Me, Myself and Hijab (Part II)

One of my biggest fears about wearing hijab was that people would judge me based on the negativity they had heard or read about Muslims before getting to know me for themselves. As I live in New Zealand most of the time I knew I would have to face non-Muslims all the time - at varsity, in supermarkets, on airplanes. It’s much easier to dress like the people around me and sort of blend in. I worried about what girls thought of me as much as I did guys . I had heard horror stories from my friends and had many pre-conceived ideas about people’s reactions and to be honest, I expected the worst.

I didn’t know that I was in for a big surprise.

Who would've thought that non-Muslims wouldn't treat me that much differently. I would have to say that it’s probably because I live in New Zealand where racism is quite uncommon and people are laid-back and open-minded.

Non-Muslim men are more respectful. When they talk to me I think they’re quite surprised to see that what I wear and most importantly, my faith, doesn’t stop me from being outgoing and creative. They’re still friendly but obviously they don’t flirt or try to be funny with me. That would be the only major difference I have noticed since I started wearing hijab. Guys don’t approach me as freely as before and half-drunk guys don’t make lewd comments at me when I walk past them (most students live on campus and getting drunk by 5 pm on weekends is not unusual around here). When my classmates talk to me, they look me in the eye and they take me seriously. They don’t do the whole ‘up and down look’ anymore. Some girls do but not guys.

So what about Muslim guys?

I had a similar response with Muslim men. I guess some of you would say they shouldn’t be responding at all since men should lower their gaze and what not! But the reality of it is Muslim men are just like any other men out there – they’re not perfect and they make mistakes. Most of them have been respectful. Many of the ones who knew me before my big change do treat me the same way because they’ve always been nice and respectful anyway but I do see a glint of respect in their eyes and a level of formality in the way they behave with me.

The funny thing is I think some Muslim guys notice me just a little bit more because I’m visibly a Muslim now. I think they have something called a ‘hijabi radar’ and the moment they see a hijabi they get curious! Amina’s younger brother actually texted and told her that he saw a new hijabi in town and she asked him to double check and make sure that it wasn’t me. Turns out it was me after all. He said I look completely different but in a good way. Ah, that boy’s always been a hoot. Some of them texted me to say they were proud of me for making this step and some even asked me about it in person because they just wanted to know more about my motivation behind it. But I have had Muslim male friends who said things like, “To me it doesn’t really make a difference”. Good thing I didn’t do it for the sake of pleasing men, or rather for the sake of pleasing people, because otherwise I would’ve been quite confused. 

My experience as a hijabi in the last six months in New Zealand has been a very positive one, alhamdulillah. I think the only instance I've had someone say a rude remark to me was the time I went shopping with Lamya. Otherwise, people have been so nice to me, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. I honestly can't ask for a better outcome or experience as a hijabi in a Western country. In Malaysia, it was a little hard, I have to admit. I think it was mainly because that's where I go for my holidays and to have fun, and dressing up and wearing  relatively sexy clothes (operative word: relatively!) was part of that fun for me. Every woman wants to feel desired and beautiful but I'm not saying Islam is trying to make women feel less desired by 'hiding' their beauty.

In Islam, a woman's beauty is skin-deep. It is everything that makes her gentle yet resilient, humble yet dignified. Everything that makes her special. 

In Islam, a woman's sensuality is not suppressed. It is sacred. 

In Islam, a woman doesn't have to be 36-24-36 to be beautiful and valuable. She doesn't even have to be anything   society deems to be 'so hot right now'. Shocking, I know. 

The day I started wearing hijab was the day I slowly started to leave behind my old lifestyle and bad habits. It wasn't easy but I realised I had to start somewhere. The essence of modesty is how you feel and not just what you do. Modesty truly begins on the inside and it upsets me whenever I hear people saying things like,

"If you don't wear hijab, you're not a good Muslim woman."

"If you wear jeans and make up with hijab, you look like a clown." (Oh trust me readers, this has been said in a couple of khutbahs (sermons) in our masjid)

Saying that to people is just arrogant and ignorant. That's not how you educate people about Islam. You don't attack them by making them feel bad about themselves. You're suppose to inspire them so that they will take the steps that they need to understand why modesty is required in Islam. Surely when modesty is sown and nurtured in one's heart, it will blossom and branch out into actions that are beautiful in God's eyes.

Plus, it wasn't like I immediately made drastic changes. For example, I didn't start to wear loose tops until a couple of months ago and wearing make up was an everyday routine and a must (and while I still love make up today, I don't feel like it's a must anymore). I didn't go on Facebook and started deleting all my old photos. In fact, all of them were left there for a good six months. I think it was just before my birthday on September the 8th that I decided to delete my non-hijab profile pictures and even that I didn't have the heart to do. I got my trustworthy friend, Amina, to delete them for me. Shortly after that I had my old photo albums set to 'Only Me'. Again, I didn't have the heart to delete them. I felt like doing so would be like deleting my entire past and I didn't have a terrible past, I had a happy one. But there's always room to grow and I told myself to keep moving forward in life. Not go backwards or stay stagnant.

So I took a leap of faith and then moved a step forward. Today I am at peace with myself and I am grateful to God for making what I once thought was impossible, possible.

... stay tuned for Part III: Frequently Asked Questions! 

P.S. Feel free to ask me about hijab and hijab-related questions. Write away in the comment box or via the contact form here.


Amr said…
LOL' hijabi radar' nice one
good on u for doing it. Keep it up!!
E. Studnicka said…
"Visibly a Muslim"... that is an interesting concept. "Visibility" doesn't seem to have a very profound affect on our our faiths, but it does affect our character. Though our beliefs don't necessarily change, the way people see us do and in a way that strengthens belief not just in our religions (or non-religions) but who we are as people. But does making your faith "visible" change and/or enhance your faith in and of its self?
Hanafedora said…
Like like like this post :)
Anonymous said…
I think being ‘visibly’ a Muslim is sort of being loyal to Allah and promoting his faith. Every time you go out in a hijab and people recognize you as a Muslim you are saying ‘none has the right to be worshiped but Allah’. It’s powerful, and it does re-affirm your faith. Most important of all, more than anything else, you are doing what He requested of you. Practising faith sincerely increases it.

Masha Allah, may Allah continue to guide you in your faith.

E. Studnicka said…
So is the hijab symbolic of something? Is it for Allah to recognize his followers or for other people to recognize Allah's followers? I guess what I am trying to ask is, does showing your faith have equal importance to feeling it in your heart?
RS said…
You're such an awesome person lah. Seriously! You're really open-minded and I admire open-minded hijabis more than anything else because it proves the world that Muslims ARE adaptable, respectful AND modern.

I hope I'll wear a hijab soon enough.

But I feel unready atm. But I definitely want to wear one day.

Keep inspiring girlies like me ok?

God bless.
great post :) was really interesting to understand it from the perspective of someone who recently starting wearing hijab. Like your friend, I've been wearing hijab forever Alhamdulillah, and compared with yours my story is boring!!
Shahirah Elaiza said…
3mr: Thanks... and about the hijabi radar, yeah definitely one of my greatest discoveries as a new hijabi lol

The militant working boy: Personally, whenever I'm out and I realise that I'm wearing the hijab it is like a reminder to me that God exists and He is watching us. It's so easy to be distracted by everyday life. We get complacent as human beings.

But wearing the hijab, especially in a Western country, is not only a strong reminder to me that I am Muslim, but people can see that I am Muslim too. So whatever I do is a representation of Islam.

Making my faith visible has enhanced my faith in many ways. I pray more regularly now, I read the Holy Qur'an not because I have to but because I want to. I'm more keen to learn more about Islam. In the past I was kind of rebellious but I realised that it was the type of rebellion that didn't benefit me.

There's a hadith qudsi that really touched me a few years ago and no matter what I do I always go back and refer to it whenever I feel like I'm struggling with my faith:

"I am as My servant thinks I am (1). I am with him when he makes mention of Me. If he makes mention of Me to himself, I make mention of him to Myself; and if he makes mention of Me in an assembly, I make mention of him in an assemble better than it. And if he draws near to Me an arm's length, I draw near to him a fathom's length. And if he comes to Me walking, I go to him at speed."

In regards to the hijab being symbolic.. I think it is in a way because it symbolises the values of a Muslim woman. But it's not so that God can recognise us, if anything it's so we can recognise and remember Him.

Is showing our faith equally important as having faith in our hearts? Yes. We are not only rewarded for possessing knowledge but we are also rewarded for our understanding this knowledge and by acting out on our knowledge.
In other words, it is important to practice what we preach too.

RS: For a very long time I felt I couldn't relate to hijabis or religious people much because I felt they were judgemental... but that all changed when I came to NZ and met such awesome Muslim girls who were open minded while staying true to their faith. If you were inspired by me it's because I was inspired them first! =) I think the fact that you want to wear it someday is a good sign. Find out why you feel this way and just focus on that, inshaAllah He will give you guidance and strength.

hijabi hippie hypo: I'm sure it's not boring, it's just different. Do share your story =)
Shahirah Elaiza said…
Love and Sugar: Marriage proposals? Oh no you got me! I was trying to avoid that topic lol

Hanafedora: And I like like like you =)
Feda said…
beatiful post! It's nice to hear experiences of hijab with someone who made the choice to later in life. I put mine on when I was 14 and didn't really understand hijab until years later. I do feel that hijab should not be pushed when you're young and vulnerable. Having said that I'm not sure where or what I would be today having not put it on (I'm a bit of a rebel myself)
Shahirah Elaiza said…
Stranger: Well said, thank you =)

Feda: I can tell that you are a bit of a rebel =) I never wanted to fit the stereotype of a Muslim and I still don't. But the difference between then and now is that I've learned that I don't have to compromise my personality while following the rules of Islam.
E. Studnicka said…
It seems like the hijab reinforces your pride in your faith and acts as a physical reminder of the spiritual world. I have always wondered why Muslim men don't wear them. Is the turban the make equivalent of the hijab? It seems like that would act in the same way.
I like your point about the hijab being a religious statement in Western culture. It seems like your faith would not be of importance to anyone but yourself and Allah, but, unfortunately, our current cultural situation makes it necessary for everyone, perhaps Muslims especially, to prove their righteousness in the world. Maybe that too is something that reinforces our faiths and brings us together in understanding.
ana said…
i'm so proud of sound like a really positive person! Hats off to u for making a difficult decision. your an inspiration,dear.:)
Oh this is written so wonderfully, Shahirah! Im so proud of you mann :D

Dont worry about hitting the delete tab fast, its your decision and your past, take your time with it. You simply cant leap forward with these things.

Looking forward to part 3! :D
Unsettled Soul said…
I think the hijab is so regal and graceful looking! I am so happy for you, you made a great choice for yourself and I can see how wearing hijab would make you more aware of yourself and your religion.

I notice Muslim guys are definitely like that, and I think it is so cute! Whenever there is a hijabi girl at school I can tell which guys are Muslim because they look just a little bit longer, lol. I know for my husband and I it feels comforting because it shows us we are not the only Muslims.

Anytime there is a new hijabi at work my husband comes home to tell me "hun there is a new Muslim girl, I think she might be Malaysian." LOL...

Truthfully, whenever I speak to a hijabi in my city, on the bus or at school, I try to be even more friendly and respectful, just because I think it takes a lot of courage for her to wear hijab in the current atmosphere in America since 9/11.

Nothing but respect and admiration coming from me :)

Hamhar said…
I like this post very much... yeah I did the same thing when am started to wear Hijab where I just removed the old photos from profile picture fb but I didn't delete the photos..
Shahirah Elaiza said…
The militant working boy:
LOL, I'm not very sure myself about why Sikh men wear the turban actually. I know that they keep their hair long. You may want to check this out if you do want to know. It's quite detailed:

Muslim men have a different dress code for modesty. They must cover from the belly button to the knee. But of course it would be better to cover more than that. Plus he is meant to lower his gaze when he sees a woman.

There's a very comprehensive article about Islamic male modesty here:

ana: Thanks Ana, that's so sweet of you. I became a very positive person after wearing the hijab actually. I just feel like life is finally working out and things are starting to make more sense.

Smiley: Oh no I didn't rush with deleting anything, that's for sure lol. I never did anything I wasn't ready to do and I guess that's why I'm a happy hijabi =D

Sarah: LOL @ how you can tell who are the Muslim guys! In the West hijabis definitely stand out more and it's not even intentionally (well for most cases lol. But the funny thing is I don't feel like I stand out, I'm just so comfortable with it now and I guess that's all that matters. I can't believe I used to be so apprehensive about hijab...

Glad that hijabis make you feel more secure cos you know you aren't the only Muslim in the room =)

Rahmah Ismail: Letting go isn't easy, isn't it? =)
Salam Shahirah!
This is one out of a million reasons why I LOVE your blog!
You write so beautifully! This post was incredible, wonderful, and all synonymous adjectives that I haven't said yet!
Mash'allah! :D
E. Studnicka said…
Thanks for the info. I just checked out your post on Eid Mubarak. It is simply gorgeous. Muslim women have an impeccable sense of style and grace.
mustikasari said…
Subhanallah Sha, your story was really inspiring.. :)
Keep istiqomah ya sister :)

Nieya Asni said…
Hello Shahirah. Assalamualaikum.

I'm a 19 years old Singaporean Muslimah. I'm not a good Muslimah but I do pray, fast. I don't wear revealing clothes as my mother counseled me to dress modestly since I was a kid. Now the problem is that I do not wear hijab. I don't think wearing or not wearing a hijab makes people more devoted and conservative. But recently,I'm thinking alot about Hijab, but i don't have the courage to wear it. I'm afraid of being judged as an extremist, being a laughing stock of my relatives and friends and at the same time I don't know how to put a Hijab and I scared I will look funny and not pretty with it. I want to obey Allah but I am so self-conscious. I am now in a dilemma. :(
Wani said…
Salam Shahirah, I am a non-hijab wearer but have been thinking abt wearing it soon, insya allah. I am taking my time to think of the primary reason why I have this feeling in me. This urge to want to wear hijab. I've been doing some so called research abt other hijab wearers. Their reasons and motivations. Yes, I have to admit that some styles they have are really amazing. I used to have this thinking tht there's only one style in wearing hijab and boy, was I wrong. I am inspired. Then, today I came across ur humble blog. Masya allah, those posts that u wrote really open my heart.

Quote 1-I did it to show my gratitude towards God. I did it because life is precious but it is unpredictable and short. I did it because I knew nothing else mattered as much as my relationship with my Creator.

Quote 2-Then I realised that rezeki / rizaq (provision) comes from Allah swt. I wasn't a very good Muslim but I realised that everything I had was because of Him and I thought, "What have I done to deserve all this? A loving family, the opportunity to pursue an education. That's all I ever needed, isn't it? I wonder how amazing my life would be if I actually tried to be a better Muslim?".

I feel the same way too. Every single thing that I have right now is because of Him. Syukur this little gratitude such as covering my aurats for Him is nothing much compared to wht he had done for me in my life.

May Allah bless u always, Shahirah.
Smart CoOKie said…
About what you said about how some radical Muslims attack non hijabis,it really annoys me. Islam is skin deep and appearances is just a tiny small part of it. It's disgusting how people concentrate on it, especially here in Saudi.
A lot of the girls who cover up from head to toe are only doing so cuz it's a tradition and a must in their families and in reality they are worse than sluts with black hearts. And a lot of my non hijabi friends and us whom we don't cover our faces and wear colourful abays are the nicest, pure hearted people I have ever met.
What a person wears is not a measurement of their faith.
[i.l.y.a] said…
your story is so inspiring. I have the same dilemma of covering up. I started finding more infos and stumbled upon your blog.

i love you for sharing this. :)