Wearing the hijab isn’t about clothing but a way of life. The struggle that comes with wearing the hijab later in life is different from what one undergoes if they start wearing it from a younger age. I have come a very long way, as has my hijab writes, Tahani Aziz, a geologist and a writer by profession, an Indian born and brought up in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
I was in the 11th grade when I began wearing a head-scarf, what people have now learned to call the hijab. I resided in Saudi Arabia back then and despite the hijab-friendly environment, I took good six months to think over my decision of wearing it. No, my parents didn’t coerce me to wear it; they are rather liberal and supportive of all my decisions. You could say that it was a time in my life when I felt the most spiritually alive.
The struggle that comes with wearing the hijab later in life is different from what one undergoes if they start wearing it from a younger age. I was in my late teens, a phase that is infamous for attributes that are immature, vile, and all about seeking attention and self-importance. I was among the outspoken, vibrant girls in school; someone who was free-spirited and carefree. But, I chose to cover my head. Perhaps, that astounded a lot of people. Most of them thought this was just a trial phase and I would eventually give it up sooner than later.
Now that I think back, I have come a very long way, as has my hijab. From draping a plain black cloth in a simple manner with my abaya to wearing a combination of colours carefully chosen to team up with the rest of my attire, my hijab has lived a life of its own. People say that anything new faces challenges; new innovations and practices are often considered taboo. I quickly gathered a lot of attention that I wasn’t ready to receive back then.
Allow me to shed some light on this long-going tradition. The word hijab in Arabic means a veil. It is considered a sort of screen or shield which allows women to dress modestly in the presence of any male who isn’t related to them by blood, with the exception of immediate marital relationships.
I was most surprised when the very people who congratulated me on wearing the hijab started questioning my beliefs. My hijab styling skills met with mixed responses. While everyone marvelled at the various things I did with my scarves, girls belonging to my own faith even questioned if I was doing it correctly, or if I was serving the purpose.
Allow me to shed some light on this long-going tradition. The word hijab in Arabic means a veil. It is considered a sort of screen or shield which allows women to dress modestly in the presence of any male who isn’t related to them by blood, with the exception of immediate marital relationships. The place and time of its origin explains the scenario under which the hijab was thought to be of utmost importance to protect women. Men in deserts lived a nomadic life and were mostly away from their houses for work, war, or in search of food. The women who were left behind unguarded became easy targets to the lust of many other ill-mannered men. Hence, not only did the hijab allow women to preserve their “modesty,” but also helped guard them against the lustful intentions of vile men. If we should forward the time-frame a little further, the hijab also made it easier for women to participate in activities like trade which involved working with men, thereby ensuring that women were judged solely for their skills, and not their beauty. I found this particular thought very liberating and decided to take up the hijab.
Might I also mention that the hijab is not just pertinent to women. It extends to the men too, in a way that they should maintain a “modest” gaze in order to prevent the women from feeling unprotected in the first place. The hijab is not just a piece of clothing, but it comes with a certain way of conducting life. It is therefore important to understand that the hijab is a way of life.
You see, I am an Indian girl who has lived more than a decade in Saudi Arabia. To me, taking up the hijab in a country that vehemently practices Islam was very easy. However, keeping up with it as I journey through life in different places is a challenge of epic proportions.
The numerous questions that I have to patiently answer at times make me cringe, but mostly they make me laugh. If you may, here are some hilarious questions that had me burst into tears of laughter:
“Do you have to wear it while showering?”
“Are you bald underneath your scarf?”
“You must be taking one hour every day to wear this, no?”
“Oh, you must not be bothering with haircuts or combing your hair at all then, right?”
“Can you show me your hair?”
To burst the myth, I belong to the twenty-first century, a twenty-something girl, career-oriented, vocal about my thoughts, practicing my beliefs, and practicing them in the way I best like. I have chosen this way to live my life and that makes me very happy. Completing my bachelor’s degree in a city like Mumbai, where people from all walks of life and from various parts of India live, opened me up to so many types of cultures. I can’t deny that this exposure to different cultures has influenced me; at times, I’ve been tempted to try on some short dresses and leave my hair open like the other girls. I wear dresses and gowns. Yes, I do. I just wear them in my own style with some extra clothing to make it look all jazzy and modern with the scarf.
I can gladly say that for most part, I’ve been accepted for who I am. We live in a country that is so diverse, I just became another type added to the list of diverse creatures that inhabit a multicultural, metropolitan city. People would always be intrigued by the way I dressed up and were curious to know more about my attire, pouring in details of which have started humongous debates on many occasions and haven’t always ended well. In a big city where people get ogled at for choosing to wear short dresses — something that I am completely okay with, by the way — I made heads turn in a completely covered attireI see nothing wrong in wearing a western outfit while putting on a head scarf that is well styled. It only talks about my creativity. Looking attractive is an instinct that comes naturally to any human, and I am no different. I find it hilarious that most people assume you to behave in a saint-like manner once you choose to embrace the hijab. I am a fellow Homo sapiens undergoing the same hormonal transitions like any other of my age. I think like them, albeit act differently, but that is my choice. The Hijab to me is a part of my clothing, just like your stoles, pants, blouses are to you. I feel sorry for those who think that my hijab inhibits my progress in life as an independent lady.
It never has, and I am sure it never will. I have participated and won fashion show competitions in college, sung and danced on occasions, trekked, learned some karate, snorkelled and gone river-rafting and done much more while wearing a scarf. To be candid, there have been days when I wanted to take it off. I didn’t want to wear it in the heat of the summer, or wear it on certain occasions. It is a constant struggle to continue wearing it. But I distinctly remember making a promise to myself that once I take it up, come what may, I wouldn’t give it up. It’s been seven years and I have managed to keep up my word rather well. I do not know the future and I do not make promises, but I will try to stick with it while I still can.
Tahani Aziz, a geologist and a writer by profession, an Indian born and brought up in KSA.