I Took Off The Hijab....then Put It Back On Again

This is my personal story- and probably subverts the expectations of this group. Insha'allah it does not offend anyone.

I’m not totally sure why I’m writing this. Usually, the idea of inflicting my words and opinions on the world is something that I hesitate to do. But often the greatest wisdom comes surprisingly from our youths. My younger brother (May Allah swt reward him) convinced me that it may be useful for other girls who may be in the same situation I was to read my story- that it might give them that final push or a push in the right direction.
So insha’Allah I will try and start from the beginning.

My journey to the hijab was a long one. I grew up in a practising family. My parents and elders would pray 5 times a day wherever possible and fast during the month of Ramadan and give Zakat and encourage Islamic Education. I was taught to read the Quran and that the best women in Islam wore a headscarf by the time I was thirteen, so then whatever decisions I made were up to me. My mother began wearing the hijab when I was around sixteen. This would normally have been something that might have given me the opportunity to re-examine my own deen but being a somewhat oblivious teenager, I was proud of her but didn’t see myself in the same light.

A little exposition may be useful here. My mother unfortunately suffers from Mental Ilness, I won’t go into details but suffice to say that my teenage years and early twenties were a very difficult time for my family as a whole. In any case because of my mother’s fluctuating mental state, unfortunately her deen suffered and she went through phases of wearing and not wearing it. My grandmother would often wear a dupatta on her head in the same way that women in Pakistan often do, and encouraged me to do the same- but personally I always felt that being blessed with Alhamdulillah a thick head of hair, simply draping a scarf over my head would not feel sufficient to meet the regulations of my deen. In my younger more idealistic years I was an “all or nothing” kind of person. And probably a bit too judgmental.

Which brings me to the other obstacles that were stopping me. Have you ever seen a hijabi doing something you didn’t necessarily approve of? You know that moment where you see her and say, either internally or out loud, “Astaghfirallah, what is the point in wearing the hijab if she’s going to do that? I’d rather not wear one than give hijabis a bad name.” I think us girls are often guilty of slight hypocrisy here. This kind of self-righteousness is unfortunately often just another excuse not to take that leap ourselves. Because let’s be honest sisters, who on earth gave us the right to judge what other people are doing? Only Allah swt knows the scale of sins, and for all we know, us making that snap judgment and speaking ill of one of our sisters could be a worse sin than her committing whatever flagrant act we had been commenting on. And the hijabi sister doing something you don’t approve of doesn’t negate the fact that she is still doing something good that you maybe are not. Also, why would we be looking to other people to give us an example of what our deen should look like? Shouldn’t we be arbiters for this ourselves?  I realise I may be in the minority with this line of thinking; but this is just a state of mind that I had come to by my twenties.

So my late teens and early twenties. I was past the point of making massive excuses for myself. I knew technically that I should wear the hijab, but was stuck in that post-aware phase where I kept telling myself and others “one day, Insha’allah.” In short I needed a push. I became more sensitive to the issue as I discussed it more with my friends. I had a friend that was a revert, and as often these sisters put us to shame, she took it up before I did. And my best friend and I would often go in circles discussing the issue. Although to be honest I wasn’t totally aware of the Quranic basis for the hijab. In my wilful ignorance I thought the notion was something that was extrapolated- rather than something that was addressed directly. I had a good idea of how women were supposed to behave and dress “modestly” but often I would construe this to mean that if I kept my eyes lowered and didn’t wear clothes that were too form-fitting or revealing then I was golden. Now as I look back, astaghfirallah, even then I wasn’t wearing appropriate clothing.
Occasionally, I would take one of my mother’s pashminas and sit on the floor in front of a mirror, attempting to wrap it around my head in a way that looked decent and attractive. I would do this in the morning, often playing with the idea of wearing it out, but never really considering it like I should have. One time my dad caught me trying it on and with his trademark sense of humour and supportive attitude he just smiled and winked at me, “I saw that,” He told me grinning. But he never brought it up again, and never pressured me into wearing it. He was too aware of my personality as an independent thinker. If I was going to come to the hijab it would be whole-heartedly and by my own reasoning.
When I was twenty-two my father passed away. May Allah swt grant him a place in jannat.

I will not go into too much detail about my emotional upheaval, anyone who has lost a parent knows how such an event will rock you to your foundations. To those of you who have not yet experienced this, Insha’allah you will not have to for many years.

Due to my mother being constantly unstable, my aunts and grandmother had tightened their familial circle around me and my two brothers. My khala in particular was instrumental in taking us to and from the hospital in the three weeks that my father spent there. For whatever reason, me and my two brothers were not told about the extent to which his lung disease had spread, so although we were aware of the possibility that he would not come home, we did not know of his imminent lung failure until the last few hours. My phupo must have been made aware prior to this, because one Sunday she hosted a get-together for friends and family so that we could all pray Ya-Salamu for my father.

Thinking it would be easier then constantly fiddling with it, I wore a hijab and pinned it securely, leaving my house that way for the first time to go to my aunt’s. I kept it on the entire time we prayed. Later that day when we went to go see my father, an inexplicable impetus prevented me from removing the garment as I usually would. Remembering my father’s proud face when he saw me dressed this way still brings tears to my eyes. He had joked and smiled and laughed with me, through his coughing fits. He told me I looked beautiful. With his encouragement I had smiled at him and told him I was considering making it permanent, more to see how he felt about it than anything else. He had told me it was great and that I would get a lot more respect from everybody, men and women alike if I did. When we left him that evening, the last thing he said to me was to smile and say “keep it on.”
The next day, I had all but forgotten about this, and when we reached the hospital I wasn’t wearing the hijab. He passed away around 4pm but was not totally aware of what was going on around him. Alhamdulillah he hung on long enough for us to get there and kiss him goodbye, hold his hand while he faded. The following few days were a rush to get his funeral and janaza done. I wore the hijab for the next week or so without even considering it. I didn’t care what I looked like or what the ramifications would be, it was just my default position because I wasn’t totally sure who I was. The old me, I was sure, had died in that hospital room with him.

A week later, the very next Monday, I awoke in the morning to my mother’s cries for help. I found her lying on the floor, partially paralysed. She couldn’t move one of her arms enough to pull herself up and I wasn’t strong enough to do so. I realised immediately that something was wrong; she had been dropping things the night before, her grip going slack. So I called an ambulance for the second time that month, thinking maybe that she might have had a stroke. In the rush and confusion to get in the ambulance with her, I was too panicked to put on a headscarf. This may have been another test from Allah swt and maybe one I failed. But today I am convinced that this all happened for a very good reason. I was forced in to action. Rather than sitting at home, grieving for my father, unthinking, I had to be with my mother at the hospital, where we were told she had a Subdural haematoma and she needed a minor brain operation the next day. She had hit her head and in focussing on my father, we had all missed it.

So the next two days passed in a frantic rush to be with my mother and make sure she was okay. I didn’t even think about my hijab or the fact that I had made a promise to myself to wear it until I was going to work a day or so later. I trembled a little in the morning when I was putting it on. At that point it didn’t feel as it should- as a cover to my adornments, or as a crown to my fortitude; it just felt overwhelming. Because I hadn’t thought it through. I didn’t understand the beauty in it. So when I was on the tube headed to work, my breakfast came up and I felt suffocated realising that in my rush to throw up into a carrier bag I had handy- some had splattered onto my hijab. I pulled it off, realising that somewhere in the three days that I had been dealing with my mother’s sudden admission into hospital, I had lost that haze wherein this hadn’t seemed like such a big deal. Allah forgive me for this.
My mum recovered from her surgery and was home in a few weeks.

As you can imagine the next couple of months were spent grieving the loss of my father and recovering from the shock of it all. Although, to be honest due to the mental health of my mother I can be quite a repressed person and I tend to bottle up a lot. So I pushed on with work and home and family. I literally became a bit robotic, unable to really talk about my grief or the inexplicable fear I had developed after witnessing death first hand. Sometimes I would lie awake at night, having minor panic attacks because I felt so far away, so disconnected from Islam that I was sure I would never be able to redeem myself to a point where I would enter Jannat when my own death came upon me. No one really understood, my friends tried to relate but sometimes it was like I was speaking another language and I realised that some of the things I said could come across seeming a bit extreme.
I opened up to someone a bit older than me at work. I don’t even know how it happened but I ended up speaking about this unfulfilled feeling in my heart and he gave me some of the best advice I’d ever had. “Do something about it.” Or something along those lines. He told me I needed “Food for my Soul.” This was a concept I’d never thought about before. Being a girl with a hyper active metabolism that loves her food, I was very accustomed to feeding my belly= but what had I done recently if at all to feed my spirit? My soul? I began attending Tafsir classes, borrowed books from this colleague (May Allah swt bless him for his help) written by Al Ghazali and other prolific Islamic scholars. And immediately that passion and drive that had been missing in my life was reinvigorated. I realised that only through Islam, and through rebuilding myself from the grassroots would I ever be content.
If I wasn’t the same person that entered that hospital room the day my father died in December 2010, I was going to become someone better than her. I made every attempt possible to become more sincere, more regular in my salah- and this was probably the aspect of my life that gave me the most peace. While staying up some nights reading Quran I admired the beauty in our religion. I read around the concept of the hijab, finally feeling brave enough to do some research into the rationale behind wearing it; the Quranic basis which states (paraphrased) that we must cover our natural ornaments. And what is more attractive than hair? Was I so wilfully oblivious that I was going to try and ignore or argue with something that had been done for generations by people a lot more in touch with their deen than I am?
When my 23rd birthday rolled round I found myself more despondent. I was drained from the last 6 months without my father and it was especially hard gathering around a birthday cake, when I didn’t particularly feel like celebrating, pasting a smile on my face when I felt like I had little to smile about. I was 23 and wasn’t overly proud of myself in one way or another. A few days ago, my best friend had brought up the issue of the hijab to me; she had recently begun covering her head. It was strange but looking at her I was extremely proud and yet somehow vaguely jealous. She exuded this calm, this peacefulness and lack of vanity that made her inner beauty shine through and I remember thinking to myself “I want that.” So on my birthday I spoke about this to another friend that had Masha’allah taken the hijab a few years ago. There were two things she said to me that gave me that final push that I needed, firstly she said to me “Why do you want to expose your beauty to every man that passes you by when you could save it all for one; the one that will be your husband.” I found this idea truly beautiful and when I told her she was a good friend to me, she replied, “I don’t just want to be your friend in this duniya. I want to be your friend in the aakhirah.”

That pretty much clinched it. Everything I’d done up until this point made me feel like I needed this. I needed some kind of outward manifestation of my metamorphosis. I needed a reminder, a feather in my proverbial cap to remind me of what I was aspiring to, of the kind of person I wanted to become so that I could achieve the aakhirah I wanted. This was more food for my soul. So from the next day I began wearing it.

For those sisters that are/have begun to wear a hijab, I think we all know that there is such a thing as a “bad hijab day.” And that very first one was one of mine. I wasn’t totally sure how to carry it off. My friends took me out to dinner for my belated birthday and I remember fiddling with it in the bathroom, feeling a bit self-conscious and knowing that some of my friends may be looking at me wondering if I was going to take it off again. But I was determined. My best friend’s words from a few weeks ago spiralled around my brain, “We have no excuse not to wear it.” She had stated, knocking some sense into me. And my father’s words from just over 6 months before “You look beautiful, keep it on.” And Alhamdulillah, since then I have.
It was a very difficult first few days. If I hadn’t pushed myself to make that commitment, it might have never happened; and if I hadn’t made the mistake of taking it off after a week the first time, I might not have felt that it was such a big commitment. So I took it very seriously. And the more settled I became the more I began to notice the advantages of this lifestyle- the logic and simplicity behind it. I noticed how more people would make direct eye-contact with me, rather than looking elsewhere. There’s a main road near my house, whenever I used to walk by it before in gear I would in no way consider “indecent” people used to hoot at me. The mere image of my hair hanging loose over my shoulders was the difference in attention. Now I feel a lot more confident walking this road, I am not hooted at or approached by people in an indecent manner. If anything, I have been told by friends and some family that I look better now. And I have full faith that when the time comes for me to get married, my future husband will appreciate this step I’ve taken, and people will look at me as a person and not an object of fashion or a banal treat for their eyes.

Here’s the funny part. From my practising extended family I encountered some resistance to the idea. My relatives were concerned I was “going extreme” and would often chitchat about me when they thought I wasn’t listening or wouldn’t hear about it. This hurt me quite a lot. The idealist inside me had been hoping that after my struggle to achieve this that they would be proud of me. But they didn’t make it totally easy for me. I had to justify myself quite a few times. And once or twice I was reduced nearly to tears by the harsh opinions that others had about me wearing it. I couldn’t believe I’d been raised to believe that this was totally the right thing to do and then when I actually took a step towards Islam my own family was not supportive. But over time that faded, and now Alhamdulillah I thank Allah swt for the hammering I received because it made me stronger. It made me ready with quick answers about why we are required to cover our hair, it made me see the humour in the situation and gave me the ability to be prepared for any resistance I might encounter from those outside my family. When we do the right thing in life, it is very rare that we receive accolades in this duniya, but we know we’re doing the right thing if we do everything with a view to Allah swt and Jannat. Nothing in this life can be more important.

It took me a while to realise that for me, personally, the hijab was a necessary step on this path. Now, it is a comfort, a reminder and a test. It’s not always easy but the thought that I am pleasing Allah in any small way, the way seeing me in it pleased my late father, makes it all worthwhile.

Fi-aman-illah my brothers and sisters. If anything I have written here is Islamically incorrect, Insha’allah Allah swt will forgive me- anything that is correct is from Allah swt.
Sophia1988 Sophia1988
4 Responses May 18, 2012

SubhanAllah, this made me cry. It's just what I was looking for, I really hope I have it in me to be as strong as you. I am currently 19 and attending university and i am having a difficult time deciding whether or not I should put the hijab back on as I had done so in high school. You have given me some amazing advice for which I am very thankful. <3 May Allah (swt) grant your father Jannah.

I have recently put the hijab back on. My earliest attempts lasted for weeks. I think the longest was two months. I became a Muslim almost two years ago after reading the Quran. I have only recently become a practicing Muslim after reading the Quran again. In the past I was surrounded by people who encouraged me to engage in bad behaviors. I was also ridiculed and told that I looked like a terrorist. Now I have isolated myself from those people and it is a little easier for me now to practice my faith. My difference from you is that I was not raised in a Muslim family. I personally do not know any Muslims and I live in a very small town. I lived in a Muslim country almost 4 years ago but while I was there I had not yet converted. About a year ago I drove hours away to the nearest masjid in my state, but the people there were unwelcoming as we were different races. I have no support or even any one to talk to or ask questions but insha allah I will continue to be strong. I hope that one day I will live abroad again or in a bigger city where there are Muslims and that I will be able to make Muslim friends.

I need your help!

(when you could save it all for one; the one that will be your husband).<br />
This is the same notion that came to my mind when I was in your age and it is very true. Now I am in my late thirties and still discovering how much hijab was of great benefit to me. It helps me control myself and my manners. It is not a piece of cloth its beyond that.