This is more than just a story about my experiences observing the physical hijab, but it’s a message that captures my spiritual journey and challenges as a young modern-day hijabi striving to live her life in such a way that is pleasing to Allah (s.w.a) and I pray that my story will be a source of motivation, inspiration and empowerment for other muslimahs around the world. I dedicate my story to all those hijabis who are struggling with their spirituality and those muslimahs who are considering wearing the Islamic headscarf and observing hijab, inshallah.
From my experience growing up as a young muslimah in a small close-knit town in tropical Guyana, where Muslims make up only about seven percent of the population, adapting the hijab was both a blessing and a challenge; and it was clear to me from very early on that there was a lack of understanding within the Muslim community regarding the concept of hijab and its purpose. Much of this misunderstanding I attributed to inconsistent Islamic education and lack of resources within the Muslim community and lack of practising hijabi role models. So much of what I learnt in the first few years of adapting the physical hijab was through what I was thought at the Mosque and from what I observed from other hijabi muslimahs, those I knew and those I observed from a distance.
I’ve experienced friends choosing to remove the headscarf and to lay aside the hijab for various reasons, ranging from menopause to losing their husbands to simply saying “the hijab is just not for me.” On the other hand, there were those who took the bold step to observe hijab and to wear the headscarf despite common negative stereotypes and perceptions of Muslim women, despite no support system and despite all other challenges life threw at them.
The Beginning of Something Awesome!
Growing up, in my home, Islam was our religion, but my parents, who at the time were both reverts, were not strict Muslims and they didn’t practice everything by the book, but they were decent, simple and hard-working people who tried their best to raise my brothers and I as Muslims and to give us an Islamic education. One of the things I loved about my parents was that there was never a requirement for me to observe hijab or to wear the khimar. They basically allowed me to decide whether Islam, most importantly, was what I wanted and then everything else like hijab, they believed, would eventually fall into place. And my mum never wore the khimar or observed the hijab and still doesn’t to this day, but she has always been conservative in her choice of clothing and fashion – never feeling comfortable showing too much skin; and there were times she attempted to observe the hijab and to cover her head by wearing a khimar, but never did followed through. I on the other hand, have always admired Muslim girls my age dressed in their floor-length skirts or dresses and long sleeves with their heads covered. Seeing them always brought a smile to my face and a warm feeling inside and I would envisage myself dressed in clothes like theirs.
The defining moment came one day whilst running errands in the market for my mum. There she was, a petite Negro girl who seemed to be around my age, standing only a short distance away from me. I stood on the street in the midst of all the busyness marvelling at the way she looked in her khimar and long flowing dress. I knew at that moment that was the look I wanted. My mind was made up. The beginning of the school term was just a few weeks away and I had decided that I would wear my khimar to school on the very first day and start dressing like a Muslim woman. I was only ten years old when I made this bold, life changing decision. My parents, as was expected, were extremely supportive and encouraging.
The thought of wearing my khimar to school for the first time excited me and I looked forward to showing off my new look on the first day of school. I fitted in well and got along with all my friends, never feeling uncomfortable or left out because I dressed differently from everyone else. I was actively involved in school and my community, taking part in school plays, singing in school choirs and taking on lead roles in community activities.
Then puberty happened. Yup! And that didn’t exactly make wearing a khimar and dressing in hijab any easier. In fact, it only served to complicate things. My body was changing and I became more and more self-conscious and concerned about the way I looked and I desired more independence. I had a few crushes, but nothing too serious and I observed hijab on and off – knee-high skirts and short sleeve tops were a part of my everyday wardrobe and look in the earlier years. But how I loved wearing my khimar!
Some of my extended family was not much help either. Making snide remarks and jokes about my khimar and the fact that I covered up. But I always tried to find the humour in whatever they said and just laughed it off. I wasn’t bothered because as far as I was concerned, they meant no harm. And besides, I didn’t worry about what people thought about my decision to cover up. But there were occasions where I had to say something to defend the hijab and why I dressed the way I did.
Putting Things into Perspective
After I left High School I worked for a about a year at the only Television Station in my community, as a Reporter anchoring the weekend news, doing voice over for ads and a few other programmes the Station created and I also pursued a few short courses. Children were fascinated by me on TV. One woman even said her daughter would touch the TV screen to see if she could touch me. And some would be so excited to meet me on the streets or outside the TV Station. There was no one like me on television at the time – no reporter wore a headscarf. I felt the love and respect from residents. I remember my boss saying to me that he would receive out-of-town calls congratulating him for having a Muslim woman in hijab read the news. The feeling was amazing, but I felt like wearing a khimar and observing hijab raised people’s expectations and magnified everything I said and did and somehow I felt it made me even more accountable than a non-hijabi for the things I said and did.
I subsequently left for university to pursue a Diploma in Social Work followed by a Law Degree. Those years brought the greatest challenges and it was the start of a chain of life experiences and trials that would forever change my life in ways I could never have imagined. It was a spiritual battle. I wore a headscarf, but there were aspects of my life I needed to work on – aspects which were contrary to what Islam expected of me as a Muslim woman. But I never hid how I felt or what I believed. I was learning and growing at my own pace and stubborn not to let the reaction of others influence my choices and decisions. It wasn’t until I left university that I truly had time and space for myself to reflect and think about my religious duties and where I wanted to be spiritually in my life.
It soon became clear to me that observing the hijab and wearing the khimar are more than just a physical representation of my faith, but they both represented something much deeper. And my love for Islam was not enough – my character, interactions with others and the things I said and did all had to be a part of the whole package. So with this shift of perspective and new level of consciousness, which is what I like to call it, I made a desperate attempt to rescue myself from myself, and that meant facing some hard truths about myself and where I was spiritually. I needed to atone and to reconnect with my true authentic self, because somewhere along the way I felt like there was a disconnect between my mind, body and soul. The guilt and shame I felt was unbearable and was too much for me to ignore. I had to literally sit myself down and have a long hard conversation with myself, about myself. I had a choice to make. I could either make excuses and allow my personal opinions and feelings to take precedence over what Islam and Qur’an prescribed and face the consequences or I could allow myself to be consumed by this world without putting up a spiritual and moral fight or I could make a conscious effort to change and improve on my spirituality and get closer to my creator.
With this new perspective, I wanted to take a new approach to hijab – to start over – a new beginning. So I made a promise to myself to write a new story of my life, one that entailed a higher level of spiritual thinking and pursuing deeper Islamic knowledge. Today, I value, respect and appreciate the hijab more than ever before. All my experiences in some way or the other have served to reassure and solidify my love, belief and acceptance that Islam is the ideal religious path for me and that the hijab is a religious requirement prescribed by Allah to protect and honour us as Muslim women. And I am so blessed to have found a husband who appreciates and values the Hijab. Alhamdulillah!