I’ve written this piece and deleted it at least five times. I want to make sure I get it right since this was one of the biggest decisions in my life.
About three years ago, I decided to take my hijab off. Something that had been on my head, literally, for about 21 years.
It’s hard to explain why I took it off. I guess the best way to describe it is I wasn’t feeling like myself any more. The scarf wasn’t a part of who I am. My heart really wasn’t in it. Have you ever put something on that you knew just didn’t match who you were? And you were almost uncomfortable with it? That’s basically the feeling I had.
I thought about taking off my hijab for about 5 years before I finally did it. I think I was so worried about losing friends (only to realize later they weren’t my real friends if they cut me off for MY life decision). I was also afraid of disappointing people and being judged. I grew up with a father who always said, “What will other people think?” It was rarely a case of “that’s wrong,” and always the concern of how other people would perceive me, and in turn, us as a family.
Me being stuck in that mindset meant I worried how the community would react. How would my mom react? My family? My friends? All this came into play about my decision to take my scarf off.
Another reason it took me so long: I was worried to lose a part of my identity. I was always the girl who stood out in classes, at events, at restaurants when I hung out with my non-scarf wearing friends. People could easily identify me. I was the strong, independent, outspoken Muslim woman.
(I always matched my scarves with what I was wearing.)
I’m also a journalist, and I pushed other Muslim women to follow their dreams, and not let the scarf limit them in reaching their goals. Would this change everything? Would this change my message? I want people to know that I never felt like my scarf held me back. In fact, it made me try harder. And work harder towards what I wanted to achieve in life. I remember one time I talked to an agent about getting a job as an anchor on TV. He said, “With your scarf, you probably won’t go very far.” Instead of getting discouraged I laughed and told him that I didn’t give a shit about his opinion. That if I wanted to become a TV reporter with a scarf on, I will. He was left speechless.
(I found fancy scarves to go with my fancy outfits at events)
I also never felt oppressed wearing hijab. Ever. It never crossed my mind. When I took the scarf off, a lot of people congratulated me on “being free.” I know that they were just trying to be nice and didn’t really know what else to say. But I was always free. Now, I just feel more like myself.
About a year before my 30th birthday, I went up north and didn’t wear my hijab the entire weekend – just to get a feel for it. To make sure that this was what I really wanted. And it was. Now to just get the strength to take it off and face possible backlash.
It was a few months after my 30th birthday that I finally decided to pull the trigger. I told my sisters first. They told me that I would always be loved by them, with or without my scarf. My mom was next. I expected a lecture, but instead she told me she was disappointed but that it was my life and my decision. She was right. I realized that I didn’t care if others had something to say about this. This IS my life and my decision. I took my hijab off the following weekend. And haven’t looked back since.
(This was the first picture I posted without hijab on Instagram and Facebook)
I think the best reaction came from my co workers. I just walked into work one day, scarf-less. No one recognized me and everyone was convinced that I was a new employee. I actually regret not recording the whole day. People even came by to see me because they had heard that I had let my hair out (I was a fake blonde at the time). Some people even touched my hair to make sure it was real and that they weren’t dreaming.
(I went from super blonde to super dark in one day.. the blonde days are over folks)
I got a few messages from some people on Facebook. They told me I was wrong and that I was going to hell for my decision. I kindly thanked them for their concern and moved on (*unfriend*). A few others texted me and told me not to lose my religion and to make sure I still kept up with prayer, etc. Why does taking my scarf off immediately make me less of a Muslim?
I do have to mention that I found it somewhat amusing the things people in the Dearborn community said to my closest friends behind my back the moment the hijab came off. “She must be getting drunk now too.” “So does this mean she’s out partying all the time? Going to clubs? Having lots of sex with guys?” “Is she going to dress slutty?”
Let me answer all those questions for you with a big, fat NO. I mean of course my outfits changed a little. Come on. I always wore long sleeves when I went out and pants to my ankles. Now I wear sleeveless and capris. But that’s not slutty. At least not in my mind (I’m sure some would beg to differ).
I kept my Instagram and Facebook photos up of me wearing the hijab. A few people told me to take it down “because it looks bad.” But it’s part of who I was and my past. I’m not ashamed that I used to wear the scarf. Why should I hide that I did?
I’m still a proud Muslim. Yes, I’m a little more liberal than most. But any time I get a chance to tell people that I am a Muslim, I do so. And honestly, I’ve met girls who wear the scarf and are actually getting drunk or are out partying. Or dress slutty. I think that helped with my decision as well. Just because there’s a piece of cloth on your head doesn’t make you a better person, or more religious.
But to those who do wear it despite everything that’s going on in this crazy world, kudos to you. You are strong and beautiful. I have to add here that I also never took my hijab off because of fear of how I was treated with it on. Although I do realize I get fewer dirty stares from people now.
There are a few other things I’ve learned from taking the hijab off:
- Bad hair days are REAL.
- Lipgloss (sometimes lipstick) is the enemy when your hair is down.
- I now understand why my friends all hated having the windows down in the car.
- Doing my hair for an event really is quite the task.
- Dry shampoo is my best friend.
- So are buns.
(Photo Credit: Steph Rhoades)
- If I get a zit on my forehead it’s front and center now. I used to be able to hide it with my scarf.
- Humidity is also the enemy.
- So is rain.
- And snow.
- My ears get really cold in the winter. Not used to that.
- So does my neck.
- This mean neck scarves and hats are my friends in the winter.
- Matching earrings to outfits is fun — but I had to buy a lot more earrings.
- I actually get to go through TSA pre sometimes when the airport is busy.
- No more “random screenings” or custom checks at the airport.
To all the Muslim women (and women in general), don’t let what other people think control how you present yourself to the world. And always be yourself. Always.