A lot has been said about hijab, but rarely are the women who are actually involved in the act of practicing hijab heard. It is often, non-Muslims or Muslim men, who do all the talking. This in an injustice, to the scores of Muslim women out there who are breaking barriers placed for them by both western and Muslim societies. They are out there, in the real world, working hard, making a difference, in all fields. These are not the women we read about in the papers, sullen, oppressed women with no man-given liberties. No these are the women who have seized their god given rights. I am one of those women, a student, writer, activist and Muhajiba. Here is my story.
Firstly, it would be vital to expound exactly what Hijab is, and is not. Google has 2,740,000 hits for just that one word, so I cannot pretend to know all and everything there is about it, but I write this based on my experience, of practicing hijab for over 7 years, and I say practicing instead of wearing, because I believe hijab is not something you just wear, it is a code of living, a sub-category of Islam, another protocol of life. Crucial to the success of hijab, is strong sense self-confidence. Practicing hijab is laying my cards out openly, I am telling the world, who I am and what I stand for. It is the affirmation of the worth of my body and my mind. I am commanding the world to approach me with modesty in tow, and to respect the limits of my anatomy and my space. I am asking the world, no, demanding, that they consider me beyond my appearance. I practice hijab so that my appeal as a woman is shared only with those closest and therefore most trustable to me. But most of all, I practice hijab for my Lord, Al Mu’iz, the Giver of Honour. It is a symbol of my obedience to Him, who created me, and Who asked me, in kind and generous terms, to don modesty, so that I would be marked as a believing women, and would not be troubled. When the One who fashioned me, gave life to me, nurtures me, loves me, is there for me at all times, forgives me when I err, runs toward me when I step toward Him, nurses my wounds and is closer to me than my jugular vein; asks me to do something for my own benefit, how can I but not happily comply? I can write thousands of words about the logic and rationale of it all which are definitely true and motivating reasons, but at its core, hijab is submission to the will of a Higher Order, which humbles me yet raises me to lofty heights.
Technically, hijab is the covering of the body in modest clothing, with only the face, hands and feet uncovered. How much further a Muslim women will take the act of covering, is between her and Allah, but basically, if she does this much, she is within the limits of hijab. There are ofcourse, many expressions of hijab throughout the world, and there are even Muslim women who do not wear the hijab, but dress modestly, and are very active, practicing believers.
So one day, all those years ago, I took the giant leap, and put on the hijab, for keeps this time. I remember those first few months, struggling to keep going, being embarrassed in front of family and friends, questioning my decision, wondering if maybe I was too young for this, if I would ever find a husband and if I could still achieve my dream of being a great writer and traveler. However, I also remember the respect and awe shown to me, the feelings of confidence at having taken a giant leap, the power of choice, the alteration in the people I kept company with, the questions from strangers, and the opportunity to represent my religion. It has changed my life, and continues to do so, each day that I step out of my home and into the world. It influences the way I behave, the activities I am involved in (more now than before I did hijab) and the way people respond to me. I am given the respect and consideration that every woman deserves. Islamophobia does exist, and sometimes people do react strangely to me being covered, but I like that I am different, that I belong to a world people are so intrigued by, that it gives me the opportunity to explain myself, who I am and what I believe in, over and over again. I donned the hijab, with the hope that the outer expression of my faith, would lead to inner reform of my soul, and this is exactly what happened and more, alhamdulillah! Through hijab, I met like-minded sisters, with whom I can share thoughts from fashion to spirituality, with ease and without fear of being judged in any way. It is a safety net against all those insecurities, faced by women globally, about appearance, beauty and image. Hijab brings a sense of tranquility to the body, and sharpness to the mind. It a bold statement, that screams, ” I will not conform to anyone’s standards but Gods’, for who is man to measure me?”
Recent times have seen the revival of hijab, from sportswear and swimwear, to a whole category designated to hijab at Dubai fashion weeks. I can now easily go swimming, hiking, to the gym, and whatever else, comfortably in hijab, thanks to this new niche market. It is all rather situational to me, I am perfectly comfortable in my jeans and coat or tunic with headscarf when going to malls or restaurants or being outdoors, but if I go to the masjid I prefer an abaya or jilbab, and I would even wear niqab were I to go alone into the city center or industrial areas of Dubai, where women are a rare sight and hence ogled at from every angle. In Syria and Palestine, I kept with the code of ankle length trench coats, in Turkey it was bright and colorful head-scarves with any kind of loose clothing, in Jordan I was at ease in a long skirt and pretty blouse with a printed scarf, here in Dubai I am more and more comfortable in an elegant abaya. My favourite was Iran, where I experimented with the all encompassing chador, and different styles of manteus.
As I grow into hijab, or it grows into me, I find myself becoming stricter as to the limits of hijab, i.e. who and who isn’t included in the inner sanctums of my non-hijab life, but it has always been about practicality to me. I am sure all you muhajibas out there have felt that sense of “nakedness” when someone catches you unawares, like when the laundry guy turns up and I think its hubby, or when he lets someone in forgetting to ask me if I’m appropriate.
As for beautiful hijab moments, I love the feeling of coming home after a long hot day, and letting my hair down. I love it when salespeople look at me weirdly, wondering when I will ever wear the skimpy clothing or lingerie I am buying, I love it when my husband tenderly tucks away a strand of stray hair that has escaped my scarf, or the stares from half-dressed women who suddenly become aware of their own exposure, or when I get to turn down the handshakes of men with a smile (not that I don’t shake, just that I have the choice not to).
One thing Muslims should realize is that hijab does not equal perfection. Just because someone wears hijab, does not mean they are the ideal muslimah. We all struggle with our nafs (ego), with temptations, challenges and bad moods. We all make a slip here and there, and we are all striving to be modest yet fashionable. We Muhajiba’s should also not be lulled into the mindset, that putting on the hijab is all that is expected of us from Allah. No, it is but a stepping stone to more important and pressing issues, as it forces me to look beyond the world of materialism, into the world of the marginalized, because hijab sets one apart from the former world and turns the attention to those in the latter. Hijab was in fact, only the beginning for me. From there, I was lead to so many meaningful encounters and became involved in worthy causes, from social and political activism, to humanitarian work. There are not limits as to what a woman can achieve, I would go as far as to say, that practicing hijab forces me to be out there in the world, striving to make a difference.
Another important dimension of hijab, is that of the mental hijab, of our interaction with members of the opposite sex, and to what degree we need to maintain hijab in that regard. I personally feel that one of the purposes of hijab is to foster a healthy interaction, once matters of body are put out of the way
I am proud to walk out of my home everyday wearing my faith on my body, and I am grateful to have had the choice to do so, unlike so many of my sisters, who are either banned from wearing hijab, or forced to do so, both which are in contravention of our beautiful religion.