My own experience with wearing hijab came before I converted to Islam. For nearly a year and a half before I accepted Islam as my religion, I had been studying the religion and learning about its tenets and characteristics.
Of course, being a woman, I was especially interested in women-centered issues. But hijab being the very visible symbol it is, I found myself especially intrigued with its purpose and soon found myself fascinated with the women who donned it.
As my studies of Islam progressed, I began to wander into and peruse Islamic bookstores where English versions of the Quran lined the shelves along with collections of hadith and stories of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his companions. But as much as I devoured all I could of writings and lectures on Islam, I found myself drawn to another part of the bookstore – the place where rows and rows of abayas were displayed and stacks of hijabs were kept. After window-shopping lost its appeal, I finally found the courage to try on and purchase my first head covering.
Wearing hijab for the first time
I remember putting it on for the first time. It was just a simple one-piece pull over. Nothing more intricate would do for a first-timer so I stuck with the basics.
However, something strange happened when I pulled that innocent piece of green material over my head. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, was appalled at what I saw and quickly – and perhaps a little too forcibly than necessary –ripped it off my head. In addition to seeing myself in a completely different and unfamiliar way, I have no doubt that the negative stereotypes and images of hijab-clad women so often seen and portrayed in the media fueled my drastic and horrified response to my own covered head.
As the months wore on, Ididn’t find occasion to wear my new hijab, but I did continue in my studies and was satisfied with that. However, as it turned out, in the end I didn’t need any special occasion to don the headscarf. Instead, it was mere curiosity, which finally persuaded me to give it a second chance. And to ease the transition, I decided to head back to the bookstore to buy something more appealing to my taste.
However, I recovered quickly and rationalized that I would buy the hijab and only wear it if I ever had need to venture into a mosque. Now, I look back at that moment and see that the purchase of the hated head cover was a tiny step toward acceptance of what it means and what it would eventually come to symbolize in my life, even though I didn’t realize it at the time.
Once I found a few simple styles that I liked, I began discreetly wearing them around town, usually to halal food stores and other places where I wouldn’t feel like all eyes were on me. It wasn’t until I decided to wear my hijab while out to dinner with my husband when I realized that I had turned a corner in my feelings for covering my hair and had become to feel more comfortable with it.
I believe those early hijab trials and allowing myself to slowly become accustomed to my new look helped me to put on the hijab full time immediately after I made the life-changing decision to convert to Islam. As a result, immediately after taking my shahada, I washed, covered my head, and began to pray. Alhamdullah!
What’s more, the next day I walked nervously into work with my new accessory and faced everyone’s curious stares. It was difficult, but my conversion and outward change was met with love and acceptance from my coworkers, and I was thankful.
Their reactions turned out to be a predictor of my family’s when they first laid eyes on my hijab. I won’t go so far as to say they loved it, but they’ve treated me, my conversion, and my change of dress with respect and tolerance. In some ways ,it’s as if I haven’t changed my outward appearance at all with regards to how I’m treated by my family and when I go out in public.
I have never been openly shunned or shamed or in any way mocked. I know that I am blessed in this regard and only hope and pray for the same for my fellow convert sisters who have chosen the path of hijab.
Now that I’ve spent nearly nine years as a covered Muslim woman I’ve adapted my style of hijab several times, experimenting and having fun with it. When I look in the mirror, I no longer have the urge to rip it off my head and cast it away forever.
Now I know the feeling of dignity and protectiveness that it affords me and I thank Allah for it. I wish this same sense of peace for all my fellow hijabi sisters and for those who have not yet taken the step to cover themselves, which I know for many, is a difficult one. Insha’Allah we all find our own way to celebrate our hijab, our right to wear it, and grow in love for it as a symbol of worship to Allah.
First published: February 2014