Sunday, 29 January 2012

The Mirror Test: Knowing When You're Ready to Wear Hijab

I wrote this response in light of Stephanie Luff's decision to take off her headscarf until she feels ready. I decided to post my own experience to show that everyone has their own struggles and time frame for when they feel ready to do something, especially the very visual aspect of hijab. 

My interest started when I took a course during my degree entitled, 'Harem and Hijab: Women in Islam.' It opened my eyes to a lot of issues, not just feminism (Western and Middle Eastern) and the issue of hijab but it also broke up the binaries of East and West which had been in my head. I joined the class primarily because I was interested in the Turkish aspect of the course because my financĂ© is Turkish. Ironically, he became more interested in faith and became a practicing Muslim as a result of meeting me, a Christian. After a year of learning more about Islam and fasting for Ramadan last Summer, I decided that I wanted to become a Muslim myself. Or more accurately, that I felt I'd been a Muslim for a long time without realizing that was the case. 


That was all well and good. But then came the issue of wearing hijab (or headscarf). I’d been defending Islamic feminism and women's rights to wear hijab or the burqa in all of my course essays but when it actually came to me wearing it myself, I suddenly had a huge problem. For months I had a huge struggle with it because I thought why on earth do I need to cover my hair to be a Muslim? If you have then surely that's all that matters. Hijab's fine for everyone else, but I'm fine without it thanks. I began to study the importance of hijab theologically (as a daily sign of faith and modesty) and that made me feel even more stressed because I knew the issue wouldn't go away. 

To be honest, I felt like a bit of a fraud because I was doing all the ‘easy’ bits of Islam without the difficult parts. It's easy to hide fasting and praying - but covering your hair is so obvious (and Islam isn’t exactly portrayed in the media as the most huggable of religions). I was particularly worried about the reaction of my family (several of whom are Christian ministers). A part of me really wanted to wear it, to have the courage to wear something for a reason of faith but the other part of me was saying ‘you’ll look so stupid’. That went on for ages. I got stressed whenever I saw a veil on TV and became very defensive. I would put it on it secret and start crying because I didn't like my reflection and would have gollum-style arguments with myself. 

One day last summer I got fed up with myself for fretting about hijab when my lack of a job was a far more pressing issue. So I went for a walk to clear my head but decided to cover my hair with a bandanna. No one stared at me me in the street and nothing worthy of report happened. I felt silly that I'd got myself so psyched up for a battle of some kind. When I returned home, I found an offer of a job waiting in my inbox. While I was praying about it, I suddenly felt at peace about the situation and knew that I wanted to cover my hair and was ready to do that. I started to wear it at work (starting out with just a bandanna and then becoming progressively more obviously 'Muslim'). 

If it weren't for that feeling, I wouldn't have had the courage to wear hijab. It's impossible to wear something confidently, whether it's a headscarf, ball gown or a swimming costume at the beach, unless you feel comfortable in it. If you look in a mirror wearing a headscarf and think 'I look so ugly' I'd take it as a strong sign that you're not in the right frame of mind or heart to wear it yet. Putting it on when you feel that way could be the straw that breaks the metaphorical camel's back and puts you off your religion all together, especially if you feel you are being pressured into it. You have to be able to have the confidence to wear it without worrying what people think and then others will see and respond to that. There would be nothing worse than seeing a young woman wearing a scarf and looking as if she had no confidence or was unhappy. 
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Six months later I'm incredibly happy that I made that decision. When I'm wearing the hijab and look in the mirror now, I actually feel more myself. I've had to overcome paranoia about how my face looks because that's the only thing people see. It's strange but actually that has made me more confident than I was before. Perhaps it's because it takes a certain amount of psyching up everyday to face the world knowing that you will probably get some funny looks during the day.  Although in fairness to Italian passersby, I openly stare at hijabis myself. I just get so excited! Spot the Hijabi has even become an official game when I'm on the bus and I need a way of passing the time.  

I hope inshallah (God willing) that this blog is useful to anyone struggling with similar issues at this time. Also, in the case of Saluff, I hope that it can be a reminder to myself, others and especially "Gung-Ho Hijabis" that only Allah (God) knows what stage of their journey a person is on in their faith and it's our responsibility to meet people where they are and be supportive. The most important part of hijab (modesty and faith) is internal and isn't affected by what we wear. That's the vital part that we should be nurturing in others, not worrying about what's on their head.   


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Some afterthoughts...

There's a great video called You Took Off Your Hijab? Unsubscribed!! by Sister Dee from Imaan & Beauty where she sums up some of the negative responses towards sisters who took off their hijab in 2012 and encourages people to be less judgmental in their attitudes towards fellow muslim women. 


Update: For a more recent decision by a Muslim lady to remove her hijab, read her article explaining her decision here: Winnie Detwa: 'The Elephant in Room - Removing Hijab I particularly respect her encouraging others to continue on their own path and not to think of hijab as a fashion statement.


A special thanks to @TheMaryFairy for being on my case and encouraging me to write another blog entry. I've also received so much support and kind words from friends old and new for which I'll always be grateful.

18 comments:

  1. This is an intresting post :) i get u where ur saying u have to b okay wearing it.i think as long as you stay strong with allah swt and know ur doing it for him no matter what he will help u.i dont know the exact words but if you are going through a hard time in your religon allah has something good in.store for u in the future and allah tests the ones he LOVES xxx will follow!

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    1. Jazakallah Khair! Thanks so much for your post (I only just saw it!) and for the follow : D

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  2. Assalamualaikum wa rahmatulahi wa barakatu!

    Masha'Allah!!!! GREAT POST!!!!!!!!!!!!!! and even greater that Allah gave you the tawfiq to don' the hijab! It definitely is a struggle at first! I remember the first time as well, and to be honest I really hated the idea and it made me so impatient and frusturated !! I would constantly sweat and felt super self conscious! Alhamdulilah finally i accepted it and grew to love it so much, i completely feel naked without it! I even took the next step to wear niqab! still getting used to that though!!

    i really like your blog masha'Allah! thanks for following me! and i've nevr met a revert who was Italian before!!!!!!! SO AWESOME! how is that like living in Italy? are there many Muslims there? I actually havent explored ur blog yet but just read this post and assume you're italian..please forgive me if i'm terribly wrong! i will continue to browse ur blog now insha'Allah and find out for myself :p !!!!
    please continue to visit me!
    xo
    Khadijah @ www.onechinesemuslimah.blogspot.com

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    1. Thank you so much - I hope everything's going well with your project.

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  3. very inspiring,, wish you'll always be showered with Allah SWT blessings and barakah.. ^_^ *hugs*

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    1. Thank you - inshallah you have a lovely holiday period now and you're able to rest before the new year begins! x

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  4. Thank you for this post ! Im 19 yrs old, Ive been Muslim since I was born and I am madly in love with my religion, however, living in America, I never found the courage to put it on, especially while attending public school. Inshallah along with this post, and many others similiar to it, it has helped me raise my selfesteem and In sha Allah I am planning on wearing the Hijab at the end of this semester. Jazak Allah for such an awe-inspiring post ! (:

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    1. I'm so glad you find this post useful. If you have any worries let me know. I'm not an expert at all but a listening ear is always helpful. Talking about my concerns was really helpful to me when I was thinking about wearing it. inshallah any obstacles will scuttle away & you'll feel really confident in yourself. will keep you in my dua x

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  5. Great post mashaAllah :)) May Allah reward you for your courage and the leap you have take. As a person that was raised as a muslim, wearing the hijab was the norm in my family...we just knew it was what we had to do without being told. Being raised like that, sometimes we can't see or understand how difficult of a step it must be for others such as yourself, and this post has certainly shed some light into that! When it all comes down to it though, it's about faith, and that can't be measured with a piece of cloth covering a woman's hair....it all comes down to the heart! :))
    JazakAllah khair...may Allah strengthen you, and all muslims out there...including myself, to stay on His path..Amin

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    1. Thank you - it's lovely to hear your point of view as someone from a muslim family. yes you're right, underneath it all it is about faith. inshallah you have a relaxing holiday period and a blessed new year : D x x

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  6. Subhanallah, Sarita. Your post got me speechless :')
    I've been moslem since I was born. As I told you, I live in the biggest moslem population in the world, Indonesia. Moreover, I live in Aceh, where almost every rules is based on Islam.

    I've been wearing hijab (maybe) since 11. I came to an islamic boarding school for three years. Graduating from the boarding school, I came into public school, but all girls also wear hijabed uniform.
    At that time, I started to see my hijab only for the identity, because my government and culture asked me to.
    I went to coffee shop without hijab (my daddy didn't know it), uploaded photos without hijab to internet, and did some experiment on my hair, I was a rebellious teenager. Hehehe..
    Couple years ago, I questioned myself, "will I still wear hijab if I'm in a non-moslem country?"
    I thought about it a lot, read books, then browse this kind of your post. I felt so shy, why I hate wearing hijab when I don't find it hard. Girls outside there were struggling to put on, and I was trying to take it off. What a shame :')
    I don't say that I'm very good at applying Islamic rules for now, I'm still a rebel somehow. But I love my hijab, I don't find myself sneak out happily without hijab on me anymore. Even when I'm out of Aceh, I still wear my hijab :)

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  7. Thank you for posting about this topic in a non-threatening way. Unfortunately, most every time I hear about hijab (aside from this post) it's been either from a man (who obviously has never personally dealt with this issue, so it becomes simply a matter of fiqh) or from as you put it a "Gung-Ho Hijabi", which is a major turn-off. I'm not one of those types of people who will embrace things because of pressure.. Usually it makes me run the other way! So, while I'm still not even near ready to even think about it (can't even picture myself wearing such a thing), at least yours is a post which didn't have me internally wanting to scream and run madly in the opposite direction. :)

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    1. Salaam! I'm so glad that the article came across in the ways that you described. Thank you for encouraging me - I hope this post was encouraging for you so that you can feel comfortable with the decision you make and don't feel pressured either way.

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  8. Thank you for sharing your experience! I try to explain to friends how the decision to wear hijab is deeply personal, even framed within a religious context, but they all know I reverted (from a kind of die-hard atheism) and began wearing hijab on the same day, and I think they sometimes assume they should do so themselves regardless of their comfort level. If it's all right, I will share this with those I see struggling with the decision, in hopes they can come to see hijab less an obligation and more as a personal decision.

    Incidentally, I recently moved to rural New England, and I'm the only hijabi around for miles. Every now and then I travel to the city, and I'm so glad to know I'm not the only person who plays "Spot the Hijabi." :D

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  9. Hi, i chanced upon your post cos i'm facing issues with wearing the hijab. I went through a bad phase and i turned to Allah swt and found peace. I am a born muslim but none of my family members wear hijab and my friends are mostly non-muslim or if they are, they do nt wear hijab either. I started attending religious classes almost 4times a week. And was happy to wear the hijab. Its been about 2months only and i suddenly have this feeling that i want to and i should. So i started changing my wardrobe first. Thing is i told my plans to my parents and partner and colleagues that im working towards this And i thought they would b happy n encouraging. But i feel discouraged cos my family kept talking abt upkeeping the muslim image that i have to change everytg and be 'good' cos if im not ppl will talk. And i have to make sure i dont take it off later or again, ppl will talk. Father said that usually people wait till theyre married (again, no one in my family uses it even the married ones). All my partner said was why so serious? And that it's ok and he doesnt mind. (Whats there to mind anyway?) And my Colleagues just keep saying nothing will be the same and i wont look as good anymore and im too young. My best friend a hijab is happy for me but says its too fast and needs progression. Its quite discouraging. I love how i look in a hijab and i dont know if this makes sense... im so eager to wear it but there are times im nervous and scared.

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  10. Hi dear Sarah,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences in such a beautiful way. I have just discovered your blog and look forward to reading more.

    I was (like you, I believe) a devoted Christian for many years, and active in an interfaith group for Jews, Muslims and Christians. During a tough time in life I started questioning my faith and decided to examine other religions in a different way, being open to discover new truths. Quite to my surprise I found myself drawn to Islam. I remember calling a good Christian friend saying: *I want to become a Muslim, but it's impossible: I am a vicar's daughter, this can't be happening to me. I keep praying to God to show me the way. What should I do?" Being very logical, practical and just pretty much marvelous, she answered: "Well, if you keep praying and you still think you should become a Muslim, then that's exactly what you ought to do."

    During Ramadan 2012 I went to the closest mosque 350 km away and asked to say shahada with the imam as witness. A good Arabic speaking friend came along, and when we got out of the mosque, she said: "You look so happy - you look like you're in love!"

    In the two years since then I have struggled to learn more, taking baby steps all the time: Fasting in Ramadan, learning how to pray, fitting prayers into everyday life (although it should probably be the other way around: Adapting everyday life to prayers, but I am not there yet…). But so far I have not started wearing the hijab. At the moment I work in an official capacity where it would not be accepted, but that's not the only reason. There has been this war of attraction-repulsion going on between the hijab and me. I would look at hijab wearing ladies, wishing that they could see at first glance that we are sisters. On the other hand, if I were to wear hijab only outside of work or during special periods, wouldn't that be cheating?

    Two encounters really helped me. The first took place in Italy during the cold spring of 2013. There was a train strike going on, and many of us were seeking shelter against the icy winds while we waited for more information about what would happen. One of my fellow commuters was a beautiful young lady in hijab. We started chatting (only about weather and trains,mind you), when she suddenly said: "You're a Muslim, aren't you?" At that moment I realized that sisterhood can be somehow visible, even without a scarf on my head.

    The second encounter was in Morocco. My husband, whom I met several months after having converted, took me to visit his family. They were all of them such lovely persons, and I particularly struck up a friendship with the wife of one of his brothers, although we had no language in common. I noticed that sometimes she was wearing hijab, and sometimes not. I couldn't help being curious, so I asked my husband: "What's up with Fawzia? Is she wearing hijab or not?" He looked at me with a puzzled expression: "Well, sometimes yes, sometimes no. I suppose it depends on how she's feeling, but whatever makes her comfortable is good. It's anyway only between her and God".

    That' when I realized that I would not be cheating if I sometimes wear hijab and sometimes not - and I will not be stuck if I start wearing hijab and then figure out that I am not ready for it. Only after this did I dare to put on hijab for a few days during our vacation, just to see what it was like. I still wear it only occasionally - and never at work - but I don't feel like a cheater!

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  11. Thank you for your post. I am a new Muslim and I want very much to wear the hijab. Most of my family is catholic or christian and so I am afraid of what everyone will think. My son's father is the only other Muslim I know and although he tries to be kind he doesn't understand why I haven't started wearing it yet. So I end up feeling alone in my struggle but now , because of your post, I know that I am not. Thank you and may Allah swt reward you. :-)

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  12. I was born Muslim but no one in my family wears a headscarf. I don't quite feel ready for it yet. Although I'm always pious, try to dress appropriately, I never look at men, etc. And sometimes I remember that my head isn't covered and feel guilty. Other times, I wonder how important it really is for God. Since I am pious otherwise and act as Allah would expect of me.

    The issue is not just my acceptance of it, or my family's. I'm looking for a job and I'm afraid that wearing a headscarf would affect whether people would want to hire me. The bigger looming issue is that in my country the headscarf is politicized. Those who cover their head are accepted to support a particular political party which I don't support. So I realize that how society sees me will change greatly. Not that it's any of their business. I'm also worried about how my family will react, especially my brother, who dislikes headscarves strongly.

    I have all these thoughts going through my head and I know very well that when it comes to obeying Allah, none of this should or does matter. As I will be meeting God and will be judged by Him and not all these people. I just pray that God directs me on the right path as easily as possible and makes my heart content with his decisions for me. And I hope He forgives me for not fulfilling all of my duties if that is the case. I pray that Allah guides all of us in the right way and makes our right decision easy for us and makes us content with them. And may he protect us from being overpowered by others.

    There is a great prayer:

    Allahumma inni auzu bika min alhamma wal 'huzn wal 'ajzi wal kasali wal bukhli wal jubn wa dhala ' iddini wa galabatir rajaal.

    O Allah, I take refuge in You from anxiety and sorrow, weakness and laziness, miserliness and cowardice, the burden of debts and from being overpowered by men."

    Ameen. May peace be upon all of you Sisters. Assalamu aleykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatu

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