By: Israa Alrawi
He sat across the table gazing at me. His mouth opened as if he meant to utter something, but he held back. Then he finally decided that his wonderment could no longer hold him back. He said, “I am sorry but I have to ask, how do you manage to wear that in public so nonchalantly?”
Ah, yes, the Hijab; a conversation that many of my hijabi Muslim sisters know very well and most likely discuss regularly.
It's not that he wasn't familiar with the hijab. He, in fact, was a Muslim himself, but his amazement spanned from the fact that, as he put it, “You seem unfazed by the criticism and negativity about it.”
I leaned back, smiled and replied, “Because I knew the responsibility that would come along with wearing the hijab.”
He was puzzled, so I elaborated:
You see I understood that wearing hijab was going to be a great responsibility, especially living in the West. I always knew that I would eventually wear it at some point in my life, because I do believe it is mandatory, but that was not the only thing I thought about. I remember standing in front of the mirror and trying on the hijab for the first time. I didn't think about how it looked on me or how it altered my appearance. The only thing that ran through my head was the following verse:
“And fulfill the Covenant of Allāh when you have entered into it, and break not the oaths after you have confirmed them, and indeed you have appointed Allāh your surety. Verily! Allāh knows what you do. And be not like her who undoes the thread which she has spun after it has become strong, by taking your oaths a means of deception among yourselves…” [An-Nahl 91, 92]
This was an oath I decided to take with Allāh: I will represent Islam to the best of my abilities. I will not be offensive or aggressive in my ways of communicating the true meaning of our beautiful and just religion. My outward appearances and practices will be one and the same as my inward intentions.
Wearing hijab, especially in the West and post-9/11, is not an easy task for us Muslim women because, unlike our male counterpart, the hijab makes us an outward symbol of Islam. It no longer means that Islam is just between you and Allāh. It also means that now you are a walking da'wah. Your actions, thoughts, and even silence are linked to Islam. It is a great responsibility, and on that note, we should not be too sensitive to the reaction of others, simply because they fear it or pity it out of ignorance.
Rather, one should educate oneself and be sound in the decision of donning it. Don't take it as a burden but an honor that Allāh has bestowed upon you to be an outward symbol. But also take care of knowing the responsibilities that come with this honor. The hijabi woman is easily associated with knowing and answering questions about Islam, so our duty becomes two-fold: to preserve our modesty and educate ourselves in order to represent Islam correctly.
So, just like the Prophet took on the great responsibility of fulfilling his covenant with Allāh to deliver the beautiful message of Islam, I, too, take on that responsibility when I wear the hijab.
He sat back; his wonderment turned into admiration. He had no words, just a nod of understanding.