hijab & judgment

When I first started wearing the hijab (partway, front exposed, but still identifiably Muslim), a woman had approached me about the Eid prayers at a city bus-stop. The woman had approached me, smiled widely, asking about the debates regarding the moon-sighting for that year. This was the first time I was approached as visibly Muslim in the public space, so I was stunned (in a good way), but the woman had interpreted my momentary inability to respond as scrutinisation. She had straight hair down her back, legging-type leans and a quarter-sleeve shirt. She quickly looked at her own appearance and said, embarrassed, ‘I dress this way but I am still a sister. I won’t be dressed this way to prayers.’

I wondered how many people in her life must have made her feel less as a Muslim because of the way she dressed.

I think I understand, because even in my half-hijab-wearing I am receiving comments like this:

‘I don’t like hijab that show the hair. It’s so… cultural and not even religious’ – a girl who is otherwise obsessed with k-pop music videos where, suffice to say, the dancers are not observing hijab in the slightest. She also wears relatively skin-hugging clothing that many of my non-hijabi Muslim friends wouldn’t wear out of modesty purposes.

‘If a single strand is shown, it’s not proper hijab’ – an auntie who bought their house on riba (interest/mortgage) on the argument, but it’s a basic need almost dismissively

‘Your daughter… she wears a hijab this way one day, and that way another’ – an auntie who realistically did not start observing the hijab until two years prior, and otherwise hurts mere acquaintances with the venom of her tongue.

I am a philosophy student so I understand these are all tu quo que fallacies: I had separated the person and the words (which where true) and found peace. I don’t have anything to prove to them, so this post is not addressed to any single individual – but I am writing about a common cultural phenomenon. I knew that my hijab-wearing wasn’t proper; I had presumed that I would slowly grow into the faith. I come from a culture where women tend to wear the hijab after marrying and, out of all my cousins, I am the first to observe it (even if loosely). It’s a novelty even from my familial background: I was 20 when I started; and my mother was 24, yet still the first in her family to observe this.

Sometimes, even wearing the half-hijab is hard, but I made the commitment to consistency: I would not go backwards. My mum sometimes jokes that my best trait is my hair and so the hijab disproportionately affects my beauty (why are brown mums so brutally honest), so the thought that I would be more beautiful without the hijab to the human-eye is always at the back of my mind. I struggle with this most when I attend weddings where girls who otherwise observe the hijab decide not to on their wedding day, where a tiny whisper tells me, you should do the same. I pray constantly that I fight this temptation but, even if I do inshAllah through the strength of Allah (swt), it wouldn’t be easy.

While I didn’t take the comments to heart, I can imagine how some Muslim women might and, combined with a fluctuating deen, remove the headscarf completely because ‘it didn’t feel right.’ ‘Rightness’ is a translation for: ‘I can’t be my imperfect self and represent Islam under the scrutiny of others with a headscarf, so I choose to reject the latter.’ I have been consistently saddened by my Instagram feeds bursting with once-covered Muslim girls who rejected their previous observations and, sometimes, Islam completely because they had presumed the judgment of others was the true reflection of their efforts. The real mirror is the infinite mercy of Allah (swt).

For any Muslim sisters and brothers who have made comments similar to the above: you can and will be responsible for any moment your words lead someone away from the religion. Consider this: maybe whatever reward you accumulate having observed the hijab is counterbalanced by the sin of your quiet arrogance, under the guise of speaking the truth. There is a difference between informing/reminding… and criticising without goodwill. Choose your words carefully. Honestly reflect on your intentions for speaking. Speak softly and compassionately. Because before the concept of hijab was even introduced, the modesty in our characters and conduct was among the first of our teachings in Islam; the first governance in our way of living and treating others as Muslims.

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