An I-20 and Hijab

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A story of on-going growth and struggle, shared by guest writer Blue Streak, in the hopes that it will benefit others.

Well, my story is a little different from others…

I am 28 years old, but I still feel insecure wearing a hijab. But I do wear it, want to wear it, and insha’Allah will continue to wear it.

Being born in a family of girls in a country like India, I can’t believe that I managed to come to America for my Master’s Degree. To many people living around us, my father was very secular in thought. How could he send his children, especially since they were girls, to college? Why does a girl have to study so much? She only needs wahi chula handi (kitchen work). But to others, my father was very traditional. We were never allowed to wear bangles, chudidar, makeup, always had to wear full-sleeved clothes, walk slowly, talk softly, and so on.

Yet my parents focused on all the fard actions except for prayer. Yes, we did pray, but not punctually. My sisters wore burqa or abaya from the age of puberty. With time, my father became busy with his business and I completed my whole Bachelor’s Degree without wearing hijab. My friends wore burqas and I always felt guilty, but I was still scared of wearing it.

With time, we were all out of college. As my friends got jobs or admissions, I became a little frantic and I resolved that I would wear a scarf if I got an I-20 (that’s a legal document for admission in US universities). The Almighty answered me instantaneously. I got my 120 and I was wearing a scarf, but I still needed a visa. Maybe I should have asked for a visa straight away? As strange as my reason for wearing a scarf sounds, my journey towards inner-self discovery with that piece of cloth on my head was even stranger. I felt at peace. Today, I do it because I want to do it. Yes, I really feel more connected to my Rabb by doing it.

To be frank, all my sisters are very fair, tall and beautiful. Whenever I show friends my family, they always get this expression on their face: Are you serious? Weren’t you adopted? I am very short and dark, with simple looks. Living among my sisters, I never got dressed with extra finery. There was no point. Whatever I did, I just could not match them even in their ordinary clothes. One thing that Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala gave me was “ilm” and “aql.” Thanks to these, and of course the mercy of Allah, I am where I am today. I am really thankful to you, my Rabb. I really am.

For three years now, I have been living in NYC with all non-Muslims around me where people get dressed up, go clubbing and it’s a norm to have a boy-friend. I stand out with my baggy jeans and hijab on my head. At times, I’ve tried to look all dressed up like the people around me. Sometimes it’s hard, really hard. There are times when I cry, and there are times when I have a deep look at myself in the mirror. Sometimes I feel like taking my scarf off and walking once again bear-headed and showing everyone around. I know, this is my nafs and insha’Allah it will never happen.

To be honest, I do what I do, not because I’m ashamed of how I look, but just to follow Allah’s orders.

I have met people who are just irritated by a woman’s presence in hijab, give you cold looks, and think you are dumb and illiterate. I have seen cop’s eyes going the whole full-circle whenever I’m alone. It’s been nearly a decade, yet the terrorism hasn’t died from the headlines of the New York times. On the other hand, I’ve also have met people who ask permission before sitting next to me in public transport, and people who run down the subway stairs and just tilt their head with a little jerk to convey salam or respect. It’s moments like these that make me feel good. Every time I feel a little low, I try to think about my presence in front of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala on the Day of Judgment.  Although I make mistakes, I continue to partake in self-jihad in the hopes that I will stand in front of Allah, and I am full of faith in Allah’s mercy.

There is greater suffering in the world than what we think we are going through. People are dying because of hunger, water-scarcity, lack of medical assistance, and injustice. Hijab is just a small fraction of a test. My story is for all those suffering from low self-esteem due to their physical appearance out there, and to those struggling with hijab —

Just try, and you will find strength in yourself, insha’Allah.

Wishing you the best and loads of encouragement. Your sister in deen-ul-haq.

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