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World hijab day: a personal hijab journey

Written by ayah issa

In honor of World Hijab Day earlier this month, I wanted to share my journey with my hijab in a messy journal-styled post.

Growing up, all my female cousins decided to put on the hijab. Being much younger than them, I wanted to do the same, and so I put on the hijab during fifth grade. This way, I would be like my mom, my sister, my aunts, my grandmas, and my cousins. However, I didn’t realize it then, but I actually did not understand the significance of my hijab when putting it on. I blindly chose a path of two-piece scarves which led to more complex looks that eventually landed on my laziest (and cutest - note: cute doesn’t have to mean effort) style: an off-the-shoulder modal hijab.

I went through middle school and high school surrounded by people who looked like me and came from similar cultural and religious backgrounds. The homogenous environment was both comfortable and unchallenged. I didn’t have to explain my hijab to anyone or answer microaggressions wrapped in questions. It wasn’t until college that I realized how different my identity and my visible religious choices were from many others I would cross paths with.

I went from classrooms of 30 students where every girl wore the hijab to lecture halls of 300 students and I was the only hijabi. It was then I realized, I was wearing something that made me feel so different. I was feeling some sort of discomfort towards my decision to wear the hijab, so why keep it on?

Fast-forward to my introduction to women studies class when the GSI decided to have me speak for all Muslim hijabi women (because we are all the same, right? - I say this VERY sarcastically). Ironically, my discomfort brought me closer to Allah (SWT), and the more I was questioned and made to feel like an “other,” the more I clung to my hijab. During that time, I gave myself a reality check and created a pros and cons list for my hijab.

Some cons:

  1. people stare

  2. terrorist, oppressed, foreigner,

  3. holy responsibility (apparently, my hijab meant I was more religious than my non-hijabi friends? I resent this. Not true. Nevermind that I went through a yearlong phase in undergrad where I refused to pray and was still wearing the hijab),

  4. overheating in the summers,

  5. matching my hijab when matching everything else was already a struggle,

  6. others (men usually) telling me how to be modest (love me some “why wear the hijab if you don’t do it right?” - excuse me, those shorts you wore to Friday prayer were too short, but that’s none of my business)

  7. And the list goes on

Some pros:

  1. no bad hair days

  2. dismantling western feminism by reclaiming my hijab as my source of happiness and empowerment (intersectional feminism for the win)

  3. Community - I love that all hijabis say hi and/or smile at each other whether we know each other or not (or is this a general Muslim norm?)

Although a shorter list, my pros won and I made my hijab my best friend. And like any friendship, we’ve had our ups and downs. Good days. Bad days.

Today, I’m worried my hijab has been my diversity card for opportunities. I’m worried every time I get an email to participate in university functions, it’s to tokenize me. I’m worried my worth is being outweighed by my appearance.

...

Today, I’m empowered by my constant decision to wear the hijab. My hijab.

Note to the reader: My hijab is my own. My story is my own. Please read my words only for a singular *unique* experience of what it is to be a Muslim (hijabi) woman and not for a collective insight.

-Ayah Issa

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