Hijabi of the Month February - Noha Rahhal
Posted on Feb 02, 2013
February's HOTM comes from Egypt, you may remember her from the interview with Melanie on her blog Sans Retouches. She gives us her unique experience living in Egypt as well as her journey with hijab and her blog!
My name is Noha Rahhal. I’m Egyptian, was born and spent all my life in Alexandria. I’m 24 years old. Four years ago, I graduated from the Faculty of Arts (Alexandria University) with a major in Linguistics & Translation. Right now, I work as a Translator & Freelance Editor. I also founded Sans Retouches, my Fashion & Lifestyle blog which I’m really proud of. Apart from work, I live with my mother and younger brother who are the best things in my life. I’m passionate about reading, writing, charity work and listening to music.
When did you start wearing hijab?
I was almost 14 when I decided to wear hijab. I was just out of Junior High when one of my teachers decided to wear hijab. Hijab was still a new concept to me at the time; I asked her why she wore it. For a little girl like I was, seeing a beautiful stylish woman wearing hijab was out-of-the-question. “Why would you give up wearing all those fashionable clothes and look so modest?” I asked her bluntly. She was cheerfully honest and did not mind any of my questions. She talked about how hijab aims to value women and how she felt after wearing it. Still, none of this made sense untill Summer kicked in. Like any teenage girl, I was obsessed with looking my best and wearing the most attractive outfits just to grab attention. Gradually, I felt that something was missing and I was not feeling comfortable with how people viewed me. So, I recalled what my teacher said and I felt that hijab would be the right choice, and it surely was. My parents thought that I was too young to make such a decision and thought that I would take it off very soon, but when we talked and they saw how I was convinced with my choice, they totally respected my decision and supported it along the way.
What inspired you to start your blog, Sans Retouches?
Well, I have always been a fan of home businesses and have been following a lot of people, especially women, who started their own brands. In Egypt, as well as in many Arab countries, there is a huge obsession with foreign brands which have nothing to do with our identities as Muslims or Arabs. On the other hand, there are other striving talented designers who make beautiful stuff for reasonable prices, but almost no one knew about them. Coincidentally, I wrote an article about jewelry design in Egypt and posted it on one of my old blogs. I sent my friends the link; they all loved it and encouraged me to write more. That was when I figured that I should dedicate a whole blog to feature those designers and help them gain more visibility. So, I created Sans Retouches. It’s been almost 14 months since its launch. Along the way, I’ve had the chance to meet many talented people from all walks of life and helped others gain acclaim. Of course, the blog has developed tremendously since that time and I hope that I can further develop it in the future.
It's no secret Egypt has been experiencing major changes in the past couple years, tell us your firsthand experience and what people on the ground think of the current situation.
You have phrased it very eloquently, “major changes.” Unfortunately, most of these changes are difficult, but they are not as bloody and tragic as they appear on TV. Whenever something happens, I have friends calling me from other countries, saying, “Noha, are you okay? Please take care of yourself.” I assure them every time that things are much calmer than what they see or read about. However, we have to admit that Egypt is going through some critical times. It is getting harder to predict what’s going to happen next. Personally, I get pessimistic sometimes and start to lose hope, but when I chat with random strangers whom I meet in everyday life, listen to their opinions and insights, and realize how wise and knowledgeable they really are, I soon regain my faith in the power of the people who are capable of doing wonders.
What role does hijab play in Egyptian culture or society, if any?
When you walk down the streets in Cairo, Alexandria or any other city in Egypt, you will see a whole variety of women, Muslims (hijabis, non-hijabis and others wearing Niqab) and Non-Muslims too. Some people might get struck by what might appear as discrepancies, but what is really good about that is that people live peacefully and respect others’ choices. I’m not implying that things have been going very smoothly lately. Like anywhere else, extremism has been attempting to find its way in Egypt. Unfortunately, some people are inclined towards it, but I, personally, believe in the moderate Egypt that has prevailed in the past.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone struggling with hijab, what would it be?
It would depend on the nature of her struggle. Many families think that talking their girls into wearing hijab is the right thing to do. Well, this can be the right thing if the girl is willing too to take such a step. If her heart is not into it, she’d better wear it when she’s fully convinced. I used to think that the sooner, the better, but I’ve seen many girls who used to wear hijab but decided to take it off as they thought they were rushed into it either by parents, family or friends. Another thing is taking it slowly so that girls won’t feel overwhelmed.
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