On the morning of Thursday, November 6, 1997 my identity became clear not only to me, but to every person I would encounter from that day forward. I decided to wear the hijab and begin to develop myself as a more conscientious Muslim woman. It was on that very day that I revealed to the world that I am a Muslim and that I was no longer afraid to be who I was.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, hijab, it literally means 'barrier' or 'something that covers or conceals completely'. In today's non-Islamic societies, the true meaning of the hijab is often replaced with such notions as scarves, kerchiefs, or 'head-pieces' - as one of my co-workers eloquently put it. Many people are simply uneducated about the why Muslims must dress modestly and because of this profound lack of knowledge and understanding many stereotypes and misconceptions arise.
I am not going to go into the intricate details about the purpose of the hijab or submerse myself in the ongoing debate as to whether or not the hijab is an obligatory practice for Muslim men and women. There are many fabulous books available that go through the ins-and-outs of appropriate Muslim dress. Better yet, I implore all of you to pick up a Qur'an, and read over the verses concerning modesty and dress.
In Surah 24: An-Nur (or The Light), verses 30-31 it says:
"Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity of them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: they should not display their ornaments except what must ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty ... "
Today, I am simply here to share with you my personal experiences in hope that you may find some meaning and sense of inspiration in what I have to say.
Raised in a Muslim family, I was brought up with the basic, fundamental principles and values that Islam instills. I was taught to pray, to fast, to be kind-hearted, generous and to share the Deen of Allah graciously with those around me. The thought of one day 'covering my head' occasionally popped into my mind, but the thought that almost always followed was - "Not until I'm ready!" I never really understood what hijab meant. I often thought that it was man's clever way of keeping woman under his control.
I soon came to realize that I very wrong. In fact, the hijab was the perfect outlet for women to seek liberation, respect and ultimate freedom from sexual harassment and the liking. For years and years I would wake up extra early to style my hair according to what was 'in' at the time. I would spend over an hour caking make-up onto my face, trying to look beautiful - but never quite sure for who? Each morning I would eventually make my way out into the world - not really prepared to be judged, solely on my physical appearance, by every person I was to encounter along my path.
Now that I look back at who I was then, it makes me grateful to Allah to see how far he has brought me. For a time, I was confused and somewhat lost, as are many young women in non-Islamic nations - trying desperately to fit in to a society that dictates that beauty is naked, emaciated teenagers on a billboards selling perfume and underwear. I recently read that some of those models and actors that I once adored, practically have to kill themselves to look the way they do. From face-lifts to lipo-suction. Some even go as far as having their ribs removed so they can have tiny waists!
The harder I tried to fit in, the more frustrated I became. It finally dawned on me that the images being flashed in front of me 24 hours a day could not possibly be true representations women's liberation. I was convinced that there had to be a simpler answer somewhere.
It was at this point that I decided it was time to put some more thought into this whole 'hijab' issue. And I did. For 3.5 years I contemplated the thought of wearing hijab, but the fear inside of me was overwhelming. I was afraid of what my friends would say. I was afraid of what my professors and colleagues might think. I was terrified that I would be harassed at work, or even worse - fired! All of these thoughts raced through my mind, day in and day out. Each time I seriously thought about doing it I would say, "But, I'm not ready yet!" A very convenient excuse I must say!
I finally said to myself, "Jennifer, look at the big picture!" Now, when I say big picture, I don't mean next week, or in a few months or even 25 years down the road. I mean the Aakhirah - the Hereafter. I asked myself a very straightforward question: "Who am I going to fear? These strangers who I know not or Allah?" I finally convinced myself that it was time for me to take this step closer to Allah, as difficult as it may have seemed at the time.
As I was having my very last doubt the verse in Surah Al-Baqarah (verse 286, I believe), continued to penetrate my heart: "La yukalif Allah nafsin ila wus'aha". "On no soul doth Allah place a burden greater than it can bear". These are the very words that gave me the courage to finally make the right choice. It was at that very moment that I said,
"Allah, I will wear this hijab because I believe in my heart that you have asked me to do so. Please guide me and give me the strength to do this."
Just over a year has gone by now and I can honesty tell you that I have never felt more free or more at peace with myself and the world around me. In all fairness I will be honest and tell you that it wasn't an easy thing to do. Quite frankly, it was probably the most difficult challenge I've had to face in my life. Isn't it ironic how that works? The things that will benefit us most and that make the most sense are often those we fail to realize or have difficulty accepting.
I've had to deal with a variety of off-the-wall comments. But what it all boils down to is me making a personal decision to increase my faith and become what I believe to be a better Muslim. To me the hijab not only represents modesty, purity, righteousness and protection but truly is the ultimate state of respect and liberation. Alhamdulillah, I am free!