For anyone just joining my blog, this post is the final part of a four-part series about my personal experience with wearing the veil (Hijab). Please feel free to read the previous posts dated April 11, April 25 and May 16, 2012.
So, as I had mentioned in my previous post, I made my final decision and wore the Hijab on Friday, July 20th, 2001. I remember that day as if it were yesterday! The real test came two days later though. I remember waking up on Sunday and picking out my first outfit, it was a thigh-length baby blue top and loose white pants along with white shoes and purse. For my veil, I decided to wear a white and baby blue chiffon floral patterned square scarf. It took me over an hour to pin the scarf right (I thought) and make sure it concealed all my hair. I could see myself in the mirror in our living room but my mother sat on a sofa behind me in order to direct me as to the back of my head. I remember feeling that, although I had 4 pins on to secure the scarf, it was going to fall off any second and I’ll be “exposed”! Now, it takes me 5 minutes to put it on and I secure it with two pins only … who knew? 🙂
Although I was notorious for being prompt, I remember heading to class earlier than usual that day to make sure I’m the first to arrive. I didn’t want to walk into class after my colleagues got there and deal with whatever looks they were going to give me. It’s not that I was ashamed or scared, I was just a shy person and felt extra self-conscious that day. Sure enough, I was the first person in and sat in my usual place, front row, 5th seat from the right (yes, I do remember that)! As my colleagues started coming in, I occupied myself by texting my mother, back and forth. One by one, I started receiving warm congrats from some of my classmates and absolutely nothing from others. I was delighted that people didn’t give me a hard time or gave me “the dirty look”, as my friends and I call it. Well, maybe a couple did but who cares, right? I even had a couple of people come up to me after class and tell me that they didn’t understand why people were congratulating me since the Hijab suited me so much that, in their mind, they felt like I was always veiled to begin with!
A couple of the girls sitting way in the back of the class noticed that I was checking my scarf all the time and sort of fiddling with the pins. One of them was veiled and the other was not. I didn’t know them that well, but that day they came up to me after class, congratulated me again, told me how beautiful I looked, and asked me if I needed any help. The veiled one, my lovely sister Amira M., told me that my hair was showing a bit of a shadow in the back and gave me tips on how to overcome that. She introduced the ideas of wearing an opaque scarf under any chiffon one, using the rectangular scarves rather than the square ones since they are longer and so offer better coverage and just adjusting my hair under the scarf in a way that helps me stay comfortable yet insures that nothing is showing. Until this day, my heart warms up and I pray for her and her lovely daughters every single time I remember this incident. She then took me to the girls’ bathroom and helped me fix and secure everything.
My other friend, Reem Z., wasn’t veiled at the time but she knew how hard this step must have been and knew it takes a lot of courage to go through with it and so offered to stick with me for the rest of the day if I was feeling uncomfortable or too self-conscious. I really loved that she did that, it made a world of a difference to me. Sure enough, we stuck together for the rest of the day and she introduced me to her group of friends. We ended up hanging out together for the entire following semester.
Overall, life changed drastically for me after wearing the Hijab. Although I chose to wear it in the blazing heat of summer, I felt cooler than I usually did during that time of year. It was a pleasant surprise really, since it was one of the things I was dreading most with my choice of timing. I also noticed changes in the quality of my skin and hair, they were much healthier than before and my hair was growing more rapidly than ever. Other truly pleasant surprises were the fact that I felt more self-confident, outgoing and calm from the inside. It was the first time in a very long time that I had inner peace and felt really good about myself. It also made me feel really safe and really close to God (Allah). I knew that Allah was helping me cope, putting such kind people as Amira and Reem in my path to help me out and was giving me this sense of peace, calm and confidence as a reward for doing the right thing.
The most important thing that Hijab did for me was empower me and show me my own strength! Contrary to popular Western belief, Hijab does not oppress women, not one bit. What is oppressive about choosing to cover yourself rather than display yourself like a cheap piece of meat to anyone and everyone? What is oppressive about being in control of what others do or do not see with regards to your own body? What is oppressive about demanding and ensuring that others treat you with respect even if it is by the slightest of actions, like a look? What is oppressive about being proud of your faith and wanting everyone to know that it is your choice and you couldn’t be prouder of it? What is oppressive about giving only the closest people to you the privilege of seeing more of you? What is oppressive about maximizing your beauty while also taking better care of your health by avoiding things like direct sunlight on skin, air pollutants and general damage to your skin and hair? What is oppressive about being modest and down to earth? What is oppressive about being a strong woman who fights for her right to choose and be who she wants to be? What is oppressive about being your own person and choosing to stand out in your own way, literally from head to toe? Tawakel Karman, the Nobel Peace Prize winner for 2011, summed it all up beautifully when she was asked about her Hijab by journalists and how it is not proportionate with her level of intellect and education. She responded saying,“Man in the early times was almost naked, and as his intellect evolved he started wearing clothes. What I am today and what I’m wearing represents the highest level of thought and civilization that man has achieved, and is not regressive. It’s the removal of clothes again that is regressive back to ancient times.”
Does that mean that I look down on unveiled women or non-Muslims? Absolutely not. In our religion, wearing the Hijab and taking it off is worse than not wearing it at all. That’s why I always tell my non-veiled friends, if you are not ready then don’t do it because it’ll impact every single aspect of your life, more than you can ever imagine, and you need to be going in to it wholeheartedly otherwise you’ll break down. Also, modesty is the whole idea behind Hijab. To me, a non-Hijabi who is modest is a thousand times better than a Hijabi who is immodest. Hijab isn’t a fashion statement, it’s a window to your soul and what’s within you. As for non-Muslims, again, contrary to misconception in Western culture, Islam doesn’t look down upon them in any way. Actually, the Quran tells us that no Muslim is a true Muslim unless (s)he believes in Jesus, Moses and all the other Messengers sent from God and their Holy books! So how can believing in other religions be essential to me being a true Muslim yet I look down upon them, mistreat them or belittle them in any way? Some of my best friends, some of the closest people to my heart and some of the people who have ever supported me over the years are Christians! The majority of which aren’t Egyptians even. Another big sin in Islam is saying that X or Y will go to hell for whatever reason. Only Allah gets to decide who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell and only He knows for sure. Quran and Sunna (the teachings of Prophet Mohamed, PBUH) tell us that the smallest deed can land you in either of those, so who are we to go around saying who will go where? For all I know, I could be going to Hell while someone I perceive as beneath me be going to Heaven, it’s as simple as that.
As for strength, do you think it is easy to be veiled? Forget about the clothing itself, think about its implications. How easy do you think it is for me to be a veiled woman living in the west? Do you know how many times I’ve been called names, yelled at from cars, cursed at on the street and at other places right there in front of my kids? How many “dirty looks” I endure on a daily basis? How many times people would literally remove themselves and drag their kids from the shopping isle we’re in at the grocery store? How many times I’ve been called a terrorist while waiting at a cashier or just crossing people waiting for the bus at the bus stop? How hard it is for me not to break down when all this happens and stay strong and make sure that my kids don’t get affected by it? I don’t even want to imagine what will happen once I go back to work!
I had to fight my own family and overcome their emotional war against my decision in order to get to where I am today. I had to live with the guilt of overloading my mother psychologically when I wore the Hijab almost 3 years before she did (till she went to Hajj – pilgrimage) and she felt ashamed of herself every time she’d go out with me yet at the same time she still didn’t feel ready to take that step. I had to deal with people telling me that I’ll be alienating so many great men by taking this step and attracting less suitors, possibly of the wrong kind. I had to give up some of my favorite outfits and forget about showing and styling my hair on a daily basis. I had to completely forget about my dream wedding gown and that beautiful tiara that I had always dreamed of. I had to stand alone, totally alone, in order to take this step and be able to stick by my decision to the present day. So yes, I am a strong woman and I know it.
Hijab has been the greatest blessing in my life and the decision I am most proud of making till today. My only regret is that it didn’t come to me sooner in life. I respect myself, feel my strength, understand and trust my abilities and instincts better after wearing the Hijab. I am proud to be a role model to my children and can only hope to be the mother they deserve. If I could go back in time, I would do it all over again albeit a few years sooner.