No one has the right to judge you for your appearance and use it to define the kind of person you are. Yet, it is common to see people reaching conclusions based on how another looks; this is especially common with the concept of Hijab. Those who don’t take it are looked down upon by some for lacking in their commitment to religion, whereas those who do take it are questioned for their motives. It seems that society is never happy. This is exactly the conclusion that one of our follower’s – Zahraa Hyder – came to, and it encouraged her to take the plunge and wear the hijab herself. On this World Hijab Day, read her story and remind yourself that it is only you who has the power to define yourself:
Until three years ago, I never truly realised that it is not just Muslim women who don’t wear the hijab that are judged or looked down upon, but also women who do choose to wear it. They too are faced with ample amounts of ridicule, judgments, and difficulty from the people around them once they step on this particular route of their spiritual journey.
I come from a family where my mother’s first priority was always to instil strong, logical, and authentic religious values in her children – faith in our Creator and concepts of Islamic history were the main highlight of our upbringing. Second to faith and religiosity came emotional intelligence, as well as compassion and empathy. Now that I am in my early twenties, I understand that these two elements in one’s life go hand in hand. While my siblings and I were fully allowed to question, explore, and research Islamic ideologies and laws, with each passing lesson learned, it became clearer and clearer that although it is Allah that is the ultimate, most powerful and most important judge, it is us – humans – that roam around as the most judgmental and most unforgiving ones.
My journey as a hijabi began at a very pivotal point in my life; I was in my late teens, all set for university, and to eventually enter the workforce. I was at the starting line of many fresh phases. As I introspected during what one can call a juncture of a spiritual awakening, I realised that while I had planned and prepared for many new goals I wanted to achieve in my adulthood, it felt as though there was a void when it came to doing something for the Almighty. I was doing so much for myself and my loved ones, however there was a voice inside of me saying, ‘You need to do more for a bigger cause, and more for the One that matters the most.’
During this mental and spiritual battle of deciding whether or not I should begin wearing the hijab, there were many questions that would float around in my mind, ‘Will my family and friends see me and treat me differently?’, ‘How much of my lifestyle will I need to change?’, ‘Is this meant to be a complete transformation of my entire being?’ As I evaluated these questions, it struck me that the hijab is only a single factor of one’s entire identity. I was already confident about my strength of character, and in my efforts to be a kind human being – hijab would only be an addition to who I already was. All these branches led me back to the root of what I had been taught and learnt about religion, that purity of intentions (‘neeyat’) matters first and foremost. Once I concluded that the hijab will only change a few external aspects of my identity, and that it is my inner being and my intentions that will always matter above all, I decided to embark on this path.
My family and friends – from all backgrounds and ethnicities – overwhelmed me with their encouraging response to my decision. They cleared many of my self-doubts by they reassuring me that I am, and always will be, the same Zahraa for them – hijabi or not. However, the negative whispers and howls of certain individuals are bound to reach us in this world; I had a handful of people try to frighten me by telling me stories of women who were unable to fulfil this responsibility, I was criticised for not wearing it correctly, I was told that I might be looked at as an extremist, and I was accused of acting self-righteous. While such remarks did temporarily disturb me, what they ended up teaching me was that, unfortunately, we live in a world where we love labels, boxes, and assumptions. Before wearing a hijab, there were countless times I felt hurt at seeing social media posts that would say ‘uncovered lollipop’; it would make me feel as though all my other obligatory and voluntary efforts for my Creator are going to complete waste because of the one thing I was lacking. I felt miserable and thought to myself, ‘Is anything that I do ever going to be good enough?’
That was when it dawned on me that people around us only see our exterior; they do not see our internal turmoil, efforts, struggles or obstacles when it comes to our spiritual journey and the paths we choose. However, we forget that our ultimate judge is not as unjust or unforgiving as people around us. While every religion has certain obligatory laws that we will undoubtedly be held accountable for – either in this world, or in the next – Allah also looks at every tiny endeavour and step we take in our efforts towards Him and to please Him. He does not belittle us, nor does He disregard us.
Although I strongly believe that there is never any limit to nourishing one’s spirituality and connection with our Creator, I am happy to be able to say that during these past three years of my life, I have learned a vital lesson: as long as our intentions are pure, and as long as we are trying to better ourselves every day, we are on the correct path. Let’s aim to make this world less unforgiving, and to not judge someone’s goodness, character, or connection with Allah based on exteriors. Instead, let’s create a world where we uplift one another and appreciate each other’s efforts so that we are encouraged to continue becoming better versions of ourselves, instead of bringing each other down and labelling one another.
Here is to being on this beautiful journey, together.