Here is my hijab story.
When I was about four years old, I was in a grocery store with my mother. I remember seeing a lady in a long flowing dress and veil, which I now know were a jilbab and khimar (a type of hijab). I turned to my mother and asked her inarticulately why some ladies wore headscarves. She responded by saying something I don’t recall… and then she added something that I remembered and believed for years. She said that these women believed that for every hair they showed, they’d spend a thousand years in hell. I never forgot that. I recall spending several years examining women’s veils from afar in public to see if they were showing any hair, and wondering why they believed these things.
Growing up, the only times I saw veiled women in the media was when the evening news was doing a report on terrorism or the numerous Middle East conflicts. I never saw them in TV shows or movies – except as terrorists or abused victims cowed by their wrathful husbands. But yet, even so I always was captivated by these beautiful pieces of cloth. I wanted to look like that: dignified, regal.
Parallel to this, at home when I played dress up I used to pin blankets around my body like robes or long flowy dresses, and I would always put something on my head. It could be a shirt, a scarf, an old hat: anything. I loved it. I was mildly obsessed. The more covered I was, the better I felt.
So, fast forward to 2013. I had read 1Corinthians 11 years in the Christian Bible a number of times and wanted to wear hijab. I began chatting with Muslims on Google+ via my only internet connection: a tiny 3G cell phone that was terribly slow. I felt inspired and wanted to wear hijab. On my own time I occasionally put it on at home in secret -terribly awkwardly I might add – wondering what magic those Muslim ladies did to keep the cloth on their heads from sliding around. In June, I spent a week in Brazil on a choir tour. During that time I put a scarf on my head a few times in a way that I wouldn’t dare to call hijab now, in hopes of enjoying the temporary freedom I’d found. While there, in the middle of a concert, my kerchief was yanked off my head by a fellow choir member. A couple of pranks were played on me to make fun of my scarf. That was my first realization that wearing a head scarf wasn’t socially acceptable. So, I did what any modern teenager would do: I took it off and tried so very hard to forget about it. Now keep in mind that during this whole time I was a devout Christian! Not Muslim!
In September of the same year a major life change occurred, and I moved to a new location. I was finally significantly freeer to explore my options and make my wardrobe decisions. Except, unlike a typical young woman in her mid teens, I wasn’t looking for miniskirts. I read and studied and researched 1Corinthians chapter 11 ad nauseam. I joined Facebook groups and met Christian ladies online who took the Bible as seriously as I did. Finally in December I began wearing headscarves and modest clothes, which I then called hijab though it wasn’t really proper hijab. It was more like tznius, which is basically orthodox Jewish modesty.
My crisis of faith began a few months later (see here), but I temporarily recovered my faith in Christianity. In June of 2014, however, I took off my headscarf and unusually modest clothing for a lot of reasons. I was tired of harassment and ridicule from everyone around me. I was lonely and isolated and couldn’t bear it anymore. I had major travel plans and wanted to travel discreetly without stress in airports. I wanted to be normal. I was spiritually drained from my doubts and fears. My mental illnesses were tormenting me to no end. And on and on. I took my trip, scarfless save for when I prayed and read the Bible in private. I came back to the US. And in December of 2014, I realized how deeply I missed my head coverings. I realized that as lonely and lost as I was feeling in regards to my faith, my scarf was the one act of worship I had the strength to carry out daily. I resolved to wear proper hijab. It would prove immensely comforting at a time when I went ages without praying except for broken tearful two-sentence prayers begging God for peace and strength.
After a long journey I submitted to Allah and said my shahada through tears and fear. I was vulnerable and scared. (That story can be read in two parts, part one here and part two here.) From then on my hijab took on more meaning. Today, it is a symbol of my faith, a daily act of worship, an act of liberation from a society that wishes to value – or rather, devalue – people, especially women, based on their worth as a sexual commodity, a public declaration that I am proud to be Muslim, and a reminder of the painful yet rewarding journey that I’ve been on to get to the Straight Path. Above all it is an act of being Muslim; that is, an act of submission to Allah in obedience to (one of) His commands.
A lot of Muslim women start wearing the hijab during Ramadan. So, I’d like to give a few tips to new hijabis. First of all, study the hijab. Read what the Quran and the Sunnah have to say. Listen to orthodox scholars’ opinions on the matter. Once your conviction has been firmly established, I recommend beginning to wear it in stages. First, learn to cover the legs in loose opaque clothing when you should be observing hijab (see the Quran for those guidelines). Then move on to the torso. Take care to cover the belly and back. Then proceed to cover your hips with your top when wearing pants. Then extend your sleeves to cover your arms. Finally move on to the head. Get used to wearing something, anything up there. A headband, a barrette, anything. Train yourself not to leave the house without it. Then begin wearing turbans, consistently. Finally, wrap a hijab. With each step, firmly establish the habit before moving on to the next thing. And of course, stay humble. Don’t be the haram police, telling other hijabis they’re doing it wrong. Lower your gaze. As your iman increases you can work on “smaller” details, like not being vain, deciding whether or not to cover your feet, wearing less makeup, and so forth. With each step, pray hard. Make a lot of dua and observe your salaat. Never abondon your salaat.
Let me know what you think of my hijab story and what hijab means to you here in the comments or on my Facebook page! Thanks for reading! Wa as salaam 💜