Returning to the Hijab

A decade ago [though it seems very weird to label it as such. An entire decade ago – ] my best friend and I used to habitually trawl through the jewellery aisles at Primark and Accessorize, looking for headbands to wear on our headscarves. Flower headbands were our favourites; we also had beaded ones, plaited ones, plain elastic ones…

My relationship with my Hijab has certainly ebbed as it has flowed through time: I loved it when I first started wearing it. I felt so grown up, so Muslim, so unique and fashion-conscious (in retrospect, however, that last one had been very far from the truth). My school best friend of the time (not to be confused with my home/life/hopefully-permanent best friend) had worn it for years before me. I was in Year Two when I first (rather excitedly) wore it to school. But it came off after a short while: I was a football-player. And now I liked putting little clips in my hair. But then I went back to the headscarf – to so many different colours and styles and to flowery headbands – and I started wearing my hair clips on top of it.

I guess my relationship with it became rather frayed during my preteens and later teens for two main reasons: 1) a struggle with my looks (I thought I looked far better without the Hijab than with it. And one’s preteens onwards tend to be a fragile time in terms of self-image) and 2) a philosophical struggle with Islam – and one that was exacerbated by the words and actions of Islamophobes.

“F*cking P*ki” was something I was exposed to quite a bit as a little hijabi girl. Weird to think, but it is true. I grew up hearing things about my aunts being sworn at, punched, for wearing it. I was taken aback by the words of online trolls – some of whom were not even above attacking little hijabi girls. They defined the hijab by its associations – with extremism, with the oncoming ‘degeneracy’ of Britain via the forces of immigration, with female oppression (even though many of them were oppressing the very women they claimed to be deeply concerned after the oppression of). They were okay with six-year-olds wearing skirts, I suppose – despite the external associations with above-the-knee skirts with hyper-sexuality. But they were very not okay with six-year-olds wearing headscarves, under any circumstance.

So, the journey for me thus far has gone a bit like this: pull-on hijabs to no hijab, to netted hijabs, to various styles and colours and accessories. Then secretly wanting to take it off, but due to cultural impositions (e.g. an excessively deep concern for what others will say) I could not. So I resented it. I was scared of Islamophobes; I was scared of what people thought of me. And these fears should not be underestimated: they grew into angry beasts in the forests of my mind.

Then came a strange turban period. I would wear (minimal) makeup, jewellery, and I would wrap my hijab upwards, like a turban. Sometimes my fringe would partially be out. A good compromise, I thought, and one that would satisfy both my family and community members, and myself, as I continued to struggle through whatever this was.

But I am back now: I wear my black / pink headscarves with absolute pride (well, honour) and conviction, and (I would like to think) understanding.

And as I frequently say, liberation lies in choice. This should be a choice; an informed one, and not a forced one.

These days, I love the little things that occur as a result of donning a headscarf. The random Salaams on the streets of virtually wherever I am; the being addressed as “sister”; the being given discounts on things at shops on account of being a Muslim woman. I find it ennobling, the way (thinking, relatively clever) individuals show hijabi women a great deal of respect. And I do think that such respect should be shown to anyone, regardless of pretty much anything.

But I like representing what I truly believe in; I like being treated special not on account of how good my makeup may look on a particular day, but just because someone has identified me as their sister in the Deen.

The pros of all this certainly outweigh the odd con: someone who is deliberately rude to me when I go on holiday; the almost daily aftermath of observing this part of my religion – the hijabi version of the phenomenon of helmet hair: hijab hair.

Sadia Ahmed, 2020

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