Memoirs of A New Hijabī
Posted on Jun 16, 2017
A few months ago, I decided to take the bold step to start wearing the hijab. It had been a work in progress for a year, inspired by so many factors. My intentions with this piece are to document my personal experience and share my thoughts on how I came to the decision to wear hijab. I pray that with my words I do not offend anyone or come off judgmental in any way. I hope to possibly enlighten others, answers any questions, and encourage an open dialogue. I also wouldn’t mind any advice, pointers or feedback!
If you would’ve asked me 5 years ago, as I wore my pencil skirts and performed dance in costumes that were totally frowned upon by my mother, "Do you, Shereen Lotfi Youssef, see yourself wearing hijab someday?" my answer would’ve been “eeh…not really but insha’Allah in another 20 years.” I loved my sports, my hobbies, and my wardrobe way too much to tuck them away. I was convinced that my good heart and actions were good enough. That being kind to others was good enough. Yes - I needed to make my prayers consistent and read more Qur’an, but overall I was a good person. I was content with my relationship with God, and that is what led me into trouble. I realized I was content with myself and “my deeds” and neglecting the development of my relationship with my Creator.I decided to put the Hijab on to take a step closer to God. It is because I want to be obedient to Him. It is my way of expressing my love for my faith.
Complacency is a spiritual disease
Complacency in my spiritual life is a disease that continues today. Most of us don’t make any changes unless drastic calamities hit home. Sadly, those changes tend to happen for the worse. Some of us don’t make any changes because we don't think they are necessary. We believe that as long as we don’t hurt anyone and are good to others, we are good to go. A content, comfortable and happy life is all we should aim for. Personally, I was conditioned to go after the degrees, the high paying job, and starting a family (which came way later in my life Alhamdulillah). I learned to be the best at everything I picked up, no matter how long it took me to master. I thrived on self-improvement in my career, communication, independence, remaining humble with life’s tests and helping others whenever I can. I was too self-consumed with my accomplishments, which begged the question: what the heck am I doing with the amount of blessings I have? What is bigger than me, my happiness, my family and my self-proclaimed sense of “being?” I hated all these questions because frankly, they left me more confused about my life even though it seemed like was I was getting ahead.
I was too wrapped up in my Ihsan (beauty & excellence) and neglected my Iman (faith) and Islam (outwardly practice).
External Manifestation of Faith Is Just As Important
Internally, I felt spiritually in-tune, but I didn't know that being in-tune externally was also an important factor. I used to think that my faith is between God and myself and thus should remain internal. Until one day, a handsome young cat named Fouad, who’s from Chicago (well Kenosha, Wisconsin to keep it 100), strolled into my life and swept me away. He was into the importance of portraying the external aspect of our faith. I mean REALLY into it. I was REALLY into the internal aspect of our faith and the ability to be sincere and kind. So much so that I kept justifying that is all I needed to do. After a lot of back and forth, we ended up marrying each other. We realized our love story is based on a delicate equilibrium that Allah (S) has blessed us with, Alhamdulilah.I was content with my relationship with God and that is what led me into trouble. I realized I was content with myself and “my deeds” and neglecting the development of my relationship with my Creator.
Suddenly, I was introduced to a whole new world. Fouad was learning Islam from a technical perspective, so naturally, I began learning with him. I was intrigued as I progressively and involuntarily learned about the different branches of one’s relationship with the Creator. I learned that God, who brought on all the blessings and some of the toughest trials I faced, can also take all that away. SubhanAllah, the more I learned the intricacies of our faith, the more clear our role in this temporary world became. I realized that I am merely a creation who's not in control of most of my circumstances in life. Being the “control freak” I am, the concept of letting go was - and still is - hard. I had to understand that my accomplishments are not because I lost my dad at an early age and struggled to build myself up, but simply because this is the life that is destined for me, and I have some room to make a few decisions while I live it.
I decided to put the Hijab on to take a step closer to God. It is because I want to be obedient to Him. It is my way of expressing my love for my faith. It is to show that this is who I am and I am not afraid to say that anymore. It is because, in my heart, I feel that this is the right thing to do. While I have some apprehension about wearing hijab in today’s society and in a country that is so divided by hate, I trust that God’s got me. I have conviction in my faith without fear or hesitation because my faith in God is stronger than any fear created by man. I pray that it remains this way and for it to continue to strengthen my heart every day.
I want to share some of the honest thoughts I've had as I came to this decision. In retrospect, I find these somewhat entertaining and a bit nuts, but nevertheless, these were my real struggles that I had to work through.
Honest thought #1: Wait, am I really doing this for God?
When talking to others about hijab so many people always said: “Shereen, make sure that you make this decision only for God and only when you are ready.” The truth is, being 'ready' is a state of mind that is not reached overnight. While there may be some external forces that can subconsciously add pressure around the hijab, it becomes unclear where these voices are coming from. Sometimes I felt my own unspoken pressures. Sometimes I felt the spoken pressure from the closest people to me including my community. I had to navigate through this and constantly check my intentions. When I sat down to ask myself some serious questions, I was able to understand my struggles and what I needed to do to calm the outside voices. Prayer was the biggest force that helped me navigate through these thoughts. It kept me focused on the real reason I wanted to wear hijab: for God.
Honest thought #2: Is hijab really an obligation?
Thankfully, this was not a major factor in my decision. This topic has made me start a whole new blog because it is SO important to back up my decision with knowledge. Especially when this discourse has been a big reason for many many women taking off the hijab. After gaining some understanding of how rulings are deciphered in our faith through implicit and explicit laws stated in Qur’an and Sunnah, there can be different ways to interpret our religion. So, I can completely understand if one is not ready to put on a hijab or is struggling too much to take it off. But debating whether or not it is an obligation in Islam is offensive to me. This is not to take away from the fact that I respect every decision each one of us chooses to make, regardless of what we should or shouldn’t do. Again, I say this with the utmost respect for those who may disagree with me.
Honest thought #3: I am going to look like a potato sack with a hijab?
This was a hard one. My style has changed drastically over the last 5 years and, with my weight gain after my knee surgeries, I just felt like it was going to be an ugly transition. Surprisingly, this is was all in my head. I actually feel cuter, prettier, and more confident after wearing the hijab. THIS IS ALL FROM GOD! Alhamdulilah.
Honest thought #4: If I ever apply for a job again, will I get hired?
For many who don’t know, I’ve been working on my own non-profit and decided to focus on it full time while recovering from my knee surgeries. It’s a good time to do this because I have a flexible schedule. But coming from the corporate world, this thought was in the back of my head. I shrugged it off the second I remembered that everything is in God’s control. He will put me where He thinks is best, and now with my hijab, they will look at my talents not my looks. So it is actually a great thing, and I pray that people see me for who I am not for who they fear, Insha’Allah.
Honest thought #5: My hair!!! But but I love my hair!
Haha, I am so into my hair - it's so shallow, I know! As a girl, it is a token of beauty and, well, I got lots of that beauty on my head. I loved styling my hair and showing it off. This was the hardest thing to “tuck” away. As Fouad said to me one time “Shereen you’re not going to be without hair once you put the scarf on!” Not sure why, but I was convinced I was going to go bald or lose my hair. My hair is actually still here!! Now I get to do some funky stuff with it without worrying about how crazy it will look. Just kidding! But there is something really special about showing it only to the people who get to see it.
(I know. I am sorry this is such a girly thing, but it was a serious thought I battled with)
Here are some AWESOME moments experienced with hijab:
- From “Masalamaloykom” to “Hello fellow hijabi sister” the different types of interactions with strangers especially from non-Muslims has been so heart warming.
- Witnessing the good in people who go out of their way to smile, open doors, give up their seats for me, and let me through traffic has been awesome.
- When it is time to pray, I don’t have to look for a scarf. What a relief!
- The sparkle in my mother’s eyes when she saw me for the first time with a scarf is priceless.
- Receiving compliments about my scarf from strangers is humbling.
- The friends and family that tell me they are proud of me tickles my heart.
- My non-Muslim best friends telling me how much they love me and how they will always support my decision. My friend Allie once said, “If anyone messes with you I will drop kick them in the face.” That comment empowered me so much!
- The proud look Fouad gives me every day that melts my heart.
Hijabi bloopers & rookie moves:
- The long part of my scarf got dipped into a toilet bowl a couple of times. It wasn’t funny at the time but when I told Fouad, he laughed, and I realized that it is kind of funny.
- The moment you realize something is wrong with your scarf because you see it falling backward in the reflection of a stranger’s sunglasses is a reminder that pins are essential to a successful hijab day.
- Falling in love with the material of a scarf does not mean that the scarf will look nice on your head.
- Earrings under a scarf: not worth the trouble at all!
- Turbans: so tempting but…ya no…never mind.
Things I still struggle with:
- The suffocating feeling around the neck area when its a warm day.
- To have my hijab game on point and avoiding (as my cousin Kallie would say) "bad scarf days."
- Headaches from wearing my hair in a bun all day.
- Finding a workout scarf that doesn't make me look like a tool or make me sweat like a man.
- Checking my intentions every day, instead of being attached to “how I look.”
- The fear of disappointing those I love for making this decision
- Unspoken words from people who think I’ve changed or became extreme. I'm still the bubbly Shereen who loves to be goofy, enjoys nature, feeds off philosophical concepts, loves sports and dances to her own beat. I don't plan on changing or getting rid of those passions, insh’Allah.
(For any friends that can give me some pointers, I am all ears – no pun intended lol)
In conclusion (FINALLY!)
In a world filled with disheartenment and suffering, I just can’t bare the fact that my faith is being misrepresented. I can’t be prouder to be who I am today and grateful to be able to represent Islam's beauty in a Western society. I can’t be more thankful for God’s blessings throughout my entire life. Sometimes, I ask myself "what have I done to deserve all this?" Sometimes I just can’t find the words to say besides Alhamdulilah - for my family, for my abilities, for my experiences, for my husband, for my losses, for my mistakes, for my imperfections, for my tests and for the gift of guidance. I pray that I am looked at for who I am and not because I am feared or judged by something that “seems” uncomfortable or different. Because if you know me, you know how hard I work on demonstrating kindness and making others feel comfortable. Every single day. This is what my faith asks me to do.
I pray first and foremost for God to make this transition smooth and to solidify this decision in my heart. I pray He brings ease and comfort to anyone who is considering or struggling with the hijab. I pray that I am a good example to those around me, both outwardly and inwardly. I pray He forgives me for my shortcomings and any mistakes I have made. I am open to comments, opinions, questions, and dialogue. Mostly, I ask for your prayers and kind words throughout my new journey.
All thanks to God for the ability to come to this decision and to be able to share it with you. My gratitude for my beautiful family goes beyond what any words can express. They have shown me how to be true to myself, and I’m blessed for their support with my decision. I owe them so much!
May Allah protect our Ummah and allow us to become better versions of ourselves and follow the best example for all humanity, Muhammad (S).
Shereen Youssef is an Egyptian-American who came to the U.S as a refugee from the Kuwait-Iraq Gulf War in 1990. After working in Banking & Business Development for over 15 years, Shereen founded Create A Smile in 2013 and is currently acting as the Executive Director. During her free time, Shereen enjoys reading, writing, archery, hiking, and cooking with her husband, Fouad. She gets inspiration from traveling, her family, and grabs on to any opportunity she can to be a kid with her nieces and nephews. She loves to share her teachings and experience with young adults and hopes that the smallest impact she passes on can influence positive differences in people's lives.