I have been Muslim for over 10 years now and, soon after taking my shahada, I started wearing the hijab. Wearing the hijab did not come easy, however because of two reasons: I love my hair and, as a young black girl growing up in London, my hair was an integral part of my public identity. To cover it up was not easy.
After taking my shahada and starting to cover, everything changed around me quite quickly; I left secondary school and started going to college, and so my peers, lifestyle, and priorities changed.
In fact, my entire perception of the world changed.
Fast-forward to three years ago; I had not long given birth to my second child and gone through the stressors and strains of a long-term relationship. That was when I decided to remove my hijab. I simply had enough of not feeling like I could be myself. To feel so strongly that I couldn’t wear what I wanted, that I couldn’t go where I wanted– to feel this way for a prolonged period of time does no good for one’s mental health.
No matter how much we want to deny it, being a mother and a wife takes countless tolls on you as identity and purpose shift. You now have the responsibility of raising a human being, you have the responsibility of maintaining a home, a relationship and, lastly, yourself. And though our own needs should not be last on the list of responsibilities, especially during times of stress, the vast majority of times the last thing we women have on our mind is our own emotional health.
Going from living at home with my parents, to leaving the family nest, and diving head-first into marriage and motherhood was a huge shift for me, and I think it’s something a lot of young women do not realize.
We don’t take the time out for ourselves to find ourselves and to know what we want.
I wanted to take off my hijab so I could feel closer to normalcy, to my old sense of self and, after taking off my hijab, I did feel like that for a little while. However, letting go of my hijab put me in a position where it was easier to neglect my faith and ritual prayers, and this too put me in a not-so-comfortable position with my own spirit and relationship with God. I wasn’t feeling like myself because I was completely neglecting the religion I had fallen in love with.
Now let me be clear, I am not saying that if a woman makes the conscious decision to remove her hijab that her faith will be shaken, or that it is a wrong decision, or even that she will struggle. Not at all, every woman’s relationship with religion and religious obligations is vastly different, and I would be remiss to categorize my own personal experiences as those of a diverse and vast community of Muslim women.
But this is my story – I kept my hijab off for a year and then, I decided to put it back on. I did not like that I had become a bit too complacent with spiritual neglect, and I wanted to make a step in the right direction for me.
But the hijab has taken on a totally new meaning for me. As a revert, and after immersing myself in the Islamic Salafi school of thought, I placed a lot of emphasis on the hijab and the woman covering when it came to my relationship with God. I started internalizing the narrative that, if something was going wrong in my life, it’s because I wasn’t doing something right. And this is a narrative that, unfortunately, is often force-fed to a lot of women, and the responsibility for the most part is placed upon the woman in a lot of relationships, from divine to earthly.
If something is not right in the marriage, the question is always placed upon the wife’s performances and abilities? It’s always “you haven’t cooked enough,” or “you haven’t made yourself beautiful enough,” or “you need to spend more time with your kids,” or “more time cleaning”… in a shell, you need to lose yourself to these newly placed responsibilities. The unrealistic expectations that men place upon their wives is rarely explored and this is, a lot of the time, due to a patriarchal interpretation of Islamic texts.
I started internalizing the narrative that, if something was going wrong in my life, it’s because I wasn’t doing something right. And this is a narrative that, unfortunately, is often force-fed to a lot of women, and the responsibility for the most part is placed upon the woman in a lot of relationships, from divine to earthly.
So, why is so much emphasis placed upon the way a woman dresses? This is not to override the Qur’an and sunnah and the obligation for women to cover [which scholars already have a differing opinion on], but to ask why so much emphasis is placed upon this more so than being mentally stable, or being happy, or being dutiful to ones parents, or looking after the earth that Allah has given us, or being just and kind to ones own children.
I don’t ever see the Wallah Bros and Haram Police crying over the state of pollution and the rising number of people suffering from asthma, or the rising number of species falling on the endangered list. I don’t see any prominent Muslims speaking on the excessive amounts of meat many of the Muslim communities consume which, one, is abusive to our God-given bodies and, two, against the sunnah to eat so much meat and to buy into an industry that abuses animals endlessly.
All of this suffering in the world, and yet still such emphasis is placed by men upon how I choose to display my modesty, to the point where it makes me feel like less of a Muslim if I don’t wear my hijab. The mainstream Islamic narrative, the patriarchal interpretations and constant bickering about visible modesty (like the hijab), has inextricably linked our subconscious perception of faith to how well we can display it outwardly, on how well we can cover up.
I’m classed as a standard ‘modern Muslim’ because I don’t want to wear my abayah or because my modest dress isn’t in ‘traditional’, ‘acceptable’, ‘cultural’ style. But people’s opinions, rulings and the like are fickle and they do change. The only opinion that matters, in the way I dress and in my relationship with God, is ultimately my own.
Anyways, what do you think? What has been your relationship with the overly-stressed issue of modesty in Islam?