Multiple hands rose in the air when the teacher asked the class to share our hijab story. I saw the eager and enthusiastic looks on each sister’s face as they held their hands up high. Subhan’Allah (glory be to God), I was amazed how each person had a unique story to share.
In particular, I enjoyed the story of a sister who educated her daughter about the hijab. She emphasized the meaning, the beauty, and the significance of the hijab in Islam. Moreover, she gave her daughter the choice to decide whether she wants to wear the hijab because it is an act of worship that must come from within oneself. Two days after 9/11, her 10 year old daughter became a hijabi because she wanted people to know that she is a Muslim.
Every sister who shared her story made the choice to wear the hijab. Everyone except me.
I sat in my seat, feeling insecure. My hijab story was nothing like their stories. As a matter of fact, it was the opposite. I initially hated and despised the hijab. Am I a bad Muslimah for not embracing the hijab right away? My hand started to shake as I raised it. A part of me was praying that the teacher wouldn’t notice my slim and petite hand in the air. But he looked directly at me and smiled. He called on me to speak.
I mentally scolded myself for being so zealous. I was paranoid and scared of being judged by so many eyes, especially my teacher’s. My voice trembled as I began to relate my story to the class.
I was 10 years old when I came here. When we got off the plane, my mom took me to the bathroom and wrapped a hijab around my head. It was black with yellow polka dots. I had never worn it before. “Why am I wearing this?” I asked. “This is the US and you must wear the hijab from now on,” she said as she tightened the hijab with a safety pin. I decided not to ask any more questions.
I had to wear the hijab everywhere. I entered my 5th grade classroom and I noticed the odd expression on everyone’s face. “Why do you wear that on your head?” a boy asked. I didn’t have an answer. During recess, the class played kickball. It was very hot and muggy outside. “Can’t you take that thing off? You’re all sweaty and stinky!” my classmate Kathy said with an utter disgust in her voice. I could hear her telling all the other girls what a “sweaty monster” I was. From then on, the girls would stay away from me.
I went home. I was unusually quiet that day. “Ammu, why do I have to wear the hijab again?” I finally asked. My mom was silent for a moment. “You wear the hijab because Allah commanded it and it makes Him happy.” I didn’t understand how a piece of cloth can possibly make God happy. I mean, I was sweating like a pig after all.
“Can I take it off, ammu? I don’t want to wear the hijab anymore.” The tone of the conversation had drastically changed. “OF COURSE NOT! Do you want to go to Hell fire!? If you don’t follow Allah, you will go to hell!” my mom scolded. Of course I didn’t want to go to hellfire. But what does that even mean? Again, I decided not to ask any more questions.
So I started living a double life. At home, I presented myself as an obedient daughter. In school, however, I would take the hijab off. There were some days that I kept it on out of guilt. But mostly, I never liked wearing the hijab. I never understood what it meant. And I blamed all my problems on the hijab.
BOOOOOOOOM! An explosion? A leakage? A fire drill? What was that noise? I was in my Social Studies class when it happened. I could see the terror on my teacher’s face as he came back into the classroom. We could hear the urgency in his voice as he told us to pack our stuff. We formed a line and followed our teacher to the gym. The entire school was there. We didn’t know what was going on. “Two planes hit the twin towers. Even Washington has been attacked,” said a pale looking boy. “OH MY GOD! The Pentagon was hit! It is 10 minutes away from our school! My father works there!” squealed a red-haired girl.
The aftermath of September 11th was hard on the entire nation, including me.
Going to school felt frightening after September 11th. Wearing a hijab to school felt more out of the ordinary. I got nasty looks. I saw people pointing their fingers at me and whispering into each other’s ears. I was going to my next class when this boy purposely bumped into me. All my books fell to the ground. “You Muslim! It’s your fault. You’re Osama’s daughter!” he spat at me.
It didn’t get any better when the Iraq War began. “Saddam Hussein’s daughter! Go back to your country!” they all yelled. I knew it. It’s my hijab. That’s what set me apart from the rest. That’s what showed my Muslim-ness. I didn’t want to hear these painful things anymore. So I permanently stopped wearing the hijab to school without my parents knowing.
Word somehow got to my mom that I wasn’t wearing the hijab. My mom was furious. She had a steel rod in her hand and asked me if that was true. I denied instantly because I knew she would beat me with that steel rod if I admitted my double life to her.
Things at home got stricter. My mom asked the other girls in my school to make sure I was wearing my hijab. I had no choice. I had to wear the hijab until I graduated from high school. And every day I detested the image I saw in front of me in the mirror of an ugly, miserable, and upset girl.
I went to college and my double life followed me there. I sometimes took off the hijab to fit in. But I felt more and more conflicted about it. What is my identity? Who am I? Am I the girl with the hijab? Or am I the girl without the hijab? Or both? Finding the answer wasn’t so simple.
Second year had ended and summer began. I started to have these intense dreams. One night, I dreamt that I was ascending to the heavens and I was flying in the midst of many stars. I felt this incredible energy shaking my entire body. An energy that was so powerful, so magnified, and so supreme, that there are no words to describe it. I woke up sweaty and shaken.
It was late into the night and the moonlight penetrated my window. I went to the bathroom and I made wudu (ablutions). That night, for the very first time, I sincerely prayed 2 rakahs (rounds of prayer) to Allah and made a du`a’ (supplication). A du`a’ that I didn’t think would change my life forever. “If you truly exist as you claim, show me the way. If you truly are Compassionate and Merciful, then guide me. I know I have sinned and I will probably end up in hellfire. All my life, I have been told that I am a huge failure who deserves nothing but hellfire. But my soul keeps telling me that you do love me and I deserve something much greater than hell. Please guide me towards the truth. And guide my heart towards the very best decision. And help me get to know You better. Reveal Yourself to me because I don’t know who You really are. Please!” I pleaded. Tears flooded the prayer mat. I felt this energy caressing me gently. I had tasted the hope of Allah that night. I finally felt liberated.
The next day I opened the Qur’an. And Subhan’Allah, my soul got a wakeup call. My body shuddered as I randomly landed on a page. It read: “O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.” (Qur’an, 33:59)
Allah is ever Forgiving, and ever Merciful. I read that over and over again and my heart was finally convinced. From that day onward, I wore the hijab. Not for my parents. Not for society. But for Allah. And because I loved Him. I felt beautiful and dignified. I stopped living a double life and I eventually discovered my true identity as a slave of Allah.
I finished sharing my story to the class. I was afraid my classmates would judge me. There was silence for a few seconds and my teacher finally asked, “Was it a difficult decision to wear the hijab and accept it as a part of your life?” “Yes. It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made,” I said, still shaking. My teacher smiled at me and said, “I truly respect your honesty. Wearing the hijab can be a tough choice and I thank you for sharing your story.”
SubhanAllahi wa biHamdihi, Subhan-Allahi ‘l-`adheem (Glory be to God, and Praise, Glory be to God, the Supreme)! I praised my Lord once again. My body felt the warmth of His love and protection as I resumed taking notes.