Why do some Muslim women get nervous about wearing their hijab in the workplace?
Fear that you will be judged and thought less of.
Fear that you are the unknowable other; that there’s nothing in common, and that there never will be.
Having worn the hijab for over 20 years, it is as much a part of me as my skin, and I am conscious that I am judged on both. We live in a society that is continuously visually stimulated, visually educated, and visually influenced. This all leads to visual impairment that uses ignorance to instil fear.
I started working in an era where the words “terrorism” and “Islam” were synonymous; when people were too polite to say anything with words, but spoke volumes with their eyes. I built my resilience through stubbornness to prove them wrong. And when I committed myself to my work, spoke to my colleagues with an open mind, and engaged in heartfelt conversations, we realized we were not so different after all. And once I gained experience in my field, I stopped worrying about looking different because my experience and confidence did the talking.
Today, I don’t worry about fitting in or impressing anyone except myself. I am not in competition with anyone but my own personal best. But we can all find it scary to enter the workforce as a minority and try to fit in. When I first put on the hijab, I had no idea what it meant; it was just part of my school uniform. As a teenager, it made boys shy away from me, or call me names. As a young woman, it was the source of both consternation and solace when Islam shifted into mainstream scrutiny. I knew people were looking, but I also knew my fellow Muslims were sending smiles my way. Now I know how temporal life is, and that my aim is to gain closeness to God. And the best way for me to do that is to wear this shield that reminds me of who I am, what I represent, and how I can and should behave. I wear hijab because it imbues me with kindness, empathy, and intelligence.
Your hijab doesn’t decrease your IQ. There will always be that well-meaning advice from career counselors or advisors that your LinkedIn picture with a hijab might (potentially) hinder your chances in progression.
Your hijab doesn’t decrease your IQ. Use your acumen to show colleagues how intelligent and able you are. There will always be that well-meaning advice from career counselors or advisors that your LinkedIn picture with a hijab might (potentially) hinder your chances in progression. They don’t matter if you know your self- worth.
People are bombarded with negative perceptions of Muslims in media. But when you show them your intelligence, humor, fashion sense, culture, kindness and confidence, you show them that their behavior, reluctance to engage, and avoidance of you is unnecessary, and they will change the way they behave. If you confront and attack their attitude, it will only result in them holding on more tightly to their bigoted beliefs. You cannot change a person’s beliefs. But you can change how they behave by modeling what good behaviour looks like.
Most importantly, I stopped thinking “What will people say?” Some look at the hijab and assume you are more religious than others, some look at it and assume you are oppressed, some look at it and assume you represent all Muslims. It does not matter what people think, say or do. What matters is your connection with God represented in your hijab. That is a scared bond between you and your Creator that you carry with you everywhere.
So what is the problem with wearing hijab in the workplace? It’s people’s attitudes and behaviours that grow out of fear – including your own – and that’s the easiest one to address. Much of how we are perceived in the workplace depends on how we see ourselves, as a Muslim, as a woman, as a professional, and as a passionate individual eager to learn and contribute. So, if you want to wear the hijab full time or part time, fully covered or half, you do you. Don’t worry about what the other people will think, or what your boss will say. It can be hard, but you are not alone. You will be walking in the path of many before you, and you will light the way for many after you. Use that knowledge as your secret weapon, and it will get you through anything. Even what the people will say.