Before I begin, there are three disclaimers I want to share:
1. I am speaking on behalf of myself, and myself only. I do not claim to speak on behalf of all Muslim women, all Pakistani women, all hijabis, or all ANYTHING. In my post below, I will discuss hijab and how it relates to other individuals, but again, I am speaking from my perspective only.
2. My views have stayed the same for years now, but people either don't know what my views or are do not care what my views are. Either way, I will reiterate them for anyone who isn't aware:
"A lot of girls are forced to wear the hijab by either their family members, the law, or the culture they live in. This. Is. Wrong. When will we as human beings allow women to make choices for themselves, especially in how they dress? Whether they want to wear a pant suit to work instead of a pencil skirt, a hijab instead of done up locks, a burkini instead of a bikini, or a bikini instead of a burkini, I really do not believe that it is anyone's decision but the woman's herself!... Let's just let everyone chose, and I mean really chose, what they want to wear instead of forcing anything upon them, whether that be nakedness or being covered up." Oh, and FYI, "nakedness" was not a derogatory statement, nor was "being covered up". Okay? Okay.
3. I will be talking about sexual abuse and harassment. So, if you would rather avoid reading about that, please do not read further.
Now... Where to begin? I guess we can start at the actual beginning, my year 1 and my year 2 reflections. If you would like to read them, which I recommend that you do before reading this particular post, click here, and then click here.
It's been five years since I started wearing the hijab. Well, technically, it's been over five years. I first wore my hijab, as an official hijabi, on 6/16/2015, and today is 9/13/2020. I promised myself that, regardless of if I continued wearing my hijab or removed it, that I would reflect on this journey periodically. When June, 2020 came along, I remembered that it's been five years. I thought about writing something, but I didn't know what to write, because nothing has really changed at all since year 1 and year 2. So, I didn't write anything, and continued with my life as usual (well, as usual as it can be with a pandemic!). But, over this past weekend, a few things have happened and a few conversations have been held that, well, really bugged me. And it's inspired me to explore that more here, on my diary, on my blog, where I can say whatever I want to say and no one can say otherwise because, hey, this is my safe space, and I don't owe anything to anyone.
I don't owe anything to anyone. I struggle with that statement, a lot, and in many different ways. My body is mine, and mine only. That is something else I struggle with. I have to remind myself of these two things quite often, and I have no doubt that this because I am a survivor. Yup, me too. Now, you might be wondering what that has to do with my hijab story, and well, the truth is, it has everything to do with it, and everything to do with why I am writing this post right now.
My passport country is Pakistan (lol, I rewrote that sentence approximately seven times. "I am from Pakistan." *erase* "I was born in Saudi Arabia and have lived all over the world, but I am a Pakistani." *erase* "I'm a TCK, but I am from Pakistan, even though I've technically never really lived there." *erase*... TCK problems, am I right?). And, recently, there have been quite a few protests happening in Pakistan. Some of these protests are quite ridiculous while others are, heartbreakingly, very justified and needed.
I try to avoid sharing anything on my Instagram stories that may be seen as "political", because I know there are too many injustices happening daily, all over the world, and if I share one, but I don't share the other, I feel like I am sending the wrong message. That said, because I know people love twisting other people's words, I support as many causes as I can in other ways that do not need to be broadcasted on social media. (In simple words: I support everyone's right to liberty, justice, and peace. I actively fight for those things in other ways than posting on my social media). Because I am a survivor, however, and Pakistan is my passport country, it's hard for me to not show my support for the protesters fighting the patriarchy and fighting to end rape culture. So, this weekend, I shared a few posts on my story in support of the protests. And lo and behold, someone DM'ed me, kindly letting me know they think I'm hypocritical for wearing a hijab (which is, obviously, always a symbol of oppression - that's sarcasm if any of you weren't able to pick it up) and standing against rape culture. More exactly, this person said: "How can you cover your hair and then say rape is bad? You are reiterating that a woman deserves to be raped unless she is covered up."
I just stared at my screen for the past five minutes because I don't even know where to begin...
Some people who were raised with religion, and faced trauma either because of it or regardless of it, run away from it the first second they get, others sprint towards it, and others just kind of go with the flow. I would say I've always been in the third category.
I faced direct sexual abuse as a child, and I also faced more indirect sexual harassment. For the purpose of this post, I'm going to focus on the latter. And I'm going to start at the very beginning.
I was born in and spent the first 11 years of my life in Saudi Arabia. I lived with my family in a gated, very Westernized community, where we did not have to follow the rules and regulations of Saudi Arabia. Women were allowed to wear whatever they wanted, allowed to drive, and so forth. But as soon as we left those gates that separated our community with the real Saudi Arabia, everything was different. My mom and I had to cover our bodies in black robes (abayas) and our hair in scarves. This was both in respect to the culture of the country we were in, but also because, well, legally we had to. Saudi Arabia has modernized a little bit since then (women do not have to wear abayas anymore, and women can also drive). Girls in Saudi Arabia typically start wearing an abaya around the time they hit puberty (or start looking "womanly", whatever that means). Since I reached puberty relatively young, I think I started wearing an abaya when I was maybe 8 or 9, and then started wearing a scarf with my abaya when I was maybe 13. The reason I'm giving all this backstory is because most of the sexual harassment I faced in my whole life was in Saudi Arabia, in my childhood, and while I was wearing either just an abaya or an abaya and hijab.
So let's break that down further. I'll tell you one story that I can't seem to forget, no matter how hard I try. My parents and I often used to go to a Pakistani grocery store in Khobar (a city 2 hours away from home, with basically only desert separating the two places). I clearly remember that once when we visited, and I was maybe 10 or 11 years old (and had previously been molested, on multiple occasions, by two different individuals), a grown man who worked there kept following me around. I think I was browsing one an isle with my parents, and they must have walked away but I stayed. Once I noticed this grown man staring at me, I tried to find them. And he followed me everywhere I went. He even winked at me. I almost started crying, thinking he too would molest me (and, honestly, if I didn't find my parents in time, he probably would have). I ran, and he walked fast behind me so as to not cause suspicion. After a few minutes that felt like years, I found my parents and stayed close to them. This grown man pretended like he was fixing one of the shelves, or doing something productive with his life, and then when my parents weren't looking, he came up behind me and rubbed his genitals on my backside as he passed me. Okay, after writing that out, lol, maybe he did molest me, but I never thought of this that way because in the other instances, the individuals directly touched my private parts whereas this man rubbed himself on like... my back lol. Just to clarify, I was definitely wearing an abaya, and I don't know, I think I had a scarf around my neck or maybe over my hair. That clearly did not stop him.
That never stopped any of them. Since then, my friends and I all faced a lot of sexual harassment whenever we went out into "real" Saudi Arabia, such as to the malls, even though we were covered in our abayas and hijabs. These boys and men could not care less if we were covered or uncovered. It didn't matter. They raped us with their eyes regardless. And no, I'm not being insensitive to rape victims by saying "they raped us with their eyes", because that's exactly how my friends and I described it when we were CHILDREN. We would say those boys and men are "eye raping us", as in, staring at us and at our covered private parts so intensely that it feels like they are raping us. The same used to happen to me in Pakistan, too, when I would go out wearing salwar kameez (modest traditional Pakistani clothes). Please do not blame my parents, by the way. I do not blame them. They did not know. I never told them. They couldn't help me, because they never knew what I was going through.
I don't feel like it is necessary to give any more examples, but I hope you can see that covering my body and/or hair did not prevent me from being treated like a sexual object... I never believed in that narrative, because of my own experiences. Being covered did not help me or prevent me from facing the abuse and harassment that I faced in my life, particularly in my childhood. So I would never, ever, spew that narrative on anyone else.
Since people like to assume things, instead of asking for other people's views directly, I will state something else now: I believe, have always believed, and will always continue to believe, that no one has the right to do anything to anyone without their consent, regardless of what they are or are not wearing. What I mean by that is, I don't care if someone is butt-naked or in a burkha, NOTHING gives anyone the right to do anything to them without their consent. And, it is NEVER the victim's fault. NEVER. Okay? Okay.
So, now, what does any of this have to do with my five year hijab reflection? Everything. I've realized that people will always think what they want to think about me. Even when I write pieces as vulnerable as this and broadcast them online for the world to see, the majority of people who know me will never read this, and also will never ask me for my views. They will assume what they want to, stick to that narrative, and then probably apply that narrative to other hijabis too. I am not oppressed. I do not believe a woman (or anyone) should face sexual violence if they are not covered up. No one forced me to wear a hijab. No one will harm me if I take it off someday. And, I do not believe that a piece of clothing prevents sexual violence. So stop assuming things about me, okay? Okay.
Now let's talk about each of those statements, one by one.
I am not oppressed. I am really not. And I feel ridiculous writing this, haha. It's like having to say, "I do not have blue eyes," and people are staring at me and telling me that yes, I do have blue eyes or something. It feels crazy. MANY women are forced to wear hijab. Do I support that? No. I never supported that, and never will. Hijab should ALWAYS be a woman's choice. And to clarify - when I wore it in Saudi Arabia, I wrote it because I legally had to and also wanted to respect the culture of the country I lived in. I did not wear it because I identified as a "hijabi". And, just to clarify, because again, I feel like people are looking for ways to twist my words in to whatever they want to believe - I DO NOT SUPPORT GOVERNMENTS TELLING WOMEN HOW TO DRESS. That goes to Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc. but also also to countries like France, where hijabs and niqaabs and god knows what else are banned; everyone should be allowed to wear whatever they want or do not want to wear, okay? Okay. So, what I'm trying to say is that, YES - there are many individuals who are forced to wear a hijab, and that is not okay! That said, I am not one of those individuals - I am wearing this out of my own desire to, not because anyone forced me to or pressured me to. So no, I, Ayesha S., am not oppressed.
I do not believe a woman (or anyone) should face sexual violence if they are not covered up. I will repeat myself - I don't care if someone is standing in front of you butt naked or in a burkha, neither choice of dressing gives someone the right to molest, rape, harass, or anything. Period.
No one forced me to wear hijab. I often see people trolling this statement on YouTube and Instagram comments. The trolls say things like, "you're brainwashed,", "try taking it off then and see what happens to you,", your religion is forcing you," etc. Listen, I am a Muslim, and my religion does advise women to guard their modesty. I'm not going to deny that. But my religion also advises men to guard theirs as well. My religion also tells both sexes to lower their eyes. My religion also tells everyone not to rape, molest, and harass people. I think I am going to stop talking about religion now because, to be totally honest with everyone, religion is probably the smallest and last reason I continue wearing my hijab today. That's right. I have so many other reasons that I continue to be a hijabi that are bigger than my religion, and that is because I believe hijab is a woman's choice. Like, I understand how ironic this statement is because hijab is a symbol of religion, but it is so insignificant of a reason for me (ME!!!!!!!!! I'm talking about ME! Not every single Muslim or hijabi out there) to continue wearing it, that if I decide to take it off some day, I will not hesitate because of religious reasons. In my interpretation, hijab is a woman's choice, and Islam teaches modesty to both sexes. Anyways, no, I am not brainwashed by my family or my faith.
No one will harm me if I choose to take it off some day. My family will not murder me, or ostracize me, or anything, really. Again, there are many women who are forced into wearing hijab, and forced into keeping it on. There are many women who would face intense criticism and even death threats for taking it off. And then, there are many women who would genuinely be murdered (or "honor killed" for removing it). Just look at Dina Tokio. I encourage all Muslims to watch that video and reflect on every word she reads out loud. Muslims are some of the most hypocritical people out there...* (I'll continue this rant after I finish writing everything else I wanted to say). But guys, like I said on my first disclaimer, I am talking about me, myself, and I. And nothing will happen to me if I take off my hijab. I am not being forced into wearing it by my family, my government, or anyone else. I KNOW this is not the narrative of so many other women and girls in the world - guys. But that is my truth. I am very privileged and lucky to be able to decide for myself how I want to dress.
I do not believe that a piece of clothing prevents sexual violence. It certainly did not stop it for me, and for millions or billions of other girls and women out there. Repeat after me: sexual violence is never the victim's fault. Never. No matter what.
Okay, now just really quick - back to the point I made about Dina Tokio... If you read my first year reflection, you will read me talking about how Dina was an inspiration or role model to me. And she was. She continues to be. She really helped me in so many ways when it comes to my hijab journey, and I know that is the same for so many other hijabis too. For those of you who don't know who she is - Dina Tokio is a YouTuber who started her channel as a hijabi, and kind of started the modest fashion movement. She made many women feel like they could wear hijab or modest clothing and still feel / look beautiful. She inspired many women to wear hijab. And then, one day, she took it off. That caused a lot of controversy in the Muslim community. Please watch the video I hyperlinked above. It is filled with hate comments and death threats by fellow "Muslims" who are shaming her for taking off the hijab. This is what I mean when I say that Muslims are so hypocritical. This is what I fight against every single day. This is (one of the reasons) why I continue wearing my hijab - NOT BECAUSE I am afraid I will receive similar threats, but rather, because I want to fight that narrative that women start wearing the hijab because they are forced to, and then do not remove it because they will face threats or be murdered. I've been staring at my computer, writing this, for over two hours now. I don't know if I'm making sense anymore but I hope I am. What I'm trying to say is that, I am trying to fight everyone, Muslims and non-Muslims, who feel like it is their right to tell anyone what to wear (or what not to wear). And that is one of the reasons I continue wearing my hijab. Because it is my choice, and I want to, and I will not take it off because someone thinks I am oppressed. And I am writing this because no one will talk to me like they talked to Dina if I take it off. And Dina took it off, and kept it off, regardless of what those people said to her. She was not scared into keeping it on, or putting it back on. She did what was right for her. And that's exactly what I will continue doing too. I will continue doing what is right for me. And what's right for me, today, on 9/13/2020, is to continue wearing my hijab and fighting for my right to do so. And fighting for the right of every single girl or woman who wants to take it off, too.
Okay, this is a lot. This was emotionally draining to write, and not how I expected to spend my Sunday afternoon. I think I need to stop now and walk away from this. There will always be more to say. There will always be more to fight for. There will always be more for me to defend. And no matter how much I explain myself, my choices, and my decisions, there will always be someone who thinks they know better than me, about me. There will always be someone who thinks I am brainwashed, or forced into this, or oppressed, or in support of women being forced to keep their hijab on. How can I summarize everything I've said in one sentence? Let me try.
A person should have the choice to wear what they want to wear, or do not want to wear, and no one (not their family, their government, their spouse, their workplace, or anyone else) should be able to tell that person otherwise; I do not support anyone being forced into wearing clothing they do not want to wear, or taking off clothing they do want to wear.
That is my belief. And that is why I continue wearing my hijab, loudly and proudly. Because it is my choice, my right, and because I want to.
I've learned a lot about society, and myself, in these past five years of wearing hijab. Being a hijabi has not limited me in any way. It has not prevented me from doing anything I want to do. It has not stopped me from living my life. I have learned how to be more confident than I ever was before I started wearing hijab. I have found a stronger voice, too - one that allows me to scream when I need to scream, and one that lets me fight for what I know is right. Five years have passed since I put my hijab on for the first time, as an official hijabi. I cannot wait to see what the next five years of my life hold.