This is a post a few of my friends have asked me to do and as I haven’t written in a while, it seems like a good a moment as any. I am what people call a hijabi – a scarf covers my head. I don’t really like this term as the word “hijab” is actually to do with modesty and a scarf on my head doesn’t really signify that. I only started wearing a scarf a year ago on the 2nd day of Ramadan and I wanted to talk about how I came to wearing it as someone in their mid to late twenties and my experience of wearing it for 18 months.
Ok so here is the why part: there are several different elements that made me decide to wear it once and for all. I grew up knowing that we were fairly religious – modest garb which would mean no shorts past the age of like 11, we only ate halal, alcohol was not in my future, we prayed as much as we could, we fasted, paid Zakat, that kind of thing. However, we weren’t the most practicing, religious family either. Taking in my extended family, we only had one person who wore a headscarf and she was considered super religious. We just weren’t headscarf ready, we hadn’t had the headscarf graduation. 10 years ago, my mum started wearing the scarf as she started to learn more about the religion and she made a decision to increase her efforts at becoming practicing because everything made more sense to her. I was a teenager about to embark upon adulthood. I was nowhere near ready to be wearing a scarf then just because my mum started wearing it and my parents never forced me to either at that point. I needed to find it for myself as did my sister. Through social media, the internet and becoming more involved in my mosque, I was learning more and more and I knew one day I would love to wear it. It’s just that every time I thought this, I told myself you’re not a good enough Muslim to be wearing this and if I were to wear it, I would be wearing it for good.
Fast forward to May 2017. My sister had already started wearing the scarf a few months before and I still wasn’t ready. So here is what happened: 1. certain things had happened to me where I felt I needed to be closer to God, I needed to feel His comfort. 2. I went to a lecture by one of my favourite female Muslim speakers who said never feel like you’re not good enough to wear a scarf or be a hijabi and her words resounded in my ears as I knew I wanted to do it but part of me kept holding me back. 3. 22nd May, an attack took place in my hometown of Manchester where some lunatic took the lives of innocent people in the name of Islam. At that point, I knew I needed to step up to better represent Islam. So Ramadan was around the corner and I had all these thoughts in my head and the first fast came and I remember going to an Asian supermarket. I was the only woman in there not wearing a scarf and part of me felt like why can they do it and not me? I still wasn’t sure. I went to the mosque that night to pray Taraweeh (the night prayer during Ramadan) and I just remember crying as I put my head down in prostration saying “Give me strength to do this”. I texted my sister, my best friend, my work bestie saying “I’m going to do this, can I really do this? I’m nervous”. Alhamdulillah 2nd day of Ramadan, I got ready to go out and put a scarf on my head.
So how is it going so far? Honestly, I wish I had started wearing it earlier and taken that plunge. My worries of how work colleagues would perceive me, whether or not friends would stick around, would people think I was weird? vanished straight away. Everyone was normal. Being a Brit, some people were very PC when they spoke to me till it took the Spaniard at work to point out the elephant in the room and say what happened? People were curious as to why but once they found out nothing changed and others just didn’t care – they knew I was still me. I think one of the things that helped was that I was never shy about talking about my faith so my Muslim identity was very clear. I have since changed jobs at my current workplace, I’m not a weirdo in a scarf, just a regular weirdo and I love my work colleagues, I get on with them really well and my scarf is not a barrier to anything.
I live in a very non-Muslim, non-ethnic minority area so my first trip to the gym in a scarf wasn’t the best. I didn’t like people stopping their workout just to look at me or prod their gym buddy to get their attention, especially as I was already so self-conscious of being there. I realised the best way of going to the gym was before closing time in the evening when there would be no one around.
Funnily enough, I think my worst experiences as a scarf wearer were with other Muslims. Some less religious ones in the community acted like I had had a lobotomy or something and the first community event my sister and I debuted our scarves at, it was rather unsettling having all eyes on us. I tried to think why this would be, was it because I made them feel uncomfortable about their own shortcomings as a Muslim? Why did they flatter themselves to think I cared enough about them to judge? Just because I wear a scarf does not mean I am a perfect Muslim. I hold no judgement over others, as far as I am concerned it is between a person and God. Or was it because they just thought I had been brainwashed or something? I have no idea what it was but I just thought how bizarre – aunties are always so busy gossiping about which girl was seen with which boy and apparently me wearing a scarf was on that level.
Honestly, very naively, I thought my love life would improve. I thought now I wear a scarf, I would attract less randy freaks and I’d be a better prospect for a man who was trying to be as practicing as me. Sadly and quite bizarrely, the opposite happened. I got the most ridiculous, lewd messages on dating apps as well as social media. I became more popular than ever and treated in completely the wrong way. Some friends suggested that now that I was more covered up, I was seen as a cave of wonders, guys were curious to know what was underneath. I really hoped that was not the case but it has been very unsettling to get people talk to me about taking my clothes off for them, Muslim men at that who should know better. Or there have been hijabi girls who have screwed it up for the rest of us so it is now a given that I should be whipping my scarf off and getting my boobs out for the first man whose fancy I have tickled.
There has definitely been some upsides – a basic cow one is that I don’t need to worry about is how many days my hair can go unwashed before it becomes greasy enough to fry an egg in it. I feel much stronger in it, powerful – I don’t feel meek, covered up, oppressed. I feel like there is less of me for others to judge physically so you need to hear my voice and what I have to say.
I’ll tell you my personal issue with wearing a scarf and being a hijabi: living in a majority non-Muslim country, the scarf on my head doesn’t just represent my identity as a Muslim but I represent it. For example, I think twice when I am about to pull a cheeky move driving, I think to myself damn, if that guy is an Islamophobe, I’m about to give him more ammunition against us. Even worse, if he isn’t an Islamophobe, what if I am the reason he turns into one? I am so careful/conscious of how I come across with a scarf on. I smile more to strangers, a warm word, I make an effort to talk to them because if I am the first Muslim they have come into contact with, I need to make sure I’m doing the right things. All of this is exactly what the religion teaches anyway: being kind and compassionate. I feel quite lucky in that sense, if I had been living in a Muslim majority country, I might have become complacent so my Muslim manners would have been minimal. But when I do good deeds in public, I know that that is what the religion teaches, not the nutcases that make the news.
The scarf on my head isn’t magical. I am not perfect so please don’t expect me to be either. It just means that I am Muslim and proud of it.