We are who we make ourselves out to be. Our choices define our identities, and sometimes what we say, do, and wear can’t always be taken at face value. There is rarely a “just because”. Without knowing the reason behind a person’s actions, I believe, no one has the right to judge.
For most Muslim girls, there comes a point in their lives when they come to a pivotal choice that may help define them for the rest of their lives. Contrary to most beliefs this choice is an internal decision, and is often defined in terms of liberation, not oppression. That choice is whether or not to wear the hijab. The Millennial Generation is one of the most liberal yet, but some still find wearing the hijab a subject of controversy.
One of my close friends, Sairah Saeed, just began to wear the hijab a week or two ago. The two of us had many conversations weighing the pros and cons of it, but in the end she was left the decision to start wearing a hijab and I was left with a sense of enlightenment and a new perspective on something that I had previously not given much thought to. Here I interview Sairah, and I hope to offer others some insight as well.
1. Why did you start wearing the hijaab? As in, what does it mean for you personally?
“I’ve seen some other muslims around me wear the hijab–And I wonder, why do these girls wear a simple scarf around their head? I was very curious. It completely amazed me. I mean, yes, I see other Muslims wear scarfs. But I never fully understood why. Actually, I thought it was just a religion thing and that perhaps those women were just too religious. After finding out more about it, I’ve concluded that the hijaab is about maintaining one’s modesty and humbleness.”
2. You have told me it’s not just correlated religion, that it’s MORE than that. Can you elaborate on this notion?
“The Hijaab is absolutely not focused on the Islamic religion. I mean yes, it’s in the Qu’ran, but it means so much more! It bothers me when people say that to me because it’s definitely more than that. The hijaab is more than just a piece of cloth. It’s about devoting one’s life to a modest and humble character. That means no more eating outrageous and carelessly, dressing appropriately, and revealing our soul rather than our judged body. When I wear the hijaab, I am securing my beauty for my own purposes and for my own control. Plus, when I wear the hijaab, I’m not only doing that but I’m also letting my true personality become bold instead of letting it hide behind my layered hair or my tight shirt. When people once look at a person in high school, their behavior depends on what outfit they’re wearing or how their hair looks like. Cliques, you know? They just ruin everything. But I believe that looks shouldn’t desolate people into this group and that group. It’s just not fair that people do that! But you know, this kind of speculation is just not in high school. It’s a world problem. So if one wears a hijaab, others will be able to focus on the hijaabi’s personality rather than splitting them into groups.
3. How do you respond to people that might view you differently just because you decide to dress a different way and where a hijaab? What is your opinion on tolerance?
“You know what? I was totally expecting some prejudice. It was bound to happen. Just because I started wearing the hijaab, it does not mean that I’m a completely different person! It just means that I want people to focus on my inner beauty rather than judging my outer beauty. Plus, I believe it makes me a better person because it brings out more kindness from me. It’s one thing to tolerate a person, it’s another to accept them and treat them just like any other person. In fact, the other day as I was fixing my scarf in the locker room, there was this random girl who made a disgusting face while staring directly at me. I find it absolutely rude. Believe me, I am not an alien! I’m just a person. If only everyone comes to accept me for what I’ve chosen and what I’ve done.
4. Some people may see wearing a hijaab as a ‘limit’ to their freedom of expression. How is this not true in your opinion? How would you express to a stranger that the very fact you’ve made a concious CHOICE means you’re free to do what you decide to?
“Actually it does not limit their freedom really… I think it increases my wardrobe options, if anything! I’m able to throw on a scarf with just about anything and it ties the whole outfit together! Not to mention, there’s a variety of appropriate and secure tops to make thousands of outfits. Adding a scarf just broadens the diversity due to the variety of different scarfs! My expression through my new appropriate clothing is portrayed through the vibrant colors and chic designs. Besides, there’s soo many ways to tie a headscarf and there’s different kinds of accessories that go with it! For instance, I could wear a nice magenta headscarf with a flower pinned to my headscarf, making me look down-to-earth and representing that I’m naturally me. In fact, I try to learn from the many fashion tutorials by Amenakin aka Pearl-Daisy (Pearl-Daisy.com). So, really, it broadens my freedom of expression!
I was never forced to wear the hijaab. What, you don’t believe me? My mother does not wear the hijaab! It was my right to take actions for myself and do what I think is best for me. So my parents aren’t the only ones trying to do the best for me, I got to do it too! It’s super important to do things on your own will and to do things just for yourself. When parents force things on the children, the children will never understand the importance of it or the value of it. It’s like someone giving test answers to you when you’re taking a test. You’ll never fully understand how you got that answer. Same thing here! I decided to wear the hijaab for my own dignity, not to make others around me happy, but to make myself happy.
When it was the first day I wore the hijaab to school, I wore a very dynamic and vibrant peach and orange outfit to make the following statement: I am proud to express my decision and I am not afraid to stand in the light so everyone can see me shine.”
5. What is your opinion about discrimination against women simply because they wear a hijab?
“Discrimination is just about everywhere. There’s people discriminating others because they’re gay, black, dress a certain way, etc. What they don’t understand is that they must respect the other’s choice and move on to treating each other the way they want to be treated.
To all those women who are afraid that they are at a disadvantage when it comes to jobs because they are simply wearing a headscarf– what about to all those racist employers who only hire white employees? There’s always going to be those ‘what if’s. Truth is, we need to stand up to what we believe in and fight for our dignity and our right to dress the way we want to. And even if they don’t get the job because they are wearing the hijaab, there are soo many more opportunities to catch. Every step we fight towards our right, we are slowly increasing the world’s acceptance and understanding. In fact, my sister, Kiran Saeed, works for Grid Alternatives and is about to be promoted to their official graphic designer in Southern California. She is promoted because the managers are amazed by her talent and skill, not for anything to do with her hijaab.”
6. How do you feel after your first few days of wearing a hijaab? What is different?
“I feel refreshed. I feel like I don’t have to worry about people judging me based on how fat I look or how my bangs drift on my head. And I certainly feel more independent. This is one of the first times when I actually made a decision for myself and not to impress my parents or friends. It’s a total relief from all the pressure I’ve been stressed about. I have something to be proud of. I also feel some disappointment from the prejudiced comments I have received over these few days. It makes me want to make a difference and take pride in what I’ve chosen.”
Susan Lin is a Featured Blogger for Mobilize.org’s The Millennial Report. Although she was born in Brooklyn, New York, she’s an all California girl. Currently on her journey through high school, Susan wants to become more involved with the world and community around her while pursuing her dreams of journalism and design.