One of my biggest fears about wearing hijab was that people would judge me based on the negativity they had heard or read about Muslims before getting to know me for themselves. As I live in New Zealand most of the time I knew I would have to face non-Muslims all the time - at varsity, in supermarkets, on airplanes. It’s much easier to dress like the people around me and sort of blend in. I worried about what girls thought of me as much as I did guys . I had heard horror stories from my friends and had many pre-conceived ideas about people’s reactions and to be honest, I expected the worst.
I didn’t know that I was in for a big surprise.
Who would've thought that non-Muslims wouldn't treat me that much differently. I would have to say that it’s probably because I live in New Zealand where racism is quite uncommon and people are laid-back and open-minded.
Non-Muslim men are more respectful. When they talk to me I think they’re quite surprised to see that what I wear and most importantly, my faith, doesn’t stop me from being outgoing and creative. They’re still friendly but obviously they don’t flirt or try to be funny with me. That would be the only major difference I have noticed since I started wearing hijab. Guys don’t approach me as freely as before and half-drunk guys don’t make lewd comments at me when I walk past them (most students live on campus and getting drunk by 5 pm on weekends is not unusual around here). When my classmates talk to me, they look me in the eye and they take me seriously. They don’t do the whole ‘up and down look’ anymore. Some girls do but not guys.
So what about Muslim guys?
I had a similar response with Muslim men. I guess some of you would say they shouldn’t be responding at all since men should lower their gaze and what not! But the reality of it is Muslim men are just like any other men out there – they’re not perfect and they make mistakes. Most of them have been respectful. Many of the ones who knew me before my big change do treat me the same way because they’ve always been nice and respectful anyway but I do see a glint of respect in their eyes and a level of formality in the way they behave with me.
The funny thing is I think some Muslim guys notice me just a little bit more because I’m visibly a Muslim now. I think they have something called a ‘hijabi radar’ and the moment they see a hijabi they get curious! Amina’s younger brother actually texted and told her that he saw a new hijabi in town and she asked him to double check and make sure that it wasn’t me. Turns out it was me after all. He said I look completely different but in a good way. Ah, that boy’s always been a hoot. Some of them texted me to say they were proud of me for making this step and some even asked me about it in person because they just wanted to know more about my motivation behind it. But I have had Muslim male friends who said things like, “To me it doesn’t really make a difference”. Good thing I didn’t do it for the sake of pleasing men, or rather for the sake of pleasing people, because otherwise I would’ve been quite confused.
My experience as a hijabi in the last six months in New Zealand has been a very positive one, alhamdulillah. I think the only instance I've had someone say a rude remark to me was the time I went shopping with Lamya. Otherwise, people have been so nice to me, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. I honestly can't ask for a better outcome or experience as a hijabi in a Western country. In Malaysia, it was a little hard, I have to admit. I think it was mainly because that's where I go for my holidays and to have fun, and dressing up and wearing relatively sexy clothes (operative word: relatively!) was part of that fun for me. Every woman wants to feel desired and beautiful but I'm not saying Islam is trying to make women feel less desired by 'hiding' their beauty.
In Islam, a woman's beauty is skin-deep. It is everything that makes her gentle yet resilient, humble yet dignified. Everything that makes her special.
In Islam, a woman's sensuality is not suppressed. It is sacred.
In Islam, a woman doesn't have to be 36-24-36 to be beautiful and valuable. She doesn't even have to be anything society deems to be 'so hot right now'. Shocking, I know.
The day I started wearing hijab was the day I slowly started to leave behind my old lifestyle and bad habits. It wasn't easy but I realised I had to start somewhere. The essence of modesty is how you feel and not just what you do. Modesty truly begins on the inside and it upsets me whenever I hear people saying things like,
"If you don't wear hijab, you're not a good Muslim woman."
"If you wear jeans and make up with hijab, you look like a clown." (Oh trust me readers, this has been said in a couple of khutbahs (sermons) in our masjid)
Saying that to people is just arrogant and ignorant. That's not how you educate people about Islam. You don't attack them by making them feel bad about themselves. You're suppose to inspire them so that they will take the steps that they need to understand why modesty is required in Islam. Surely when modesty is sown and nurtured in one's heart, it will blossom and branch out into actions that are beautiful in God's eyes.
Plus, it wasn't like I immediately made drastic changes. For example, I didn't start to wear loose tops until a couple of months ago and wearing make up was an everyday routine and a must (and while I still love make up today, I don't feel like it's a must anymore). I didn't go on Facebook and started deleting all my old photos. In fact, all of them were left there for a good six months. I think it was just before my birthday on September the 8th that I decided to delete my non-hijab profile pictures and even that I didn't have the heart to do. I got my trustworthy friend, Amina, to delete them for me. Shortly after that I had my old photo albums set to 'Only Me'. Again, I didn't have the heart to delete them. I felt like doing so would be like deleting my entire past and I didn't have a terrible past, I had a happy one. But there's always room to grow and I told myself to keep moving forward in life. Not go backwards or stay stagnant.
So I took a leap of faith and then moved a step forward. Today I am at peace with myself and I am grateful to God for making what I once thought was impossible, possible.
... stay tuned for Part III: Frequently Asked Questions!
P.S. Feel free to ask me about hijab and hijab-related questions. Write away in the comment box or via the contact form here.