“Girls who don’t wear scarves on their heads are prostitutes.”
The bitter words cut through her like blunt knives. Forcefully slicing through her flesh, burying deep within her.
She fumbled for the scarf around her neck, her cheeks burning with intense heat. She draped it over her head and covered up what seemed like every last bit of her freedom.
“You think it looks good with your hair out, but there is no respect. Everyone is talking about you. About me.”
She wondered how marrying a person made her the representative of the family. How she had taken on such a heavy burden just by saying the words “I do”. More vicious words spilled out of the raging grey old man, legs folded on the cold black leather sofa, hand actions pointing accusingly at her.
He was consumed by cultural acceptance. Every part of this act was set out by these predetermined rules of how to behave, dress, cook, speak.. Pretty much every aspect of her life had been moulded into this version of the perfect daughter in-law. She was a stage puppet, being held up by invisible strings, pulled in every direction, acting out this farce of a life.
She focused her thoughts on a tiny crack in the wall, a little fluff of dust caught in the ridge, occasionally bobbing up and down as the heat from the radiator filled the claustrophobic room.
She cleared her throat and forced back tears that she struggled to hold in. Large drops of salty sadness rolled down her cheeks and she quietly sobbed as the old man continued with his rant. Her husband, seated next to her, looked at her with embarrassment and turned away. She wiped her face and straightened up, making failed attempts at composing herself. She looked up at her father in-law sat across from her and tried to apologise, digging deeper holes for herself. He frowned and reached for the remote. The TV flickered on. Indian dramas with over acted scenes and oppressive families. She inhaled the toxic air in the room. Almost choking with the mix of dried up tears.
“Go make some tea.” Her husband mumbled. “And put that scarf on properly.” He gave her a sharp look. The old man looked over with a nod of approval. A silent agreed contract drawn up between father and son.
She stood up slowly, ever the obedient wife, and made her way to the kitchen.
This is my unapologetic resolve. Where I now ardently influence aspects of my life rather than be dictated to, I dress modestly in a world where I risk facing backlash or ostracism.
The real concept of hijab has been muddled with the cultural idea that many of the ‘backward’ minded are advocating. For something that is representative of a religion, the confusion between Islamic duty and cultural acceptance will inflict a never ending struggle. I was thrown into this confusing mix of wearing the hijab for acceptance, rather than for the reason of faith. So as a result, I hated it. I looked for every excuse to take it off when I had the chance. Was this wrong? Absolutely yes. But I realise now that my heart was not fully in it. I was wearing the scarf for all of the wrong reasons.
Around a year ago I began to question the hijab and what it entailed. I realised that the concept of hijab is so much more than just a piece of fabric on the head or the dressing. It is the act of modesty in physical body and mental spirit. It is modesty of the mind, heart and tongue. It is everything that makes up the beauty of hijab. I was ready at that moment to make a resolve of the way I wanted to represent my modesty. I decided not to wear the hijab. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I am nowhere near where I want to be with it. I felt that I was not able to give it justice.
I often find myself in this halal/ haram limbo in many aspects of the way I choose to dress or live. Too halal for the haram people and too haram for the halal people as they say. Jokes aside, this grey area is where you will find me.
Hijab has now become this Islamic stigma that is pointed and blamed at Muslim girls who are trying to make a conscious effort to adopt this way of life but continually failing due to the shaming. Not worn correctly, not dressed correctly.. it’s a vicious cycle that grates my very core. Better something than nothing, right? Why not encourage the small steps toward the hijab, toward dressing modestly? It is a lifestyle choice that takes a good amount of dedication and understanding to adopt correctly.
In a world where the mere act of wearing a head scarf is so difficult, how can one then judge a person for the way they are making the effort to cover up? To dress in such a way in the face of ‘Muslim shaming’ and media misrepresentation takes a high level of fortitude. This, together with the mentality of other women as being ‘superior’ just because they wear the hijab in the so called correct manner. This is one of the many reasons why many even hesitate to outwardly express themselves as a Muslim by dressing in such a way. Culture aside, As a muslim community we need to recognise, accept and encourage those who make an effort to dress modestly for their faith. With or without the hijab.
The feminist in me is appalled by the idea that the hijab is just a protection against the ravenous eyes of men, as dressing in any way can make a woman subject to this. It is in fact, much more than this idea. It is done purely for the pleasure of the Almighty, as a commandment for women to submit to God and remind themselves everyday of who they are. The struggle of this sacrifice is intensely humbling and gratifying. Taking this simple notion into consideration is the brain child of eventually adopting the hijab.
From harrowing self doubt, to now being compassionate and loving of myself, I see things in a different light. I feel the task of breaking barriers and stereotypes is a necessary step to moving out of this ‘grey area’. As a survivor of cultural abuse, I hope to be diligent in ridding cultural practices from the beauty of Islam by raising awareness. Whilst also taking into account the immense prejudice and struggles muslim women face over the way they choose to dress themselves. As nobody knows what is in our hearts but God.
So this is my conclusion. This is my unapologetic resolve. Where I now ardently influence aspects of my life rather than be dictated to, I dress modestly in a world where I risk facing backlash or ostracism. I wear a scarf on my head without the self doubt I have grappled with for so many years but with the confidence that I am doing this for my faith. Because of this new found control I have, I am more likely to stick to my own values and ideals. Although I am nowhere near where I want to be, I am proud of the journey I have accomplished. I stand in resistance to the notion that not donning a hijab is not ‘Muslim enough’. Rather to make a conscious effort to be inclusive of the ones who take the brave step to be modest for their faith without the cultural stigma. These small steps of love and encouragement is just the mentality we need to take positive steps to becoming better modest Muslims.