Over six months ago I made one of the best decisions of my life.
I started wearing the hijab.
I’ve been meaning to write this post for an incredibly long time, however, the words didn’t seem to flow. There is so much to be said but at the same time I didn’t want to turn my story into something overrated. Words are powerful. They can take something meaningless and translate it into something more meaningful. They can also do the complete opposite.
In many ways, my hijab is the same. It’s a piece of material that covers my hair and neck.
Or is it?
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It was noon on a summer’s day in March. I had just arrived in Auckland from my summer holiday in Malaysia and I was exhausted and jetlagged due to the ten hour flight from Kuala Lumpur. Despite that I decided to meet up with my friend Shaymaa who lives in Auckland before I would fly to Dunedin the next day. During the holiday I had been talking to Shaymaa about wanting to wear the hijab full-time someday. Yes, “someday” I would always say but I was never sure when. I wore it a couple of times while I was back home, you could say I went for a test run, but would feel self-conscious and awkward in it. However, that particular day I felt confident and determined. I carefully picked a bright blue hijab to match my colourful dress, wrapped it carefully around my head and took one good look at myself before stepping out. I was happy and no longer felt anxious for looking “so Muslim”. Amazingly, I also didn’t feel out of place and the irony of that is the day I decided to don the hijab full-time was the day I returned to a Muslim-minority Western country. I couldn’t have picked a tougher challenge for myself but I wanted to do it. I felt ready and it felt right.
I met Shaymaa at the front steps of her home and we both squealed with excitement. Shaymaa has been wearing hijab almost all her life and it must’ve made her feel happy to see a friend make the same choice she makes everyday. That’s right, for women like Shaymaa and myself, wearing the hijab is a choice we make every single day. She complimented me and assured me that I looked nice. As we spent the day together she assured me this many times and I think if it weren’t for supportive friends like Shaymaa my transition into becoming a hijabi wouldn’t have been as easy. There were days when I would catch a glimpse of my reflection in a mirror or glass window and I would look twice because I almost couldn’t believe that it was me. I wondered where the girl in the short dress, tights and high heeled boots had gone. There were times when I would miss styling my hair before heading out into town.
But those days and times faded away. I always reminded myself that I was doing it for all the right reasons. I wasn’t trying to impress anyone nor did I have any intention of getting married thus felt obliged to start covering up to please my future husband as some people had assumed.
I did it to show my gratitude towards God. I did it because life is precious but it is unpredictable and short. I did it because I knew nothing else mattered as much as my relationship with my Creator.
I did it for me.
The next few months of my transition were really about me adjusting with my new ‘fashion statement’. I learned that embracing the hijab isn’t just a physical endeavour but also a psychological and spiritual jihad (struggle). In the beginning I would always wear earrings to go along with my hijab simply because I felt I looked too plain without them. I also wore my hijab in various styles because I wanted to show my non-Muslim friends at my university that there are all sorts of hijab styles and that my decision to wear hijab didn’t mean I had to compromise my love of and taste in fashion. I had a lot of fun shopping for hijabs as well and probably went overboard a few times but hey, a fashionista hijabi can never have too many scarves! As my friend Zahra once told me, you can’t change your hair colour everyday but you can change your hijab colour. That’s the fun part about being a hijabi. The best part, however, is feeling closer to God. There is no substitute for this feeling. Knowing that what I am doing is what He wants me to do because it is what's best for me makes me feel like I am going towards the right direction in my life and that I am growing as a person and as a Muslim.
Now, the interesting aspect about wearing hijab or being a new hijabi is the reactions I get from people. When Muslim women find out that I’ve decided to wear hijab they would congratulate and hug me.
“Mabrouk! You look beautiful, mashaAllah!”
“Really??? Oh congratulations my dear, it really suits you!”
“Sha! I’m so proud of you!”
It was as though I had accomplished something difficult or went through a rites of passage. As I walked into shops or bumped into friends, both Muslim and non-Muslim women would stop to compliment me, be it on my hijab or my clothes. Again it would always amaze me because women have never been nicer to me in my entire life! A Brazilian friend of mine, Marcela, always and I mean always as in literally every time we see each other, tells me how beautiful I look after I started wearing hijab. She doesn’t have to but she does it anyway because I think she knows it was a huge leap of faith for me. Sure, there were also women who didn't quite approve as much but for the most part they were very understanding.
Men, however, well that’s another interesting observation.
… to be continued.