Bismillah al-Rahman al-Raheem
Today, this post is just for you, my sisters: those new reverts or perhaps a sister who is just starting to think about practising a bit more, and you are considering a huge life-shift, donning the hijab. Or maybe you are still in the skinny-jeans-and-a-tunic-top groove and want to work on upping your modesty game, but are not sure how that will impact your life.
It sounds scary. It was scary. Until I did it, that is. I remember all of the questions I had floating around in my head while contemplating not only converting to Islam, but the whole hijab business that would come with it (I’m an all or nothing kind of person!). But one night, I had slept over at a girlfriend’s house after a lecture at the masjid so we could carpool back to our home town the next day. I discarded my scarf on the floor as I fell, exhausted, into bed, not thinking anything much of it. I thought equally little of it when, the next morning, I woke up and put it straight back on.
From that day, I have worn and striven to practise the hijab to the best of my abilities. As you can probably tell, it just happened for me. The time was right, and I just let all of the questions and the fear go, and did it.
Of course, about a day later all the questions came back and I had to actually start figuring out how I was going to make this big ol’ transition. But I had taken the hardest step.
The same kinds of questions began to surface again as I considered shifting into full jilbab, but again, after I had mentioned the idea to my husband and he said, “OK, well let’s go buy some then,” it just kind of happened on its own.
And though it is sometimes a tough journey, I have never regretted either decision.
So today, I want to share a little bit of my experience, in the hopes that I can answer some of the questions that may be keeping you on the fence and undecided about whether or not you are ready to take the plunge into hijab, or a more modest form of it.
If I put on hijab/jilbab/whatever, I won’t be able to play soccer/swim/run/go to the gym/etc.
This one was a huge concern for me. In my first year at university, I got really active and in shape, and I wanted to stay that way. But as I have mentioned quite a few times: I haaaaate layers. I hate the feeling of lots of cloth draped on my body, especially while doing hardcore cardio workouts. I used to go to the gym in as little clothing as was socially acceptable, for the sake of comfort.
But as I came to find out, hijab is really not as restrictive as people like to think it is. My first year of wearing hijab I still went to the gym regularly (hooray for jersey scarves!), I still took equestrian lessons (I wore a salwar kameez that a friend’s mom gave me, lol). Even now, I still go swimming on holiday with my husband in Tunisia and during the hot Algerian summers. And all the while I maintain my standards of modesty with loose garments and a covered head.
It won’t be easy at first. I had some ridiculous outfits and hot, irritating, and uncomfortable gym days in those first few months. But if you give it some time and keep trying things, you will eventually find the kinds of things that work for you when it comes to staying active while covering your body. Hijab does not mean giving up on everything that you enjoy doing, it just means re-thinking how you participate in these activities!
But I love fashion, getting dressed up and feeling pretty; I can’t do that if I wear hijab.
This one has been an issue for me since day 1. And it continues to be an issue for me, because I know I don’t have the right mindset.
I, like many women, want to look pretty when I go out. I grew up with the mindset that you look nice when you go out, and at home you wear your comfy pyjamas.
Islamically, it is kind of the opposite. No, you shouldn’t wear comfy pyjamas out of the house. In fact, you are encouraged to look clean, neat, and presentable while observing hijab. Hijab, though, is a means to cover your beauty from those people (random strangers outside, for example) for whom your looks are none of their business.
But at home with family and girlfriends, you can dress up as fashionably as you like. Heck, you can even have a fancy tea party or dinner party just for the ladies for the specific purpose of getting dressed up if you want to! Put that makeup and perfume on before your husband gets home from work. Wear your favourite cute dress when your mom comes to visit. That is all perfectly good.
And how liberating is this actually, when we think about it seriously? To not have to worry about looking pretty and impressing every random person on the street. To not be obsessed with how many likes we are getting on social media. To be beautiful for the people who are most important in our lives, and who love us whether or not we carry an on-trend handbag or not.
Plus, hijab does not necessarily negate personal style. I wear jilbab, but I don’t even own a black one because I like colours like lilac and dusty rose (and grey). I still wear my bubblegum pink Converse all the time, because they are comfy and cute, and I love them! There is plenty of room for personal expression within the bounds of modesty, but again, it is just a matter of figuring out what that means to you!
Everybody will stare at me; I will look so different; What will my friends and family think?
This is, especially where family is concerned, a tough one.
I have been through the experience myself of dealing with taunts and jibes from family members where my headscarf is concerned, and I am sure I will deal with even more once I reveal that I do intend to still wear my jilbab in front of my boy cousins, who are basically like brothers to me. I don’t actually even know how I am going to explain to them why they aren’t allowed to hug me or even touch me anymore.
It is hard.
But I know Who I am doing it for, and that is the only thing that will get me through it.
People do stare; I do look different. Even here in Algeria, not many women wear jilbab like I do. I imagine in the United States that number will drop dramatically, especially in a traditionally “red-neck” town like my home town.
But I have to remember, I am dressed like I am to please Allah swt. Not the random people on the street, not the Islamophobic far-right, not even my family members (my mom would much rather I wear “cute, expressive hijab” and not “those single-color things” I currently wear). And I have to remember that at the end of the day, I will be rewarded to enduring whatever I do, big and small, for persevering in my practice of modesty.
These people’s anger, stares, and rude words are temporary, but in shaa Allah the benefits I receive in this life and the next from wearing jilbab will be forever, and far outweigh the negatives.
And, last, but not least:
I think I can be perfectly modest without covering my hair…
I tried to rationalise hijab away with this one for all of two days, before the truth of the matter hit me.
Yes, you can totally be modest without putting a scarf on your head, or even while putting a scarf on your head but not wrapping it like a hijab.
Orthodox Jewish women are for sure modest. Some more practising sects of Christianity are also modest. Many girls out there who choose not to expose everything for the sake of fashion and “sexiness” and who instead opt for maxi skirts and three-quarter sleeves are definitely modest as well.
And as I have mentioned before, modesty is a practice, not necessarily a scarf on your head.
But the thing is: the reason we wear hijab as we do, as Muslim women, is that this is the way Allah swt has told us to. Yes, there are other forms of modesty. But our hijab serves many purposes; we are obeying the command of Allah swt in a way that He has set out for us, we are practising modesty, and we are identifying ourselves as Muslim women.
That was actually the thing that really convinced me to take up the hijab in the first place. Without it, I am any ol’ small-town white girl. There are no boundaries when I meet other people out in the public sphere.
But when I wear hijab, and specifically my jilbab, I am a Muslim woman. People know that I require respect, privacy, and space when I interact with them outside, more than just a modest long sleeve top or a maxi skirt could do. I am proudly, unapologetically, declaring to the world who I am and what I stand for every time I get dressed to go out. And I love that; after so many years trying to be this or that to please everyone and their mother, I love being proudly Muslim, being me. More than just the sum of my outfits and waistline, more than the latest shade of lipstick and the newest hair colour trend, I am my personality, my intellect, and my faith.
I hope some of my thoughts have been able to help sway someone out there. I would love to hear from any sisters who are considering hijab but still have something holding them back, or anyone out there who maybe wants to take the next step in their hijab journey but isn’t sure how. Let me know in the comments or through the contact form!