I was standing in my closet, tears rolling down my face, a pile of clothes at my feet when I admitted something I thought would never come out of my mouth: I HATE hijab.
Moments earlier I was pouting and stomping around the apartment — feeling frumpy and ridiculously hot in a winter sweater. The Hubby, sensing that something was wrong, asked why on earth I was dressed for the second ice age when it was a balmy 30C outside. When I groaned that it was the only thing that fit my postpartum body, was breastfeeding accessible, AND comfortable enough to wear with the baby in a sling, he took me by the hand and proceeded to go through all of my clothes.
Unfortunately, the Hubby could not have known that a torrent of hormones and insecurities let loose by baby-blues and a negative body image was bubbling up inside me, just waiting for an excuse to explode.
He handed me a black nursing top: Too tight. It’s not hijabi enough.
A long blouse: I.am.too.FAT now. It won’t close over my chest.
My favourite cap-sleeve patterned shirt: I can’t! I have to wear a long sleeve shirt underneath to hijabify it — and then it won’t be breastfeeding accessible!
That’s when I stamped my feet and erupted into tears. It was a full-on adult tantrum — and I took all of my frustrations out on hijab.
A year after I converted to Islam I took on hijab. I remember the chills that raced across my skin when making the intention. I spoke the words to God after completing Asr prayers and felt a comforting weight descend all around me — like someone wrapped me in a cloak. At first I made a promise saying that I would never take it off. But I quickly backtracked, augmenting my intention with a promise to “try to keep it on” and asked for Divine help to do so.
But as I stood there watching the Hubby slowly back away from me during my meltdown, something clicked and I said, why not? In that moment I felt trapped by hijab. I HAD to wear long sleeves. I HAD to cover my shape. I no longer had the “right clothes” for my body and therefore couldn’t leave the house. If I didn’t abide by these rules written somewhere-not-in-the-Qur’an-but-in-many-other-books-by-men then someone, somewhere would be disappointed in me. Why not take it off if it would make this part of my life easier?
The answer for me in that second was what I really hated. Not the hijab. Because by asking myself that question, I had to admit that I just didn’t want to deal with the headache that can come with taking it off.
As I’ve said elsewhere, “I love the community hijab affords me — how great is it that strangers greet me, or ask for directions or welcome me into their home because I’m an identifiable Muslim? In its simplicity as a piece of cloth is also a multitude of wonderful experiences for women: providing strength, God-consciousness, self-esteem, the ability to negotiate male-centric spheres, and more. But hijab becomes a problem and an issue for women when it is reduced to being only a sign of piety. It becomes a problem because it is seen as only a dress code for women.”
It is a rare thing for a man to have his commitment to Islam questioned based on visuality — on whether or not he has a beard or adheres to “proper Islamic dress.” But when a woman doesn’t wear hijab, or (heaven forbid) takes it off after wearing it — people start wondering what’s wrong. How has she gone astray? What else is going on in her life? Is she even Muslim? For surely, it is only the BELIEVING woman who covers her adornments.
And when worn “correctly,” with the “right clothes,” the right amount of hijab pins, and with a generous sprinkling of religiously-intoned-Arabic, hijab can afford women the privilege of authenticity in certain circles. While in others she’s oppressed, exotic, cultural, empowered, liberated, or controversial.
Amazing that the perception of hijab has such a varied spectrum of power over women.
And that is what I hate.
I don’t like feeling that women will never escape the hijab. That our actions, words and deeds are always judged first by whether or not we wear it — and wear it correctly. That our very belief in God and Islam are questioned. Because I know absolutely that men are not judged by the same standards.
I don’t like feeling, even for a single, hormone-induced moment, that fearing the repercussions of taking it off is the only thing keeping me in hijab. But I am not so fickle.
While I wear hijab for many reasons, I’m not prepared to deal with my current wardrobe problem by wearing my breastfeeding inaccessible Abaya and running around outside after Eryn in Toronto’s muggy and humid summer. But I’m also not prepared to cloister myself inside with Ivy in a self-imposed purdah — fearing a clash between hijab modesty and public nursing.
So while it might be easier to simultaneously run after Eryn and nurse Ivy in a tank top, I don’t want to lose my identity as a Muslim or my hijab — and just have to tune out imagined (and real) voices nay saying my clothing choices.
The day after I took on hijab, a good friend congratulated me and said, “Now I know your commitment to Islam is real!” But my hijab doesn’t define my personal Islam. No one knows how deep my commitment runs. No one knows if I whirl myself into ecstatic communion, how many books on fiqh line my walls, or how much of the Qur’an I’ve committed to memory. Whether I’m in an abaya, my regular Spanish hijab, a turban, short sleeves, or a face-veil — no one knows how much I pray or fast.
No one knows just how much I love God. And my hijab certainly isn’t advertising.
Note: Many thanks to Krista Riley and Rawiya for indulging my thoughts for this post, and my shameless thievery of Krista’s hijab pin observation.
Also, this post makes sense to me as a mini-rant based on an emotional moment — it may not make sense or even apply to you, and certainly isn’t reflective of other’s personal truths.