Wearing ḥijāb was never easy. I started covering in high school; it was a challenge, but it slowly became my identity. I learned lessons through wearing ḥijāb that I might not have learned otherwise. It gave me confidence, self-respect and taught me to stand up for my beliefs even if I had to swim against the tide. I lost friends but I also found friends, Muslim and non-Muslim, who didn't care how I looked or how I dressed; rather, they respected me for myself and valued my friendship despite of my “strange” clothes.
A piece of cloth that made me look different, caused many to stare and laugh at me, slowly became my pride. It was not just ḥijāb anymore; it made me realize what it meant to do something for no other purpose than to please Allāh alone; to be tested and along the way to become stronger (inshā'Allāh).
Ḥijāb became a responsibility. It was a symbol or worship and servitude to Allāh azzawajal. I was representing my dīn every time I stepped out of my house. I started enjoying being an ambassador. I used my ḥijāb to avail every opportunity to make da'wah.
There were tough times too, especially when my children started growing older and noticed their mother was different from others. There were times when they stood out just because their mother looked different. Or when the kids around the corner laughed at my young daughter asking “Hey what's on your head?”. It was then that I felt uneasy exposing my children to an unnecessary challenge. I felt the need to escape away to a place where wearing ḥijāb was not difficult, rather part of the norm. Little did I realize that it was those difficulties and challenges that had transformed ḥijāb into my pride.
We moved to a place where ḥijāb was everywhere. It was not difficult to cover anymore, no one laughed at ḥijāb. Stares? That is another discussion!
In the West, ḥijāb is frequently misunderstood as “cultural”. I was often appalled at this misrepresentation. It was not until I moved to the Middle East that I understood the grounds of Western arguments. I realized accusing ḥijāb as a cultural practice forced on women by their men folk, holds water.
Ḥijāb and jilbabs are very common here, but the oppression is reflected through the way ḥijāb is worn. Sometimes, it feels like women are in a prison waiting to break out. A sheer piece of black cloth carelessly resting midway across their head, the layers of hair slipping attractively out from the front makes these women look no less stunning than Princess Jasmine. Layers and layers of make up makes me wonder if they get ready at salons every day. Many women use artificial hair-buns under their hijabs, making it look like a perfect “camel-hump”.
Many women wear front-open abayas that split open up at every step they take; a glance of their tight skinny jeans and high heeled sandals only make them seem far more alluring.
That's not all. Jilbabs are tight. Some women cover their faces (which is mostly forced by their families) but their skin-tight jilbabs, designed especially to enhance body curves, are enough to catch anyone's attention; forget the faces.
Many women here do not want to wear ḥijāb but are forced to by their families. One of my local teachers at Qatar University informed me that her brothers can never find out she doesn't cover her face at the university or she will be forced to quit. I don't know how ḥijāb evolved into culture, but unfortunately it did. Even the welcoming package and little leaflets designed for expatriates introduce ḥijāb as a cultural dress code.
I wonder what impression all those non-Muslim expatriates take back to their respective countries. Can they be blamed for accusing Muslims of imposing ḥijāb on women?
The other day, during the PTA meeting, two of the European moms asked me if I was wearing “all this” to adapt to the local culture!
I have never been asked about my ḥijāb from this perspective before. At first I was confused, but as their question sank in, I was ashamed. It took me a few minutes to answer their question, but, alḥamdulillāh, that day they left with a better understanding of ḥijāb.
There is always khayr in whatever happens in our lives; I learned a lot from my move that I might have never learned otherwise. Firstly, difficulties and challenges are not unnecessary, rather, they reform us.
Secondly, not all Western accusations are unfounded.
We should realize that it is partially our own fault that ḥijāb is misunderstood. Had our Muslim brethren not sent out the wrong message, much against ḥijāb would have been easier to clarify. Some progressive females, who label ḥijāb as a forced cultural practice, are as ignorant of ḥijāb as many Muslim women in “Muslim” countries. We have a lot of work to do from within. At times, it seems easier to make da'wah to non-Muslims than Muslims themselves. May Allāh make the real knowledge of Islam sink into our hearts and return us our glory and 'izzah that we have lost at our own hands.