Posted on Sep 05, 2019
By Rowayda Kawji
Hijab is a personal journey that is unique to every woman who undertakes it. For some, deciding to wear the hijab is a calculated decision; for others, a leap of faith. It can come easy for some women. For others, family, work or peers may create difficult obstacles. Regardless of what brought a woman to wear hijab, one thing many new, especially younger, hijab wearers have in common is that they may begin to wear the hijab around this time of year – when schools and universities are starting up and summer is coming to a close. This time of transition is time many new hijab wearers publicly debut their decision.
I also began wearing hijab at the start of a new school year several years ago. I felt a mix of confidence and trepidation when the school year started, and I was wearing my hijab. For those of you contemplating the decision to wear hijab or who have recently started wearing it, I’ve put together some questions I (and several of my friends) have been asked to help you when you face the same or similar questions. I pray that you find the advice helpful and gain some peace and confidence in your heart.
The author during her freshman year in university in Chicago.
What made you decide to wear the hijab at the time that you wore it?
I think each woman has a different aha moment when she decides she’s ready to wear hijab; when she understands what it signifies and is prepared for the responsibilities of taking her faith to a new level. I was always surrounded by women who wore hijab – my mother, my aunts and my role models. I grew up viewing hijab as powerful and beautiful, and I always wanted to wear it. When I fully understood the meaning of hijab, I decided to start wearing it the summer before starting at a new school. It felt much more logical to be introduced as a hijabi at the start of the school year rather than to start wearing hijab on a random Tuesday in the middle of the school year.
I started wearing it and alhamdulillah, I have continued wearing the hijab for 12 years and counting.
How does it feel to be the only hijabi in your school/workplace?
I grew up in an area where there were almost no Muslims. For example, in my junior high, there were three Muslims, and I was the only one who wore hijab. Having been the “other” my whole life, I was used to not quite fitting in even before I wore the hijab. I was well liked and had friends, but no other students looked like me or grew up with the same values as me. I had to accept that no matter how I dressed or how hard I tried, I would never fit in. This was really important, because it helped me overcome the fear that if I wore hijab, I wouldn’t fit in.
Accepting and experiencing, however, are two different things. It was not easy to be so visibly different than my peers, and by choice. However, I continually remind myself of why I had decided to wear hijab in the first place and how passionate I felt about the beauty of hijab. I decided not to let any smug remark or dirty look dampen that passion or the beautiful journey I was on to become closer to Allah.
Where did you get your confidence?
From my mother, alhamdulillah. I have always had a very close relationship with my mom, and she always prioritized me. I could open up to her and share my struggles with her. She constantly reminds me of a hadith that roughly translates to, “You will never leave something for the sake of Allah, but Allah will give you something better in return.” She taught me that in life, we have to make tough decisions to please Allah, and a lot of those times the decision ends up being between what will please us (or the people around us) versus what will please Allah.
My mother taught me never to worry when it comes to one’s own thoughts or the thoughts of others when making a decision for the sake of Allah, because Allah will always provide you with exactly what you need at that moment. For me, perhaps Allah provided me with confidence - because before I wore hijab, I was not very confident, I did not have a strong sense of self. When I started wearing hijab, however, my confidence soared. It was like Allah was telling me I had nothing to worry about.
What do you do on the days when you struggle with the hijab or with self-image?
Sometimes, inevitably, we look in the mirror and feel a mix of emotions – doubt, insecurity, uneasiness. In times like these, it is imperative that we renew our intentions and remind ourselves of what we already know: We are beautiful, we are confident, we are strong, we are much deeper than our appearance. We are sacrificing so that Allah will be pleased with us in this life and in the next.
How do you quiet fears of Islamophobia?
We are in a time when hijab-wearing Muslim women are a target, because we are so visibly Muslim. It’s so sad that hate crimes against Muslims are encouraged by the rhetoric of our country’s politics. Statistically speaking, most of us will not be victims of Islamophobic attacks, but many of us will be subject to Islamophobic remarks or actions. For example, in my 13 years of wearing hijab, I’ve heard my fair share of Islamophobic remarks.
I believe it’s best to follow the example of the Prophet Muhammad (saw) by being compassionate in the face of hatred and either be ready with an explanation of why the comments are ignorant, or ignoring it all together. We must be prepared to defend ourselves in the face of danger, but I always want to start with compassion.
Another example of Islamophobia I’ve faced is discrimination on the basis of my appearance, especially in the case of applying for jobs or schools. In cases like these, it’s important to remind yourself that what Allah has written for you will be yours without having to sacrifice your faith, and that it’s better for you not to work or go to school in an institution/environment that will only accept you if you sacrifice your identity.
What do you do if your family or friends do not support your decision or criticize/insult you for it?
Alhamdullilah, I have not faced this in my life. However I know others who have, and I suggest you read their words. We have a post that will be published on this blog this week that speaks specifically to this experience and how to deal with it.
Are you new to hijab? How have you managed the transition? Did you start wearing it upon the beginning of a new school year or move to a different area? Share your stories in the comments below!