In the Middle East, we don’t question what it means to wear the hijab, but for Arab Americans it’s a different reality. We’ve heard stories of women taking off their hijab and many will pass judgement and formulate a conclusion in their head, but what’s the real story? I share with you the story of 3 Arab Americans who had taken off the hijab. While some of these stories seem extreme, others are not as dramatic, but they are real life stories,nonetheless. These stories do not represent the collective Arab Muslim community, but they are 3 very real stories that need to be told and heard.
“People see wearing the hijab in America are seen as the undertaker. The first question I was usually asked by people was “How many Americans gave you a hard time? How many people bad-mouthed you? How many people verbally assaulted you?”
Although I had to encounter a few of those ignorant people, the truth is, it was not those people who gave me a hard time for my hijab. The person I found giving me the hardest time was myself. I put the hijab on when I was 11- years-old during a trip to Palestine.
I do admit, I rushed and put it on because I thought it would make me closer to God. Being born and raised in America and having the hijab on was a struggle because I was so used to a certain lifestyle; to change everything was difficult. I found myself stuck between my religion and my culture; my American culture that is.
I would go out with my friends to a restaurant or a hookah bar and feel like an outcast. If there was an occasion, everyone would be getting their hair and makeup done and I would feel ugly while putting on the scarf. I loved dressing up and getting my hair done. I couldn’t go to a lot of places because it would not feel right going to certain places with the hijab on.
There were also a lot of jobs that I couldn’t get because I thought who wants to hire someone in a hijab, right? It was tough, not because I wanted to whore around, but growing up in America, it was always normal that I could go out wherever I want and dress however I wanted. I found myself not growing up, I felt like I was keeping myself from experiencing life and just having fun as a young teenage girl. I feel as if I missed out on certain things in life and maybe I just wasn’t ready to make such a big commitment.
Taking it off was harder than putting it on: All the judgment, the questions, the stares. I realized that in order to be happy, you must do whatever you need to do to make yourself happy. I also realized that if you’re not ready, do not rush because God is understanding and at the end of the day, religion is in the heart, not what is on your head.”
“It all started the day I got my period. Here I was, so excited to tell everyone the great news that I got my period. I remember everyone was in the living room and I went so excited to tell everyone, the first person I told was my mother, who then right away told my father. The reaction was not what I expected, my dad congratulated me and told me it was time to wear a scarf. I didn’t know that was going to be the outcome of getting my period, but It was all down hill from there. I had summer school that summer and I was told to practice wearing it then, which wasn’t too bad. It wasn’t until the actual school year began that it hit me. “Fudge, I have to walk in there with a scarf and everyone’s going to look at me.” I found myself thinking. That day came and on the way to school I cried my ass off, ‘please don’t make wear it’ , ‘please, I don’t want to’ I screamed but my dad just yelled and told me to shut the fuck up and wear it.
So that was it, all this over getting my period. Had I known I would have lied about it. Well, as I expected everyone ignored me and it was awkward as hell at school. I had issues with people pulling my scarf off, treating me different and I even got called a terrorist by my math teacher.
As of today at the age of 26, I decided to take the hijab off. I still have to put something on around my dad because we got in a huge fight, called me a whore and took my car and phone away. I asked him what he wanted me to do to make him stop treating me this way and all He said was “Put the scarf on”. So now, I’m just putting it on in front of him. But one of my brothers doesn’t want to see me at all without it, and the other told me he wants nothing to do with me and cut me off, completely.
I’m doing what makes me happy and if they have an issue, I couldn’t care less. It’s my life, I’ve made my dad happy all my life and I think it’s time to live for me. I don’t know if I’m really going to go to hell, but a lot of people try to scare me with that idea. But is God really going to make me burn in hell over MY HAIR? I believe if I focus on being a good person, there’s no way God would put a good person there. That’s the thing I have come to believe: it all comes down to a cultural tradition, rather than a religious act.
The people who make you believe that if you don’t follow every single thing you’re going to hell are usually the world’s biggest hypocrites and dumbest people. So what’s worse? Taking my scarf off or being an asshole? I think it’s all about being a good person, being forgiving, none in which my dad is.”
“As a college kid trying to find herself, my journey of putting the hijab on and taking it off is still a blur to me. Yes very cliché, a college kid trying to find herself in a world with endless possibilities. Moving away for college, allowed me to evaluate who I was at the time and who I wanted to be.
Growing up in a Muslim household, I felt that putting more of an effort into my faith was something I wanted to incorporate into my life. My parents explained to me every reasoning behind every act, every belief of Islam. To me, my religion is logical and that’s why I accepted it. I decided to put more effort and incorporate it into my new future. I was determined and motivated to strengthen my imaan(faith), and as I did, I began to think about wearing the hijab. I felt that by putting on the hijab, it would be the best motivator and inspiration to keep up my imaan and not to slack or give up on my new journey as a better Muslim. My family were very shocked, but accepting in the end, as none of them wear the hijab. They warned me it was a big step, but respected and trusted me with my final decision. Being determined, I felt that I was ready for such a big commitment.
Putting it on was a scary new experience, I had no idea what was going on, how to feel, whether others would change their opinions of me and if I would encounter negative or racist experiences. But my journey was a beautiful one and I am thankful. Of course, I encountered negative people, but in the end, the large amount of compliments and beautiful encounters with others about my hijab overtook the negativity. I wore the hijab confidently and it really did motivate me to practice Islam to my best ability.
But after a year and a half of wearing the hijab, I realized I rushed myself into my commitment to the hijab. I began to doubt myself, I began to feel pressured by the obligations expected by someone wearing a hijab; I was altogether confused. I suppose I wasn’t used to the hijabi lifestyle, as I was free before my decision to do whatever I wanted before without a preconceived expectation. I felt being a hijabi was a full-time duty that I wasn’t ready for. At times it didn’t let me adventure out and make mistakes, since I felt pressured that hijabis are expected to be a certain way, almost perfect, even though we are not.
I felt that my full heart was not into it due to doubting and contemplating. And I decided that if I’m not fully committed and fully hearted about wearing the hijab, then I am doing it a dishonor. I felt that I wasn’t doing it any justice by contemplating it every time I put it on and so I decided to take it off.
Taking it off was a challenging struggle. The talks, the stares, the judgement, all that still follows me even though it’s been awhile. I still get referred to as the “girl who took off her hijab”, being portrayed shamefully. I don’t regret my journey and don’t care for the ignorant judgments that follow. I stay positive and through it all I keep in mind that God knows me, my thoughts, my heart and that’s all that matters. This journey strengthened who I am today and shed light on my abilities and the impact of my actions. It’s all a blur of how it all happened, but it was one of the most beautiful experiences in my life.”