I embraced Islam in May, but I started covering my head last December. The decision to cover was, for me at least, much more stylistic than religious, but as my spirituality evolved, I’ve begun to see the religious benefits of hijab (hijab here referring to the overall manner of dress as opposed to just the headscarf). While the initial decision to wear a scarf and dress modestly began as a temporary experiment, I increasingly found that I preferred this new manner of dress. It seems I changed more than my appearance.
Now, people look at me differently, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. When I first started wearing turbans, I was in China, and most of the attention I received was intrigue. My tall, dark-skinned figure already stood out in crowds, the turban just added to the outlandishness. My friends took it in stride. As soon as I started covering more of myself, however, I became “that Muslim girl” long before I officially took the Shahada. At times it was awkward; a few people weren’t sure how to handle the “new” me. I rued the fact that something as simple as my manner of dress could so easily build and shatter assumptions about me (in this case people assumed I was a Christian-turned-Muslim, which was not the case– I was neither a Christian nor a Muslim at the time) but I was pleased with the overall increase in respect. Fortunately, I lived in a community that was relatively accepting of my decision, regardless of the country’s non-acceptance of religion.
I also found that suddenly, I love my smile… and my face, and my body. While many assume hijab is meant to oppress women and promote shame towards the female body, it actually does the opposite. The first thing I noticed after deciding to wear hijab was how accustomed to seeing my body I had become. All of a sudden my curves weren’t jumping out at me every time I passed by a reflective surface during the day; the only time I really see my body is before showering and when changing into bedclothes for the night. These fleeting glances always fill me with joy. I no longer criticize my body, partly because I don’t want to criticize Allah’s creation, but mainly because I no longer see the “flaws.” I see pure, unadulterated beauty.
Besides that, I’m comfortable. Hijab is freeing. I suppose this point ties into the last one. Besides the breeziness of flowing fabrics against my skin, the looseness relieves the pressure of achieving a “perfect” body (“perfect” in quotes here because everyone’s ideals differ). I’m not neglecting my health—I still exercise and eat my fill of fruits and vegetables—but I’m not concerned with whether or not I look “fat” in an article of clothing (“fat,” is also relative). My genetically slim body tended to avoid public scrutiny, but that doesn’t mean I could escape the scrutiny of my own mind. Now that I know others can’t see my body, I don’t think about it. I woo people with charismatic character, not heavenly hips.
In addition to self-confidence, I’ve gained a family, one that I hope will be permanent. The first few friends I told happened to be Muslim and greeted me with open arms. I reveled in the choruses of salaams and “welcome to the family.” My closest friends gave me gifts, and everyone offered to help me learn to pray and gain Islamic knowledge. My ummah, for the most part, has been supportive and I couldn’t thank them enough. Whenever I pray, I feel the solidarity of tens of thousands of Muslims facing the same direction, using the same language, and worshiping the same God, and the numbers are probably higher if I consider the people outside of my relative location. It feels good to be part of such a large community.
Prayer in and of itself is a glorious experience, and with hijab, prayer is so much easier—and much more fulfilling. Fortunately, I go to a school which has special areas for students to pray and reflect during the day, so finding a room to pray was a non-issue (until after dark when the special areas closed, but that’s another story). I was, however, deterred by the time involved. I know it sounds awful (“you couldn’t even make time for your Lord?!”), but the effort involved in making wudhu, wrapping my scarf around me, praying, then re-tying my turban in a 15-20 minute break was enough to keep me from praying at all. In hijab, the process is simplified. I simply make wudhu, pray, and go about my day. I’m not missing out on the benefits of prayer by rushing; I take my time, express my praise, ask for forgiveness, and hope Allah accepts my prayer.
Essentially, I have no regrets. Though there have been ups and downs (the new family is great but people have already started asking me when I joined ISIS, because Muslims are terrorists, after all). I have been genuinely happy since starting to wear hijab and especially since my conversion. I feel safe, powerful, beautiful, invincible. I can’t stop learning about Islam and hijab has become an integral part of me. The thought of leaving my house (or dorm, if I’m at school) without it makes me uneasy. Not because I feel like I’ll be judged if I take it off (though that does weigh on my mind a little), but because I’ve to love it. Much in the same way some women wouldn’t dare leave the house without makeup, my outfit isn’t complete without the scarf I put on my head, and the outfit simply isn’t mine if the clothing hugs the body. I’m sure more than a few people will be upset with likening hijab to makeup, but it is not my intention to cheapen or otherwise lessen the importance of hijab. While I hesitate to say hijab is representative of my relationship with Allah (doing so would open up arguments about non-hijabis and their relationships with God), the manner of dress has certainly strengthened my deen, and for that reason, I plan to keep wearing it.