This is a sort of blog entry/journal note that I wrote after making a major decision in my life about the Muslim headscarf. The note was very well received and a friend of mine suggested I submit it. It may need a lot of work so I am certainly open to edits.Thanks!
As I have just completed my undergrad and begin to think more carefully about my future, I have been doing a lot of reflection on my life, and in particular my faith. Having thought about this for some time now, even over the past few years, I have decided to stop wearing the hijab (headscarf).
I have been talking to many people about my decision, and finding ways to talk about it has not been easy. But one of the things I realized, is that it’s important for me to go back to the beginning, because my story about wearing/not wearing a hijab is not one that spans just a few years, but rather is something that has been with me my entire life.
I attended a private Muslim school from kindergarten through the 6th grade, where a headscarf was a mandatory part of the school uniform. Outside of the school setting, I did not wear a scarf. This academic environment was contrasted by my family environment, where neither my mother, nor many of my relatives, wore a headscarf. Growing up in the academic setting, being taught that hijab was a mandatory part of the faith, I told myself that I would start one day, and arbitrarily picked high school.
My first week of high school was also my first week wearing a hijab in a more permanent manner. It was also the week of 9.11.01. Having been born and raised in a diverse city and attending Lane Tech, the largest high school in the city and among the most diverse, I was fortunate to have generally positive experiences in our post-9.11 world. During these years of high school, I struggled a lot with my faith, and was often challenged the most by my friends of other faith backgrounds. Christa challenged me to understand my faith better, for example questioning my wearing a scarf with a short-sleeved shirt (an effort to fit in then, which I now look back at with horror [my horror is by no means to pass judgment on others, but rather is a reflection of the change of my views over time]). In other ways, I learned more about my faith and myself as I made new friends through high school and college, like Nazia, Hazel, Khatija, and Amina, friends that have become my family. I firmly believe that these friends have drawn me even closer to Islam, in addition to the countless friends of other faith backgrounds that have been equally wonderful. Other times, I challenged myself, struggling to find what it meant for me to wear a hijab. For example, I did not wear a hijab in settings where I wore traditional desi clothes, not only due to my vanity but also because I believe in the flexibility of the scarf, which I liken to someone wearing an abaya (long Islamic dress) in only some settings.
In any case, my reasons for wearing a hijab were diverse and not necessarily rooted in a firm belief that it was a mandatory part of Islam. Some wear it because they believe it was mandated by God, while others do so for reasons regarding modesty or culture. I wore it simply because I felt that it made me more God-conscious and as a means of empowerment in a world that increasingly subjugates women. I liked being the hijabi that broke stereotypes, that was active in the community – with Muslims and individuals of other faith backgrounds, and I really believe that over the years it has helped me grow significantly, bringing me closer to my faith. My faith, just like everyone’s, Sana recently stressed to me during our conversation about the hijab, is something that is constantly changing, with ups and downs like a roller coaster. Over the past eight years of my wearing a headscarf, I feel that it has truly brought me up.
But at the same time, it is not without its downs. I’ve been feeling a lot lately as if I’ve gotten too comfortable wearing a hijab, to the point where I’ve let myself go on other aspects of faith that are much more important. Moreover, I’m not happy with the stereotypes associated with being a hijabi, and while I enjoyed being the one to break them, I think the issue is much more prevalent within the Muslim community than outside of it. Relationships, for example, are dictated between people who wear a headscarf and those who do not, as if a class of “better Muslim sisters” is created simply by wearing the hijab, where individuals try merely to fit in with, what they assume, falsely, is a “more religious” crowd. I had become so comfortable in this place that for the longest time I was afraid of taking it off because I feared that people would judge me. Hijab also has become more of a social or political statement lately, or even worse, a fashion statement. In our commercial society, we have even commodified the hijab – and I say this to myself first.
Additionally, I have come to the realization that while I do believe that in some respects wearing a headscarf makes me more God-conscious or I enjoy being a physically-represented Muslim, I wonder, as Tanya encouraged me to reflect, why I have to rely on a piece of cloth to do so. I should represent Islam not by how I dress, but by how I act and speak. I should be God-conscious not simply by being more careful or aware based on how I dress, but in every part of my life anyway.
So for these reasons and more, I am no longer wearing a hijab. There are many things I’m going to miss. As I told Michelle for example, I am going to miss being the hijabi that broke all your stereotypes. I am going to miss being physically represented as a Muslim, where fellow Muslims could say Salaam to me on the street. I am going to miss the respect that I received, while I question at the same time, why this respect does not last through my non-hijab days now. However, this is a sign of the fact that I have been wearing a headscarf for all the wrong reasons, and that stands against my faith, not for it.
But even my story is just one - perhaps unique, perhaps familiar - out of the many. And that is exactly as it should be treated: as a single story, of my life, my experiences, my interpretations, and my opinions, that may or may not share commonalities with the stories of others, but is still wholly mine. The Muslim mantra, if you will, after 9.11, was that “Islam is not a monolith but this phrase is something we had used in an isolated manner only for the non-Muslim community, not taking our own advice and asking instead for conformity within the faith. Our community lacks serious, open and respectful discourse, not just about the intrafaith issue of hijab, but about so many others things. Even more than all of this though, is the realization that my story is still not complete. In talking to Nate about this the other day for example, I was reminded of how great it was that this is something that I can revisit. Wearing a hijab or not wearing a hijab, any part of my faith, is something that needs to be revisited, so that it can be better understood and appreciated over time. None of us have completed our stories yet; only God knows.
I did not wear my hijab out the other day, and it was terrifying. But it was also an experience that was relieving because I know it is the right thing to do at this point in my life. So, a big thank you to all my family and friends that have heard me talk about this for countless hours and that provided much needed advice and support. Eight years ago, when I started high school it felt like the easiest thing in the world to put on that scarf over my head; the other day, it felt like I was taking off a part of myself. But it felt right.
Maybe, God willing, I will wear it again someday. But when I do, I hope it’s because I am ready to do so, when I am at a place in my life and faith in which I can learn from it and grow from it.
Until then, I have a million scarves that are now for sale!
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