sisterhood story 2

Born in Britain to Lebanese parents with Persian and Meccan heritage, I was brought up within a very conservative, even orthodox Muslim family. But as a child, it didn’t feel strict: it was just Muslim. I never thought anything of it, because I didn’t know any different. The “do’s and don’ts” were prescribed to me and I accepted them. I assumed my parents knew what was best for me. Hijab was a part of my routine. I began to wear it before my 8th birthday, again, it was just a matter of fact. I remember being asked in school why did I wear it? “Because I am a Muslim” I would say, but that didn’t really answer the question. Why did I wear it? Well I guess, because my father told me so. Okay, but that still wasn’t the answer that people wanted. What they really wanted to know was what was the reason for hijab. It was then, still at primary school, that I began to think about, and question the matter.

I later learned that it was for my own protection. My modest dressing prevented me from being seen as ‘sexually attractive’ by the opposite sex. Yes, that’s right, I must cover myself so that I don’t endanger myself and bring harassment upon myself. For if I didn’t cover up and I was harassed, or worse, then it would be my fault. The apparent fact that my hair could so brazenly seduce men beyond their control seemed a little absurd when I thought about it. Especially when I was be told by family and elders that no strand of hair should ever be showing. No hair whatsoever. And the hijab should also cover the neck and ears. That meant no earrings or necklaces, which as a child I so loved.

Before I started secondary school, we moved away from the busy, cosmopolitan city that I was born in, for a sleepy rural town. It was a fantastic cultural shock. As there was no Muslim community, I, or rather my hijab, stood out like a sore thumb.

Being isolated from a large Muslim community somehow made me focus on my faith, and I became more devout. The questions about my hijab at school continued. My covering up led me to become isolated from other pupils and I was largely made to feel like the odd one out. I was never allowed to wear shorts or a t-shirt to take part in sports for example, nor was I allowed to shower with all the other girls afterwards. Although it was initially connected to practical issues, a slow distaste for being forced to wear hijab began to brew deep inside my tummy.

My early teens were distant from the other girls and I only had a couple of friends. I was strictly told not to befriend the kuffar (non-Muslims), as they would lead me astray. I didn’t want that. I observed them from a distance: they wore skimpy clothes, went to parties, and some smoked and flirted with boys. I abstained from becoming involved in all of this, firm in the knowledge that I was pleasing my Lord, even though I myself was not pleased with being made to be different. In my late teens, we moved back to my home city.

It was such a relief. I felt much more at ease. The hustle and bustle of the community, hijabis everywhere, neon glowing ‘100% Halal’ signs, minarets and domes peppered the streets, and the good old Muslim jargon within earshot that I had so missed. I was finally away from the fitnah (unrest) and no longer being the odd one out. However, I was in for a bigger culture shock. Being back in the hub of a Muslim community, as a young adult now, I was quickly brought up to speed on the duties of a Muslim women, which I had been oblivious to as a child. There was a real expectation that we had to live up to. If we didn’t abide we were evidently on the wrong path. This micro-society forced its people to live a certain way, for fear of what others might say. They don’t use physical force, but mental pressure inducing guilt and slut-shaming. Soon, everything became haram (forbidden). Don’t do that it’s haram. Don’t do this it’s haram. Don’t even think about that, it’s haram.

Men controlled all this of course, but it trickled down to the women as well. They peddled the rules of what it meant to be Muslim, and if you didn’t conform to that then you were somehow a loose woman, not properly Muslim. One of the clearest and most visible signs of being a ‘pious’ Muslim woman was wearing the hijab. Only a hijabi was moral and considered a sister. I soon realized I was becoming a victim of this society. I thought of all the times hijab and so-called modesty had stopped me doing what I wanted. I began to wish I didn’t have to wear it.

My disdain for this forced hijab grew but I slowly found my voice on social media. It gave me confidence and a platform to voice my opinions. I was actually surprised by the amount of Muslim women who shared the same views, how sick of being controlled they were, how sick of being told what to do, how to dress and to be permanently judged.

Then my opportunity came. Just by chance I stumbled across No Hijab Day. No Hijab Day* was started by Iranian women who were protesting by removing their hijab and taking pictures. It was not merely to show their hair, but rather, to show that they opposed the male dominated culture, the controlling misogynist rules. To show that they are no different to any other women, that they wanted freedom, that they weren’t defined by a piece of cloth. A sort of coming out and screaming ‘Hello world!’

Safiya_Hijab_Removal_twitterPhoto: Safiya Alfaris / Twitter

The backlash on Twitter for removing my hijab was huge. I was threatened, told I was a kafir (unbeliever), that I would burn in hell. I received a lot of abusive and hateful messages.

Many came from men, who weren’t even practicing their religion. There were also plenty of young Muslim women who hurled abuse at me, and I found it odd that I was being ‘schooled’ by these young women, some of whom didn’t even wear hijab. However, I did receive a surprising number of encouraging messages from Muslim women who also felt trapped and controlled by the hijab,. I digested all this ‘feedback,’ and it firmly cemented the position of hijab in my mind. That’s when it became just a piece of cloth. Nothing more. I wear it now merely as a symbol, but one that it is not sacred. It doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t define me. I wear it with whatever I wish; strappy tops, skinny jeans, heels, or I don’t wear it if I don’t wish. And this is exactly the position I’ll keep until the next No Hijab Day, when there will be more support, and this issue of forced Hijab will be highlighted again, Inshallah.

*No Hijab Day, was the opposite to World Hijab Day – which encourages women to wear hijab for a day in solidarity with those who are banned from wearing it, or experience hostility for doing so.

This article was written for and is reproduced with their permission.

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