Annual World Hijab Day falls at 1st of February, and I will just join the crowd this year to share my story about the Hijab. This write-up is based on interview questions by Sister Rose, an initiative of her to raise awareness of the Hijab and to clear misconceptions surrounding it. You can find more comments on the Hijab from Sister Rose’s blog as well as this post at the Muslimah Bloggers blog.
I started wearing the Hijab in my elementary school years in Indonesia as it was part of my school uniform, but I used it only during school hours. The Hijab became my personal decision to wear permanently during my late teenage years in high school. What led me in making that decision was Quranic guidance (Quran 24:30-31), as well as my personal realization about the practical benefits of the Hijab.
The Hijab for me means privacy and protection. Not only as a protection from the sun or dust. As Dalia Mogahed perfectly put it, the Hijab is a privatization of the display of beauty. The Hijab for me is not only the head cover but the whole covering of woman’s awra to hide her so called charms. A woman’s awra in Islam is her body except her face and her hands.
Let’s be clear. The Hijab gives me the sense of privacy and protection by creating a barrier around my personal space, and underlines the boundaries I do not want those without rights to overstep. The Hijab adds an ultimate value to what I only want to share with the most special person in my life. Someone who treats me right, of good religion and character, and rightly deserves it. The Hijab also lets me focus more on my work rather than worry about others’ perception on how I look. I feel confident and comfortable wearing the Hijab. It is part of me and I cannot live without it.
Moreover, on the spiritual level, my body is a property of God. He creates it, He has rights over it, and He knows best how to deal with it. He had given instructions to wear the Hijab, even before I knew how much I neeeded it. And thus, wearing the Hijab is foremost a form of devotion to God.
Since I was a little girl, my Dad always encouraged me to wear the Hijab, he did it persuasively without it being forced upon me (and my sisters). My Mom started wearing the Hijab at a time when it was seen as backwards, obsolete, and unfashionable by her peers in Indonesia.
In contrast, when I started wearing the Hijab permanently almost two decades later at 11th grade, the reactions I got were hugs, congratulations, and kisses in the cheeks by the sisters at school. The reaction was like “It’s about time!” lolz. Unlike my private Islamic elementary school, the high schools I went to in Indonesia were state run schools and the Hijab was not mandatory. However, the muslim student association (MSA) was thriving. There were many Islamic events held at the school musalla (prayer space) either in the form of small halaqas (study circle) during breaks, or longer Islamic and leadership programs in the weekends or during school holidays. Many sisters had taken on the Hijab, one after another, it was like a wave.
It took me some time to start wearing the Hijab permanently, as I wanted to make sure that this decision was purely from my heart, and not only following the wave of friends who had worn the Hijab before me. I wanted to make sure that I was mentally ready and aware to commit to it for the rest of my life. Besides, it also took some time to prepare the logistics, such as Hijab compliant school uniforms and daily garments.
The Hijab has become so commonplace in Indonesia, I rarely encounter any noticeable reaction towards it. But here in Australia, it’s a bit different. Let me say first that the majority of people in Australia are nice and decent, very pleasant people to interact with. However, I increasingly notice the negative attention towards my Hijab, especially after the disproportional portrayal of events in the media to shed Muslims in a negative light. You can tell it from the small things like stare of distrust when you use public transportation, especially in areas where multicultural interaction is not too frequent. The most bizarre one lately was when I received a “you are not welcome” response when I inquired about accommodation online. This was after I answered the advertiser’s question about what my full legal name was, and I am guessing my Hijab-wearing profile picture also adds up to that response.
However, positive attention occurs more frequently than the negative ones. Like when I went to the mall and an elderly lady smiled to me and said “You look beautiful!”, or “What a nice dress!”. Same compliments too at the office. Or when I went somewhere else and an elderly lady approached me and started a very interesting -and friendly- conversation. It’s also always nice to walk into another Hijabi, smile and send salaams to each other and be involved in a conversation as if we’ve known each other for ages.
So I am guessing that people’s reaction depends much on what narratives they listen to in the media. Positive attention usually stems from wisdom derived from world experience and an effort to self-inform from more reliable sources.
That is why for my non-Muslim readers, allow me to suggest that if you have a question about the Hijab and other Muslim affairs, you can ask a Muslim, including me. I will always be happy to answer your questions, as long as they stem from genuine interest and curiousity, and are far from being persistently judgemental.