I first wore hijab when I went to the masjid to say my shahada. I had come to the decision I was going to embrace Islam and my friend and I had arranged to go to the masjid on the Friday evening. For me, there wasn’t any doubt when it came to the topic of hijab. In the process of learning about Islam I had researched the hijab – the reasons for wearing it and the evidences behind it. When I realised that the sole, primary basis for wearing the hijab is the fact that Allah commanded believing women to do so in the Qur’an; this in itself was enough for me.
I had come to accept that Islam was the truth, I wasn’t going to pick and choose which parts I embraced. At that time my imaan was so high, I had no doubts about anything and as I truly believed in Allah, Muhammad as His last messenger and that the Qur’an was revealed to him, then how could I choose to ignore this command from Allah.
I came home from the masjid, now a Muslim, wearing my hijab. I went to my room as discreetly as I could, not wanting to ‘rub it in’ to my mum but even that offended her and after that it became clear that she was not comfortable or happy with me wearing the hijab. Vague threats that I could not continue to have a relationship with my family made me much more careful. That is when I became a secret hijabi. Having to put my headscarf on in the car and taking it off just before entering the house. If I had been male, then my family would have generally had no problem with me becoming Muslim, the main issue has always been the hijab.
For the record, I am not judging anyone. There are many Muslim women who choose not to wear hijab for whatever reason and many people have their own understanding and interpretation. Allah knows best. But for me it was clear and simple that believing women should cover themselves in order to protect their modesty.
Some people state that you can dress modestly without covering your hair, and that is absolutely true. However, I think it’s about the level of modesty; there are without a doubt different levels of modesty. I have experienced this myself as I have developed more of an understanding and have become more used to dressing modestly, my level of modesty has increased. What’s more, I have had to gradually change my wardrobe with more modest clothing over time. Wearing the hijab is also about identifying oneself as a believing woman – as a Muslim. Wearing the hijab not only protects a woman’s modesty but it also tells everyone she sees that she is a Muslim and proud of it. This in itself portrays other notions about her. It says this woman obeys the commands of Allah who she believes in; it says this woman protects her chastity; it says this woman does not subscribe to demands and expectations of this society.
When I was seriously researching Islam in depth and came to the decision that I would take my shahada I was on a placement as part of my training to be a mental health nurse at that time. My mentor on this placement had already expressed rather strong views about Islam and his dislike of it. This made the transition much harder for me. The Friday came, just before the end of the working day I asked to have a private chat with my mentor. I told him that I was going to become a Muslim, that I was going to the mosque that evening. I said I was letting him know as from Monday I would be wearing a headscarf to work. I informed him that I was essentially giving him a heads up, as I had to work closely with him day to day, and I didn’t want him to be shocked on the following Monday. His reaction was somewhat surprised and patronising.
“Are you converting for your boyfriend then?” He had already jumped to his own conclusions, suggesting that I was brainwashed.
“Nope, I don’t have a boyfriend. I’m doing it because it’s what I believe in.”
Having to work closely with someone who was prejudiced and rude made the transition harder for me but it also helped me learn how to deal with certain reactions. After visiting a patient with a delusional disorder, my mentor even made the comparison that followers of any religion were believers of a delusion on a large scale. Offensive to say the least.
On the other hand, whilst on this placement I also had experiences at the other end of the spectrum. When passing through a ward, a patient came up to me and bowed his head down to me, saying “I respect you, I have a lot of respect for you. Muslim women I mean.” He also said something along the lines of ‘assalamu alaykum’ although didn’t quite pronounce it right. It warmed my heart though. I didn’t quite know how to react. It made me feel like a queen, or a princess at the very least.
Having been wearing the hijab for nearly two years now, my experience has been enlightening. There is absolutely no doubt that I am treated differently now that I wear hijab compared to when I did not, before I became Muslim. This includes positive aspects and negative. Sometimes people distance themselves, they avoid eye contact, they don’t smile at me as they would others. Generally this doesn’t bother me anyway, I am an introvert and I’m not a fan of interaction with strangers. On the other hand, I find men much more respectful now. People do not push boundaries or speak crudely in front of me and they apologise if they swear in front me. It feels liberating not feeling as though I have to please society (both men and women) with the way I dress. I don’t feel self conscious about my appearance or my figure because ultimately I don’t care what people think of my looks.
Muslim women who wear the hijab stand out from the norm, we do not conform. We only stand out to the extent that we do because of the times we live in. Even in recent years the standards of modesty and what is acceptable in this society has changed quite dramatically. It wasn’t that long ago when women were not expected to wear skirts above a certain length and in the 60s when women frequently wore headscarves. For different reasons, of course. The current attitudes and expectations of society are so different from what a Muslim woman represents and perhaps that is why we are more often the targets of hate crimes.
I was a feminist before I became Muslim and I still am and this was partly why so much of Islam appealed to me in fact. Ironic that Islam is so misrepresented with regards to every topic relating to women. More western young women are converting to Islam than any other demographic, I wonder why.
There are unfortunately women who are forced to wear the hijab and this is completely wrong and is based only in culture and abuse. It also completely negates from the purpose of hijab and only damages the representation of Islam.
I choose to wear the hijab. It is not an oppression, I am not oppressed. I have never been more liberated or empowered than when I chose to wear the hijab.