Two years ago, on this date, I officially became a hijabi.
It's really weird for me, honestly, to realize that it's been two years. As cliché as this sounds, it feels like it's been a lot longer. There have been so many changes in my life since I began to wear it (getting my bachelors degree, starting graduate school, moving to a new city, and so forth) that it feels like maybe five years have gone by, not just two. The first year went by so fast, and this second went by so slow.
I remember sitting on my parent's couch in Milan one-year-ago-today, and writing my hijab story and initial one year reflection (<- click on those words if you want to read it!). Everything I've written there still stands true to me, particularly the reflection piece, and I actually feel relieved re-reading it. Sometimes, I need to remind myself of those 10 points, as to not be too harsh on myself, to remember that I'm not alone, and to remind myself why I wear my hijab.
The first year had it's own sets of challenges, such as "coming out" as a hijabi, getting used to wearing it, not feeling like myself in it, and so forth. This second year has had a whole different set of challenges, mainly feeling that I'm not good or pure enough to wear it, and sometimes thinking of taking it off.
The first point on my first year reflection was about hijabis not being perfect, and that's okay. That was something I believed in always. Unlike basically everyone else, I never held hijabis to any higher standards than non-hijabis, but unfortunately in the Muslim community, it's the opposite. Hijabis are supposed to be the epitome of modest perfection, and therefore even the slightest sin is viewed much more harshly as compared with a non-hijabi doing the same action. The only comparison I can think of is how a Christian community may view a nun (except for the fact that many Muslims believe hijab is mandatory for believing women, and being a nun is seen as something exceptional or extra - not an everyday act). An example of this judgey-criticism is seeing a group of Muslim people smoking hookah/shisha. Imagine a Muslim boy, a Muslim girl (non-hijabi) and another Muslim girl (hijabi) all smoking hookah together. I can almost guarantee that no one would bat an eye at the Muslim boy, some would at the Muslim girl, and everyone would at the hijabi Muslim girl. "How shameful! She should just take off her hijab if she wants to smoke and be with boys. Her skirt is too tight. Her wrist is showing. She probably threads her eyebrows too. What a slut." :) These are some comments I'd imagine would proceed. And, for the record, I'm not just pulling this out of my butt! I've seen and heard this exact situation numerous times... Whether it be a hijabi smoking hookah, a hijabi hanging out with a boy, a hijabi wearing high heels, a hijabi wearing makeup, a hijabi getting her eyebrows done, or a hijabi doing basically ANYTHING, she's always judged for it.
This was initially the main reason I didn't feel ready to become a hijabi. I wasn't perfect (nor am I today!). While, like I said, I didn't hold hijabis up to a higher standard, I knew the world would to me, and I simply didn't feel ready. I wear makeup, I thread my eyebrows, I love wearing heels, I wear tons of colors and not just black, etc. Reflecting on my second year, I think this has been the biggest struggle for me... Constantly feeling judged, being held on a pedestal, not feeling good enough, and feeling weak from constantly fighting back.
I don't recall any negative comments said to me or directed towards me, but I've read/heard probably at least a thousand within this past year directed at the general hijabi community. For example, I watch a lot of hijabi-YouTubers, and in almost every single video, if I scroll down to the comments, there is at least one person saying "take off your hijab if you want to ______". How cruel and wrong has our Muslim community become, to make girls who wear the hijab feel inadequate, and make girls who want to wear the hijab feel fear of not being good enough? This is a huge problem that no one likes to address! Instead of tearing down hijabis left and right, criticising every move, and making others not want to wear it because they don't want to be so heavily judged, shouldn't we be doing the opposite (making them feel beautiful, welcomed, encouraging them)?! Radical idea, right?
Honestly, that has been the biggest struggle for me in my 2nd year of wearing hijab. I don't recall anyone saying anything directly to me, about not being pure enough or good enough, but I swear... I see it everyday, everywhere, both on social media and in real life. It's easy for me to feel like a target of that abuse too, when the comments made are generalized and attacking an entire group of people. For example, if someone says "hijabis shouldn't wear nailpolish, and if they want to, they should just take their hijab off," maybe it won't really effect me the first time, but after hearing/reading it like 100 times, it really makes me second guess myself and my actions.
Some of you reading this might be thinking that that those changes don't seem that difficult (just don't wear makeup, nailpolish or perfume, don't get your eyebrows done, don't hang out with boys, don't smoke (I don't, btw!), don't talk unless you're spoken to, don't laugh really loud in public, and just wear a black burkha with a nikab, gloves and socks so not a single body part shows!) but I really, sincerely don't believe in that. I believe in moderation. I believe that everyone is on their own journey, and that we should do what is best and most comfortable for ourselves. I believe that there is no compulsion in our faith. Have I ever worn a burkha and a nikab? Yup, I have! When I was in Saudi Arabia and it was the normal thing to do! If I wore one here in the U.S. (not that I want to, and I'm not at all shaming anyone who does), it would draw much more attention to me - and the point of hijab is to take that attention away. I just want to be *me* and do what's comfortable for *me* without thinking anyone, particularly men or random women who don't even wear a hijab are judging me for it.
The second most difficult aspect of being a hijabi, this year, was occasionally wanting to take it off, and it was mostly for superficial reasons such as not feeling as beautiful with it on as without it. In August, I started graduate school, and met so many great people from in my cohort. I don't know about everyone else, but I always have this need to "impress" when I meet new people. I want to look my absolute best, for example, and... if I'm completely honest with myself and everyone else, I feel most beautiful without my hijab on. I mean, I'm pretty sure that's normal, and that's part of being hijabi (hiding part of your beauty, being modest). Anyone would feel most beautiful showing off their hair, so my feelings aren't that crazy, but it's been a struggle for me! So many times I've just wanted to whip it off and show off my hair to my mostly-girl cohort, haha. I don't know, I just want(ed) to feel pretty. I feel pretty embarrassed writing this, because I understand how superficial it sounds, but I really try to be honest with myself in my posts. I will say that those feelings were mostly in the first half of this year, and the second half has been much easier.
I also want to clarify and say that I do feel pretty wearing my hijab! It's like a crown; I feel like a princess. I just feel more pretty without it on, when I'm staring at myself in my bedroom mirror with a cute dress and heels on that no one will see me in (at least, not without a full sleeve shirt under, leggings, and a hijab!). And the more I reflect on this point, the more I realize that I'm being too harsh on myself - it's normal to feel that way, hijabi or not. There were certainly days when I'd wake up (pre-hijabi) and not feel pretty, just as there are as a hijabi, and and just as there are with every single girl on the planet! As much as I hate to write this, I know that it's (unfortunately) normal to (occasionally) not feel beautiful and to want to change things about ourselves.
I guess I'm going on a tangent now, so let's redirect this to something else: Some of my favourite memories this past year were of when I wouldn't feel beautiful, and therefore would want to take my hijab off, and then something would happen that would remind me of some of the reasons I chose to wear it in the first place. A stranger on the street would say Assalamu Alaikum (may peace be upon you) to me, recognizing me as a Muslim because of my hijab, or someone would tell me that my scarf looks beautiful, or ask me questions about Islam, or go out of their way to show respect to me (like other Muslim men lowering their gaze when I walk by - it really makes you feel so respected). This second "struggle" of wanting to take off the hijab because I don't feel as beautiful with it on as I do with it off has been pretty silly, which I'm happy to say! The struggle could have been way, way worse, as it is with many other women who wear it and face losing their jobs, face violence, and face other horrible things, but for me... it's this... and I have to say, I'm smiling writing this and realizing that, because I'm grateful at how superficial my 2nd biggest struggle of being hijabi is. I hope that makes sense? What I'm trying to say is that this year for me as a hijabi hasn't been nearly as difficult for me as it is for other hijabi women, and I'm so grateful for that.
Lastly, my third biggest "struggle" has been finding a middle-ground for myself. Finding what is comfortable for me and doing that. As I've stated before, there have been so many times that I've wanted to take off my hijab (like, never seriously otherwise I would have, but more just superficially like wanting to feel more beautiful, or wanting to feel the wind blow through my hair again). Sometimes, I've taken off my hijab to let myself "breathe" or to give myself a taste of that, so then I can stop craving it on a regular basis. So scandalous, I know! But I swear, it's really not that scandalous. I've only done so in places where I know that no one knows me (so I won't face any horrible backlash or questions), and on just a few, random occasions such as going grocery shopping with my brother or checking his mailbox in Hershey and while at the beach, where I wore a burkini without the headpiece, or a t-shirt and shorts with leggings without a scarf. On a random note, this only ever happens with my family - and that just goes to show that NO ONE forced me into wearing a hijab (or is forcing me to continue wearing it). It has always been my decision. Anyways, to some people reading this, they may think that what I'm saying about occasionally taking my hijab off (it's only happened like 4 or 5 times...) is equal to walking around outside completely naked (hijabis are on a ridiculous pedestal, remember?) but I don't know; to me, it's about being happy and finding a comfortable middle ground for myself. I'm not perfect, nor do I ever pretend to me, but I am a human being, and honest with myself.
My second year of wearing the hijab hasn't been difficult, at all, really. In fact, it's been really great! I'm grateful for that and can't wait to see how this next year plays out.
I asked people to send in any questions they had for me about being a hijabi, wearing the hijab, etc. Below are the responses to those questions, and to some questions I just made up! Enjoy! :)
Two years have gone so fast, and yet so slow. I'm so happy, so grateful, and honestly so proud of myself as well. I can't wait to look back again, one year from today, and see if anything has changed at all. To everyone who has encouraged, supported, and help me get this far: thank you <3. From the bottom of my heart, thank you <3.