Next up in my hijab series is sister Khawlah. In this post she talks about being asked questions as a result of wearing hijab.
“Why are you wearing a hair net?”
Working as a healthcare assistant in a psychiatric hospital, I meet a variety of people, meeting new faces – staff and patients – on a regular basis.
“It’s my headscarf, I wear it for my religion. I’m a Muslim.”
In a medium secure, locked environment, I meet a number of beautifully inquisitive minds, unafraid of exercising their cooped-up curiosity.
“Oh. So how come you’re white?”
The above conversation took place between myself and a young lad on an adolescent ward, on my third or fourth shift on the job. Having never worked in mental health before, I thought I would take some time getting used to my new role, working with risks and responsibilities that I hadn’t really experienced before. As it turned out, alhamdulillah, the job was a dream and I took to it like a duck to water. What I couldn’t get used to, however, was having to explain my faith and my headscarf, every, single, day.
I found it exhausting. Totally inexperienced in the da’wah game, I had only ever really spoken about Islam with fellow believing Muslims, except for the odd brief conversation with family. Now I was facing questions from people who wanted justification for this strange garment I was wearing. Explanations were sought after, disapproving faces asking for debate. I started to crave anonymity, wishing I didn’t have to always wear a garment that seemingly invited personal questions and conversations from every person to sit beside me. What I found most strange was that it seemed to inspire people to start talking about their own relationship with God, as though they felt the need to explain themselves, and justify their own beliefs. Sometimes the conversations were interesting, but sometimes I felt as though I’d been mistaken for a Catholic priest behind a confessions window.
There are many situations where, frankly, wrapping a scarf around your head just feels so inconvenient. The attention it draws; the extra heat during the summer; the discomfort at the gym; finding crumbs in it at night; the terrible, terrible hat-hair; and just the agro of having yet another garment to try to colour co-ordinate with the rest of your outfit. But, honestly, when I think clearly about my hijab, it is the inconvenience itself that holds the ultimate beauty. It is a sacrifice. If it was easy, practical, and magical in every way, then everyone would be wearing one, Muslim or not. It’s the fact that it is an effort, admittedly a very small one, that makes it worthy as an offering to Allah.
Possibly, the reason why I found these inquisitions into my faith so exhausting, was because I hadn’t ever really practiced the method of extracting millions of intense feelings from within my heart and translating them into a neatly coherent little sentence; especially not in a quick five minute conversation squeezed in between meds and drinks time. I had mostly taken for granted that my headscarf was for me, and although there were family members who didn’t think too fondly of it, I rarely had to worry about explaining or justifying it.
They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder; I feel that hijab is in the heart of the wearer. From the outside, it might just look like a piece of cloth. Or a hair net, if you ask a certain adolescent. Some see it as a symbol of oppression; some see it as a sign of piety or righteousness. For me, it’s none of the above. My headscarf may be worn just on my head, but it covers everywhere. It covers my tongue when I go to speak inappropriately before quickly remembering what I represent. It covers my eyes when they want to linger on something they shouldn’t before remembering the angel on my shoulder. It covers my sexuality, when male colleagues are flirting with females in the staff room, but quietly let me pass, not really knowing what to say to a girl in hijab.
The Muslim headscarf is – as with everything – another sign of Allah’s great Wisdom (SWT). If a hijab was worn in the form of a glove, or a sock, or a belt, I just don’t think it would have the same effect. To have something wrapped around your head, like the warmest comforter, protected and tucked in like a blanket, it’s as though we are wearing our handhold with Allah. You can never forget that there’s a scarf around your head; it’s always there, making it awkward to put your glasses on when you need them, or getting in the way of your soup when you just want to eat like a grown-up. But it never allows you to forget that you’re a Muslim, and it never allows you to forget Who’s by your side.
Each time someone asks me why I wear my headscarf, I seem to give a different answer every time. It’s not intentional, it just depends on how I’m feeling that day, or what kind of wavelength I feel I can catch that person on. When my Nan asked me why I have to cover my hair, I told her that I’m following my role models. I think she assumed I meant older women at the mosque, so her eyebrows raised in surprise when I went on to talk about Mary, mother of Jesus (AS). I told her about the huge respect Muslims have for the woman we know as Maryam (RA), considered in Islam to be the greatest woman who ever lived. Even my Nan’s Christian beliefs can’t refute that Maryam wore a headscarf. The Prophet’s wives (RA), known to us as the Mothers of the Believers, also wore headscarves. The majority of the women I read about, learn from and look up to, all wore headscarves.
To wear my scarf like my role models wore theirs before me provides a huge sense of empowerment and inner confidence. It connects me to everything I believe in and everything that I live by. Although it may only be cotton or viscose or polyester, it may as well be steel because it feels like a body of armour – armour that makes me stronger and yet also softer at the same time. It makes me feel so proud, and yet it also humbles me. It is my crown that reminds me I’m a slave.
I can’t deny my love for my headscarf, and alhamdulillah, after nearly six months in my new job, I’m no longer phased by daily questions relating to my faith. In fact, I’ve actually learnt to enjoy being asked. I’ve just not quite figured out how to fit a response into one simple answer.
A Muslimah for 3 years, full-time hijabi for less than two, Khawlah is still getting to grips with how to answer those inevitable questions relating to her choice of faith and the way she chooses to dress. Living in a society that is currently force-fed the negative representations of Islam, being taken seriously as a woman of integrity and truth can feel like a regular battle. Forever determined to share the divine beauty and positivity in her beloved deen, she blogs over at Muslimah Misunderstood, promoting self-love, Muslimah-pride, and a celebration of what it really means to live your life by the truth of Islam.
You can connect with sister Khawlah on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.