The hijab struggle that doesn’t go away

This is a deep and honest conversation, and if you’ve followed this blog since the beginning, you know I’ve often written about this on the site and talked about it at lectures I’ve presented.

I wrote an essay awhile back when I was going through a really rough patch with hijab and held on to it for a long time. Then, I briefly posted it. But, it was way too wordy and rambling. So I edited it down and decided to re-share it. And yep, it’s still pretty wordy haha!

The piece you’ll read below, isn’t necessarily my story alone, but one I’ve often heard repeated by other young women who have periods in their life when they aren’t sure if they can handle all the baggage that comes with putting a piece of fabric on their head.

Different things can trigger us to feel this way.

For me, my hijab struggle is something that comes and goes. Some years pass and I don’t think twice. And other times the struggle pops up and I might be more fluid in how I observe it in order to keep my sanity lol.

A lot of hijabi women come off as confident, and people find it shocking when we bring this up. It’s as if you should be “perfectly pious” and if you have negative thoughts, you’re not religious enough. But, more often than not, we may hear “I feel the same way too!”

As someone recently told me “You know, if we didn’t wear hijab, people would stop lecturing us on whether we are doing things “the right way” or not. They’d just leave us alone”.

For some reason this scarf gives people this feeling that they can tell us how we are supposed to interact with the world.

Uh, no thanks! I’m my own person, and this is my personal private choice. Don’t tell me what I should or shouldn’t be doing, saying, thinking etc.

Hijabis know what I’m talking about. All the unsolicited advice from men, women and children. It’s exhausting!

It’s a complex topic, and one that will probably continue until the end of time.

We all get wrapped up in it (no pun intended lol), myself included.

So, what’s the point of all this?

To let you know that you’re not alone. And it’s ok to have ups and downs.

Part of what we need to do as a community? Let go of these insane and arbitrary standards we place on everyone and really realize that we are individuals and not a bunch of robots!

We live at a time when being a visible Muslim is really tough. And no one knows what it’s like unless they’ve walked in our shoes. Well meaning folks might try to tell you “Just take it off” or “Don’t take it off” because they are confused by the way we may go back and forth about it. But again, it’s your choice to take whatever step you want.

And sometimes that step? Just wanting to VENT a little!

The most ironic part, is when we want to vent, even then it seems like we’re not allowed to! Often times we’ll get people who take our conversations the wrong way and come up with all sorts of bizarre reasons for why we’re struggling.

Again, unless you’ve walked in our shoes, please refrain from telling us how we should feel.

We’ve all got our own life experiences that have shaped us that not everyone is privy too.

With that being said, you can read my revised vent piece below:

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As women, and as visibly Muslim women in particular, wearing hijab can be a traumatic experience.

And what I mean by this is that we sustain so many micro-aggressions from within the Muslim community and from outside of it.

We’re never good enough, religious enough, modern enough, pious enough, modest enough…and the list of “enoughs” go on and on.

It can take a toll on you mentally, spiritually and even physically.

I have bad hijab days and good hijab days.

*****

I’m sure we’ve all heard a woman somewhere liken wearing hijab as “our struggle” in this life.

“But…why should we struggle?” I think to myself.

Islam is about moderation, and it’s about being well-rounded and not pushing yourself to a limit you feel you can’t bear. Of course, we do have trials and tribulations we have to endure, but if you have the choice and the ability to end suffering, would you do it?

And why is it that women should bear the brunt of everything, while men roam free? Who’s policing what they’re wearing?

*****

My thoughts then trail off to imagining what it would be like, if I took my hijab off and blended in.

What would my husband’s family think? What would his friends think? What would the Muslim community say? Would my parents be embarrassed to be seen with me? Would I lose friends, because over the years, I’ve heard some of them say “If so and so takes off her hijab, I’m never associating with her”.

While I don’t really care what people think, it’s natural to let your imagination wander as to what could possibly happen. And even though I have family and friends that support me no matter what, I still can’t help imagining dramatic scenarios.

It’s hard when you grow up in an environment or a community where talking about other people and judging them is the norm.

As long as we’re out there pointing fingers, we can hide our own insecurities and bury our doubts. We become spokespeople for the hijab. We are measured on how “good of a person” we are depending on the way we wear it. And even though we speak in private about how hard it is, in public we put on a smile and pretend everything is amazing.

Part of human nature, in my opinion, is that we are always shifting and learning and changing and growing (or at least I hope so). Our thoughts and opinions might start out one way, and then we experience life and change our minds.

The thing is, while we’re out exploring, not everyone is on the same page. Those around us may not be ready for those changes.

Similarly, when we see others change, we may not be ready for it either.

And when you’re in a place where everyone starts to think and talk and dress and act the same, it can be especially jarring to see someone marching to the beat of their own drum.

Let the gossip begin!

*****

There is no denying that this scarf is like waving a huge flag and announcing my entrance before I even walk in the door.

I know plenty of women who feel the same way.

Unless you tie it up in a chic way and use it as a fashion accessory, you become the token spokesperson for all 1.6 billion Muslims in the world.

Doesn’t matter if you didn’t sign up for it.

And for some, the fear of safety is real.

*****

I was brought up at a time where Islam in America was being overrun by the remnants of toxic masculinity and the collective trauma of immigrant Muslims who were arriving from colonized lands.

They embedded their cultural interpretations into everything.

It was a time when it wasn’t uncommon for women to be told their voices were too sexual and their hair too tempting.

Sounds archaic now, but back then, it was the norm.

And sadly in some communities, it still is the norm.

*****

There is so much wrapped up in this piece of fabric that needs to be unpacked and unraveled and dissected.

What does it really mean? Is it relevant anymore?

And if we do choose to wear it, how can we survive the barrage of hatred and discrimination?

*****

It can be a double edged sword to speak up about hijab struggles.

You’ll have those who say your faith isn’t strong enough. And then on the other side, there are those who will use this as an opportunity to say “see we told you Muslim women are oppressed!”.

All we want, all I want, is to be able to voice my opinions without having someone attach an agenda to it.

*****

As my bad hijab days dissipate, I’m ok for the time being. But, I know these feelings could return. And perhaps that’s because there is so much negativity geared toward those who choose to wear it, that it’s hard not to internalize it and become affected.

The main takeaway that I’ve learned on my 28 year hijab journey, is that whatever path I go down, and wherever I end up, I will do what works for me. And if anyone has a problem with that, then they need to look inside themselves and try to figure out what it is that’s causing them to have such a strong reaction.

At the end of the day, the only thing that matters to me, is pleasing the Most Merciful and no one else.

Anyone else struggling, but scared to say it out loud? 

Note: This is definitely a tricky topic and one that can cause heated discussion, but my goal and hope, is that we can be open about this in a safe space. Hijab can be extremely difficult and some of us need breathing room from time to time. By sharing my struggles, I hope it will get people to pause and reflect, before they make assumptions about someone’s religiosity or lack thereof based solely on appearance. I also want to emphasize, that it’s ok to question things and try to figure out your beliefs. It’s up to each individual to realize their life. I’m lucky enough to have family and friends who support me regardless. But, I realize not everyone else is as fortunate. I hope this piece can help some of you find some peace.