Written by Kaighla Um Dayo
I wore hijab before I was Muslim. And I’m not the only one.
It turns out this is a thing. So much a thing, actually, that there are many women from many faiths coming forward proclaiming their love for hijab.
Here you can read about just one example of a woman who is not Muslim but chooses, of her own accord, to dress in ways that give the impression she is Muslim.
There is an entire movement of women both religious and non-religious who have begun covering their hair. You can learn more about them here, at Wrapunzel.
And there is even a woman on YouTube known as “The Non-Muslim Hijabi”. Check her out:
We all heard the story of the professor from Wheaton College– a conservative Bible college in Chicago– who was placed on administrative leave and eventually fired for wearing hijab in solidarity with Muslims and to protest Islamophobia, claiming that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
Why, in this political climate, would any woman willingly wear hijab, knowing she will be assumed to be Muslim and therefore sometimes treated in ways she would not otherwise be treated were she not in hijab?
I first began wearing hijab part-time in late 2008.
I was in community college, taking a world religions course. The class was taught by an incredible professor who worked tirelessly to present each and every religion in a non-biased way. He was so dedicated to this end that he refused outright to tell any of his students what his personal religious beliefs were.
We talked in-depth about Taoism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Hinduism, but only barely grazed the surface of Islam. I found this curious, and decided to do a little more research on my own about this strange, other religion.
I knew, based on that class and my own previous years in Bible college, why I did not believe Christianity to be the truth. I learned in that class enough to know for sure I was not a Buddhist or a Taoist or a Sikh or a Hindu, but, for the life of me, I had no idea why I was not a Muslim. And my stubborn spirit would not stop prodding me to have a reason on hand should anyone ever inquire as to why I didn’t embrace that religion.
Having known and respected a Muslim man in India in 2007 during my life-altering trip there, I was curious but afraid to delve deeper.
But, true to my nature, I read and read and read some more and when we were assigned a final project, I decided to try a little social experiment.
What is hijab, anyway?
Hijab, contrary to popular belief, is more than a scarf; It’s a dress code beyond just covering a woman’s hair, one which includes covering every inch of a her body–aside from her face and her hands– in opaque, non-revealing, non-flashy, non-tight (is that a word??) clothing when in the presence of non-relative males.
Beyond clothing, hijab is also a code of conduct to be observed when dealing with members of the opposite sex.
(Also, FLASH BREAKING NEWS!!!: Hijab applies to men, too. Albeit not in the same degree, but they definitely have a dress code legislated by God.)
No, to wear correct hijab you don’t have to wear black, or a burqa like you see in the old pictures of Afghanistan, nor do you have to wear a huge tent-like “dress” or ‘abaya’. If you scroll down a bit and look over to your lower right, you’ll see many such variations of different styles of modern, awesome-looking outfits that are decidedly not drab.
Why I Did It
In my world religions class–and in the minds of people in the West, all the time since forever– has been the question of whether women would actually choose to forego convention and cover their bodies in hot weather, in a dangerous political climate, etc. and whether or not those women are being oppressed, or feel like they are being oppressed.
I wanted to know if women who wear hijab feel oppressed by anything other than the heat and the rudeness of others. Do they hate God for ‘demanding’ it? Do their fathers and brothers and husbands force them to cover up on pain of death?
Now, being the good sociology and anthropology buff that I was, I knew that I would never get an honest, authentic answer from these women as an outsider, and being the naive college student I was, I assumed all I had to do was wrap a scarf around my hair and I’d be able to pass for Muslim.
So I did.
A friend of mine all the way in Australia sent me some of her old hijab scarves because I had no idea where to buy any without knowing the jargon. Another friend who had traveled in a Muslim-dominant country helped me wrap it on my head and shoulders, and I was good to go.
When I went to the gas station that first day, I noticed something unexpected: men were being nice to me.
I don’t mean they were being flirtatious or hitting on me. They were being overtly non-flirtatious, in fact, and it struck me how much I enjoyed that feeling, as opposed to the longing for male attention I had always been drowning in from the tender age of 12. They were opening doors for me and saying ‘excuse me’ if they bumped into me by accident.
When I arrived in class that day, the students noticed, of course, and whispered among themselves but the professor was entirely non-affected.
I saw a student in the cafeteria later that day who was wearing hijab, so I approached her cautiously and asked if I could sit with her and ask a few questions. She was hesitant, understandably, but agreed.
I realized I had zero questions, actually, but just wanted to see how she felt in hijab. We just chit-chatted about the weather and how it is to be hotter than everyone else under that much ‘extra’ clothing, but we never got much deeper.
I loved wearing hijab because I could finally be judged by my contribution to society, my manners and my eloquence rather than the length of my skirt, the size of my thunder thighs, the circumference of my waist, or the style of my hair.
As well, I was tired of allowing the opinions of others– mostly male others– to determine my own views of my worth, based on if they felt attracted to me or not, which is a truth that I wish younger people of today understood about their clothing choices.
Also, let’s be honest: who doesn’t love using their hijab as a phone-holder when your hands are otherwise occupied?
I continued wearing hijab and asking various Muslim women about their reasons for wearing hijab and their feelings about the reactions they get from people, all the way up until Christmas of that year when I was sure I would give my family a heart-attack if I showed up to Christmas in a hijab.
Things to Come
Unlike many converts, hijab was not a stumbling block for me in the path of Islam. On the contrary, along with the 5x daily prayers, it was one of the things about Islam that attracted me.
When I lived in Egypt, I was interviewed by a popular host named Mostafy Hosny for his t.v. program called “The Spirit of Worship”. This did not make me unique, not in the least; it was very common for converts to be interviewed for this program.
My topic was hijab and why I loved it, and you can see the interview here (my segment starts at 36:03):
Ultimately, I have found my own unique, American hijab-friendly style, after years of trying to fit into the Arab and Pakistani mold that was handed to me when I converted 6.5 years ago. I even wore niqab, or a face veil, for a time when I lived in Egypt, something I hated from the moment I put it on, and I eventually removed it because of my hatred and the reality that niqab is not required for a Muslim woman, unlike hijab.
What about you? Do you wear hijab? Do you love it? Hate it? Are you a non-muslim who likes wearing hijab? Are you a Muslim who struggles with hijab? Let us know in the comments!
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