Guest writer Azlin Ahmad follows up on her earlier article – “My Cover Up” – and delves into the deeper analysis of the thought process and arguments against hijab that she battled with.
On hindsight, now that I have taken that step, I find it puzzling that, out of all the commandments of Allah, wearing the hijab is probably the most discussed and often, the most resisted. I am making a broad assumption here – that sisters who are considering the hijab are more or less cognisant and accepting of the other commandments of Allah – such as prayer, fasting, abstaining from certain actions and are otherwise steadfast (or try to be). Hence, they accept the truth of Islam. Yet when it comes to complying with something related to appearance, there is massive hesitation.
The issue of hijab is one that many practising Muslimahs find difficult to implement. We do not see forums which discuss people’s personal journeys towards Salah, or journey away from backbiting, envy, stinginess or riba; these things are not extensively discussed, simply because we accept them as the absolute truth. There is nothing to discuss, and implementation is done on a personal level. One would be quite astonished to stumble across posts proclaiming that “for twenty years, I have understood the importance of charity, but resisted, and now I accept and just made a donation!”, or “Gossip free for 3 months now, Alhamdulillah!”
Yet, in the issue of hijab, it seems that extra persuasion and support is required.
I am not judging or criticising anyone, because I too resisted for the longest time. I figured out that if I could comply with most of the other commandments, then maybe I could get away with this one sin, and on the balance (literally speaking) my good deeds will hopefully mitigate the sins caused by my lack of hijab. Hence I went out of my way to somewhat over-perform in other aspects of Islamic behaviour in order to counterbalance and compensate. Of course, on looking back, I was trivialising the issue greatly. In my mind I was convinced. I sort of hoped for Allah’s mercy to let me pass through the eye of the needle.
Also I had never been a publicity seeker. Religion was a very personal thing to me, something to be practiced discreetly and in private. Wearing the scarf would be equal to shouting your affiliation in the middle of the street. It would draw unwanted attention towards you, put your private beliefs under public scrutiny and provoke reactions that you might not want to deal with. And, even though I lived in a Muslim society where the hijab was accepted and not seen as some sort of grotesque terrorist headgear, it was something that I would rather not do. Why wear my religious heart on my sleeve, when Allah knows the contents of my heart?
Deep down I also stereotyped and subconsciously assumed that hijabi sisters were wired differently – as if they were genetically designed with an inbuilt head covering from birth! Or taking it to a less ridiculous level – they didn’t care about their looks as much as I did, due to their better upbringing, lack of the vanity gene, or whatever other reason I concocted in my head – so it would be easier for them than it would ever be for me, to conceal their beauty.
Somehow the threat of hellfire and all the prescribed punishments did not instill sufficient terror in my heart as it should have. The human mind is amazing, it can sweep bits of information under the carpet and have selective amnesia on certain issues. I now recognise it as a lack of faith.
I could not compare myself to the first generation Muslimahs, whose faiths were so strong that if an order came from Allah, they would immediately submit out of sheer devotion and obedience. They were in a different league, and to me, constituted wholly unrealistic benchmarks.
Going to the other extreme, I looked at some of my hijabi friends and acquaintances. Their behaviour was rather bewildering; some of them did not perform the salat at all, others behaved with men in a pretty sordid manner, and yet others had weaknesses like being judgemental, racist and prejudiced. Not really the kind of people I wanted to be associated with, through dressing or otherwise.
The strange part was, if asked by a skeptical non-Muslim, I could take them from A to Z, of all the pro hijab arguments, and how this piece of cloth is not to oppress Muslimahs, but to elevate and protect them, how it prevents the erosion of modesty and chastity. Yet, every time I contemplated putting one on myself, I would hesitate. I rationalised and gave excuses. Surely Allah will understand that deep down, I meant well and behaved modestly? Is He not the Merciful, the Beneficent, the Forgiving, the Eraser of All Sins?
If some of you are cringing at this, then I know I was not alone in my thought process!
Hence I continued this way, convinced of my own warped logic. Until one day, as Ramadan was approaching I was asked something along the lines of–
“Are you sure that whatever good deeds you do will not be erased by the way your dress?
Are you sure that you have done enough good deeds to counterbalance your clothing?
Can you really be sure that all your efforts and good deeds are not being wasted?”
Now, those questions struck a chord, and I was stumped. Totally floored. There were no counter argument to these questions. The truth was, I did not know. No one knows. Only Allah knows the weight given to each sin and each good deed. We do not know how the “point system” works when the angels record our conduct. We do not know the gravity, magnitude and implications of each of our actions. If a prostitute is granted jannah for a single merciful act of giving a dog some water, then it demonstrates that Allah’s mercy is boundless and immeasurable. So can we be sure whether or not certain sins will be recorded on a similarly exponential level if we deliberately and continuously choose to disobey?
I realised I had been fooling myself into a false sense of security all along. Given the stakes involved (i.e. the final destination of my everlasting soul), that was one wild card that I didn’t want to take chances on.
Suddenly, my thought process accelerated. All the excuses that I had been giving myself over the years sounded hollow and unimpressive. I was willing to let my face be painted pink for a breast cancer awareness causes, follow the latest clothing trends, wear t-shirts and carry absurd banners of the teams, performers, causes that I believed in. I was willing to make a stand through my dressing in support of these things, and yet, was unwilling to do so for Allah? Why?
And the shame struck me. I realised that what held me back all the years was – I did not trust Allah enough to take this step!
Astaghfirullah. The One who had given me life, taken care of me all my life, given me sustenance, health, provision, contentment, happiness, intelligence, comfort, the One who I could always turn back to no matter how many times I strayed. The One who answered my prayers all my life, the One to whom I proclaimed during every Salah– “Verily, my prayers, my way of life, my life and my death, are for You, the Lord of the worlds …” and yes, the One who bestowed me with the very hair and body that I was too proud to cover.
I trusted Allah with my life, I trusted Allah to extract me from illnesses and difficult situations, I turned to Allah whenever I had problems, but did not trust Him to take care of me if I covered my hair and body to please Him?
The questions came thick and fast, and just as quickly, I knew, without a doubt, what the correct answers were.
Who cares if the other hijabi sisters did not behave well. Could I really use that as an excuse if questioned by Allah? Was what they did any of my business, as long as I did not follow suit? It would be like abandoning the Salah just because I had been affected by a minority of people who observed the Salah but behaved badly. And also, if others set high benchmarks of steadfastness and devotion, shouldn’t I at least try to emulate them instead of writing them off completely?
Was I ashamed to display my Islam publicly, hence the reluctance to don the scarf? Was I more concerned about what people thought of me, at the expense of disregarding Allah’s opinion of me? Would I deliberately disappoint Allah in return for all the favours He had given to me?
If I trusted Allah enough to know that all His commandments towards mankind are for our own good, was it my place to second guess whether or not the hijab would be suitable for me? Was a piece of cloth such a significant price to pay if it were to invoke Allah’s pleasure, get me closer to jannah and protect me from jahannam, insha Allah?
Realisation after realisation hit me like a hammer and demolished all the arguments and justifications I carried in an instant. And after that, there was no choice, really. It became obvious what I should do next, without prolonging it any further.
Alhamdulillah, with Allah’s guidance I have never looked back since.