Exactly five years ago on a Monday, in the middle of the school year and in the middle of the school day I started wearing hijab. I definitely didn't wake up that morning and decide that I was going to start that day and I didn't walk into school with my scarf on either. After weeks of contemplation, insecurities, and fear, I prayed Duhr at lunch time and kept my scarf on as I walked into the cafeteria afterwards. It was that simple.
I wasn't 100% sure with my decision at the time, actually now that I look back, I probably was barely 50% sure of my decision. But I did it, and Allah SWT made it easy for me ever since.
It was a very difficult decision for me to make as there were several factors in my life that kept me from wearing it.
Raised by Pakistani, Punjabi parents my culture always found a way to override what Islam said. As a result, hijab was not required in my culture. In fact, it was only brought up when we children were told to pray or read Quran. This was all I really knew about the role of hijab in my life.
Even though I did not know much, I could not help but be intrigued by hijab. As a child, I loved to identify myself as a Muslim. Because I was proud of it. As a child, when I saw a woman wearing hijab it looked like the best way to let the world know that the woman that was wearing it was a Muslim. I loved it and I often pictured myself wearing it. Growing up I tried to talk to many girls about it and tried to soak up as much knowledge as I could on why we were told to wear it, how to wear it, once I even asked how to swim with hijab -- I wanted to know everything.
But I always kept my interest to myself because I knew my parents would not understand. In the beginning of 8th grade, I started going to YMS Piscataway. Every Friday I was surrounded by girls that wore hijab and it made me feel so comfortable. Soon I started to seriously consider wearing it myself.
When I finally told my parents that I wanted to wear hijab they were shocked.
Initially, my parents were against my decision and forbade me from wearing it as they feared that people would be prejudiced towards me because of my decision. I won't deny that over the past 5 years there truly have been a few bumps in the road.
But when I started, I did not think about how my decision would affect other people, I only thought about how it would benefit me.
For the first three weeks I snuck hijab. I wasn't allowed to wear it but I did anyways and as a result when I was in public with my parents I wore a hood instead or pretended to casually throw a scarf on my head because "it was cold". Alhamdulillah, I never had to actually show my hair in order to hide the fact that I started wearing hijab.
Weeks after I started, my parents finally came around and I didn't have to sneak anymore. They still weren't comfortable with my decision but five years later, I can happily say that they're proud of me.
If you ask me why I dress modestly and cover my hair I'll give you a different reason every time. I've learned to respect myself, it protects me from people that may not necessarily be the best for me, it forces me to be the best person that I can be (because let's face it-- by wearing hijab I'm a direct target in the public eye), and it constantly reminds me that looks are transient but a person's personality is forever.
It's been a tough past few weeks because of the Paris attacks and I see that there are girls out there that are starting to contemplate taking their scarves off as a result of the backlash they're receiving simply because they identify as Muslims.
As my hijab-a-versary approached -in the midst of Islamophobia- I realized that I shouldn't be scared because I'm not doing anything wrong. I was born and raised in this country and grew up under the notion of freedom of religion. I have the right the dress the way I please.
If people hate me because of what I represent then I'm better off without them in my life.
What they don't realize though is that while they're busy trying to protect themselves from a hijabi like me, I'm busy trying to protect myself too. I'm trying to protect myself from succumbing to the common perception amongst women in society where they think that they have to wear less, look a certain way or even act a certain way to be considered beautiful.
With the rise of Islamophobia these past couple of weeks have been rough for some, and I have no doubt that it'll only get worse. My only hope is that if any girl decides to stop wearing hijab, I pray that it's not due to Islamophobic backlash. May Allah SWT make it easy for me and everyone else that receives backlash for attempting to practice religion in public.
Hijab might be tough sometimes, but I can honestly say that wearing it was the best decision I've ever made in my life.
Written by a sister from New Jersey