The beautiful thing about being a woman in a hijab is that people know you are Muslim.
I remember not so long ago, before I even started going for classes at Darul Arqam, I stood in front of the mirror one night with a towel in my hands. I pulled my fringe back, wrapped my head in the towel. Stared at myself. Without my hair and fringe, I was not used to how I looked. Frankly I couldn’t stand the sight of myself, I thought I looked really bad. Giving up my short skirts and sleeveless tops were one thing, I could still find a way to look reasonably ok without those, but this was another thing. At that time, I was thinking, oh, no, I’m gonna become ugly. The towel came off almost immediately and I remember telling myself I’d just be a Muslim girl without the hijab.
So I started wearing the hijab only when I needed to. Which meant when I stepped into the mosque for prayer. When I came out, within 0.5seconds it was off. I didn’t feel comfortable in it, my neck felt strangled, I couldn’t scratch my ears or touch my hair.
But in the streets, on the train, I’d find myself smiling inside whenever I saw women in hijab. Looking back now, I realise that what I felt was of utmost respect. That they could give no care at all to society’s definition of beauty, just the definition that God had given. And gradually, the length of time the hijab stayed on my head became longer. I did not rush to take out the hijab once I stepped out from the mosque, I kept it on while on the bus, while buying food, all the way before I stepped into my home. My hijab told people I was a proud Muslim without me having to utter a word. My hijab reminded me that as a Muslim in public, I was to set an example of my actions- to be modest, graceful, dignified and worthy of being God’s servant. And this meant so much more to me than worrying about whether I looked good or not.
So I grew to love wearing the hijab, and I kept it on any chance I got. Yet, I still am unable to wear it freely. My faith is still not strong enough to keep me from caring about what my family, friends and co-workers think, even though all along I have been a person who seriously does not care what people think. It’s ironic in a way, but I have gotten tired of people thinking I have converted to Islam because of someone else. Wearing the hijab reminds them blatantly about this. There was once when I was telling my colleague I was going to wear it soon and she said, “but there are some who don’t wear the hijab, you don’t have to.” I said, “but I want to.” And I knew she had more questions but refrained from asking, i knew others would question, judge or criticize, and I knew my level of understanding of my faith was still not strong enough to explain and provide answers. I did not want to say wrong things, because Islam has already been misunderstood so much already. So I’ve been refraining from wearing the hijab when I leave the house, at work, or at gatherings where people know me, just so that they aren’t reminded and I don’t have to explain.
Yet I know I cannot wear the hijab as and when I like. I know that before I go to pray in the mosque I’d have to hide in a toilet to put it on or take it off, because someone might see. Once, I left my home (therefore not wearing a hijab) to a study room where I spent the day. During the day, I’d leave for prayers and I would make sure I removed the hijab before I entered the study room again. But during the evening prayer I decided to leave it on because I would be travelling home after and I wanted to wear it all the way back. For the life of me, I don’t know why I did it, because the people in the room had already seen me without my hijab and it would seem as if I just wanted to wear it as and when I liked. Which was exactly what I didn’t want to bring across- that the hijab is nothing but a fashion icon. It is a symbol of devotion to God, and anything that is for God must be treated with respect and reverence. But at that moment all I could think about was that I wanted to, I felt safe in it, it was part of me.
Not being able to freely declare I am Muslim, having to secretly hide in toilet cubicles to wear my hijab, having to tear it away once I leave the mosque… All these because I still haven’t gotten the strength to face the people who know me. I see those who wear the hijab and I feel immensely envious that they don’t have to hide or worry if someone had seen them before not wearing it. I want the freedom to wear the hijab, like all the other Muslim women, but I cannot do it. It’s a complicated feeling that I cannot explain. I want, but I can’t.
Ya Allah, I pray for the strength to overcome all of society’s judgements. Help me realize that there is nothing else more important than to please and worship You. Give me the willpower and knowledge to help guide others to your Truth. Amen.