The Ex-Hijabi


A profound analysis and valuable advice regarding the delicate issue of removing the hijab.

It’s a sad unfortunate sight. I’ll be going about my usual day when suddenly I see a hint of familiarity. The hesitation comes first, but the second time I look, I’m reassured. My mind isn’t playing tricks on me. I know that girl. I recognize her face. But she looks so different; almost like a stranger without that soft fabric enveloping her head. As our eyes meet, I smile guiltily like I’ve been prying, but we converse as if nothing has changed.

Internally, there is a barrage of emotions and questions running within me. A touch of sorrow, a desire to reach out, but most of all a burning curiosity. Why did you take it off? What terrible experience or thought pushed it? Were you that miserable with it on? But the questions remain thick in the air, unanswered, and neglected because I never have the courage to bring the subject up. I don’t want to sound rude, intruding, or a know-it-all who has the habit of judging others. So what do I do?

Well, I have a theory I’d like to share. And perhaps one day, if I have the guts to ask why, I’ll find out if there is some truth in it. Here we go.

Theory A: I don’t understand why I need to wear the hijab.

Some of us start wearing hijab when we are very young; at a time when we don’t even understand the reasoning behind it. Maybe you are like me, who was excited to wear the hijab because everyone else was wearing it and it was cool to look like the older girls. Or maybe you’re the one who wore the hijab simply because it was another thing you had to do in addition to brushing your teeth at night and memorizing those surahs. Either way, when we start wearing hijab at a young age, we don’t really have a choice. We obey our parents. But eventually we grow up and we are not as innocent anymore. We see the world around us and we become skeptical. We don’t want to wear it anymore because simply put, it doesn’t feel right.

Our rationality, or what we think is rational, becomes our tool to defeat the hijab. Some ask the question—why do I need to wear the hijab? I am a good Muslim, I pray and fast and I don’t wear revealing clothes, so why do I have to prove my faith by wearing the hijab? In fact, there are hijabis out there that aren’t any better than those who don’t wear it. So why wear it? I don’t need a fabric to remind myself of my duty.

For these individuals, they are misunderstanding the profound significance of hijab. Its purpose is never to prove anything to anyone else; its sole function is not to serve as a symbol of piety and it does not end with preventing men from objectifying you. If your Creator Who has given you everything, including this very intellect and rationality you reason with, asks you of something for your own good, why would you reject it? If you didn’t need the hijab, why would He ask you to cover yourself with it? There is a greater purpose to wearing the hijab and sometimes that is as simple as loving your Lord.

But, maybe these questions don’t have such a simple answer and people want the easy way out.

When doubt and rebellion finally weave in at a more mature age, it only makes sense to take off the hijab. We all change and grow out of our childhood habits. Maybe hijab is one of them. Taking it off may kind of be like that coming-of-age phenomenon. It’s a big step, but hey, you’re not little anymore and the autonomy is yours. In the end, it is about free will and you are accountable for your own actions.

Theory B: A hope for a better future

Some females are excited when they first get adjusted to wearing the hijab. They feel a rush of iman and they feel good about themselves. They never once doubted their decision, whether they started wearing hijab at a young age or not. But, gradually life appears to be somewhat dull with the hijab. Suddenly, things are not that easy anymore.

Here’s a snapshot: I can’t get that job as a make-up artist at Mac like I’ve always wanted, even though I’d be so good at it. That interview I’ve been waiting for—the hijab won’t make things any easier. No guy wants to marry me. The last proposal that came in, the guy specifically toldme he prefers a wife who doesn’t wear the hijab. I don’t need this in my life.

Some hijabis go through this phase where they come to realize that the hijab isn’t doing anything for them. Instead, it seems to be in the way of everything they ever wanted. So then comes the whisper of Shaytan: take it off, it will be so much easier.

And in fact, it does. All those previous difficulties evaporate into thin air and life is blissful. But honestly, are you happy? Isn’t a struggle worth having if it will make you a better person? Isn’t a difficulty worth suffering if it will give you so much reward? And isn’t everything—your success, your wealth, and even the person you come to marry—in the hands of your Creator so that all you have to do to overcome each obstacle is to trust Him?

Well, that’s easier said than done obviously. Let’s not ignore the million of temptations running around us. The desire to fit into a society that measures success based on appearance. The natural inclination to love and be loved. And besides, just because you are taking off the hijab does not mean you’re going to stop all the other good deeds and it certainly does not mean you are a bad Muslim. It is just one thing out of many so why make it a big deal?

Actually, it is a big deal and that’s why I am discussing it here. You see, in the most general sense, the girls who are already wearing the hijab have an advantage over the girls who are struggling to start wearing the hijab. Those who are already wearing it are habituated to the life of wearing hijab even if they may not yet grasp its significance. They have already made that first step of putting it on, which is one of the most difficult and courageous acts. (And if you started it while you were young, then it was still courageous to keep it on when you got older). Ask the girls who are trying to wear it—it’s not easy. You have to give answers to everybody, get used to how you perceive yourself and how others perceive this change. But as a hijabi, you have already gone through all of that.

If you do decide to take off the hijab, realize that it will be much more difficult to put it back on. Like they say, sometimes actions speak louder than words. It says a lot when you decide to remove the hijab, and the consequences unravel endlessly. It doesn’t take long before you are tempted into getting the newest hairstyle, attracting somebody and starting a relationship, or simply hindering your growth as a Muslim.

Being an ex-hijabi may give you certain liberties, but in the end, think very carefully. Evaluate yourself and what it is that is bothering you in living a life with hijab. Maybe you’re not alone in how you feel; maybe there is something that requires clarification, and perhaps the best solution is far from the denial of the very thing that can bring you contentment.