By Naballah Chi (Trinidad & Tobago)
Today, I am simply here to share with you my personal experience in hope that you may find some meaning and sense of inspiration in what I have to say. As I sat down and attempted to write this several times, I realized how personal my Hijab story actually is because no amount of words can truly do the experience justice. That being said, I’m just going to dive right in.
Raised in a Muslim family, I was brought up with the basic, fundamental principles and values that Islam infuses. I was taught to pray, to fast, to be kind-hearted, generous and to share the Deen of Allah graciously with those around me. As a Muslim growing up amongst Muslims, Islam was my second nature. It was when I entered University that I realized I never really understood what Hijab meant. I often thought that it was just a Muslim woman’s obligation to Allah (SWT), not understanding the true concept of it. I soon came to realize the Hijab was the perfect outlet for women to seek liberation, respect and ultimate freedom from sexual harassment and the likes.
However, like many people, there was a point in my life where I was at an all time low. My Imaan (faith) was unstable. It was at this time in my life, I contemplated on removing my Hijab. I had sometimes felt that wearing Hijab did not allow me to reach my true potential. The harder I tried to fit in, the more frustrated I became. I often felt that I couldn’t participate in certain activities with my Hijab and so this feeling had taken me down a road that I never want to travel on again.
My first and last attempt to remove my Hijab was at an audition for a beauty pageant competition at my University. I decided that this was my first step to becoming an international model so I decided to give it a go. I did audition with my Hijab and was chosen to be among the competing 14 girls. As the competition progressed, my conscience got to me, some of my Muslim friends stopped talking to me and often times, I found myself wearing my Hijab for some of the events and not wearing it for others. This made me feel like the biggest hypocrite in the world. I felt as though I was cheating myself out of who I really was and what I stood for. There were even some Muslim sisters who had spread spiteful rumours about me and shared pictures of me without my Hijab from one of the pageant’s photo shoots. With all of these thoughts racing through my mind, day in and day out, finally I said to myself, “Naballah, look at the big picture!” Now, when I say big picture, I don’t mean next week, or in a few months or even 20 years down the road. I mean the Akhira – the Hereafter. I asked myself a very straightforward question. Who am I trying to please? 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. Eventually I withdrew from the competition.
It was at that point that I decided it was time to put some more thought into this whole ‘Hijab’ issue. And I did. I contemplated the thought of the Hijab, and what it really means to be a Hijabi woman. It was at that very moment that I said, “Allah, I will put this Hijab back on 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.” Now, 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 when I removed my Hijab. 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. To me, the Hijab not only represents an obligation, modesty, purity, righteousness and protection, but truly is the ultimate state of respect and liberation. Alhamdullilah, I am free! For me, that episode was a defining moment in my life. I believe that Allah (SWT) guides whom He pleases and I was tearfully happy that He had guided me back on the straight path of life, and I’m never going to be lost again.
Looking back on the pageant, I realized it’s really just a way of exploiting women. Giving them false confidence based on “bearing-it-all”. I often ask myself why do these women need to strip down into a bra and underwear (sometimes totally naked with hands hiding parts) to prove their worth? Now that I look back at who I was then, it makes me grateful to Allah (SWT) to see how far He has brought me. For a time, I was confused and somewhat lost, as are many young women – trying desperately to fit in to a society that dictates that beauty is naked, emaciated women on 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! 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.
When I look around today I see so many Muslim women excelling in diverse spheres of life- it would be silly and ignorant to think that you can’t reach your full potential as a Hijabi woman. To my sisters who aspire to or have recently started wearing Hijab and are facing any of the issues that I did, my advice is make Dua (prayer) to Allah (SWT) and seek knowledge to keep reminding yourself that Hijab is your protection and beauty and you ARE just as beautiful if not more with it on. There is nothing sweeter and more fulfilling in this world than Islam and Hijab. It is an honor for me to be a symbol of my religion with my appearance, and of course with my actions. I know it is the best for me to be modest in the way that Allah SWT wants me to be. I encourage any girl who is considering wearing Hijab to READ about it first. Read the actual verses in Qur’an and their Tafseer and talk to sheikhs or people who are knowledgeable in Islam. And if you wear it, wear it to make Allah please with you, not for anyone or anything else. I know that I am not a perfect Muslim, but I am striving to be a better one, and I hope that I will be one of the good examples of Muslim women. I will not lie and say that wearing Hijab is easy and that Shaytan has never played around with my head. People fail to realize that being from a certain religion or culture doesn’t mean you don’t have the same temptations, desires and feelings. There was anger, frustration and sadness, but in the end there was also confidence, liberation and peace. I discovered who I wanted be and how I wanted people to see me. The Hijab itself doesn’t make me religious or make me do certain things while preventing me from others. To me, it’s a reminder to be a good person and it gives me confidence as a young Muslim woman. I realized that Hijab made me focus on my inner self more. Some people think that veiled women are oppressed, but I feel more empowered than ever, even though I did struggle to come to terms with it at first. It is not easy to wear Hijab, especially in a society that constantly keeps telling us to dress in as little as possible. Trust me; there is nothing the Dunya (world) can give you that Islam can’t. I’ve been there, so take my word! I’ll leave you with some not-so-secret secrets. Yes, I do have hair under this ‘thing’ and it’s black and no, I don’t wear it in the shower, but I can take it off at home. My advice is to keep in contact with sisters or family members who are willing to encourage you and InshaAllah (God willing), it will get easier for you every day.