I Hated the Hijab

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Guest writer Nadia steps into a memory she tucked away in a dark corner at the back of her head, out of the way, lest part of her be tempted to dwell there. Thinking and hesitating a thousand times before sending it in, she finally shares her story in the hopes that it will touch those in similar situations.

Image credit: shewatchedthesky

This is my hijab story. I’m afraid to tell it. Afraid of what people will think of me.

You see, for me, wearing hijab wasn’t all blooming roses and rainbows and inner peace. It was blood and tears and a nafs raging and rebelling.

It was the hardest thing I ever did for Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. I pray it was sincerely for His sake, that He may accept it from me, otherwise all this hardship will be in vain.

I tell this story for the others out there who feel the same, who feel like aliens in the midst of women overjoyed at wearing hijab. Who can’t help that feeling no matter how they try to rationalize it, no matter how much they want to do what’s right.

I never wanted to wear hijab. Ever. I never thought about it or associated it with myself in any way. Even after I returned to Islam and began my journey towards the straight path. Even though I tried to practice Islam in my everyday life. I started with Salah (prayer), and subhanallah, from there, everything got better. I prayed regularly, then on time, then elhamdulillah, started praying Sunnah. I fasted Mondays and Thursdays, I gave charity, I held my temper (that would be the second hardest thing I attempted), I attended a halaqa, I started to learn Qur’an, to read books on various religious topics. I tried and tried to get closer to Allah, to be the person He wanted me to be.

It never occurred to me to change how I dressed – “What do your clothes have to do with what kind of person you are?” I thought. “How ridiculous.”

And although at the time I lived in a predominately Muslim country, where hijab is quite common, where “hijabi’s” (a word I didn’t even know existed) give you killer stares when you walk into the mosque, I never felt the wish to blend in, to be one of them, to look like that.

Not that I paid too much attention to how I looked. I was the girl in the torn jeans – much to my mom’s disgust – and scruffy sneakers, just run my fingers through my curls in the morning, never wore make-up in my life.

You probably would have found it hard to believe by looking at me, but I lived on an incredible iman rush in those days. For years, really, every day was better than the one before, elhamdulillah. Everyday, I read or heard or learnt something new, I pushed myself further, I challenged myself all the time.

Remember that feeling when you’ve just (re)discovered Islam? How you’re always full of energy and determination and hope. How waking for Fajr (the dawn prayer) is exciting? Everything you do seems too little, or small, or not enough, and you’re fidgeting to do more, to plan and organize and share.

It took me years to even begin thinking about hijab, and still, I had no desire whatsoever to wear it.

It started in Ramadan. All that month, I prayed to Allah to forgive me, to pardon my sins and transgressions, and to grant me true repentance. I’ve heard we all see things clearly at the end, and so it was for me. As the end of Ramadan came near, I realized that there was one sin I was committing on a regular basis without even thinking about it, without trying to stop. Without even considering it a sin! But just because something doesn’t appear sinful to us doesn’t mean it isn’t in the eyes of God.

And mine was failing to wear hijab, how I knew Muslim women were meant to dress.

But the thought was so unbearable. If I was really living the wrong way, how could I be feeling so great? How could I believe my iman was growing, that my character was improving?

I didn’t want to believe it.

I didn’t want to wear it.

I hated it.

Subhan Allah, Who knows us better than we know ourselves. The One Who controls our hearts, then lets our hearts guide us to what’s better for us.

One day, I  had a nap before Iftar, and woke up with the knowledge that I would wear hijab that day. It was almost like a premonition, I felt I couldn’t escape it.

I didn’t choose it, it chose me.

That evening, for the first time, I went to the mosque wearing a scarf on my head, knowing I would not take it off until I got home.

I wish I could tell you this was the beginning of the happy ending… not yet…

As usual with Ramadan, the end came suddenly, and the next two weeks were the darkest ever. It’s only through the mercy of Allah that I pulled through. Not only was I suffering withdrawal from iman-filled days and nights of prayer and Qur’an, but the full weight of my decision had fallen on me with crushing clarity.

I felt so depressed.

I wanted to go out but I didn’t want to wear hijab, so I stayed home.

The more I stayed home, the more depressed I became.

The more depressed I became, the more I wanted to go out.

The more I didn’t go out, the more I resented hijab.

That first week, I struggled to get out of bed every day.

I struggled to pray every fardh, and could do no more.

Ya Allah!

I was so disappointed, after trying so hard, to fall down so far. I had thought that taking this step would bring me even closer to Allah, that I would feel some satisfaction or relief or joy. Instead, I felt… empty.

I felt so alone. The girls who wore hijab didn’t get what the big deal was, and the ones who didn’t wear it were like, “Just take it off.” No one understood.

And I felt hurt. Hadn’t I sacrificed for Allah? Why wasn’t He making it easy for me? Why had He abandoned me when I needed Him so much?

I tell you this with immense shame at my own arrogance, that I dared question Allah ‘azza wa jal, Who is in no need of my sacrifices or my worship. I’m ashamed at my ignorance for thinking a trial was a punishment.

In fact, it was a test of strength and endurance. Slowly, one step at a time, I started to climb out of the hole I had let myself fall into. I realized that obeying Allah’s commandments requires sabr (patience) and persistence. And that all hardship suffered for the sake of Allah will be rewarded.

I asked myself: Was I only willing to do this if it was easy? Or would I keep going when the going got tough? And from deep inside me, the surprising answer came back: No. No, I wasn’t going to give up no matter how hard it was. More than anything else, I wanted to obey Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.

And I wanted Jannah. But saying you want something isn’t enough to attain it. As Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala teaches us in Surat Aal Imran,

أَمْ حَسِبْتُمْ أَن تَدْخُلُوا الْجَنَّةَ وَلَمَّا يَعْلَمِ اللَّـهُ الَّذِينَ جَاهَدُوا مِنكُمْ وَيَعْلَمَ الصَّابِرِينَ

Or do you think that you will enter Paradise while Allah has not yet made evident those of you who struggle in His cause and made evident those who are steadfast? [3:142]

Steadfastness is a woman unwavering in her observance of hijab. While there is a prevalent idea that hijab is a decision you take once, one difficult day and you get over it, the truth is, it’s the opposite.

Hijab is a decision you take everyday, all day, all the time. It’s a difficult day you re-live over and over, and the difficulty may lessen, but it doesn’t go away – at least this has been my experience so far. Every morning you get ready to leave the house, you make that decision, every family gathering, every time you speak to someone, when you go for a jog or answer the door, the simplest things become consequential and you have to keep your guard up all the time.

We all want to enter paradise, but paradise isn’t won with a wish. The path to Jannah isn’t strewn with flowers, it’s filled with those things that the nafs dislikes, finds irksome and tiring. I constantly remind myself of the saying of the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wasallam:

(حفت الجنة بالمكاره وحفت النار بالشهوات)

The (Hell) Fire is surrounded with all kinds of desires and passions, while Jannah is surrounded with adversities.” [Bukhari and Muslim]

Elhamdulillah, three years later, I’m still wearing hijab, and continuously trying to live up to it. Through it, I’ve been blessed with so many opportunities to learn and develop and improve myself in ways I never even thought about. To turn my gaze inwardly, to find what I truly value about myself… to really separate who I am from how I look.

And how do I feel now? After all of that?

I feel grateful. Grateful that Allah gave me the push I needed to do what I would not have had the strength to do on my own. Grateful that He helped me through those terrible days. Grateful for the gift of reda (acceptance). Because you know what happens when you really strive to please Allah? He rewards you beyond what you ever could have dreamed of.

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Submitted to I Got It Covered for our May 2010 reader-takeover month.

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