Ramadan Reflections '13, Day 19: The Un-Veiling

I didn't think I would be blogging about hijab again, but here I am. I've kept my thoughts inside (and this entry unpublished for a couple of months), but bottling them up didn't make them go away. I've gotten past what people will think about me for what I'm about to write. Besides, I'm not known for following the crowd anyway. And since I see too many Muslims not using their critical thinking skills, I figured I should be brave enough to put my own thoughts out there with the hopes that others can be open as well. 

I was reading some of my blog entries from a few years ago, when I started to wear hijab, and I was startled to think that I wrote some of them. At the time, I was firmly a "hijab wearing Muslim"; I loved the choice, and felt that I had "made it" to an unwritten sect of higher spirituality and religiosity (yes, I admit thinking that). I felt like I had an identity, that I knew who I was, and that the hijab allowed me to be myself. I was finally a Muslim and hey, it had only taken 26 years but I had made it. Everything. Felt. Right.


I was also under the impression that being a Muslim woman consisted of a linear spectrum with milestones of achievement. The ultimate milestone, in my head, to being the BEST Muslim woman was wearing a black hijab and black abaya, a skirt (no pants now!), with ungroomed eyebrows and zero makeup. Yup, those women had really made it now! But I was working towards that and while I still wore jeans, Western clothes, brightly coloured scarves, and a touch of make-up to hide my teenage acne scars, I would InshaAllah get there one day...well, maybe not with the abaya, but those colours had to go. I wasn't so sure about growing my unibrow back either...


Rewind to about a year and a half ago and I started to wonder if I had made the right decision. I started to question why I wear hijab, the evidence within Islam for hijab, and if my spirituality had really grown by covering my dead keratin strands. I thought about how I received MORE stares wearing hijab than not, and if I agreed with covering my hair to prevent men from staring at me (that's the reason most Muslims support the hijab, rather than saying it's for the sake of Allah). I wondered what was culture and religion, such as how women wear loosely fitting dupattas with hair spilling out in Pakistan, but within Arab countries, hijabs are worn so tight that even the skinniest of woman have a double chin. I started to wonder if I had done the right thing for the right reasons...or if I had made the choice to wear the hijab because it's what all "good" Muslim women are expected to do? And had it brought me closer to Allah? I'd stare in the mirror on some mornings, just before leaving for work, and wondered if it was really me staring back or the community's expectation of what I should be. Did this fabric belong wrapped around my head? Is this what I need to consider myself a Muslim, to have a personal and private relationship with Allah? Or was I just following blindly what so many Muslim women do?


After a lot of inward searching, I made a decision. It was tough at first, being "exposed" again. I have heard many hijabis blast women for taking off their hijab, making accusations such as them wanting to dress more liberally, to show off their hair and made-up beauty, to attract men, etc. These are all false and stem from a conservative person's narrow-minded and superficial views on why someone would stop wearing the hijab. I don't think people realize what a difficult decision "un-hijabing" can be and how awkward it is, even though you've made up your mind and feel somewhat confident about your decision. Being in a large public place (i.e. a mall or grocery store) is the worse. There were times I'd see hijabis I know and turn around and walk in the other direction. It's not easy and it still isn't. While it's no one business, our people talk and I just didn't want to be a part of their topics.

And then there's the gossip. Funny enough, my non-Muslim friends were the most supportive, and were respectful enough to ask me directly why I stopped wearing it. Their most common comment was "it's neat to see you both ways". The Muslims though, well...they would ask others behind my back why I had all of a sudden taken it off. And if I was "ok". Typical. 


As some of my Muslim colleagues and friends further found out about my un-veiling, most didn't say anything, but there were odd comments here and there. Comments eluding to the reason why I took it off (i.e. because I felt I was ugly with hijab) are not helpful, since you're assuming my reasons for taking it off are superficial and based on looks. And then others who would see me wearing it in one instance (i.e. for work) and not in another (i.e. out and about), and would make comments such as "oh, you're having a bad hair day?". Sure, you may say it like a joke, but how is this funny? You assume I'm treating the hijab like a joke. Further comments such as "I pray that one day you put it back on" are pointless. If there's anything you should be praying for, please pray for my closeness to Allah, spirituality, family health, etc. Please don't pray for me to wrap my head up again, assuming that this is what I need to do in my life. As if it's a milestone I need to make in order to be considered a "good" and pious Muslim. And if these Muslims felt awkward around me, then perhaps they should have kept quiet and dealt with this awkwardness themselves.


I also need to reiterate that not all women who stop wearing the hijab also stop wearing half of the clothes on their bodies. This is such a misconception! In my case, NOTHING about me dressing modestly and being covered changed EXCEPT the  hijab. I'm still wearing long sleeves, long pants, long skirts, closed necklines, shirts that cover my tush, and long sleeved shirts and pants in hot yoga, even though there are times the humidity kills me! I don't feel the need to justify my taking off the hijab to anyone, but when there are assumptions made as to what else I'm taking off (i.e. or towards others who stop wearing hijab), I need to clear the air right away.


I'm also blessed to have a husband who supports me in my decisions and is open minded enough to see where I'm coming from. Recently, on our trip to Boston, we headed to a nearby beach, since Asif was born to be one with the water! I set up my camp chair, pulled out a book, and acted as a semi-lifeguard/semi-swimming-supporter as he dove into the cool waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The wind was blowing quite hard. I put my book down and slowly realized something...this was one of the few times I had felt such strong wind against my whole head in 5 years. The reason both of us love nature so much is because of its strong ties to Allah. I closed my eyes behind my sunglasses and realized that the wind blowing was because of Him. And then I started to think about how many women can no longer feel the hot sun and blowing wind against their heads because of the hijab. And how when they're driving, rolling down the window to cool down on a humid day doesn't really work. In my head, I wonder if Allah meant for women to be deprived of such basic and beautiful things? To be deprived of experiencing His power and grace? Mainly all over one verse in the Quran that uses the Arabic term "khimaar" (which means "cover" by the way) next to "over your bosoms" and NOT the term "hijab"? 

So if I'm in public, walking with my husband and holding his hand, and the breeze strikes my hair, this is not me sexualizing myself for the eyes of other men (in my humble opinion). If a man oogles at me, it should be on HIM to lower his gaze, not on me to dress in a burqa to ward off his stare. Actually, I'm pretty sure that a burqa would do the opposite. Besides, I'm covered from neck to toes, a scarf wrapped around my neck, wearing sunglasses, no makeup and messy hair. I'm not beautifying myself to begin with. As I said before, I'd get more stares from wearing hijab than not wearing it. So how is it that I'm being immodest and luring men to stare at me?! This is not the Islam I have come to know. This is people speaking who misinterpret what Islam says and wholeheartedly make women seem like the poison that forces men to check them out. 

Besides this point, look at what is happening all over the world...women wearing full black abayas and niqab are being raped and sexually assaulted. 

Overall, my views on being a "good" Muslim and spirituality have changed dramatically. I now realize that there is no spectrum of spirituality correlated with hijab wearing, and if there is one, it's certainly not linear (in my view anyway). Life is too complex to be defined solely by the "X" axis. I also believe, as I've seen in Muslim countries I've travelled to, that the views on hijab in Calgary are very conservative. Some Muslim women overseas don't always wear the hijab. Hijab-wearing is more dependent on the situation. I think we in the West see hijab with too much of a black and white view. And perhaps this pun is inappropriate to use, but there are "many" shades of grey!


Hijab is NOT the sixth pillar of Islam, so why are we so enthralled by telling women that they need to make like a pearl or lollipop and cover their tresses?! Brothers too, y'all need to mind your own business, enough of those degrading hijab memes that reduce women to objects and Barbie doll pictures that you cut and paste abayas and hijabs over! No matter what Muslim women do these days, we're screwed. Damned if we do and damned if we don't. 

And we all need to stop ONLY celebrating those who start wearing the hijab as if it's a milestone that needs to be reached in order to be considered a practicing Muslim. It's like telling young girls over and over again "my, you're so cute!" when you see them, rather than focusing on her inner qualities and skills. What does she grow up to believe? That since people are only commenting on her external cuteness and beauty, that THIS is what matters. It's challenging to be a Muslim in this day and age regardless of what you do or don't wear. Let's stop focusing on others' outward appearances and choices and pay attention to our own inner spiritual needs, please. Let's focus on our own jihads.


We're all human, we all change, and to expect ourselves to remain the same all the time is unrealistic. My views on hijab have changed, and hey, they may very well change again. But for now, I am quite content with this balance I have achieved. One thing for me is unwavering though. All that I am and have, I owe to Allah. And if there are people who place more importance in a piece of fabric that is "missing" from my head than in this, they simply don't deserve a place in my life.


And Allah knows best. 


For more of an in-depth view on the hijab within Islam from an unconventional standpoint, check out these blogs:

http://sobersecondlook.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/hijab-and-the-objectification-of-women/




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