Bismillah al-Rahman al-Raheem
As I have been sharing my convert story with you all over the past few weeks, I thought it might be beneficial to also tell the story of how I came to embrace the hijab.
From the very minute I started to realize that Islam was going to be my way of life for (in shaa Allah) the rest of my life, the concept of modesty and hijab started taking the fore-front in my mind. I knew from the beginning that it was a requirement in Islam, and I knew that, for myself, if I wanted to embrace Islam I was going to embrace all of it. Even if there were parts I didn’t like or understand at the time.
I would like to tell you it was hard, and in some ways it was surely a challenge for me, but taking up the hijab was not as much of a struggle for me as I have seen other converts face. Yes, in the very beginning I did experience an amount of resistance; that is only natural. I had been living my life one way for 21 years at that point, and to think that I could suddenly change over night would be completely ridiculous.
I loved the way I dressed. Cute dress, cardigan, tights and flats. It was my go-to uniform, something in which I felt both pretty and feminine as well as comfortable and practical. There was a point in my life at which, no matter how fashionable they were, I absolutely hated maxi dresses. The idea of modesty as a complete lifestyle outside of hanging out with one’s grandparents or going to a church function was foreign to me.
And, of course, I was terrified of what everyone around me would think to see such a drastic change, and such a visible proclamation of my new beliefs and allegiances.
The change started early, and it started so, so small. My sister and I used to go out for shopping trips to the local (if an hour away by car can be called local) mall, and on one such trip in late June as I returned from the U.K., I bought two maxi dresses. One was more of a high-low dress, but I loved the frill at the top and the pink floral print. The other was a wrap dress, I loved the style, though the royal blue wasn’t necessarily my thing. I can still remember both of those dresses so vividly, as they were my first conscious step towards modesty (though I would not have admitted it at the time.)
That summer some additions to my wardrobe included some blouses with ¾ sleeves, peasant-style tops that were loose and flowy, kimonos that covered the tops of my legs, and loose and airy trousers that were still trendy but covered a bit more than my previous skinny jeans may have.
And then, later that summer before heading off to university, I covertly stole my sister’s purple jersey scarf that she used to wear in the winter, and practised wrapping it around my head while watching YouTube tutorials on low-volume.
I continued to stock up on maxi dresses and longer cardigans as I did my “back to school” shopping for the year, and even though my wardrobe was far from being hijab-ready, I did have a solid foundation for when I finally did decide to put it on.
I can clearly remember the first time I wore that purple jersey scarf out in public.
It was the day that my friend had invited me to come pray at the university MSA’s Friday prayers, and getting ready took me an inordinate amount of time. I wanted to look modest enough not to offend, but not so modest that others would think I was “one of them.” I opted for some of my loose black trousers, a cute royal blue button up blouse topped with a black cardigan, and that purple jersey scarf, with just enough hair peeping out the front to let people know I wasn’t committed yet. I wrapped and re-wrapped that scarf, and pinned it for good measure, and stepped out the door to my apartment.
As I made my first steps into public, I felt like that scarf was strangling me. I could feel the bottom of it cutting into my neck, creating that weird tingly feeling that makes you want to laugh and cry at the same time. I felt like all eyes were on me, and I am sure my face was bright red, either from embarrassment or from lack of oxygen.
I met my friend at the place where everyone was gathered to pray, I prayed with the group, met a couple of new sisters, and before I knew it, it was time to go back out into the world. For some reason, I felt like I would be a hypocrite if I just wore the scarf to pray and then whipped it off as soon as I left the gathering. Now I know that it is something tons of women do, but at that time it just didn’t sit well with me. So I made the decision to keep the scarf on for the rest of the day.
As I walked to my next class, I was more self-conscious than I had felt in a very, very long time. I was terrified of what my teacher and classmates were going to think, and what’s worse, that idea that I might run into someone I knew.
Which, as I was leaving the coffee shop with my chai latte and croissant, is exactly what happened.
I saw a girl that I had been friends with before I left for London, and we hadn’t really seen or talked to each other since. I greeted her (and an old professor of mine that also happened to pass) with faux-confidence as we began to exchange pleasantries. And do you know what she said about the thing on my head? Absolutely nothing.
I left that conversation with a whole lot more real confidence in myself, and feeling far lighter than I had been that morning.
Those Fridays became days of trial and error for me. As I became more comfortable with the idea of walking around in a headscarf one day a week, I also began to experiment more with outfits and scarf styles, to see what would work and what didn’t. I bought a few more maxi skirts and a few more cardigans, and learned to wrap my scarf so it would (mostly) cover my chest. I even started a series on my old blog called “Hijab Fridays” which I described as “like casual Fridays at the office but better,” (clever 21 year old me right there) and where I shared my experiences with wearing hijab in the California Bay Area.
As time wore on, and I began to feel more and more certain in my faith, I began to contemplate making the switch for good. I had noticed that I had a little bit of latent hijab-envy for the sisters in the MSA that seemed to wear theirs so effortlessly, and as I grew in my iman I began to want to be recognized as a Muslim woman.
I officially took my shahada that November, and I made the intention that soon I would start wearing it permanently. I started wearing it all the time whenever I did anything with the MSA or went to religious classes, or even just hung out with Muslim friends. And then one day, in mid-December, I did the thing.
I had gone to an Islamic lecture the night before with a friend of mine, and I had spent the night at another (non-Muslim) friend’s house so that she and I could carpool back to our home-town for the winter holidays in the morning. As I got in that night after the talk, I lazily tossed my scarf and maxi dress onto the floor as I changed into my pyjamas and scrambled sleepily into bed. The next morning as I woke up, I picked the discarded dress and scarf off up the floor and put them right back on.
And that was that. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but I had no second thoughts and I have never looked back. I guess my heart just knew the time was right, and acted accordingly. No special occasion, no ceremony, just an average day like any other. But on that day I officially became a full-time hijabi.
That’s not to say that the whole transition was easy, in fact, it was quite the opposite. Picking that scarf up off the floor on that day was the first step on a very long and arduous journey to find my modesty, and I still look back at those early days and wonder how I could’ve left the house looking like I did. I imagine my husband must have been dying a little inside to see me dressed like I was some days, but bless his heart he never said anything unless it was to encourage me in good.
In shaa Allah next week I will share with you how my journey progressed after making the transition, and how I came to find my “groove” when it comes to modesty, beauty, and comfort in my clothes, because believe me, it was an uphill battle.