I wrote this response in light of Stephanie Luff's decision to take off her headscarf until she feels ready. I decided to post my own experience to show that everyone has their own struggles and time frame for when they feel ready to do something, especially the very visual aspect of hijab.
My interest started when I took a course during my degree entitled, 'Harem and Hijab: Women in Islam.' It opened my eyes to a lot of issues, not just feminism (Western and Middle Eastern) and the issue of hijab but it also broke up the binaries of East and West which had been in my head. I joined the class primarily because I was interested in the Turkish aspect of the course because my financé is Turkish. Ironically, he became more interested in faith and became a practicing Muslim as a result of meeting me, a Christian. After a year of learning more about Islam and fasting for Ramadan last Summer, I decided that I wanted to become a Muslim myself. Or more accurately, that I felt I'd been a Muslim for a long time without realizing that was the case.
To be honest, I felt like a bit of a fraud because I was doing all the ‘easy’ bits of Islam without the difficult parts. It's easy to hide fasting and praying - but covering your hair is so obvious (and Islam isn’t exactly portrayed in the media as the most huggable of religions). I was particularly worried about the reaction of my family (several of whom are Christian ministers). A part of me really wanted to wear it, to have the courage to wear something for a reason of faith but the other part of me was saying ‘you’ll look so stupid’. That went on for ages. I got stressed whenever I saw a veil on TV and became very defensive. I would put it on it secret and start crying because I didn't like my reflection and would have gollum-style arguments with myself.
One day last summer I got fed up with myself for fretting about hijab when my lack of a job was a far more pressing issue. So I went for a walk to clear my head but decided to cover my hair with a bandanna. No one stared at me me in the street and nothing worthy of report happened. I felt silly that I'd got myself so psyched up for a battle of some kind. When I returned home, I found an offer of a job waiting in my inbox. While I was praying about it, I suddenly felt at peace about the situation and knew that I wanted to cover my hair and was ready to do that. I started to wear it at work (starting out with just a bandanna and then becoming progressively more obviously 'Muslim').
If it weren't for that feeling, I wouldn't have had the courage to wear hijab. It's impossible to wear something confidently, whether it's a headscarf, ball gown or a swimming costume at the beach, unless you feel comfortable in it. If you look in a mirror wearing a headscarf and think 'I look so ugly' I'd take it as a strong sign that you're not in the right frame of mind or heart to wear it yet. Putting it on when you feel that way could be the straw that breaks the metaphorical camel's back and puts you off your religion all together, especially if you feel you are being pressured into it. You have to be able to have the confidence to wear it without worrying what people think and then others will see and respond to that. There would be nothing worse than seeing a young woman wearing a scarf and looking as if she had no confidence or was unhappy.
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Six months later I'm incredibly happy that I made that decision. When I'm wearing the hijab and look in the mirror now, I actually feel more myself. I've had to overcome paranoia about how my face looks because that's the only thing people see. It's strange but actually that has made me more confident than I was before. Perhaps it's because it takes a certain amount of psyching up everyday to face the world knowing that you will probably get some funny looks during the day. Although in fairness to Italian passersby, I openly stare at hijabis myself. I just get so excited! Spot the Hijabi has even become an official game when I'm on the bus and I need a way of passing the time.
I hope inshallah (God willing) that this blog is useful to anyone struggling with similar issues at this time. Also, in the case of Saluff, I hope that it can be a reminder to myself, others and especially "Gung-Ho Hijabis" that only Allah (God) knows what stage of their journey a person is on in their faith and it's our responsibility to meet people where they are and be supportive. The most important part of hijab (modesty and faith) is internal and isn't affected by what we wear. That's the vital part that we should be nurturing in others, not worrying about what's on their head.There's a great video called You Took Off Your Hijab? Unsubscribed!! by Sister Dee from Imaan & Beauty where she sums up some of the negative responses towards sisters who took off their hijab in 2012 and encourages people to be less judgmental in their attitudes towards fellow muslim women.
★ ★ ★Some afterthoughts...
Update: For a more recent decision by a Muslim lady to remove her hijab, read her article explaining her decision here: Winnie Detwa: 'The Elephant in Room - Removing Hijab I particularly respect her encouraging others to continue on their own path and not to think of hijab as a fashion statement.