she is a Muslim. This is part of the magic of the hijab, because whenever I put it on, it is a constant REMINDER to me that I am Muslim. It forces me to be aware of this part of my identity – that all of my actions and all of my deeds are the actions of a Muslim. It is an excellent way for me to remember that Allah sees all of my thoughts, actions, and words, and that everything I do and say is recorded.
However, wearing hijab can be difficult. Due in part to the misinformation in the media about Islam, along with being unfamiliar with the true teachings of Islam, many people have grown to be afraid of or angered by what they believe to be Islam. The average person doesn’t see the daily aspects of the lives of real Muslims, Muslims who live normal, routine lives like the rest of the world. Muslims are instead seen as dangerous, as terrorists, as angry or violent. The image of the Muslim woman wearing hijab has become a symbol of oppression, not choice. Islam is not seen as a flexible, progressive religion of peace as it was intended, but instead as a radical, extreme religion full of strict laws and the oppression of women, an evil religion centered on backwards views and a rejection of modernization.
So while wearing hijab reminds me that my words and actions will be judged by Allah, I am also aware that I am being judged by those around me, because suddenly everything I do seems to become representative of ALL Muslims. I remember talking to a hijabi one time at the laundromat, and she told me of the times people have yelled out things at her, both women and men, shouting rude comments or swearing at her. Once one woman even went so far as to try to physically remove her hijab from her head. She told me she had to bear the insults with patience, because she knew if she reacted the way she wished she could (by retaliating, yelling back or flipping “the bird”) then that person would simply have more fuel for their prejudices.
I imagined things like this would happen to me when I wore my hijab. I remember wearing it to the masjid the first time. I was driving in the car, and each time a someone passed me, I felt like every driver and every passenger was staring at me through their windows. I tried to just ignore these imagined stares and focused on driving. When I came to a stoplight and allowed myself to peek around at the other drivers, out of the corner of my eyes I could see that no one cared. No one cares. Everyone is way too busy with their own lives to be concerned about some little muhajaba driving around in her four-door sedan. Nobody cared.
Wearing hijab is such an important part of being Muslim. There are not many Muslims near the area where I live. One time when I went into Meijer, I saw a woman in the store wearing the hijab. I was so excited to see her, and I felt like running up to her to meet her. But I wasn’t wearing hijab. I was wearing a short sleeve shirt with baggy pajama pants. I felt ashamed of myself at that moment. Here she was, confident enough to walk around in public in an area full of non-muslims who are not used to seeing women in hijab, and I stand there, a “closet” muslim, too embarassed to wear hijab to the store, but not embarassed wearing my pajamas around town?
Seeing this woman made me feel inspired. This is another reason why I feel it is important for me to start wearing hijab consistently. Perhaps there is another Muslim in my area who is too nervous to wear their hijab in an area without any other Muslims (or so she thinks.) Maybe this Muslim, after seeing me in hijab, will finally be inspired to put her own on, too. Wearing hijab also gives people the opportunity to ask questions. I’ve heard many stories of hijabis being approached by others with questions about Islam. This is a great way to spread the truth about our faith.
As for me, I look forward to the time when I will wear hijab in every circumstance, through every situation, no matter where I am or who is around me. I am having a child soon (insha’allah) and I want my child to know that I am proud of being Muslim and not afraid of anyone or anything but Allah. I need to get past the worries of this world and look beyond to what is most important, both for myself and for my child.