There are many reasons why Muslim women and girls choose to wear or not wear a hijab. Each has their own very personal story behind it. Many feel that it gives them respect. That instead of focusing on their beauty or (lack of), people must appreciate them for their intelligence, wit and personality and find wearing the hijab to be liberating. Others do it because they wish to feel closer to Allah and that by wearing one they show their loyalness to him. Some wear it simply because they think it looks good. For me it was partly because I feel culturally connected to the piece, but for the most part because I wanted to show the world that I’m Muslim and not afraid to let everyone know.
When you wear the hijab, it becomes a part of your identity. Much like being British, female or Muslim. When you pass another hijabi in the street, you acknowledge one another with that knowing smile and an “Assalamu alaikum”. Even if you have never seen this person before in all your life. It’s kind of like a part of a secret sisterhood. Only of course, it isn’t at all secret. Anyone can spot someone wearing hijab miles off. It’s also kind of similar to when you see another person who’s also wearing a t-shirt by your favourite YouTuber, in my case Markiplier, and you give them a high-fiving and complement them on their fantastic taste in TouTube channels (this actually happened once). On a slightly different level of course, but you catch my drift.
The hijab is also great on a superficial level. Don’t feel like styling your hair today? No problem; shove a scarf over it. Don’t feel like washing your hair just yet? Hide it under a brightly coloured scarf. Having one of those days when your hair resembles a troll doll and nothing you do can tame it? You know the answer. Have a hideous pulsing growth on the back of your neck? You should probably get that checked out by a doctor. But in the meantime, shove a scarf over that mofo! Not to mention, there is a near endless possibilities with different colours, patterns and styles. It’s so much easier that cutting and dying your hair all the time. Alternatively, if you DO feel like dying your hair and do a really shitty job like I did once (it was an awful orangey pink) and want no one to see the disaster area on your head, wearing the hijab is also a great way to conceal that.
Having said that, it isn’t always easy wearing one in public in Western countries. I rarely have any trouble here in Scotland. Most people seem to be fairly used to seeing hijabis in my adopted city and I’m treated as normally as I would if I had been wearing a hat. The same goes for London in general. The center is so diverse that you can wear almost any garment from anywhere in the world and still blend in. The part of London I grew up in has a more suburban feel to it with not all that many people who don’t look “native” so to speak. I was never harassed or made to feel unwelcome, but I did attract a lot of stares on a regular basis when I first started wearing my hijab. Then again, that may have been because people were used to seeing me without it.
The the places where I DO get hassled tend to be either in the small villagers where people tend to be naturally insular, the US, Korea and continental Europe. For example, when I was in Orlando, Florida last year, I had several people come up to me and say along the lines of “Honey, you know you don’t have to wear that anymore? You’re in America!” Why yes! I did know exactly which country I was in. Good for me. I don’t feel badly towards the few who said that. They may have been grossly misinformed, but they were just trying to be helpful. Perhaps I should have let them know that they didn’t have to show their hair if they didn’t want to either. Others were less friendly and told me the usual “Go back to your own country, terrorist!” Unsettling, but again, not too bad.
One of the worst experiences I’ve had while wearing a headscarf in public was on a street in Spain. I was on holiday with several mates and wee were wandering around looking for somewhere to eat at(i.e. minding our own business). I was the only one of us wearing a scarf. We stood chatting for a moment trying to decide whether to pick a restaurant on close by or keep trying to find this particular place for tapas. I noticed a woman staring at me intently slightly further up the road. I figured she was just another starer, so ignored her. We eventually decided on a place and continued to walk up the road, the woman’s eyes still locked onto me. As we were about to pass she called out in Spanish “Why do you wear that? This is Spain, not a place for barbarians. Take that rag off your head!” We then started to move more quickly. She called out again “I said take it off!” and just as I was passing her she lunged forward and grabbed a hold of my hijab, yanking it hard. I yelped in pain a surprise and felt myself flying towards her. She then proceeded to tug at my scarf and hair, chocking me in the process. My friends all tried to bat her off and shouted threats towards her. She became maddened and started to scratch me and bite my ear. In the end I was able to throw her off, knocking the air out of her and we all made a run for it. Needless to say, my pals and I were all in a state of shock straight afterwards.
We found our way to the restaurant and tried to look as composed as possible when the waiter appeared and lead us to our seats. He clearly noticed something was up. He kept glancing at us nervously and asked if we were okay. Once we had all sat down and the dazed feeling started to fade and I felt a sharp pain in my right ear where the mad woman had bitten me. Before long, much to my embarrassment, I started to cry like a little girl. The waiter returned and asked what was wrong and so we (or rather my pals since I was still blubbering like a baby) told him what had just happened outside. He was absolutely wonderful. Not only did he have lots of comforting words and offer to fetch the police, but he organised for my meal to be on the house. I left him a massive tip.
I suppose what it boils down to is that there are both ugly and generous people wherever you go. Nevertheless, it is definitely a different experience when you wear a hijab and when you don’t. It’s a shame how wearing one can bring out the worst in some people. What I find strange is that the same piece of clothing provokes such different reactions depending on whether you wear a scarf over your hair or around your neck. Whether you do or whether you don’t wear it, it is a personal choice to make. Be sure it is for the reasons you feel rather than fear of those around you. The choice is yours and yours alone.