I think I’ve heard it all. People who think that it’s a must and that every female should adhere to it without fail (in a stiff upper lip sort of way).
People who believe that it’s not about what we look on the outside as it is actually undeniably, the inside that counts (Hmm, perhaps). And others still – like me, I must admit, who took a while to articulate an opinion.
A journey towards the Hijaab, here is my story.
I was never given a Hijaab ‘talk’ where I was sat down and explained the reasons for it, I found out these on my own (aside from what I was taught in RE of course). It wasn’t forced upon me by my father or mother or anyone else, I chose to embrace it. There were a handful of females, some family and others friends that wore the Hijaab but more that didn’t.
It was a step that had an unspoken ‘No turning back’ sign attached and it was most probably this reason that I didn’t wear the Hijaab at the ‘appointed time’.
I officially put my Hijaab on 5 years ago when I was in Lower Sixth (that’s first year of college to some of you). I guess it was a decision that didn’t formulate overnight and was one that in hindsight I see as being unknowingly built when I chose to replace T-shirts with full sleeved tops for PE in year 9.
That weekend, when I was struck by this life changing epiphany, it was the weekend of the Stop the War Coalition protest against the war in Iraq. My family and I headed to Central London to attend it (yes banners and all!).
Amusingly, I remember that my shoulder length hair was freshly washed and straightened that morning. I definitely took pride in my hair. It’s a sort of beautiful, wonderfully wonderful chestnut brown that is naturally wavy (and it’s extremely easy to style – if I say so myself!). I honestly used to get it cut every three to four weeks (without fail) so the split-ends were kept minimal.
Of course, I was awed by the hair products when I went shopping too. In short, I loved everything about my hair.
So there I was, standing with my super straight hair prepped with heat protection, smoothing serum and finished with a squirt of ‘Freshen and Shine’ spray - (to enhance the glossy look and minimise the frizz!) ready to join the masses of people, Muslims and non-Muslims unified by their disproval of the Iraq invasion.
There was an awesome buzz of adrenaline in the atmosphere. A sort of contentment filled the air, hand in hand with a sense of purpose and love, yet for me, something was amiss.
It was then, that I realised that not one person there, apart from my family and friends of course, could identify me as a Muslim. My religious identity was unknown to the world and at that moment in time I actually felt that my presence within the Ummah was going by pretty much unseen.
In all honesty, the time between then and when I got back home is a blur, however the intensity of that feeling made me realise that maybe, just maybe, it was time to welcome the Hijaab. It wasn’t that I delved into stacks of passages from the Qur’an or Hadith which told me of the outlines of modesty or how the Prophet’s wives dressed or the rewards of being modest in the hereafter; No, this all came later (much later actually).
For me it began with the issue of identity and how I, as a person was perceived by others around me. I wanted to walk down the street knowing that people knew that I was a Muslim.
Monday morning. Back to school. New day, new me (well sort of). To be honest I didn’t think about what people at school were going to say, I don’t remember being worried about it, it felt right, as if something had clicked into place and that’s all that there was to it. I recall I simply took ages pinning my Hijaab into place (by which time I was late and stubbornly decided I was not going to school that day – yes I know, I know, it sounds ridiculous)
So TAKE TWO. After that little glitch, the next day was technically my first day of wearing the Hijaab – 21st February 2006 (which I now have titled my ‘Hijaab - Birthday’). This time I made sure I wasn’t late (I woke up a lot earlier) and after registration (I'm not too sure how it was received in registration to be honest, so let’s skip that) I headed nervously to my first lesson of the day, ICT.
At the end of the long corridor amongst a sea of other pupils, I saw a couple of my friends stood waiting for me outside the classroom. I walked up and placed myself beside them. After a few seconds, one looked past me, squinted into the distance and asked the other friend where I was. Of course I was standing right next to both my friends and for a split second exasperatedly wondered whether my Hijaab had become some sort of invisibility cloak (Harry Potter anyone?).
It hadn’t, of course, so I got their attention by oh so sweetly, thumping them on their arm. Like these friends, my other friends were shocked that I had worn it, sure, but more pleased I found, which was definitely encouraging (especially for someone like me, who feels like an L plated Muslim most of the time).
The only downside I remember at the time was that it felt like outside school, everyone was staring at me with their beady eyes, watching me and judging me (I actually even felt out of place walking into Topshop a few times!) It was a weird awareness, as though I was given entry into ‘the circle of Hijaabis’ yet outcasted from where I had been all of these years.
It took me a while actually to stop feeling like that, and realise that it was me who had constructed this perception in my mind. If only I could talk to my past self and tell me to ‘Get over myself!’ Everyone had their own concerns, what they thought of me wasn’t always important. What was important was to find ways to better myself as a person, inside and out, physically and spiritually.
Honestly, honestly, honestly, you can have the best of both worlds (that sounds so much like a teenage pop song). The way I see it, a moderate balance between what you were and what you hope to become, is how you should live.
For me, it doesn’t always matter that there are a group of ‘sisters’ (or brothers) looking down at you because you do something they disapprove of (yes it may be backed up by Hadith but if you want me to change, constructively help me, talk to me as a person – please don’t stick up your nose at me and judge me) or a group of people teasing you because you restrict yourself from doing things they find normal (if you’re not comfortable with it, then it’s not for you anyway).
At the end of the day, when all’s said and done and all things are considered (heh), the Hijaab is a journey. You don’t have to be perfect as soon as you put it on, you can progress towards perfection in your own time, at your own pace. It’s the beginning of something wonderful, a reminder of who you are and what your end goal is. It’s a conversation, a silence filler, an icebreaker, an opportunity to meet new people, a Dawah spreader, a statement. You are a Muslim, and the Hijaab? Well, just think of it as a cool way to advertise it.