Friday, February 1, 2013

Wondering why I no longer wear hijab?

In celebration of World Hijab Day, I'm telling you the story of me and my hijab.
Me and hijab can be summarised as mostly on, sometimes off, and as of now, off. I was encouraged, but not particularly forced to wear it since I was very young, so it became something I wore outside of school uniform times.

I always thought I would wear it full-time after high school (when we stop wearing uniforms), and I eventually did in university, although I went through periods of less-than-100% conviction where I went a year or two without it. In any case, I did a lot of sport (gymnastics) and dance so in any given day I would be taking it on and off anyways -- and in terms of personal physical and psychological comfort, this was no big deal.
The last time I wore it 'full-time' was my last three years in university (2007-2010). Before this I honestly thought that it was an obligation (because of what religious teachers and other people said) and I felt like a sinner when I didn't wear it. But also during this period, I had been studying the Quran more on my own, as well as going to lots of Islam-related classes and seminars. I was also working in a mosque and in a religious school and I was surrounded by many wonderful, pious Muslim friends.

Towards the end of this period, my personal research had led me to conclude that the hijab was not an obligation, and I felt like a hypocrite explaining to others (and little girls especially) at the mosque the conventional reasons behind hijab, when even though I was wearing one, I didn't think that nine year-olds should have to.

What bothered me also was how it created a literal barrier between men and women. I felt always a heightened sense of propriety when wearing the hijab, and I observed that a little transgression (e.g. a bit of neck showing when the hijab blew) would lead to absurdly exaggerated policing by men and women.

Whereas women who did not wear hijab were not policed -- to me this contradicted the aim of the verses meant for women's protection, and for both sexes to remain modest. Also, as a hijabi I received 'advice' from my parents and friends to be more conventionally feminine (wear nice hijabs, pins, dresses, makeup) which again, contradicted modesty. At the same time, other forms of modesty were sidelined.

The more I read and reflected sincerely, the more I feel that God created us just fine. The discomfort of wearing hijab all day long in a tropical climate just seemed absurd (at some point, I regularly got heat rash on my face and neck as well).

I believe that the head and ears (and mouth and nose in the case of niqab) serve divine purposes of creation (releasing heat and sweat, hearing), which should make it perfectly permissible to leave uncovered. With this conviction in mind, I stopped wearing it full-time in April 2010 and only put it on during congregational prayers (I don't wear it for individual prayer). A lot of my friends and colleagues had assumptions about my decision but no one asked me directly.

Honestly, at this point in my life I've reached a stage where I can say that I don't care for others' opinions of me, because my conscience is clear: I read the Quran and I reflected, and I made my decision. I feel that God will judge us based on our efforts in anything and not whether we happen to be in the right camp, or not (also applicable for being Muslim, eating halal, etc). It took me a long time to feel comfortable about this, because of how judgmental we all tend to me.

That being said, some days I miss wearing the hijab. In my ideal world, I would be able to wear it on the days I felt like wearing it, and not wear it on the days I don't feel like wearing it (because of doing lots of physical activities for example).

Most days, I'm just glad to feel the wind in my hair.


Anonymous said...

Im sorry but i feel u need lots of reflection... N just a poece of advice... Try not to tafsir e Quran on ur own.. Go to a class held in mosque.. Its safer tat way... Islam cannot be based on logic alone... Im sorry for im just a humble servant... May Allah lead us to the right path... Amiin

Sya said...

I'm just sharing my story. Don't worry about me, just focus on yourself. May Allah preserve you.

orange streaks said...

I just realised this post exists. I haven't read the Quran fully for myself. I yearn to understand it for myself, but there's the language barrier, and perhaps there is fear. Fear that I may be misguided if I read and reflect on my own. Fear that, even if my heart is at peace with the conclusions I make, I would not be brave enough to stand by those conclusions, and thus I would live a life frustrated at my own cowardice.

Unlike you, hijab was imposed upon me by my parents. Although you may at one time feel like a sinner when you didn't wear it, at least you had a choice not to put it on. My parents saw to it that I had hijab on all the time when I was supposed to. Even when just going downstairs to post a letter, or to help carry groceries from the car. Even at home, when my brother-in-law was living here with my sister before they moved out. If I didn't put on my hijab, they would express their disapproval out loud. They would nag, they would chide, they would say, "aren't you afraid of sinning?" I'd put it on just to shut them up. Or I'd resort to just hiding out in my room until the male 'stranger'(s) leave. Yes, even as an adult, they have that hold on me. I know they'd be at first angry, then disappointed if I went against what they believed in and brought me up with, and it is that guilt from disappointing them that I would rather avoid. Not to mention, the guilt from all the embarrassment I would put them through when relatives ask. (Oh, they surely will.)

Myself point is, no matter what I personally believe in, and no matter how vehemently I may express that belief through writing I am not courageous enough to act in line with it. Sometimes I feel like I'm born in the wrong place, among the wrong people, at the wrong time. I admire your courage and conviction in that respect.

I am surprised to learn you go without hijab even in prayer. I'm curious to know how you go about praying without hijab when you're back home with family. Do they not see you when you're praying? What do you wear, actually?

Sya said...

I didn't really share this post -- sneakily backdated it. :) I wanted my story to be on record though.

I understand your frustrations -- I've felt them. Although I'm glad my parents never forced it on me so blatantly, disapproving clicks of the tongue and remarks also hurt. That being said, in retrospect I appreciate their not-so-hard approach. And I do think they softened up over the years! In retrospect I also appreciate relatives who don't ask direct questions -- saves me a lot of breath. :) My philosophy is always "biarlah orang sangka buruk" as it will only affect them and not me.

I also understand the frustration of living a double life. My lowest point was trying to explain to a 9 year-old girl at the mosque where I worked, why she should wear hijab. That was a big blow to me and I remember doubting what I had known for so long to be true. That moment when long-held truths are questioned for the first time is very, very, scary.

At home, I usually lock the door and pray (all my ancient telekungs make me sneeze and give me major heat rash nowadays). At home it's just whatever I happen to be wearing (trousers, skirts, tshirts, blouses). In public or in situations where it's not just me/Dutchman, I use a shawl/scarf or the public telekungs.

Scully said...

Hi, I grappled with the same issue as well...

But recently the sense of wanting to go to the mosque without inviting stares compels me to don the scarf (even when I'm wearing long sleeves and long pants. Your article made me think about how imam shafie's way is one which is to eliminate all doubts e.g. How much hair to cover etc hence it was advised to cover all to eliminate doubts as stated in one of the Hadith (sorry can't remember the exact Hadith about removing all doubts in your heart). So perhaps this is what most people stand by and I can understand why.

I just wanted to seek your opinion on modest dressing then. What do you think is considered modest? I am just trying to understand and reconcile my thoughts as well. Because u mentioned that while u pray in any outfit in private but dons a scarf in congregation. I notice the difference in what is deemed as modest in these contexts. While I can fathom that in your private time it is between you and Allah. Hence u need not protect your modesty from others. But when you're in congregation you still cover your head even when u feel that the headscarf is unnecessary. Is it to make others feel comfortable?

Sya said...

Hi Scully,

I'm afraid I've never been taught that hadith about doubt (and I've been taught lots and lots of hadith when I was younger).

"But recently the sense of wanting to go to the mosque without inviting stares compels me to don the scarf (even when I'm wearing long sleeves and long pants."

Again, this is contextual. The mosque I go to here in NL is mainly targeted to Indonesians, and people are open about accepting women who don't cover their head (or even their arms).

This is only my idea of modest dress: in warm weather, clothes that don't cling, and at minimum cover my shoulders, chest and knees. Perhaps it's just years of wearing hijab, but I'm usually in long trousers and some kind of Indian tunic or loose shirt :) Sometimes when it's more convenient for certain physical activities, I'd wear shorter trousers.

In the winter, the priority is warm clothes so I'm not really concerned about whether they are form-fitting or not :) -- because looser clothes would be chilly!

I usually adhere to this when there are people around, but I have, in less public settings, worn less. Again, I take my cue from the social setting. Because I believe the purpose of clothes is for people, and not for God. I believe that God tells us to be modest so as to make others comfortable and to smoothen social relations -- just as you said :) That being said, I'm usually more, not less, covered than the people around me XD What I like best is that there is more flexibility to dress, while keeping in mind the principle of modesty.

In that sense, I would also cover my hair to a certain mosque/location where I know I would not be able to enter otherwise. Examples are certain temples where you must cover your shoulders or wear a skirt over your trousers.

Do share your experiences in different situations with us too :)

Londoner said...

I've been wearing the hijab for a good 7 years now since I was 10. I was never forced to wear it but I went to an all girls school and the muslim population was high and in an average class half of the girls would wear a hijab. As I was saying I wore it out choice my father encouraged it and my mother was neutral. At the time I admired those who wore it and after a while I went to buy my first hijab with my father who was really proud. I never really thought about the purpose of it or even the meaning of wearing it.

After a while I wasn't so keen so in the summer of the year I wore it I decided not to wear it anymore. However my supportive father didn't approve at all. And my mother, well she just said "make up your mind". As a result I put it back on and I've kept it on since.

But it's been awhile that I've been thinking about the true purpose and reason of wearing it. I read the Quran and concluded there isn't a solid statement to suggest it's an obligation. Hence the reason I want to take it off. I discussed it with my mother and she's said so long as I take responsibility of the sins it entails. But I have no idea how to approach my father, the last time we talked about the topic was when I refused to wear it at graduation (at an all girls school) and he was angry as a result he refused to drive me to the venue. After some convincing from my mother he reluctantly drove me there but it was late and the ceremony had ended after this I was really furious at him. And I haven't dared talk on it anymore.

so there's my story

Anonymous said...

Well, depends how you look at it I guess. The way hijab is observed nowadays does seem contradictory, with all the vibrant colors and accessories that. Yet I guess these things do make the hijab more "mainstream"; at the same wondering when a more hipster version of Hijab will rear its head.

I still feel the hijab has definite role for Muslim women and men. In the meantime, do take the time to read Tim Winter's excellent take on the hijab.

Anonymous said...

Arghh I wrote a whole lot of words and it's gone! Meh. Anyway wanted to share this genius of a piece by Tim Winter. Cheers, sister.


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