“The shorter your hair, the less it hurts.”
– Anonymous aunty
After over three years of tying my hair almost every day, covering it up with a hijab, and making sure I dressed as modestly as I could, I have called it quits. I doubt there’ll be anyone who comes across this post not aware of what a hijab is but, to put it briefly, the act of dressing, behaving, and speaking with modesty is how Muslims have been instructed in Islam to adopt the principle of hijab. Another use of the word is to refer to the headscarf Muslim women wear to cover their hair.
“It wasn’t in my fate to be exposed to the elite hijabis.”
I always wanted to wear the hijab since I was a little girl. Many times in my youth, I begged mum to let me wear it and her response was always “not yet, you’re not old enough to make that decision.” And for the umpteenth time, I’d storm off to my room with my feet hitting the stairs hard to make my feelings known, trying my best to ignore the angry tears attempting to blur my vision. I couldn’t understand why I was being denied something I felt was right. I know my desire to wear it definitely didn’t come from school. Although the first ever schools I attended were heavily multicultural, I don’t remember a single girl wearing a hijab. I’m not sure if I was influenced by the mosque I attended every weeknight either because the aunty who taught all the girls was a) SUPER mean, and b) all the girls who wore hijab ‘properly’ would have to sit around the aunty in circular formation as if she were Sita seeking protection from Lord only knows who. With me being around 8 years of age and being allocated a spot on the grotty carpet right at the back with all the other 8 year olds, I could barely see past the heads of the teens. It wasn’t in my fate to be exposed to the elite hijabis. High school was almost the same; I remember there being two or three hijabis amongst the hundreds but I never approached them and they didn’t me. No idea where it came from folks.
“Lo and behold, I was cured.”
Fast forward to my early twenties when I quit uni and moved back home to be thrown in to what seemed like a hollow space the volume of Mount Everest (also known as the worst episode of depression I’ve ever experienced). I was adamant I didn’t want the help of anti-depressants to dig me out of the mountain sized hole I found myself in. I made a sharp turn to religion in the hopes that maybe this was what I had been missing all along. I was always told that my lack of connection with the Almighty was the reason I was going through such a low point and if I just made the effort to pray more and work on myself spiritually, I’d be free of my ailment. Lo and behold, I was cured. I’m guessing you detected the sarcasm.
“I was now wearing my religion on my sleeve and “10 B&H Silver”-ing it up in Sainsbury’s.”
As I got more into praying and seeking help from The divine being, I toyed with the idea of hijab again. I decided to actively seek out women who had decided to wear the hijab as adults and not as children (which some would say is the easier route). The general consensus was that unless I was to dive right in to the deep end whilst the idea was doing fresh laps around my cranium, I would never wear the hijab. It was now or never and I could die tomorrow without having adopted the hijab, and the end of the world was very near to us now and would probably happen in our lifetime, and didn’t I hate the attention I got from guys, and the whole wrapped and unwrapped sweet that falls on to the floor analogy, and whatever else I was met with in response to my enquiries. So, I just did it. March, 2013, I threw on the hijab and on the first day of my new way of life, my mother sent me out to the local Sainsbury’s to buy her a 10-pack of Benson & Hedges Silver. I was now wearing my religion on my sleeve and “10 B&H Silver”-ing it up in Sainsbury’s. I’ll never forget it.
“What I wasn’t prepared for was the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde level of transformation that was about to take place.”
I’m not going to say it was hard to get used to in the beginning and make it sound dramatic. In all honesty, it took me two weeks at the most to forget I was wearing it when out in public. I was met with a lot of questions from friends and family as to what pushed me to make the choice to cover myself as I was the only one in my family doing so and each time my response was different. I didn’t have a concise enough answer (which I find strange) and frankly, it was nobody’s business. What I wasn’t prepared for was the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde level of transformation that was about to take place. I went from being a vibrant character to a more dulled down and diluted version of my former self. It took me a year to notice the changes in my personality. I realised I was too conscious about how non-Muslims perceived me now that I was openly declaring my allegiance to a particular faith. If I lived in a multicultural area of the UK, perhaps this wouldn’t have been the case. However, I live in a white middle-class area and felt I had to be extra cautious of how I came across especially since my family and I had experienced racism in the past when we first moved here.
“I mean, you don’t expect to see a hijabi with her windows rolled down driving past you blaring Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly at wing-mirror-vibrating levels of volume, do you?”
With the ever increasing negative reputation Islam was attaining in the media and people in my area becoming hostile, I began hating my hijab. Pair that with the few incidents I experienced after the Paris and Brussels bombings and you have a recipe for doubt. Doubt that maybe I had made the wrong choice for myself. My desire to pray had been diminished. I felt I didn’t want to ‘connect’ with a higher being anymore. For the last two years, I’ve felt like a hypocrite too. I have felt like I was not a ‘good enough’ Muslim to be wearing the hijab. I mean, you don’t expect to see a hijabi with her windows rolled down driving past you blaring Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly at wing-mirror-vibrating levels of volume, do you? (If you ever witnessed that in West/Central London or Berkshire, it was probably me). That’s not to say I would judge another hijabi negatively for blasting a fine album as the one mentioned on a hot summer’s day. But when it came to me, it didn’t feel right. The logical thing to do would be to improve myself as a Muslim until I did feel ‘right’, right?
“I’d much rather be a practising Muslim not wearing the hijab than the opposite.”
With so much going on in my personal life, it just wasn’t happening for me. I’ve now come to a point where I’m having to rediscover who I am, what it is I want from life, what my interests are because it can sometimes feel like I’m a walking blank canvas. To be able to properly do that, I felt it important to remove my hijab. You know how in a soppy romantic film, the male/female lead gets into an accident from which he/she ends up suffering from memory loss and their partner spends the rest of the movie doing things they used to do to help jog their memory? That. It has almost been a couple weeks now since I removed my hijab and I’m already seeing positive changes. I’m happier, out there a lot more, finding it easier to express myself again, and I’m even praying more! I’d much rather be a practising Muslim not wearing the hijab than the opposite. I felt the hijab would help me spiritually but it hindered my efforts instead. Plus, I cannot hack tying my hair up every damn day anymore. With hair as long as mine, your scalp just hurts all the bloody time. This mane doesn’t want to be whipped into submission. I take my hat off to women who do wear the hijab with pride and are strong enough in their faith to do so in such testing times. I’m clearly weak as fuck in that respect but I can accept that. I do hope to one day wear it again with better intentions and a stronger will. For now though, I’m going to need to restock on the hair styling products because I’ve got jack shit.