Why I chose to take off my hijab: Four women speak (Part II)

Photographer: Francisco Guerrero http://www.unionstationmag.com/2011/05/photo-essay-francisco-guerrero/

What are Muslim American women concerned about today? When I polled my Muslim girl friends, they unanimously voiced their interest in better understanding why an increasing number of their peers are choosing to take off the hijab (here defined as head scarf). As a hijabi for twelve years, I relate to the rewards and challenges of wearing hijab but have no specific answers as to what drives this decision. So I sought to seek a few, through four women I interviewed, who were gracious enough to discuss why they made this decision and how it affected their lives. We continue our interviews here in Part II.

Heba

When Heba first started wearing hijab in college, she loved it. “When I went outside, everyone knew I was Muslim. I was really excited about that. It also kept me in line. I might have been tempted to do certain things [if I didn’t wear it].”

After several years, she gradually grew less excited about putting on hijab before she stepped out the door. Heba realized she no longer wanted “to do something I’m unhappy with.” She wanted to be “excited about her religion, otherwise you’ll look down on what you’re doing.” Though she felt beautiful wearing hijab, Heba sometimes felt “androgynous. Femininity comes from your hair and I didn’t feel like a woman” wearing hijab.

Ironically, the sharpest criticism came not when Heba removed her hijab, but while she wore it. As a hijabi, Heba felt subjected to a stricter dress code. Always interested in fashion, she experimented with different scarf styles but was taken aback by the disapproval she received. “I didn’t like the reaction from the Muslim community. People would tell me ‘You’re not a real hijabi. Why do you even pretend?’ I didn’t feel like I had any support.”

Heba was also subjected to double standards. Her community labeled her as a “bad girl” because she wore three-quarter sleeves and left her neck exposed. “If I hadn’t covered my hair, I would have been a good girl who just didn’t wear hijab.” Muslim men especially did not know how to react to her, because she didn’t fit neatly into labels of what they thought a hijabi should be.

Heba continues to wear hijab at Muslim conferences, though she gets confused looks. “I wish it were more fluid. Why can’t we sometimes wear hijab and sometimes not? People want their boxes so they can check them off to define you.”

For women seeking advice, Heba wants “nothing organized but it’d be nice to have women to talk to. Everyone who [takes off the hijab] just shows up not wearing a scarf. Everyone struggles with it in their own way and they don’t talk about it.” She also thinks “You should have that period where you take it [hijab] off [for a little while before doing it permanently]. That way you can decide if this is something you actually want to do.”

Heba is content with her decision to remove the hijab but she believes that she will return to the practice at some point in her life. “… when I’m much older I want to do it. It’s really important to me and it spiritually has a high place in my life.”

This concludes my conversations with these four women. I’d like to thank these women who were so candid with me. When I spoke with them, I was struck by how intelligent, thoughtful, and committed they were to sharing their experiences. Furthermore, I recognized that their emphasis on modesty and growing their faith had not necessarily changed with the removal of hijab. I also realized that some of them still struggle with their decision.

In speaking with these four women, Safia hit upon something very important. In the end, turning to Allah for guidance is your lifeboat in this tumultuous world. He is not here to judge but rather to push you to be the most spiritual person, with the utmost of good intentions and integrity that you can possibly be. Some will interpret this as wearing hijab throughout their life, even if they have occasional thoughts of removing it. Others may choose to remove it but will carry themselves with grace. For a woman who is contemplating this choice, know that you will one day meet Allah, separated from your community and family, having lived your life of choices. Allah will extend his love to you, hoping that you in return, extend it back, in the way He intended.

In his time, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) would pray “O Allah, beautify the Muslim ummah with the adornment of faith, and make us (among those) who are rightly guided.” May your adornment of faith be one you are proud to run to Allah with.

I ask that Allah forgive me for any mistakes I made while researching and writing this, and pray that you read this with a clear judgment.

 

Mahin Ibrahim works for a technology company. She is interested in gender issues as well as the acculturation of Muslims in America. In her spare time, she likes to make films, which is a passion she would like to pursue full-time. She lives in Santa Clara, CA.

 

(Photo Credit: Francisco Guerrero)

19 Comments

  • John says:

    Thanks for this article.

    I can’t find the URL for the first part of the article, but if I remember correctly, you interviewed two sisters for the first article, and one for the second, so I’m trying to figure out what happened to the fourth woman.

  • Sarwar says:

    I like this article. I do not appreciate that when women who do wear the hijab look and those who do not and judge them for not being proper Muslims. From what I understand, the Quran does not prescribe the hijab or niqab. So really it is a matter of choice and even if it was mandated, it is still not up to others to dictate. I think women are so … See Morescrutinized in their dress, men dont have to deal with this. For some women it is about what people think…..they dress a certain way because of what people might say or think about them as one girl in the article was saying.

  • Sarwar says:

    I want to also pass on to everyone the following fan page of an outspoken Pakistani woman….http://www.facebook.com/pages/Tahmena-Bokhari/19226142858

  • asmauddin says:

    John

    Part 1 temporarily disappeared from the site. It’s back. 3 women are discussed in Part 1, and is discussed here.

  • asmauddin says:

    *1 is discussed here.

  • asmauddin says:

    Sarwar, we have a piece on Tahmena as well:

    http://www.altmuslimah.com/a/b/a/3551/

  • ghina says:

    and of course we must temper our judgements of women whether they wear the hijab or not.  I work on that myself

  • Thanks for this article! I too often wondered why girls in my community, especially ones who started hijab on their own initiative, would decide to take off after years of wearing it. I think most of them were too shy or nervous to express their real feelings about it to (since I am a hijabi). It was refreshing to hear these stories so honestly told.

    One of the girls in the first section of this article was totally on the mark when she said hijab is an organic dynamic thing that grows with you.  I, for one, have always observed “situational hijab”, and have always felt that hijab is culturally relative.

    I’d like to see more stories like this (maybe a hijab-blog of some sort?) including stories from girls who are starting hijab or thinking about stopping or just contemplating what hijab means.

  • muqarnas says:

    the very beginning of this article really struck me:

    “What are Muslim American women concerned about today? When I polled my Muslim girl friends, they unanimously voiced their interest in better understanding why an increasing number of their peers are choosing to take off the hijab”

    This is interesting.  I guess it depends on how exactly this question was asked and the context of the poll, but it did strike me as odd to think that this is The top or even one of top concerns among Muslim women.  Really ladies?  We can’t be more concerned about something a bit more significant?  I for one am Far more concerned about child marriages in the Muslim world.  And the Muslim marriage crisis.  But if in fact the de-hijabization phenomenon ranks so high in Muslim women’s minds, that’s an interesting commentary on us… one that kind of disturbs me.

  • Leafly says:

    “I did not like the way she was dressed when she entered my office. However, the look in her eyes revealed sadness and bewilderment that called for compassion and patience. She sat down and started sharing her concerns hoping to find answers with me.

    I listened to her long enough. I learned that she was an Arab girl who received her education in France where she was raised. It was also clear that she barely knew Islam. I started explaining basic facts, dispelling suspicions, answering questions and refuting orientalists??? lies about Islam. I also did not forget to allude to today???s civilization and how it considers women as cheap flesh. At the end of my talk, the girl asked for a future appointment and excused herself.

    Soon after, a young man ??? on whom qualities of Outward Islamism were apparent ??? came storming into my office and said violently: ???How come such wicked person was admitted here????

    ???The job of a physician is to accept. He doesn???t typically see healthy people, does he???? I replied.

    ???Of course, you advised her to wear Hijab!??? he added.

    I said to him ???The issue is much bigger than that. There is the foundation that has to be laid. There is the Belief in Allah and the Hereafter. There is the hearing and the obeying of what was revealed in the Qur???an and the Sunnah, in addition to the pillars of worship and manners; the pillars that Islam cannot exist without ?????. He interrupted me saying, ???All of this does not mean we don???t order her to wear Hijab???.

    ???I wouldn???t like it if she came in a nun???s clothes while her heart is void of Allah. I taught her the basis that will help her to choose, on her own free will, to wear more decent clothes,??? I calmly replied.

    He tried to interrupt me again so I said firmly ???I can???t drag Islam by its tail as you do. I lay the foundation and then start building and I usually achieve what I want with wisdom???.

    Two weeks later, the girl came back. She was wearing much more decent clothes with a scarf over her head. She resumed her questions and I resumed my teaching. Then I asked ???Why don???t you go to the nearest mosque to your home???? I said that but immediately I felt remorse. I remembered that mosques are closed in the face of Muslim women. The girl answered that she hated the People of Religion and that she did not like to listen to them.

    ???Why???? I asked.

    ???They are hard-hearted, and they treat us with contempt and scorn???, came her swift reply.

    I don???t know why I remembered Hind (Abu-Sufyan???s wife). She was the one who chewed Hamza???s liver and fought Islam vigorously until the 8th year of Hijrah. She did not really know the Prophet. However, when she knew him and saw his lenient manners, she told him ???I never wished someone on the face of this earth to be abased more than you and your family. Now, I do not wish to see someone on the face of this earth more honored than you and your family.??? The Prophet???s kindness and sympathy changed the hearts of the people around him.

    Now, would the Du`ah today learn from their Prophet? Would they learn to draw together instead of driving away, and to bring good tidings rather than to say things that repels people away from them and from Islam?” [5]

    – Sheik Ghazali

  • Leafly says:

    I apologize for the long post, I just wanted to share it because it is relevant to the discussion. I agree with muqarnas, I think that it’s shocking that de-hijabing tops the list of concerns for American Muslim women who by the grace of Allah, have so many opportunities to use their blessings and talents to improve the world.
      The top concern for these women should have been the fear of what may happen to our souls when we meet Allah. Being obsessed with other people’s lives to such an extent that you neglect your own soul is just disillusion. NO ONE IS SAFE!! We all have to strive everyday in hopes that Allah, our Most Gracious lord, will forgive us. DON’T EVER FEEL SMUG ABOUT YOUR GOOD DEEDS!
      Hijab(inner and outer) is beautiful an honorable act when it is carried out with the proper intentions. If sisters want to protect and promote hijab they have to understand that this task requires patience. Being harsh with good intentions could actually have the opposite effect; unveiled women may end up feeling alienated and this may drive them away from other Muslims. Sadly, I’ve actually met some Muslim women who avoided the mosque and religious activities because they feared being judged, insulted, or feeling unwelcome by their own communities.
      Lastly, it’s wrong for us as Muslims to judge people by their appearances and to make assumptions about how much a person loves Allah. Muslim men and women find ways to be respectful and kind to non-Muslim women who don’t dress modestly but, for some reason people feel justified to be cruel to the members of our own Ummah!?

    “A Muslim is the one from whose hands and tongue other Muslims are safe.” [Tirmidhi].

  • missmango says:

    Yes to the fluidity!  I used to be/still am a hijab wearer, but am also now questioning it.  The lack of fluidity around the hijab, I think, makes it so static, and in fact—for me—takes away some of it’s resistant potential.  So, I’m making it fluid, but I constantly feel like such a concept will be looked down on in the community.

  • muqarnas says:

    ???I wish it were more fluid. Why can???t we sometimes wear hijab and sometimes not? People want their boxes so they can check them off to define you.???

    My thoughts EXACTLY. I’ve started to define my own way of wearing hijab. While I wear it most of the time, I sometimes don’t. I personally believe we should be able to wear it and not wear it whenever we want, just like with any other practice of faith that always comes down to the daily choices we make.

    But I admit I find it difficult to fully follow through on this idea b/c I don’t feel like constantly dealing with people questioning why I sometimes wear it and sometimes don’t.  I think though that over time, American Muslim women will develop a somewhat more fluid definition of hijab.  We already have so many different ways of wearing it with different amounts of coverage, and I think it’s becoming more acceptable.  I wear it quite liberally and have fortunately not dealt with much friction from the community b/c of it.

  • mahinu says:

    Dear Sarwar, thank you for your comments on this article I wrote.  From what I understand, there are two verses in the Quran that prescribe wearing hijab and a hadith related by Abu Dawood, reported by Ayesha (R)  about it as well. I know there is some debate on the interpretation of these verses and I think there???s always going to be debate on anything that???s very personal to you, the way religion should be.  I agree with your point on men not being as scrutinized, which always irks me.  I wish there was a way to fix that but I feel like it exists in all different cultures and societies.

  • muqarnas says:

    reading my comment again, i realize i forgot to add another perspective to my point.  i can understand how de-hijabing is a big concern to muslim women in the sense that the entire issue of hijab is one that is so personal and affects our identities so intimately, whether we wear it or not (thanks in no small part to community pressure).  And so I understand that seeing women de-hijab has an effect on all of us, but at the same time, we need to really step back and look at why this is the case and be very critical of our own thought patterns. 

    are we women internalizing the judgmental-ness of our community and simply turning it against one another?  like leafly said, shouldn’t our primary concern be with our Own relationship with God, not other people’s?  I think we Muslim women really need to look at ourselves and question why we feel so concerned or threatened by the de-hijabization phenomenon, and understand where that concern is really coming from.

    i also just wanted to add that i didn’t mean for my comment to imply that i don’t appreciate the importance of this article series.  i actually very much love it, and appreciate that the author withholds all judgment and lets the women speak for themselves.  regardless of whether de-hijabing SHOULD be a top concern, unfortunately it IS at this moment, and we need to deal with it.  i think articles like this take us in the right direction, towards greater compassion and understanding of one another.

    lastly, missmango – i completely empathize.  i think it will take a few pioneers in the beginning to break the mold, and we may each do so in our own small way as well, but i think over time, the definition of hijab will grow more fluid. the great thing about the fact that muslim women in america exercise choice in wearing it, is that we have the power to help define what it means to be a hijabi in america. as long as we don’t bicker with one another, which would serve nothing but the traditionalist patriarchal system, and we accept that women have the right to decide for themselves, we can push for a more fluid definition of hijab.

  • NISI says:

    Love the article. Nice work and a nice perspective into the changing dynamics of young Muslim women in the West.

  • af_oak says:

    Assalaam aleikum all,

    I have read this article, while I respect the views and opinions of the interviewed persons and those who comment, I strongly believe I should make a point or two. Firstly, like many other articles on the site, is it just me or do I notice a faint but effortless strain to “mordernise” Islam, to remove those “embarrassing” features of Islam that no longer fit in to what a posh lifestyle we live in today e.g Veil, Polygamy e.t.c

    Kindly let me explain….

    The article points out how these ladies felt a need to no longer cover wear a hijab, granted, the hijab is not mentioned by word in the Qur’an, but in principle and in the Sunnahs (actions of the Prophet p.b.u.h) clearly states the provisions of coverage of both male and females.

    While I’m not judging their faith, so shouldn’t the interviewee who pointed out that “Furthermore, I recognized that their emphasis on modesty and growing their faith had not necessarily changed with the removal of hijab” how does she know?

    Before anyone dismisses me as religious blah blah. Ask yourself what Islam is? as A WAY OF LIFE, its a holistic approach to how you live your life and no one should use the over-used western cliche that God “is not here to judge but rather to push you to be the most spiritual person”. Read the Qur’an, almost each and every chapter God declares that He IS a judge on your character, Iman, thoughts, opinions e.t.c therefore you ARE being judged (Remember Atib Raqib, that/those Angel(s) writing EACH and EVERY deed you do good or bad? just asking)

    By oversimplifying Deen simply because “you stick out like a sore thumb” or because men do or don’t, then why oh why bother?? If your Iman is based on the actions or reactions of other humans then let me as well be frank with you and assure you disappointment is on its way. Follow Deen because the Qur’an and the Hadiths and Sunnahs of the Prophet p.b.u.h said so

    Finally and given in good faith, I would love to see some rather “small” Pro-Islamic mannerisms encouraged in the site e.g Islamic greetings, Da’wah notes.

    Shukran and May Allah lead us all to His straight path, Amin amin amin

  • erhan1 says:

    Assalamu alaaikum wa rahamatullahi wa barakatuhu I have to agree with af_oak,amin. Islam is a way of life its a command, who in the world are we to put our opinions on it? Yes males have our own “hijab” (protection) which is our beard. You guys should thank Allah and the Rasool of Allah s.a.w but instead you sisters are letting your nafs get the best of you, letting shaiytan mess with you guys, auodibillah. I read this and I knew right away I had to put my voice into this. Our imaan ( faith ) goes through ups and downs so one day if I’m in a bad mood im going to be like, ” oh I dont think I should pray today I’m not in the mood?” astagfurallah, Allah doesn’t need anything from us. We need Allah instead of complaining sisters say Al hamdulillah Al hamdulillah Al hamdulillah. You have a computer to type this sad excuse of a forum.

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