In Islam the hijab presents itself as a symbol of modesty and faith. Most widely known as the headscarf, the hijab can be represented in a multitude of ways. In this case, I refer to the hijab as how many understand it to mean – the headscarf.
I was 6 years old when I first wore the hijab, and for me it became almost like a uniform of sorts. I would put it on every morning before school without even thinking about what it meant.
I was that girl who everyone knew wore the hijab. It changed how people viewed me even at a young age. I became her: The girl who incorporated it within my personal identity. Even at the tender age of six, my classmates had never seen me go a day without my hair wrapped with cloth.
While people my own age got over my difference in dress pretty quickly (as when you’re young things can only hold your attention for so long before a new thing or person catches your eager eyes), I always found the reactions of those much older than me to be very strange. It was almost as though they held me to a certain standard or they wanted their children to be like me simply because I wore the hijab. The most memorable encounters would be the ones where adult Mulsims would come up to me and my sisters praising us, repeating, “MashAllah” because we were young and observant in our faith’s dress code.
I felt like an imposter. I was being praised simply for putting on the piece of material I had been told I had to wear for as long as I could remember. It didn’t seem like an amazing feat that should be celebrated, as it was simply part of my morning routine. I didn’t understand the significance and true beauty of the hijab until I saw people I’ve known all my life make the choice to put it on, themselves.
This happened when I was 16. Up until this point I had worn the hijab for 10 straight years, but never felt like I was doing so for the right reasons. We were all older and on the journey to finding ourselves in a world that so often tells us who we should be. Growing up in a fairly small town I got to see firsthand the people I had grown up with make their own choices and become their own people, and for some people this meant making the choice to start wearing the hijab. Choice. What a wonderful word. What a wonderful concept.
Those who chose the hijab later in life seemed so happy and free – two things I never reconciled with wearing the garment. I had known nothing about those liberating feelings since I had worn the hijab for the majority of my life.
It was then I decided… just as they chose to put on the hijab, I would choose to remove it.
Of course, you can’t win. You wear it and to some you’re seen as oppressed and silenced, you don’t wear it and to others you’re seen as rebellious and impure. This happened; from the very moment people saw me without the hijab, the speculation began. The rumors went from ‘she probably took it off for a guy’ to ‘I heard she’s not a Muslim anymore’, both untrue and in my opinion unhelpful at a time in which I needed support from my community and peers the most.
Just so we are clear, I didn’t remove it for anyone but myself – and I am still very much a Muslim. I removed the hijab because from the very moment I put it on I didn’t know the “why” of it all. It all felt wrong, wearing something that is so significant, but for all the wrong reasons. I had worn the hijab from such a young age without knowing the true meaning of it, and it just became something I put on every morning out of habit rather than out of love.
We all have our own ways of expressing our faiths and our relationships with Allah (swt), but it is important to note that our relationship with our creator is just that – ours. It’s personal and pure, not meant for others to know the ins and outs of. My conversations with Allah (swt) do not exist for your ears, just as my choices do not exist for your judgments.