Melanie's One-on-One Conversation with 'It Girl' Danyah!
Posted on Mar 30, 2013
I had a one-on-one convo with 'It Girl' Danyah and talked about everything from living in a small town to girls taking off hijab. We can't get enough of her and love her positive, up-beat outlook on life. Enjoy our chat!
Melanie: How old are you and where do you live?
Danyah: 23; Columbus, Indiana.
M: Where did you go to college?
D: I started at Michigan State University and transferred to Indiana University in Indianapolis after my freshman year when my family moved to Indiana. I also plan to attend an MBA-Health Admin program inshAllah.
M: Do you work?
D: Yes, I work at a health insurance company called SIHO as a Medical Management Specialist, but I'm now transitioning into a job at a hospital called Columbus Regional Hospital here in Indiana.
M: How old were you when you put on hijab?
D: I had just turned 20.
M: Does your mother wear hijab?
D: Yes, she's been wearing hijab since she was around 24.
M: A trend we see amongst girls who wear hijab is that more often than not their mother's wear it as well. Do you think this had an impact on you deciding to put it on?
D: Yes, I think my mother wearing hijab growing up made me more conscious of hijab. Our parents being our role models, I think she was a source of knowledge of hijab and modesty in general, whether it revolved around the conversations and questions we had growing up, or the image my mother represented as a modest Muslim woman in Islam. We were never pressured by our mother to wear hijab, though. So, my influence from her was more subconscious encouragement and awareness of hijab.
M: Ultimately, what made you decide to wear it?
D: I always had the intention to wear hijab floating in my mind, but I think being a girl, it's a challenge to let go of the things that make you stand out (or blend in) - specifically your hair. I wanted to make sure I was putting hijab on for the right reason, and that is to please Allah (S). Once I came to the realization that my fear of people, (what they're going to think, attention, not being able to stay fashionable and keep my sense of style) was greater than my fear of God, I decided I was ready to wear hijab. At the time I was living in Chicago and was surrounded by confident hijabis who proved to me that you can still be stylish, successful, and confident while wearing hijab. They helped me find a great sense of comfort in my decision. I also found it much easier than I expected to keep my sense of style - all I was doing was adding another item I could incorporate into my outfits.
M: I remember when I was growing up, there was one girl at my local masjid who wore hijab so gracefully. I really admired her and thought to myself, when I wear hijab - I want to be like that. Was there anyone you looked up to or had a similar experience with growing up?
D: In my younger years, I actually didn't know too many hijabis in my community other than the mothers. It wasn't until I grew older and went to college that I became inspired by the style of women in hijab. I have always lived in cities with smaller Muslim communities, so when I became more involved in Islamic conferences, events, and programs, I met tons of Muslim sisters. I remember several girls from Illinois and Michigan that stood out to me as being girls that had a similar sense of style. There were two people in particular that really stood out to me as being people I admire in hijab, and actually helped me gain confidence when I first moved to Columbus four years ago and struggled a little with hijab - ironically one of them is you. I often look to these people to remind me that fashion is simply what we make it.
M: Aww that's so sweet :)
D: I'm not making it up either lol :)
M: What's the hardest part about wearing hijab for you?
D: I think the hardest part about wearing hijab for me is the fact that I'm hiding away my security blanket - my hair. I always felt I look very different with my hair than with hijab, which is exactly the point. So, when I wear hijab, the hardest parts are trying to find a way to tie it where I still feel confident in myself, and trying to match the print of the hijab with the rest of my outfit (prints on prints). Even before I started wearing hijab, I had the same sense of style in my clothing in terms of modesty, so the only thing that really changed was covering my hair.
M: What do you love most about wearing hijab?
D: I love the idea that just as you can manipulate an outfit in different ways, there isn't one definitive way to wear hijab. I'm able to tie my hijab differently for different occasions and with an endless variety of prints and colors. That allows me to mix and match my outfits and hijabs. I often get comments from my non-Muslim coworkers about how my hijabs always match my outfits and how I have a hijab for every outfit! That being said, I love the fact that I am able to show the non-Muslim community that a covered Muslim woman can still demonstrate a sense of style and be fashionable just as anyone else.
M: I get the sense that fashion and expressing yourself through clothing is very important to you!
D: It is something I like to do, but ultimately the most important thing is that I'm pleasing Allah (S). So, if I can first do that, then expressing myself is a great bonus. I believe that by going out in the community with hijab, especially a community that is predominantly non-Muslim, knowing that I am doing da'wah as a representative of Islam is a great privilege and honor. Especially when the impression you make is a positive one - people will remember that.
M: About 5 years ago I first noticed young Muslim women taking off hijab. At first I thought it was best not to talk about it, because that would only give it more importance and possibly encourage other girls to take their hijabs off as well. As the months and years passed, more and more women were taking off hijab. Not just young, impressionable girls in high school and college - but adult married with children women. (Remember the girl I looked up to in hijab? She no longer wears it today.) It was as if one person gave implicit permission to the next girl who didn't have the guts to do it. At that point I really felt like this phenomenon needed to be addressed. There have actually been news stories about Muslim women "unveiling." Do you have any thoughts on the topic?
D: I have noticed the same phenomenon happening with people that I know as well. It seems people take it off due to social pressure, lack of confidence, the perception that it will help them get married, or the belief that it is not required. There may also be societal pressure after seeing one person take it off and that person may be encouraged to take it off as well. I find the "hijab isn't required" argument tends to be a common rationale for taking it off. If someone truly believes that hijab isn't required, that is their own personal choice and convincing others to accept that belief is where I see a concern. Another reason is that I think in this society where the emphasis on looks, and ultimately perfection, is emphasized so heavily, some girls are taking hijab off due to a loss in confidence. We as a society place such a grave emphasis on appearance making these girls/women lose confidence in themselves. The solution to them may be to unveil. Bringing this conversation to the table is important, albeit sensitive and of course we have no authority to judge. We shouldn't be ashamed of talking about this subject in our communities and being a source of support for girls struggling with hijab. What are we doing that is turning women away? Is it the lack of support and encouragement for each other, the emphasis on appearance and perfection that seems to be growing, the lack of proper attention to teachings of Islam in our communities, or something else? I think this is a conversation that needs more attention within Muslim communities themselves.
M: I think that when people use the "it's not required" argument they're in denial. In their heart of hearts I always feel like they know it's obligatory, but want so badly to believe it's not. I think 99% of the time, it's a vanity issue. What do you think we as a community need to be doing in order to help remedy this growing problem?
D: I think we as a community need to do two things, and both revolve around communication. I think parents need to consciously work toward bringing the conversation back into the house because that's where this all starts. Dialogue with parents is so important. I think one thing that had the most significant impact on my understanding and practice of Islam is what I learned through dialogue with my parents and family growing up. The second is bringing these conversations into the Muslim community. Whether it is some type of halaqa or interactive gathering, creating dialogue within the community is necessary. I find that lecturing people on the do's and don't's is less effective than encouraging participation and positive dialogue with community members. Encouraging youth and adults to ask difficult questions rather than being silent out of fear or ridicule is very important. Opening doors to positive dialogue and interaction in the community and in the home seem to be two great ways to slow this growing problem, and perhaps even turn it around.
M: Well said :) You mentioned that you live in a smaller community I'm assuming you live in a predominately white area. We've come across many Muslim women who don't wear hijab out of fear of what others (i.e. non-Muslims) will say, think or do. They've often cited not being able to find a job as a concern. What would you say to these people?
D: I do live in a smaller, predominantly white community and my first response would be - if that environment is not open to diversity or does not value the intelligence, creativity and passion of a hijab-wearing employee, you won't be happy in that environment and shouldn't want to work there. Yes, there are some employers who seek specific types of employees. However, Allah (S) is all powerful, and if we don't get that job (whether it's because of hijab or not), I certainly believe there's a reason behind it and Allah (S) will open other doors which may be better for us. Alhamdulillah, I have not felt as though I haven't been given a fair chance because of my hijab, even in a community with as few hijabis as this one. I try to break the ice with simple conversation, and many times, that's all it takes to make a good impression. I truly believe Allah (S) has made hijab easy for me here because of the immense positive feedback I get from the people I work with. When you wear hijab and demonstrate a positive, approachable attitude, it is very easy to be respected. If not, it may be that there are better opportunities out there for you. I like to always remember that when we take one step toward Allah (S), He takes 10 toward us.
M: Ok, a couple fashion-related questions now. What's your go-to outfit as a hijabi?
D: I'd have to say I love a good, casual outft for a typical day, and that would consist of a button down shirtdress or blouse with a belt and jeans. The great thing about that is the shirts are generally solid, so mixing and matching hijabs is quick and easy. For the summer, I love linen pants! A good pair of linen pants paired with a cardigan and collared shirt or tank top underneath gives me another simple, yet stylish outfit.
M: What is your holy grail, absolutely-can't-live-without-it hijab?
D: I have two favorite Haute Hijabs - one is a vintage chain link that I got in the very early stages of Haute Hijab and I wear it all the time! Another is the Safari Scarf I absolutely love.
M: That chain link one you have is amazing!
D: It's my faaaavorite - everyone loves it :)
M: Do you find it difficult to shop for modest clothing?
D: Not at all! The great thing about shopping is that now most popular stores carry modest clothing - long sleeves, longer shirts, wider pants. Several years ago it was harder to find long shirts like shirt-dresses or maxi skirts, but now I can find these things just about anywhere. I don't have one specific store I shop at and own something from almost everywhere. So, I don't think you need to go anywhere specific to find the right modest outfits. You can find items from different stores and piece them together to make the perfect stylish outfit and maintain modesty at the same time.
M: I totally agree - I remember a time when it was impossible to find long skirts, and if you did it had a long slit in it that made me want to scream. That's when I started making my own!
D: I know!!! It's much easier now though :)
M: What has been the best part about being Haute Hijab's 'It Girl?'
D: The best part is that just as I was inspired by fashionable hijabis growing up and in my own transition to hijab, I can try to do the same for others. If there is one girl out there I can inspire - whether it's helping someone regain confidence, provide fashion ideas in hijab, help a hijabi get through a bump in the road, or even inspire someone to wear hijab, I will get a great sense of satisfaction out of being the 'It Girl' and grateful for having positively affecting someone. It's also exciting to be an icon for both modesty and style as well, being able to demonstrate my sense of style has been such a pleasure to do!
M: Our next 'It Girl' has some big shoes to fill!
D: Aww :)
M: What is one motto/phrase that you live by?
D: The first thing that comes to mind is an ayah from the Qur'an: "Is the reward for good anything but good?" (55:60), which reminds me that in any time of tribulation, whether related to hijab or not, Allah (S) knows us better than anyone else. If we have the right intention and are trying to do good, that will not go unnoticed by Him.
M: I love that! Last question that we love to ask, what piece of advice would you give to someone struggling with hijab?
D: The first thing I would advise someone struggling with hijab is: talk to people. Don't be embarrassed. Wearing hijab is an honor for women, yes, but it can also a challenge for some. I would advise them to talk to elders who have a bit of wisdom and a good understanding of Islam. Sometimes when we go to our peers who may not really have a solid understanding of Islam, we may get advice that will push us away on one end or scare us on the other. It's important not to keep your concerns bottled up, but also to go to the right people for consolation or consultation. I myself struggled with hijab at one point, and I spoke to many people about my concerns. I came out of that period much more confident in hijab and confident in myself. From my experience, talking to the right people made all the difference.
Do you have a question for Danyah? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org!