World Hijab Day-2018
Today is World Hijab Day; a movement started by New York resident Nazma Khan as a means to invite non hijaab wearing women (Muslim and Non-Muslim) alike to join for one day and wear the hijaab. The idea is to walk a mile in someone’s shoes, in this case-hijab. This day was started in 2013 a post 9/11 world, where hate crime against Muslims is on the rise.
I am all for trendy movements because if nothing else, at the very least they help bring an otherwise taboo subject to the fore. World Hijab Day has many critics and I fully understand where the criticism is coming from and don’t necessarily disagree or think that the criticism is unfounded (but more on that later). I don’t like the idea of simplifying complex problems through joining a trending movement, and that is precisely why I have decided to write on it today-you know own my own narrative.
Most people associate hijab with oppression and a lack of choice. I want to share my story because if anything, it is a story of choice-but my intention is to also be very honest and forthcoming-The words following have never been spoken to a wider audience but only to a very few close and trusted friends and family members. This piece definitely is going to be raw, unadulterated real talk from the heart–so fasten your seat belt as I take you onto my Hijaab journey.
My Hijaab Story?
I was 14 when my dad gave us the impeccable news that we as a family were getting an opportunity to go for Hajj. I had just turned 14 that month of April in 1996. My dad who is known to do things by the seat of his pants-impulse decisions are his forte, had applied for the hajj application that year, at the absolute last moment right before the deadline. Most people when embarking on this journey, go as husband and wife, not my father. All of his friends advised him not to go with the children, but he said: ‘either we are all going, or none of us is going.’ There he was-planning the journey of a lifetime with his wife, and 4 of his children-the youngest of us being 6 at the time. As luck would have it, or destiny or just simply the call of Allah, our application was accepted (against all odds)-At the time, we lived in the small island of Bahrain-next to the peninsula of Saudi Arabia.
Soon after the application, we started planning for the hajj. We had all been fortunate enough to go for Umrah prior to this-so we understood where we were headed. I was excited, overjoyed at the prospect of being at 2 of my favourite places, Kabah and Masjid-ul-Nabwi. The hijaab story kind of begins here but let’s go back to my childhood for the 1st seeds that were planted. The hijaab and I have almost always had a love hate relationship-and in the next few paragraphs I will elaborate on this.
I grew up in a moderately traditionally conservative typical Pakistani household. We weren’t very strict practitioners of the faith of Islam. My paternal grandfather (Dada Jaan) was probably the only and the most pious man I have ever known and I am the eldest grandchild on my dad’s side of the family-which means that where I experienced immense love and attention, I also was the guinea pig for most restrictions placed upon any kid in our household. When I was younger and we lived with my grandparents, he insisted I wear a dress (or frock as we called them) with a shalwar. Even at that young age of perhaps 6-8, I did not want to be making a fashion faux pas (this style is all the rage nowadays-see images below. Maybe Dada jaan was just a very fashion forward guy?)
So, instead I traded in my beautiful dresses for elegant shalwar kameez with a dupatta. It made my grandfather happy, and saved me the shame of a horrendous fashion mistake.
Fast forward to the year 1994, I came to visit Pakistan from Bahrain and stayed at my grandparents. Unlike many girls my age, I was taller, and actually looked a lot older than my age. I think that was my last growth spurt because I clearly did not get any taller.
My grandfather, who had a way with words, told me to wear the duppata on my head. I had long, luscious silky hair, that my Dada Jaan wanted me to confine to the duppata. He explained to me that covering my head is like adding a frame to an already beautiful picture. I was an obedient child, dared not to argue my case then, and so I did what he said, albeit defiantly. I had it on, but I Hated it. I walked around day and night with the duppata on my head-deep down hating this curse placed upon me by my grandfather.
I didn’t wear it when we went outside, but this rule imposed upon me was followed to the T in my grandfather’s home. My mom’s sister happened to visit us during that time from Karachi. My aunt, being the youngest, was a woman of fashion, and I was also close to her-I remember standing in the kitchen and crying to her that I have been forced to wear this abomination on my head. She empathised, heard my cries-but could not do much to change my situation. I prayed and waited for the days we would leave. Once I left Islamabad, the dupatta was off and freedom was mine again.
My father occasionally would also insist that I wear the hijab, but I never did. Unlike my grandfather, I could tell my dad that I will wear it when and if I decide to wear it. When we were preparing for our hajj in 1996, I recall someone said to me that once you do Hajj, Hijaab becomes absolutely compulsory on you. I was not ready to hear this-but I sat there and made dua that Allah help me in this. My father wanted me to buy an abaya to wear on the Hajj Journey-I was never an overt rebel, but did defy within limits-I told my mother there is no way I am buying an abaya. I will wear a Chaddor and that is more than enough and you need to tell dad to back off.
I didn’t end up buying an abaya before going on the journey despite my father’s constant insistence. (I did end up buying an abaya whilst in Madinah-but that is for another post-hint it relates to the ‘Me Too’ Campaign). I didn’t want to wear the abaya for Hajj only and then take it off-it seemed kind of hypocritical to me. I had made an intention before going that I will come back and wear the hijaab since it is compulsory. I dared not share this with anyone and kept it a secret that was between me and God.
Once hajj was completed and we came back, I had started wearing the Hijaab-my father was overjoyed that I had made this decision on my own-and so began my hijaab wearing days.
What is my relationship with hijaab today?
Remember when I said my relationship with the hijaab is a love and hate relationship? Well, that stands true. Soon after hajj, we found out that we will be moving to Canada. I knew that I will not be taking my hijaab off to fit better in my new home. I could be quite resolute when required even at that young an age. In December of 96, we flew into Vancouver, Canada-I was very proud of my hijaab. My first secondary school that I joined in Canada, I was the ONLY Hijaabi in the school, if not the only Muslim girl. I was also the first person in my entire family to be wearing a hijaab. There was a level of uniqueness and pioneer-like feeling that made me love it dearly. I was a cadet in the 767 Dearman Squadron of the Royal Air Cadets of Canada-the first Hijaabi in my squadron-my hijaab always matched my uniform -but because it was never uniform issued, I could not wear the badge on it. I used to wear the wedge on top of the hijaab just so I could have my badge on. In my second year, before our Annual Parade, I was finally issued a matching hijaab-which was basically the approved Sikh Turban fabric. My hijaab was finally part of my official uniform and I could put my badge on it. This was a Hoorah moment.
I also was one of the first, if not the first girl to wear Hijaab amongst all my friends and family friends. This being the first to do it and the fact that I stood out as different is what kept me in Love-I guess, I have always been a fan of being a sore thumb.
University Is When It Changed!
Finally, at Simon Fraser University, I had friends who wore the hijaab. We had things to share in common like what a bad hijaab day does to ruin your entire day. But, as I started getting older, I started feeling distant or a bit of a disconnect from hijaab. I noticed a rise in women who started wearing the hijaab judging those who didn’t. All of a sudden sin and piety was added to the mix. I used to be those women who believed hijaab was obligatory and not wearing it was a sin. Remember, I started wearing it because someone said that you must wear it after hajj, not because I had done any research or learnt about it properly. I am a bit of an agnostic when it comes to the hijaab-not 100% sure that not wearing it is a sin, nor 100% sure that it isn’t a prescribed tenet.
I started to learn the differences in opinion on the way we understand hijaab to be a piece of clothing for the head. The more I read, and the more I learnt, I came to a different realization. Hijaab in the Quran is never mentioned to refer to the piece of cloth on our heads. This is a very colloquial use of the word. Hijaab was the veil that was between God and the Prophet PBUH on the Night of Ascension, the injunction for the Mothers of the Believers to be behind a partition when speaking to others and a few other references referring to Partition between good and evil, light and dark.
Hijaab is never referred to in the Quran as a head covering. The term used is Khimar and the historical definition of what a Khimar differs vastly from what we understand to be the hijaab today.
There is no denying that Islam promotes modesty-but modesty is a concept not just limited for women-nor is it just about our clothing. Modesty in all aspects of our lives-modesty in thought, in action, in the way we dress-in the very way we live our lives. I think I am more inclined not to believe that hijaab is mandatory because of the sudden religio-political rise of it. I find the idea that person’s level of piety is somehow directly correlated to a piece of cloth. Last time I checked, the rules of the Quran weren’t divided into Hijaabi Quran and Non-Hijaabi Quran.
I vehemently defend the right of women who choose to wear the hijaab because in 2018-what a woman wears should not be a topic of debate or used as a political tool to otherwise and scaremonger against a group of people. I also just as vehemently defend the right of a woman who chooses to not wear it because there is enough evidence to suggest that the Hijaab has been a manufactured concept by a very strict religio-political ideology. Many women around the world have not been given the choice whether to wear the hijaab or not-Women in Saudi Arabia and Iran are fighting for their right to choose. The state has no place in dictating what a woman wears. I am glad, that I was lucky enough to make that decision myself despite the fact, that men in my life initially tried to dictate that onto me.
I will admit that I am not a very strict follower of hijaab. Most days, I will have some defiant hair showing through the folds of the hijaab. It won’t be the end of my life, if the hair shows. But, this relaxed attitude is probably because of what I have come to see hijaab as. After all these years, I have yet to perfect my hijaab and I often wonder how most women keep their hijaabs looking spectacular. I struggle still on many days with whether I want to continue wearing it, whether I still love it as much. There are days when I wish I would throw it off. But, so much of my existence and identity has been tied to being a prominently visible Muslim-and to me that is the purpose the hijaab serves now. It is an identifier. I am proud of my faith, even if on most days-my faith is under the microscope and in constant negative limelight. I am proud to showcase that being Muslim is not what the media will have you believe and the hijaab just happens to make me visible as a Muslim. But, with this visibility comes the burden of carrying the faith on my shoulders and speaking for the entire Muslim population-and that is a burden too heavy to carry. I like being a sore thumb and being a representative of my faith, but I also do NOT want you to judge my actions (you know when I get angry and swear at someone) as indicative of my entire faith. See-I am full of paradoxical conundrums!
Hijaab has become increasingly commercialized in the recent years. To me, there is a disconnect with the idea of modesty, when it leads to excessive consumerism. I think the Hijaabi bloggers/vloggers have played a huge role in shedding a different and often positive light on the hijaab, or at least has brought Muslim women out from the shadows. We are no longer just voiceless, faceless, draped in dark cloths-we are powerful, independent, feisty women and this at least helps debunk a lot of myths surrounding Muslim women. But, I struggle with the commercialization of it. Hijaab, if we were to accept as a mandatory edict should have been an equalizer, but nowadays Muslim women are cool, so long as our preferences for modest clothing support the status quo of capitalism. Retailers have caught on that Muslim Women will spend on modest clothing, and are carrying hijaabs and modest clothing as part of their regular fashion lines. It isn’t about our voices or our real struggles-we are the token poster child for diversity.
This is why, I hope that initiatives like World Hijaab Day allow everyone an opportunity to hear our real stories- not the commercialized, watered down version of being Muslim and a Hijaabi. This is why I have shared my truth rather than be a poster child for hijaab-and I hope you will hear our struggles and realize our humanity. I am hoping that with this realization, we will also build more tolerance and love. We are all just human beings trying to get by in this thing called life-with our different beliefs and often times practices that seem eccentric. I invite you to walk a mile in our scarves-see how high winds, sunshine, rain, can either ruin or make our day. We don’t have bad hair days; we have bad Hijaab days.
This is a blog hop for World Hijab Day so please do take the time to read the posts of these lovely ladies:
- Rashdah Hameed: World Hijab Day-Celebrating Muslimahs.
- Sharmeen Kidwai, What Happened When I Put A Scarf On
- Mona M Ismaeil, What Does The Hijab Mean To Me
- Ramsha Rose, My Hijab Story – Tag | World Hijab Day
- Zainab Farrukh, World Hijab Day Understand psychological implications for women who face hijab prejudice
- Madhiya Qureshi, World Hijab Day & Giveaway
- Abidha Basheer, Hijab doesn’t make us different, live and let live! – World Hijab Day
- Aminat O OdunEwu-Seesa, World Hijab Day – Amazing Stories
- Humaira Ahmed, World Hijab Day – My Hijab Story
- Diah Dwi Arti, The Freedom To Wear Hijab For Muslim Women
- Sussu Leclerc, My Hijab Is A Hot Charcoal