Transforming into Hijabi Me

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.

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8 responses to “Transforming into Hijabi Me

  1. Asalaamu alaikum. I found you via your comments at Umm Malaak’s blog and wanted to pop over to say welcome to blogging. This is a very moving post, mashaAllah. I’ll be keeping up with you, inshaAllah. :)

  2. Asalaamu alaikum,
    Wow. I can relate! I’ve been muslim 7 years and I still get happy seeing other hijabis. I know you are struggling. Be Brave! It really is not as hard as it seems, it’s just the taking of a deep breath and doing it (whom am I to talk, I am having my own jitters w/niqab!). Once it’s on, it’s easy. Nobody bats an eye these days, unless I visit some small town.
    I have also thought of taking it off, but what gets me most, is the loss of identity, I can’t bear it.
    It was interesting to read your perspective.
    Aischa

  3. Thank you to both of you for your support (and encouragement to blog). It is so nice to hear from others and know they are interested in your writing.

    As for hijab – I worry too much about what other people think, I need to be worried about what Allah thinks. That’s an issue for me alot when it comes to Islam, it’s something I struggle with. When I’m at home, if I pray or anything that brings me closer to Allah, I feel strong enough to do anything, but then when it comes to other people seeing me or knowing me, it’s more difficult.

    But insha’allah soon I will be brave enough to just wear it…I feel I am on the right track regardless. Thanks for your comments.

  4. Salaam sis,

    I just stumbled on your blog accidentally and wanted to let you know that you are not alone inshallah! There are thousands of Muslimahs going through the same things as you. The first step is always the hardest, but once you are past that first hurdle, things get a lot easier. With Ramadan coming up, it would be a great time to start with your imaan high!

    And if you ever need any ideas or inspiration for hijabi-friendly clothing, do come and visit my blog :)

    All the best,

    Jana

  5. Jana –

    That’s what I have heard: that the first step is difficult but once you make that leap it becomes much easier. I feel like this is one of the ways Allah makes things easier for us when we strive to do good. It’s like that saying about how if you take one step towards Allah, then He will take ten steps towards you.

    Your blog is great – all the hijab tips and how to wear it and everything! Great site!

  6. Assalam-alaikam, thanks for the mention, very sweet.
    I always say that wearing hijab is not a reflection on the state of your heart, but it is nice to join the hijabi club and make yourself known to your sisters. I started one year on the first day of Ramadan, I think Allah (SWT) makes it easy then.

    Jana’s right, there are thousands of women in the same boat as you. My littlest sis just started wearing it and loves not having to do her hair every day and how much respect she gets from guys. My other two sisters still don’t feel ready.

    Sister Aischa August mentions loss of identity and this was important to me too, I think its easier if you keep your style and if you project a strong sense of self that you can still put across despite people’s stereotypes of hijab – after all you get fashionista hijabi’s, studious-looking hijabi’s, indy-hijabi’s and even gangsta-hijabi’s – which are you?

  7. As a non-Muslim who happens to have a very dear friend practicing Islam (that would be YOU!)it is incredibly interesting to read this post and hear the reactions of others in hijabi.

    I have been guilty of seeing women in hijabi and instantly relating it with oppression – but I can see here that it’s not always viewed that way. I’m glad to see this different viewpoint, but please tell me – does it get warm when you are covered? That’s the “oppression” that I’ve always wondered about. I hope that’s not disrespectful to ask.

  8. Yes – there is no doubt that the hijab can feel hot! Especially in warm weather. However, you do get used to it as you wear it, and start to not notice the heat so much. I once went to the masjid in the dead heat of summer. One woman there who was fully covered commented to our group that a non-muslim woman had approached her and said, “My, aren’t you hot under all of that clothing?” And she had laughed because the woman was wearing short shorts and short sleeves, yet she herself was complaining of how hot it was! This muhajaba stated that she felt like the ones who wear less clothing ironically end up feeling more hot than the one in hijab, simply because it is what you become accustomed to.

    I don’t see or feel the hijab is oppressive because 1. it is a free choice you make as a muslim (whether to cover or not to cover) and 2. because it makes you feel good to be covered – you feel more respectful and dignified rather than exposed. It’s strange; you almost have to wear it and experience it yourself to know what it is like.

    Now, in regards to oppression: if you are being FORCED to wear hijab, then I would feel that that is a sort of oppression, and no one is supposed to be FORCED into any act of Islam. So for women who MUST wear it (instead of choosing to wear it) – then I can see that would feel very oppressive. But that is an entirely different set of issues – in Islam it is not allowed to force religion to anyone else. Even our own daughters – we are not allowed to force them to wear hijab. I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen – but it is not right.

    There are different materials and different ways of wearing it that can help with the heat factor. And no doubt that in the middle of the summer, it can be hot sometimes. Sometimes some Muslims make the reference that while we may suffer in the heat, the heat on earth is nothing compared to Hell. I don’t really like this reference because it makes it seem as though you will go to Hell if you don’t wear it. I don’t think that’s exactly what it is meant, though. I think it just means that we Muslims may suffer in certain ways here on Earth, but that in the afterlife is when we shall see our reward if Allah wills it.

    There is an interesting blog – http://ummmalaak.wordpress.com/ in which the author is adjusting to life in niqab (the type of hijab where you cover your whole face except the eyes). It just chronicles a little of her experiences with wearing it and the personal struggles that some of us go through when adjusting to life with the veil.

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