A friend once asked me, “So Humairah, what’s your hijab story?”
Almost every Muslim woman I know who dons the hijab would have their personal ‘hijab story’, which is basically a turning point in their lives which made them decide to don the headscarf for the first time, an obligation we Muslim women need to fulfill in obeying God.
So I told her mine.
“Well, I was 5 when I first started wearing it. It all started when I saw my cousin wearing a white tudung which matches her baju kurung. It was during Eid at my late grandfather’s house. I immediately tugged my mom’s hand and told her that I wanted to wear the tudung too.”
And that’s it really. Nothing interesting. It wasn’t exactly a deliberate, contemplative, momentous point in my life when it happened. I was simply an innocent 5-year-old who wanted to wear that piece of cloth over my head because I thought it looked so pretty on my cousin, and I wanted to look just as pretty. Nobody forced it on me. I was still really young so I wasn’t obliged to, and I wasn’t even aware that it’s a command by God to wear the hijab. I can’t remember what my mom’s reaction was, but I kind of sensed she was happy. She gladly bought me several instant, ‘Madrasah’ hijabs in different colours, teehee. And I was proud of my collection.
But that was only the beginning of my struggle.
As a kid who’s used to wearing the hijab, growing up in a secular school environment was pretty challenging. It was a constant battle between standing up for what you know is right and peer pressure. I felt like I was alone. Strange. Odd. Outnumbered.
But I kept these feelings to myself. I didn’t tell anyone about it. Not even to my late mom. I didn’t want her to feel burdened by my tiny inner conflict.
Challenges I faced were aplenty. This happened more than a decade ago, pre-hana-tajima-yuna-modest-fashion-era (lol) when the hijab was still pretty much unseen and ‘unfashionable’ (unlike now, where more youngsters are more confident in it because it is relatively more visible). I still remember some of the comments my friends hurled at me, and it hurt me even more when my friends were fellow Muslims themselves. I got things like:
“Humairah, why are you so old-fashioned?”
“Can you take off your tudung, please? No one will be wearing the hijab at the party, and… I just don’t want you to wear it.”
“I think you look prettier without the hijab. You should take it off.”
And other unpleasant comments. People would assume that I wanted to be an ustadzah (which means ‘religious teacher’ in arabic) (just because I wear the hijab?), made fun of the style of my tudung, and more. I pretended to not be affected by it… but deep down it certainly did.
Outside my uniform, my friends would basically find me strange and uncool. I received these comments while I was still young. The peer pressure was strong and I just couldn’t understand WHY. What’s the issue with this cloth I wear on my head? What I thought of as a pretty piece of scarf, is viewed as ugly? I’d be lying if I say these comments did not affect me, and I did have moments when I felt like taking off the hijab altogether. I wanted to “dress normally” too. I wanted to be “fashionable”, “cool”, I wanted to belong. and I was at a young, highly impressionable age, who like many other people my age, just wanted to fit in. As a result, I began to think that wearing the hijab wasn’t compulsory at all. I tried to convince myself that the act of wearing the hijab isn’t necessary. I let society have an influence on me. I thought to myself,
“I want to take off my hijab.”
One day, when I accompanied my mom to the market, I decided to not wear my hijab. I thought, I’m still thirteen. It’s okay. Just this once. To be honest, I did feel a pinch of guilt, but I was too lazy that day to change to my long pants and don my tudung. Something in my heart stopped me for a while. It just didn’t feel right. My palms were sweaty, and I was afraid of what my mom would say. But when I emerged from my room without my hijab on, she looked at me different. She frowned.
“Where’s your tudung?”
I just shrugged and gave her a look that said, “Just this once, please?”
She kept quiet but I could sense that she did not approve of what I did. Later, when we got home, she simply advised me.
“My dear, if you want to wear the tudung, you must wear it constantly and never take it out okay? You must practise. Allah nampak tau. (Allah sees). So next time when you go out, don’t forget to wear your tudung okay?”
I nodded silently.
I never dared to leave my house without the hijab on ever again. What started out as fear, developed into love, what started out as a discomfort, grew into a comfort. Going out without wearing my hijab now is out of the question for I’ll never want to displease my Lord – it’s so integral to my being, it’s become part of my identity, it’s what makes me, me.
Looking back now, I know that it was that little sliver of iman (faith), which my mom and dad have sowed in me, which prevented me from taking my hijab off, as I was growing up. I realise now that the little voice nagging at the back of my head, that innate guilt I felt back when I was young, was an in-built warning, His sign, His guidance, that directs me towards the right path.
The challenges did not end when I grow older. In tertiary schools, friends who did not understand would give me the same disapproving comments, when I applied for a particular job, they turned me down because of the hijab on my head, and so on. The hijab will always be seen as something strange, but here’s what I’ve learnt: never think that you are alone, and that for every test, He has promised a reward, if we remain steadfast and patient.
Now that I have learnt and am more aware of the wisdom behind the hijab as prescribed by our Creator, as a protection and obligation upon us believing women, I realise how blessed I am to have had a mom who guided me, became my role model and advisor, and who never failed to tell me that I look my prettiest when I dress modestly in my hijab, even when I got older. I have learnt that hijab is a Muslim woman’s crown, a valuable gift by our Lord to us, and I can never thank my mom enough for telling me to never take my crown away.
I am writing this to you, young sisters, and anyone who needs an assurance, that you are not alone. That donning the hijab is a part of worship, and the path towards attaining His pleasure and mercy is always full of hardships.
May we remain steadfast and improve ourselves in practising our beautiful deen. This modesty is a gift – let us wear our crowns proudly like the queens He had created us to be.