By: Aminat O. OdunEwu-Seese
It has been 9 years since I started observing hijab and Alhamdulilah, I can confidently say that that decision is a major reason for where I am in my life today. If there's one question that I am constantly asked, it's "Why do you cover your hair?"
I generally respond with something along the lines of "I'm Muslim and I'm supposed to". Usually, the person will then follow up with mentioning how some other Muslimah that they know doesn't cover. I then have to explain how while things are mandatory in Islam, not all Muslims choose to adhere for various reasons.
I choose to follow the commands from Allah(SWT) to cover my hair and body. This means that when I am in the presence of non-mahrams, I wear a headscarf/khimar and an abaya or jilbab. I previously used to wear a niqab as well, but I no longer do.
So what led me to hijab? Here's my story.
in the beginning...
“And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband's fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may attain Bliss." Qur'an 24:31
Growing up, I honestly knew very little in regards to hijab, covering, veiling, etc. Yes I covered during salah and while at the masjid, but that was it. I was never told or expected to cover anywhere else. And by ‘cover’, I’m only referring to having the main part of my head covered. It was considered ok to pray with short sleeves or mid-length dresses or with half of my hair hanging out of my scarf. As long as there was some fabric draped over my head, I was okay.
I did see some girls and women who would cover their hair Islamically around the city but I never really associated it with Islam. There was one girl in my seventh grade class, with whom I’m actually still in contact with today, who always wore a scarf and always had her arms and legs covered.While I always thought wearing hijab was kind of cool and was fascinated by it, it wasn’t something that I thought was necessary. With the exception of a few Arab classmates, none of the Muslims I knew covered regularly.. Whenever classmates and friends would ask me why I didn't cover my hair like the Muslims they saw on TV, I simply always responded ‘I don’t know. It’s just not something that I do”. As I entered secondary school, I became much more interested in the deen and decided to play an active role in this faith that I claimed I ascribed to. I read my Qur’an more and started reading almost any book that I could find about Islam and Muslims. I love to read so this was definitely enjoyable for me. I then started to work on keeping up with my salah more and trying to be a better person. I thought about covering my hair, but due to circumstances, it wasn't something that I really focused on and therefore didn't pursue. During this time, I still wasn't very outwardly religious. Fast forward to university....
During my 1st year of university, I focused on continuing to learn as much about the deen as possible. I would listen to lectures online, read different seerahs, etc. Finally, towards the end of that year, I decided that I would start to cover. The only issue was that I didn’t want to deal with any of the questions and people wondering why I started covering so I kept going back and forth on when to do it. After that academic year, I headed home for the summer but later returned to campus for a summer job. I decided then to start covering, I figured there was no one in the area who really knew me so it wouldn’t be a big deal. When I look back on that summer now, I realize that I definitely was not covering appropriately. I knew absolutely nothing about hijab. All I knew from my readings was that women should cover their hair and not wear tight clothes-and that’s what I did. I wore a scarf(khimar style) but I definitely did not wear long sleeves or cover my legs. Sadly, I didn’t have any Muslims to correct me. After about two weeks, I learned that this was wrong so I would cover my legs and wear my scarf in a way that covered my arms as well. Two weeks after this, my summer job ended so I had to return home. That fall I transferred to a different university. This university was closer to my family home and my large but close-knit Nigerian community. I would also be commuting from home to uni instead of living on campus. There was no way I’d be able cover. See the thing is, it wasn’t so much that my family and community were anti-hijab, it just wasn’t something we ever discussed and they aren’t necessarily open to things that are ‘different’. For the first two weeks at this new school, I would leave the house in my normal clothes and change into my scarf and loose pants once I got to school. Eventually this got to be difficult, I was worried that someone would see me and I was tired of carrying a change of clothes around so I just stopped altogether.
About two months later, I attended a lecture on campus held by the MSA that was focused on modesty( in terms of dress and humility). Alhamdulilah, I learned a lot that night. I learned about the importance of covering, the areas that needed to be covered and about interactions with non-mahram. That same night I decided that at the end of the semester I would start covering full time. During the semester break, I was fortunate enough to attend the annual ICNA conference in Chicago for the first time. I LOVED IT. It was great being in an environment with so many Muslims, women in full hijab, men in thobes and dishdashas, various scholars leading different lectures and communal prayers for the whole weekend. I bought two scarves while at the convention and from then on, I began covering my hair, wearing full length sleeves and long/loose bottoms. I remember my mother picking me up the next day and saying “I like that scarf on your head, where’d you get it from?” I was glad that there were not any further questions asked. I had recently moved back on campus so I didn't see my family everyday. It wasn't until a few weeks later when she asked if I was covering my hair all the time. Alhamdulilah, the first few months of me covering went well, my mother would buy me long-sleeve tops and loose dress pants when she went shopping and no one asked any questions besides a few friends. Sadly there were some close family members who made comments such as “you’re not in Saudi Arabia, you don’t have to wear that thing on your head”. I simply laughed those comments away. Around summer time, I started to get more questions. I actually had quite a few people ask me why I was still covering. Apparently they thought I was just doing it for the winter and not for Islam.
“O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." Qur'an 33:59
Towards the end of that summer, I started to wear an abaya. I essentially did what I did with the scarf, wore it where family and community members wouldn’t notice. I wasn’t aware at the time that wearing an abaya/jilbab was obligatory, I simply thought it was highly recommended. I would wear my abaya on Fridays, being that it was jummah, and other random days of the week. That Spring I conducted a research assignment for university in which I focused on hijab. This assignment required me to read Sura 33:59 at least five times a day for about 3-4 weeks. It was from there that I learned that Muslim women are actually instructed to wear a jilbab whenever they are in the presence of non-mahram. From that day on, I started wearing full hijab. Alhamdulilah, 8 years later, I still observe full hijab although I do make some mistakes. I received tons of negative comments for wearing the abaya. I’ve been told that I’m being too strict, that only old ladies wear it, that only Arabs wear it, etc.
Frankly,, hijab itself has not been a challenge for me. I have never been a fan of tight clothes and I have never really cared about showing my body to the world nor did I think it was necessarily sexy to do so. The hardest thing for me probably was the sleeves. I seriously despised tight clothes and I loved my arms to be free so I generally wore short sleeves prior to hijab. Once I started wearing abayat/jilbab though, it hasn't been an issue as abaya sleeves are very loose and I make it a point to ensure that SFM’s abayas are loose and comfortable. Something else that has proved difficult is dealing with others. Trying to explain to people, mainly immediate family members, what I can/can’t wear and in front of whom. Nigerians are very close knit and every adult you’ve known for years is your ‘auntie’ or ‘uncle’, every child you’ve grown up with is your cousin. Unfortunately, in Islam, knowing someone for a long time doesn’t make them mahram. Cousins, brother-in-laws, male family friends, are NOT my mahram which means that even if we are indoors, I still need to observe full hijab. Another difficulty has been people telling me what is or isn’t considered proper hijab. I’m not referring to individuals kindly advising me on whether something is appropriate but individuals who tell me that it’s okay to wear xyz because they do or because it's cool. Observing hijab is a process and through this process you’re always learning. There are things that I wore two years ago but now realize that they aren’t appropriate and would not wear them again.
It's been seven years since I started covering and I love observing hijab. There are definitely still aspects of it that I am constantly working on. As of now, I wear a headscarf and an abaya whenever I am in the presence of non-mahram.. An area of hijab that I am constantly trying to improve on is tabaruj. For me, this pretty much means not wearing a lot of makeup in front of non-mahram. For the most part, I've been doing pretty well. There are a few times here and there where I slip but in sha Allah, I'll get better.
Observing hijab does not negate one's faults nor does it make someone a perfect Muslimah. Observing hijab means that your iman is at a level in which you are comfortable submitting to the obligations of your creator. Just because someone might be lacking at praying salah on time or might be short-tempered or might drink alcohol does not mean that they should just stop observing hijab. It means that they should work on fixing their flaws alongside observing hijab.
Whenever people ask my why I started to observe hijab, many of them expect some big story that consists of me having an epiphany or going through some trial, that wasn't the case for me though. I started to observe hijab because I learned that that was what Allah(SWT) wanted from me and as a Muslim, it's my duty to submit, so I did. Simple as that! Overall, my path towards observing full hijab has been a blessed one. I am thankful to Allah Subhana Wa Ta’ala for successfully guiding me and giving me the strength to persevere. I love wearing hijab. I love knowing that the only person who has access to view my body is my husband(#themister).
My path to hijab has taught me how to deal with others who differ in opinion from me and how to persevere despite negative remarks people make. It has also taught me that at the end of the day, the main one that I need to please is Allah(SWT) and as long as I keep that in mind, I'll inshaAllah, never be led astray. There are still other parts of the deen that I need to work on and I'm constantly striving to be a better Muslim.
Well that’s my story, what’s yours? Are you a hijabi? What led you to begin covering?