Putting on the hijab

I converted (officially) just over a year ago. From the moment I took my shahada, I’ve never been out in public without some form of hijab on. That’s not to say I’ve always been perfect about it – far from it. I still wear a “turban style” hijab about 50% of the time. I have a strong desire to wear it but it can be a massive struggle when you are from a non-muslim family and you are living in a predominantly secular country.

When I first started reading about and loving islam, I began to wear a headscarf off and on. I suppose I was sort of experimenting with it; discovering what other people’s reaction to it might be, admiring its beauty, but afraid to step too far out of my comfort zone. Truth be told, I’m not sure I understood WHY I was wearing it at that time. Looking back and knowing that my last statement is most likely true, it’s surprising to me that I managed to keep it on since the day of my conversion. Wearing hijab sets you apart from others, and as someone who has worked really hard her entire life to just blend in, wearing it without fully understanding the reason behind it was at times extremely difficult (I’m looking at you, summer heat!).

As with so many other things so far on my personal journey, I have found that truly understanding only happened after implementing the changes into my life. That seems to be the nature of my relationship with Allah so far; I do what is asked of me, albeit with some hesitation, and find the wisdom and beauty in it once I’ve relaxed into it.

When I started a new job with a predominantly female staff, I knew eventually I could expect questions about the hijab and why I wear it. I only prayed that they would be asked respectfully and, Alhamdulillah, those prayers were answered. I was only on the job a couple of weeks before I was kindly and tentatively asked why I wear it. My response was everything I had been able to learn about hijab for the last year and a half.

The term hijab does not literally mean headscarf. It means partition or veil. And women are not the only ones who have to observe hijab. A man observes hijab, for example, by keeping his gaze lowered. This is part of a man’s haya (shyness, modesty), and a woman’s hijab is part of her’s. Muslim women didn’t invent, and do not own hijab. I have never seen a depiction of the virgin mother without a hijab on, and Jewish women wore it before the Christians. It has fallen out of fashion for most Christians and Jews, but many Jewish women still cover their hair once they are married.

In the time of the prophet Muhammad (SAW), it was generally women with higher status that still covered with a hijab because it was considered cumbersome for the slave women and the women working in fields. Allah says in the Quran “tell the believing women to draw their veils over their bosoms and not expose their adornment…” (translation of the meaning). In another verse Allah says “O Prophet! Ask your wives, daughters, and believing women to draw their cloaks over their bodies. In this way it is more likely that they will be recognized ˹as virtuous˺ and not be harassed. And Allah is All-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (translation of the meaning).

Allah is saying that all believing women should dress in the same way (modestly) so that they will be recognized as free, believing women and not harassed (as someone of a lower status would have been). Subhanallah, Allah is putting all women on the same level (which is a very high status in Islam) and saying that all women deserve to be treated respectfully.

From a modern standpoint, I view wearing hijab as an act of feminism, not oppression. We live in a society that is totally controlled by men – especially here in the West. Everything we do to or with our bodies is controlled by men. Everything from birth control choices to the clothes we wear. Think of it this way: women are plastered all over TV, the internet, magazines and billboards with most of their bodies exposed and visible. Now imagine a woman who is modestly dressed and sitting in a quiet corner of a restaurant nursing her infant. She is not completely exposed and not trying to attract any attention. People are crying in outrage that it is disgusting and she should put her breast away and go to the restroom to feed her infant. Why? Why do people react this way? Because in the second scenario, the breast is not for the pleasure of men. It is serving the function that it was intended to serve by Allah. It is providing nutrition to an infant. We are so accustomed to being objects of desire, that even many women react with outrage about our bodies no longer being for the pleasure of men. If I want to cover up, and that is my personal choice, who is anyone else to tell me that I can’t?

Knowing and understanding the logic behind it has made it much easier for me to stay committed to it. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. I would love nothing more than to put on a tanktop and a pair of shorts when it’s 32 degrees outside (that’s Celsius in case you are wondering who wears shorts in the middle of winter!). And I’m still struggling to wear it correctly 100% of the time, but this is my jihad. May Allah reward every woman struggling to remain or become more modest.

If you have your own hijab story that you would like to share, I would love to hear it!

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