It was a hot day in November of 2013, and I was walking down the streets of Bethlehem. Actually, it was a very hot day for a Swede like me, with the sun beating down on my head at a whopping 77 degrees.
I was visiting the Holy Land for nine days to learn more about the conflict with a Christian youth group. During some free time I decided to go shopping with two of the other group members. I had a mission that no one knew about: I was about to buy my very first hijab. I hadn’t converted yet. In fact, I hadn’t even fully realized I was a Muslim at the time – but for some reason my mind was fixed on the idea that I was going to buy one on my trip to Palestine.
As we walked through the streets of Bethlehem, there stood a store front calling to me. It sold only scarves, and it was exactly what I was looking for at the time.
“I’m buying one!” I told the girls, and ran into the store. The others followed me.
There we were, three very stereotypical White, blonde, and bright-eyed Swedes, surprising the store owner by my eagerness to purchase a scarf. I looked for a little while before deciding on a lovely red two-piece hijab.
After deciding on the special piece of clothing, I walked up to the owner at the cash register. He looked at me with surprise and asked me to wait for a minute as he went down the street for something. He came back with other men, who all stood around me to watch my first hijab purchase. I guess he thought no one would believe him if he told them the story without evidence.
The others in the Christian youth group thought I was weird for buying it, so I didn’t try it on until I got back home. I loved wearing it privately, but hesitated on wearing it in public. I wasn’t ready, fearing it would scare people. My coming into Islam hadn’t quite happened yet. And so, it was that my very first hijab, the beautiful red two-piece, was left lying in my closet for more than a year.
Since the age of 12 I had this feeling that I didn’t identify with my own religion. I believed in God, but I had questions regarding other aspects. I valued Jesus highly, but I saw him more as a prophet rather than what was told to me, and. I never felt comfortable inside with everything I had been taught about his role.
It was, in fact, during my trip to Palestine, that I discovered my attraction to mosques, wanting to enter each one we passed. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to do so at the time.
After my trip, I started reading more about Islam. It wasn’t my first exposure, though. I learned a bit about it during a religion class in junior high school.
In April of 2015, after befriending a Muslim who gave me the support I so needed, I finally found the courage to let the world know I was a Muslim. The first time I went into a mosque, I wore my beautiful red hijab that I bought that warm day in Bethlehem which had been sitting in my shelf for so long.
Since that wonderful day in April last year, a lot has happened. My red hijab has been with me on my first visit to a mosque; it was with me the first time I dared to wear hijab to school; and, it was with me for my first Eid prayer. My hijab has heard comments on how lovely I look in red, and it has heard how my “Swedishness” has been questioned because I’m wearing it. Today my hijab closet is much bigger than just the one red two-piece hijab from Bethlehem. However, whenever I wear my red hijab I remember everything it has gone through with me and I smile to myself hoping it will experience a lot more in the future.
Written by Robin Gustafsson