I am not the first Muslim woman to write about why I no longer wear the hijab. I hate clichés, but I know that in writing these words, I become yet another Muslima who discards the hijab then attempts to write a feel-good treatise, perhaps with some endeavors apologizing about the whole thing, in efforts to make “proper” Muslims still feel good about themselves while appeasing non-Muslims into a more comfortable space with her religiosity.
Well, let me get something out of the way: fuck that. I’m not going to write about the blah blah blah of it.
So let me spell this out in the clearest of ways: I think the hijab is awesome. I think women who wear the hijab rock. I rocked it for 12 years and never regretted it. Not one single day. I rocked it in America, Europe, Afghanistan, the Middle East and in Africa. I have worn it in New York City post 9-11. I donned it in the smallest of Southern towns while eating at a porked up diner with a very elderly Methodist relative on a very hot southern summer day. It had it going on every way possible: Arabized, Pakistani-style, and turbanized. Heck. I even once wore a burqa and I have been known, on occasion, to cover my face with the ends of my chador while in Peshawar.
Let me also put this into context. I was an uncovered Muslim LONG before I married. I even worked bareheaded at an Islamic think tank. Once I married, my husband preferred me to wear it and I gladly obliged. It was just the right thing to do. The whole exercise was a type of cultural performativity in addition a low-grade form of spiritual aggression: I am a covered Muslim woman! Hear me roar!
I am grateful for those covered years. The hijab legitimized me when I roamed through the Muslim world. That piece of fabric publicly declared my Islam and it provided safe passage into the inner sanctum of fellow Muslims’ lives. She is cool. She is a Muslim and in hijab.
I donned it with honor. If someone tried to get me to take it off, I got all hot about it. It was my right to wear it.
I still feel that way. Let women cover if they want. We’ve got too many people telling us what to do with our vaginas, when and how we are “legitimately” raped, how to determine the appropriate size of our thighs and roundness of our breasts. For Allah’s sake, if a woman wants to dress modestly, let her do so. The hijab is never a barrier for a Muslim woman except when men and politics are involved. If anything, I see the veil as a personal and public passage to something dear and wonderful.
We are all on individual faith journeys. Just as mine declared it was time to put it on, I came to a point in my wanderings when it was time to take it off.
The de-hijabing started slowly. But there came a moment when I felt my developing personality wanted something snazzier to externally reflect my internal growth. I upgraded to the turban, which demanded, in my husband’s interpretation, new and creative ways to cover my neck. I obliged. But after I while, I just didn’t want to. The space of my neck became a hotly contested zone in the marriage. It symbolized so much more than body surface area. I wanted literal space to expand into a different self. It had nothing to do with being naughty or bad. My place in the world was expanding, unfurling, and recalibrating. I wanted more room, quite literally, to be who I felt I needed to be. This meant uncovering in more ways than one.
I came to realize that I no longer wore the hijab as a spiritual exercise. I wore the hijab and all the accruements – long sleeves and skirts, baggy jeans and long shirts – as a way to hide my self and my body.
The hijab became a way to cap a profound self-loathing about being overweight. It literally functioned as a retreat from the world and myself. This symbolized numerous barriers, metaphysical and otherwise, preventing me from accessing the most precious parts of my spirituality.
When I decided to leave my marriage, I did so as a way to find my best self. This was my path to self-actualization and authenticity. A big part of my decision to leave the 12-year relationship was specifically to explore a type of Islam that I felt intuitively suited me better. (Islam, like any spirituality, is a journey that comes in all shapes and sizes, paces and tenures. Before any mullahtard decides to tell me there is only one fit, I will gladly remind s/he that no one – not one living Muslim – has yet reached Nirvana.)
An odd thing happened – when I left the marriage and, subsequently, removed the hijab, non-Muslim friends inquired if I was going to remain a Muslim. What an odd question! I didn’t marry into the faith. I came into it on my own (read = no Muslim men involved), primarily through Palestinian activism with – gasp! — secular, Communist type of Arabs. Why would I leave Islam? And why does a man have to determine the quality of a woman’s faith?
I left my marriage because I wanted to explore the fullness of Islam; I took the hijab off because I wanted to be a better Muslim. This meant focusing on internal redecorating rather than the external uniform requirements. Too many Muslims use aspects of Islam to hide who they really want to be, and the consequences of that are personally, spiritually, and politically atrocious. Islam can’t be an excuse to wallow in self-pity and a lack of self-confidence. It is a way to celebrate personal authenticity.
And right now, that authenticity celebrates a chubby, white, blonde uncovered Muslim woman.
Rock on, sisters, covered and not. Rock on!