“Oh, I love the pretty designs on your head!”
“How do you even wear that? Nice colour though.”
“I feel so sorry for you — aren’t you hot in it?”
“Did your dad force you to wear that?”
And the list goes on. I’m sure every Muslim woman, whether she chooses to wear the hijab or not, has come across the likes of these questions. Personally, as a Muslim woman who wore the hijab by choice in 2009, took it off by choice in 2015, and hopes to one day wear it again by choice, it baffles me that, even today, the social understanding of hijab is so limited. When I chose to wear the hijab, I was not compelled by my father, brother, uncles or any other male relative. I wore it because I felt I was ready, and that the hijab allowed me to focus myself religiously at that point in my life. This, I believe, is an experience non-Muslim folk must understand. Many Muslim women choose to wear the hijab. A good friend of mine, who wears the hijab, describes it as a constant connection to God. My mother speaks fondly of how the hijab centres her when she faces difficulty in her daily life. My aunt states that the hijab acts as a source of guidance for her, allowing her to discern between good and bad. I wore it back in 2009 because I was exploring my connection to God, and because it made me feel safe and proud in my identity as a Muslim woman.
Now, before any of my fellow Muslim haram police jump down my throat: I remain proud of myself as a Muslim woman. I chose to take off the hijab when I was fifteen years old — an act that I know the Muslim community criticises to no end. At the age of fifteen I was suicidal and suffering from PTSD. My hijab had, unfortunately, become a reminder of a horrific schooling experience. I am now at a stage, nearly six years later, where I have learnt to separate my trauma from the wearing of the hijab. For the last six months, I have toyed seriously with the idea of wearing the hijab again. I felt no shame when I wore the hijab — it was one of the most beautiful parts of myself. However, at the same time, I am not ashamed of my decision to remove it, because that was exactly what fifteen-year-old Lina needed to heal. When I do wear it again, I will wear it as a proud Muslim woman.
I have shared my story because it is crucial to understand that Muslim women around the world do not need your approval to be the women they want to be.
To my non-Muslim folks: please stop with the white feminism. A modern, liberated woman should not be equated solely with someone who feels comfortable in their nudity. My mother is a modern woman. She is a modern woman who wears the hijab, lives life according to her rules and takes shit from no one. I do not look at my hijabi friends and aunts and pity them. They do not pity themselves. Yes, we sometimes collectively struggle with finding modest clothing and yes, Western beauty standards impact us. The demonisation of the hijab as a tool of oppression is orientalist and deeply Islamophobic. The misinterpretation of the hijab as a tool of oppression enforced on Muslim women by tyrannical men destroys Muslim women’s agency in the rush to “liberate” them. Instead, listen to Muslim women when they raise issues. Hold space for us to explain and advocate religiously and culturally appropriate solutions. Stop with the Eurocentric problem-solving of widely hyperbolised and misunderstood issues.
For my Muslim folks: it’s not cool when we as a community suddenly appoint ourselves haram police over other fellow Muslims. One of the most common judgements we love to pass is: “If she’s going to wear the hijab like that, it’d be better if she didn’t wear it.” Discussing whether a Muslim woman’s hijab is appropriate or “Islamic enough” is insulting and, frankly, arrogant. It’s discouraging for Muslim women who may be experimenting with the hijab for the first time, who may want to wear the hijab, or who are struggling with their physical identity as a Muslim woman. Islam holds space for culture to be relevant in the way that certain Islamic customs can be interpreted — hijab happens to be one of them. Whether it’s a turban-style scarf or black niqab, respect what each woman chooses to wear.
So what it really comes down to, is this: let Muslim women be the women they want to be. Period.