Several years ago I became a Muslim and began covering almost immediately. I remember the first day I walked out of my house wearing the scarf. The sun was shining, and I felt as though Allah was especially proud of me that day as the rays illuminated me. I also felt the eyes of the whole world on me, as though every single person I crossed paths with was staring. Of course it was all in my head. Right? Even so, I felt proud of myself, beautiful and confident.
However, as time passed, hijab became more difficult. My confidence level dwindled and my sense of self began to wane. I missed showing my hair, but even more than that I missed who I was before hijab, a beautiful, sexy woman who could take on the world. Suddenly, the world seemed a lot smaller and I was more isolated as I realized that I had singled myself out amongst the masses. I was now different from everyone else, and it didn’t feel good. It felt lonely.
Dressing daily became an endless burden as I tried to adhere to this new dress code of loose and modest. A code that is almost non-existent in the American culture I grew up with. Suddenly, all my favorite stores were off limits and it seemed as if I no longer had a place in fashion.
I debated with myself endless times whether or not to remove my scarf, reasoning with myself that I hadn’t thought it through and made a hasty decision. I fought back, telling myself that Shaitan is whispering in my ear and making this a struggle for me. Becoming cognizant of his temptations did ease my pain and struggle, and I would somehow find the strength to overcome my doubts, time and time again.
But every now and again I still struggle, as I imagine many women do. Some would say my iman (faith) is weak, or urge me to to ask Allah for guidance. Others would say my Shaitan is strong and go as far as to tell me the consequences of the women who don’t cover, the gruesome punishments waiting in hellfire. Can this be true? Would the all Forgiving and Merciful do such a horrendous thing to a human being who struggled with one of His commands?
I began searching for answers, for proof of this command. With the help of a trusted friend, she led me to this verse: “And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their khumur (head covering) over their juyub (bosoms) and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers…” (Qur’an 24:31)
I then asked myself why do I really wear the hijab? Do I wear it to please Allah? I know I did initially, but now I’m not so sure. Do I wear it for myself and my salvation or do I wear it to please others?
Whenever I ask myself what would happen if I removed my hijab, I come to the same conclusion. My husband’s family would be devastated, my friends and community would likely judge me heavily and possibly exclude me. In my experience, the Arab Muslim community to which I belong can be harsh and judgmental.
I know a few Muslim women who made the personal decision to remove their hijab, and the isolation and judgment that rained down on them was not a pretty sight. What’s most devastating to me is that Islam is a religion of peace, patience and understanding. Women and men of every generation struggle with their Islamic obligations and instead of receiving support and guidance they are met with cold eyes, criticism, and rejection. So we resort to hiding our struggles and weaknesses instead of sharing them. I believe that sharing our personal hardships with others who stand by us as we struggle is inspirational and makes us what we are. Human. Hopefully, we can begin to be open about our struggles with our religion and not cower away and hide because we are afraid of judgement. Inshalah, we receive what we need and deserve: advice, support, guidance, comfort and reassurance.
I’m a 30’s something mommy who still struggles with hijab. It’s my personal jihad. What is yours?
Serene Issa is a loving mom of 3 who aspires to be a writer, and enjoys curling up with a good book, getting lost in the woods on a hike, and cold rainy days sitting by the fireplace.