hijab tried headscarf struggle

I Tried to Wear a Headscarf Twice in My Life, but It’s a Struggle

There is nothing I believe in more than my default conviction in The Almighty and this perfected religion. However, I am disgraced by my inability to declare my faith under scrutiny of those prying, disdainful eyes.

I am too comfortable with the usual presumption that I am a hybrid American, typically Central and South, and thereby off the “Muslim” radar. I am not embarrassed by my religion, but I am afraid of confrontation and judgment. I should be brave. I should be stronger. I thought I was, I hope I can be.

I am too comfortable with the usual presumption that I am a hybrid American, typically Central and South, and thereby off the ‘Muslim’ radar.

Growing up with immigrant parents; a father who worked as a bilingual teacher for some time, and a mother who, at first, worked as a nurse, English was the primary language we were exposed to. My father knew all too well the difficulties ESL students faced early on and the segregation which took a toll on self-esteem when they were pulled out of their classrooms.

My mother was witness to countless medical mishaps, as patients were unable to describe the extent of their health issues due to restrictions in communicating.

I did not learn to speak the language of my parents until I was 12, as they hoped, begged, and prayed for us to grow up “without difficulty.” This serious need for assimilation and constructing an entire household around that need is something that is permanently embedded in my mental framework. I don’t want to be labeled Muslim before any other label. And yet, this statement seems hypocritical as I identity myself, within myself, first and foremost as Muslim.

Let me provide a little bit of background to what I’m trying to say specifically in terms of limitations to courage I’ve felt when “visibly” Muslim:

I attempted hijab twice in my life–once in high school for a couple weeks, and once in college for a couple months. Both experiences were disheartening. I lived on the North side of Chicago and Whitney Young High School is located on the West side, which meant I had to commute about an hour each way on public transportation (specifically, one bus and two trains) to get to school.

Anyone who’s taken public transit from one end of the city to the other end on a regular basis can tell you there are things you see and hear that can never be unseen or unheard. Bottomless absurdity all the time. I dreaded the train ride those couple weeks as a hijabi. Not right away, though. Initially, when approached and asked questions about my head covering and my religion, I felt like an important vessel of faith. I was eager to entertain the questions and increase public knowledge. I felt I was partaking in a form of da’wa.

Initially, when approached and asked questions about my head covering and my religion, I felt like an important vessel of faith. I was eager to entertain the questions and increase public knowledge. I felt I was partaking in a form of da’wa.

But then the theme of the questions shifted and seemed to centralize around sexual acts. Did I have to keep my hijab on during sex? Was public sex permissible with hijab on? Was anal sex permitted with hijab on? I begun to feel insulted and harassed on a daily basis.

Not to mention the feeling of rejection. If I sat down on the outer seat on the bus or train, the person on the inner seat got up and sat somewhere else. If I asked to be excused while trying to squeeze through rush hour crowd and exit onto my platform, I was blatantly ignored and no one budged.

I clearly remember the last day I wore hijab in high school–as I was putting it on with heavy hands, I felt dread. I didn’t blame the actual hijab or religious requirement. I just wasn’t strong enough to continue. So I didn’t.

I clearly remember the last day I wore hijab in high school – as I was putting it on with heavy hands, I felt dread. I didn’t blame the actual hijab or religious requirement. I just wasn’t strong enough to continue. So I didn’t.

I tried again in college a couple years later. I was older and supposedly a bit stronger. I also drove most of that year so I was able to avoid inappropriate commuter situations. But this time the rejection I felt came from my peers. Classmates I once ate and hung out with refused to return a passing wave or hello. I was the last one picked in group projects. If I was in a group, my ideas were somehow always just a little bit irrelevant, not needed, and dismissed. I found myself trying to prove myself. I was becoming that annoying person trying to up-sell my ideas. That wasn’t me–still isn’t me. So the constant need to establish my validity in any social situation was exhausting for me. Exhausting enough for me to take the hijab off once again.

I feel defeated, I feel weak. I feel my debility is my fault even though I cannot control the words uttered, the senseless thoughts, the ruthless repeated raping of this most peaceful, most complete, most fulfilling religion of Islam. I still feel that my determination in creed should be enough for me to literally and figuratively “keep the hijab on.”

Written by Nazhah Khawaja