I was cold today. Like really, really cold. Get dressed for Midwest winters then, you may say. Well, I’ll tell you; there’s no one type of Midwest winter weather. This past week we’ve had -15 C or colder days as well as 15 C days. Obviously then, you’re bound to make mistakes unless you slavishly check the temperature online before heading out. In the words of a
wise woman online sensation; “Ain’t nobody got time for that”.
What I do want to take the time for here, however, is sharing some thoughts about my hijab. This is a personal standpoint and I expect many of you to disagree, but so be it. It is unfortunately a necessary conversation to have, due to the criticism any style blogger wearing the hijab faces from some subgroups of her community. This criticism, although sometimes well-meaning advice or semi-childish ridicule, more often than not takes the form of outright accusations that said bloggers are being/spreading fitna or doing haram (seriously, those are strong words reserved for very few things in life. After all, Islam is a religion of tolerance and love, not of prohibition). So without further due or commentary on the deeper problems with this, I will attempt to give an account of my personal hijab journey, so that you may understand that the current product is the result of a well-deliberated and conscious process.
I started wearing the hijab slightly more than six years ago, at the age of almost 20, while living in Cairo, Egypt. At the time I put it on, I had not a single friend who wore it, nor was my non-hijabi friends or family members very supportive. As the rational person I like to think I am, I unfortunately had no well thought-out rationale for putting it on; I just strongly felt the urge to do so at that point, despite never having entertained the thought previously. Although I was a strong believer in sartorial modesty, I was never convinced that a piece of cloth covering the hair and encompassing the face made all the difference. Yet, I found myself suddenly wearing one. Purely out of my own conviction. Fighting to keep it on. Oh well.
Wearing the scarf in Egypt was somewhat a challenge, given that my wardrobe had suddenly shrunk into 1/10 of its already limited size. I had about 5-10 scarves, and some outfits to make it work. Going to Europe after some months was the difficult part though. Suddenly I found myself looking for jobs and getting in-my-face rejections purely based on what covered my hair (I know it cause they were unabashed to say so). I cried to my mom. She suggested I’d take it off. I didn’t, and continued trying. I failed. My friends hinted both indirectly and quite directly that they thought my hijab sucked. It kinda really did. I had not yet managed the ways of modest style. I really started disliking my decision of putting on the scarf.
Three months after leaving Cairo, I finally had a job. And at that point, I had become an on-off hijabi. I entered my workplace wearing the scarf, and I left the same way. Inside, however, I wore a uniform and no headcover. This situation went on for one year, but had started feeling intolerable after only some months. From having a part of my identity refused, denied, curbed, I went from almost wanting to give the whole thing up to being thoroughly convinced about it. Whereas I before had felt like rebelling by buying clothes that were relatively modest but not completely fit for hijab (like I was preparing for a future without it), I suddenly found myself actively and creatively attempting to understand this (still) new and unfamiliar way of dressing. It was quite the challenge, and it was made much harder due to the lack of inspiration (mind you, this was before everybody and their moms made Youtube hijab tutorials or blogged their hijab style). And at that point, I was convinced. I would not dispose of that piece of cloth, and I would not continue to work in a place which did not allow me to be myself, even when they knew I found the existing arrangements difficult. So I quit. I quit and tried again. Same process of application and rejection, but then someone got desperate. I got a part time job WITH the hijab, which led to an even better temporary full-time job within the same company. During that 3-month break, I had also started The Hijablog, which, as one of the first hijab style blogs, received massive media attention. The six last months in Europe I worked hard, blogged frequently, and did various magazine and radio interviews as well as TV appearances. Then I disappeared.
My disappearance was a happy one. I had gone to the States to pursue an undergrad degree, and as such did not have time left for my blog. Since this is a story pertaining to my hijab and not my life in general, it suffices to say that my style grew more conservative; I had already started covering my neck after quitting my job, and in the US, I flirted with the idea of abayas for everyday use. I wore them with cardigans to school, and sometimes plain otherwise (although this led to many encounters where I got far more attention than I usually would – abayas can be quite exotic and elegant for the average Midwesterner). I also rarely wore pants, and if I did, they were very wide-legged jeans or denim harem pants. My sleeves always reached my hands, and my tops were always long tunics. I dressed color-coordinated, and although people used to say back then that I was stylish, I personally don’t think so. Well put together; matching, but not stylish. This would go on for a while. Then I broke completely with the idea of the daily abaya after having spent some time wearing black every day in Sana’a, Yemen. Me and abayas were not friends for a while after that, although I currently appreciate the beauty of well designed, nicely cut khaleegi abayat.
At some point, I had a style revelation. It coincided with my college graduation, and was probably a breaking-off of sorts. I no longer would buy the Forever21 satin dresses that found myself resorting to as tunics over wide-legged jeans with matchy cardigans and scarves. I embraced style. Different cuts, textures, and styles soon found their way into my closet, and there was no turning back. I slowly but surely donated all my American history of clothing to friends and acquaintances, and found myself stocking up on printed and colored pants to replace them. I became a little more liberal on the top-over-pants length, as well as on sleeve-lengths. I gave into my mother’s incessant insistence that I should wear the “Spanish wrap” sometimes, and found an acceptable alternative in the turban which I ended up liking better than my usual style.
I am still not comfortable exposing my neck or wearing pants without somewhat long tops or throws. I keep things moderately loose. I think these things will stay with me, iA. Of course, few things but death are for sure, and my style history definitely reveals change. I returned to the blogosphere, however, for this reason; I am comfortable. I am very much comfortable with my style, and with my level of modesty. After all the ups and downs of the hijab experiment, I feel like I reached a balance where I have no desire to skip a little textile, or to add a little more. I’ve come to terms with what my hijab means to me and what modesty entails, elhamdlilah. Rather than being a brief impulse, it has grown on me through both experience and deeper knowledge to become a conscious choice. I am proud, confident, and happy to put it on every day, and contrary to many, I am quite pleased to be looked upon as a representative for my religion as I teach classes, attend conferences, and go about my daily life. At this stage of modesty, it is not at all a hindrance. Before, it could be. The balanced middle path is indeed the best position in most things.
So yeah, that was my journey put briefly. And that is why overly negative comments on the matter are futile in all ways but making the sender look spiteful. And as for “brothas” leaving comments saying “this is haram,” I only have one thing to say. Your face is “haram”; lower your gaze and quit checking out women’s style blogs.
Scarf: Egypt, faux fur: H&M, utility vest: Ebay, floral vest: vintage, studded ombre sweatshirt: Urban Outfitters, lace tiered maxi skirt: Urban Outfitters, vintage look tapestry bag: Forever21, studded sneakers: River Island, accessories: Icing, Ebay.