Women wear hijabs differently: attitudes and perception

Different perspectives on wearing a hijab.

women wear hijab

Map denoting how common wearing a hijab is around the world. | CC BY 2.0/Wikimedia

Everyone sees the world in their own way. Here is a comparison between two women, one who finally decided to put on a hijab, and one who finally decided to take hers off.

Mona’s story.

Mona, Muslim from birth, found an all-too-common barrier preventing her from reaching out more widely in her community: an abusive spouse. Ending her marriage finally freed her to imagine how much larger her network of relationships could be. In ending my marriage, she writes, I also shed my hijab, a traditional head covering for many Muslim women. Removing that veil, a symbol which, to me, represented the voiceless and painful darkness in which I had lived for 16 years, was like lifting the curtain to my soul. Th e woman that had been locked inside for so long was finally set free.

My newfound freedom was not without conflict, though. My mother taught me that people are good and are the same beneath their apparent differences. She taught me that I could accomplish anything, and she made my sister and me attend school, which was not required for girls in Lebanon. My mother also taught me that I am worthy—that my life has meaning. For a while, these beliefs lay dormant in my life. Finally, they could blossom and make me the woman I am today.

Gigi’s story.

The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life was to walk into my child’s school for the first time aft er I began wearing the headscarf that is distinctive for Muslim women, Gigi writes. My son was in fifth grade at the time. My husband and I finally decided to perform the pilgrimage, the Hajj. We had wanted to make the Hajj for years but, each time, something would come up. Th ere always seemed to be so many reasons why we shouldn’t go. The kids were too young. My husband couldn’t leave work. It was a very serious decision. As Muslims we like to say that, when you go on the Hajj, you come back home the way you were born. It’s like all your sins are erased and you’re opening a new book in your life. For me, I knew that meant I would start wearing the headscarf. I had not been wearing the headscarf and, because I hadn’t worn it, I didn’t stick out so obviously as Muslim in public. Just look at me and my kids—white, blond hair—we kind of blend into the American environment. But the question of wearing the headscarf had been weighing on my shoulders for some time. I grew up in America, attended university, had a successful career, married a loving husband and began raising my family. God has blessed me with so much. I wanted to start wearing the headscarf regularly as a sign of my faith, but I didn’t have the strength.

As the Hajj season nears each year, the excitement in the Muslim community grows. People start talking about who is going on the Hajj this year, and how they are preparing for this once-in-a-lifetime trip. Every year I remained at home, yearning to join the pilgrims, but this year was different: There were so many friends planning their trip that it was impossible to stay away. Although, in retrospect, it was probably the most inopportune time, my husband and I decided at the last minute to perform the Hajj that year. We were so late in deciding that we wound up Federal Expressing our passports, and we didn’t get our travel documents until we got to the airport. We were hurrying around and weren’t even sure that we’d be able to make the flight, but finally, we did get on the plane. Th is was a rushed trip, but I felt a sense of inner peace and security that I had never felt before. God gave me patience.

As we were hurrying around and getting ready to go, a Muslim friend came to visit and say goodbye. When I saw her, I suddenly had all these questions. I asked, “When am I going to put my headscarf on? Th e imam is coming with us on the plane, so should I put it on before I get on the plane? Should I put it on over there in Saudi Arabia? Or, when I’m coming home? How do I wear it right?” So many questions! She said: “Just put it on! Get it over with!”

I got home and basically stayed at home for a week. I kept worrying: What do I do? I can’t take it off and, if I go out wearing it, what will people think when they see me for the first time? Th en, soon, I had to face going into my children’s school. I’m very active there. I couldn’t stay away. Th ere was a parent meeting I had to attend. Coming back from the Hajj, I did feel spiritually rejuvenated and stronger as a Muslim, but on that first day walking toward the school, I couldn’t stop asking myself: How will people react?

I saw a friend and I walked right toward her. And she said: “Oh, Gigi! You’ve covered your hair!” I didn’t know what to say. I just said: “Yeah.” She surprised me. She asked, “Are you making a political statement?”

I didn’t expect that question! I was still so nervous. I answered very slowly: “Nooooo. No, I’m not.” That thought never even crossed my mind, I was only trying in my humble way to fulfill a spiritual desire that I had worked so hard to attain.

I suddenly realized: They’re looking at me and they’re wondering why I’ve just made this change. Th is was when the memory of 9/11 was still fresh in everyone’s mind. So many things ran through my mind. Th en, I just began to talk to my friend. I described the Hajj and what it meant to me. I explained to her how it was a spiritual rejuvenation and how I felt so much closer to my Creator during this time. I explained how I felt a sense of calm, peace and happiness upon my return. She listened.

Read the stories from the Women of WISDOM:

These perspectives on wearing a hijab is part of a collection of personal stories from Friendship & Faith, a book that delves into the decisions and experiences about faith and friendship shared by a group of Detroit-area women. These particular stories about women wearing hijabs are by Gigi Salka and Mona Farroukh, women of WISDOM.

Want more? Read another story or check out Friendship & Faith.

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