I grew up seeing the women in my family adorn their heads with colorful headscarves. At home, dupattas would loosely hang from their heads. When the doorbell rang, they’d quickly fix it, making sure not a strand of hair would show. On occasions, my mother would choose a scarf with glitter and shimmer to match outfits. My grandma mostly covered her hair with a white dupatta that also wrapped around her chest. My cousins wore the hijab as well; theirs would be perfectly pinned in place. They wore it to school and to the supermarket, to work and to weddings. It was a part of them; a part of their identity. I looked up to them, and so a few times during kindergarten and elementary school, I also wore it. At that time, covering your head felt like nothing.
When I hit puberty, my father told me that I must now wear the hijab. I was in middle school. I didn’t want to wear it. I didn’t really like it. I was told that because I am a girl, I must start covering up. This never settled well with me. So, in the mornings I’d put on my hijab before going to school. My dad would see this and be happy. The moment I’d get in the car, I’d take off my hijab, and stuff it in my backpack. My mother would see this from the rear window, and tell me that this was not right. After repeatedly hearing her admonishing me, the guilt kicked in, and I began to wear the hijab everywhere.
I wore the hijab for many years. It wasn’t until I began college that I felt the need to take it off. I began to realize that so much of my identity was dependent on what was enforced on me. I did things because I was told to, and seldom because I believed in them. Confusion kicked in, and I was constantly trying to figure out what I really wanted for myself. It’s a difficult thing to understand one’s self when so much of who you believe you are is influenced by the perceptions of others. For all my life, I was told how to dress, what opinions to hold, which career I should have — basically how I should live my life. Although, this is not necessarily a bad thing, I wish I was also told why. I wish I had the courage to question why I was told to do certain things.
When I started attending college, I felt unworthy of the hijab. I believed it served me no purpose, and I no longer wanted to wear it. I knew this would cause my parents distress, so I’d still wear it while I was around them. In my junior year of college I moved to New Zealand. It was here that I felt free. No more pressure. I could finally be who I wanted to be. And so the first thing I did was completely remove my hijab.
I want to shed light on some very important lessons I’ve learned over the years pertaining to the hijab. When I was young, and the hijab was enforced upon me, I was told that God would be very angry if I did not wear it. I was also told that women who refuse to cover their head would go to hell. I wonder now, why is that whenever we must get across a point regarding religion, do we emphasize the fear of God before recognizing the understanding of God? Much older and wiser, I have come to the realization that adopting the hijab is a choice that a woman must make for herself. The misconception of enforcing something upon someone as an act of wellbeing is something that Muslims must put an end to.
When I wore the hijab throughout middle school and high school, I firmly believed that Muslim women wore the hijab because we didn’t want men to see our beauty; that we were to guard our chastity and beauty from the lurking eyes of men. I was foolish to think that. A man’s wandering eyes will seep through whatever covering you have on if those are his intentions. I know too well that women are raped and assaulted in parts of the world where the law mandates a woman to cover herself head to toe. Clothing has nothing to do with rape or assault, but has everything to do with a man’s disgusting mentality.
Wearing a hijab is a commitment to God, and by fulfilling that commitment, Muslim women automatically free themselves from the misconstructed ideas of femininity and sexuality as put forth by society.
I still get frustrated when women are told to wear the hijab because of men. It triggers me that so many Muslim women, in this day and age, are still being convinced by their families that the hijab is a response to men’s inherent nature of being sexual. In reality, the hijab is meant to do the opposite. Wearing a hijab is a commitment to God, and by fulfilling that commitment, Muslim women automatically free themselves from the misconstructed ideas of femininity and sexuality as put forth by society.
Now that I have started to wear the hijab again, I do so with completely different reasons. Firstly, it’s a decision I have made for myself. I realize that any action takes conviction, and I hope that I always feel convicted to follow my faith in a manner that is befitting. I firmly believe that any act of submission that I am able to do as a Muslim, I must do. The objective is always to try, and to keep trying to be unapologetically Muslim. I am also tired of following the beauty standards put forth by society. I am at a point in my life where I no longer feel connected to the image of femininity and/or beauty represented by the media, but rather feel liberated to connect myself to a higher purpose. I want my hijab to represent something greater; something more meaningful, which is my relationship with my Creator.
In 2016, I bookmarked a Facebook status by Yasmin Mogahed in reference to the hijab. I wasn’t wearing my hijab at that time, but I was praying for the strength and calling to kick in so that I could start wearing it again. I’d like to share the last part of her status because it really encouraged me to think of the hijab in a different light, and I am sure it’ll be reflective for women wanting to understand the hijab:
“Hijab isn’t for perfect people. There are no perfect people. If there’s anything that boils my blood, it’s when people say things like, ‘She might as well take off her hijab because she did…’ Or ‘She wears *hijab* and she did…’ As if the assumption is that once you wear hijab you are announcing to the world that you have become angelic. Hijab is not for angels. Hijab is for flawed, beautiful, humans who are saying every day that they are trying. And there is so much beauty in that struggle. Allah sees it. Even if you’re struggling with other things, it could be this act of obedience that Allah accepts! And due to it, may even forgive your other shortcomings! So don’t lose hope and belittle any act of obedience — even if you see yourself as so flawed.
Hijab isn’t a destination we get to. Hijab is part of the path. Just like everything else we struggle to do to obey and please God. Hijab is part of the fuel that is helping us reach our destination: God.”
There are many paths to the same destination; keep that in mind the next time you’re tempted to judge someone and how they wear — or don’t wear — the hijab.