The end of the month of January 2016 marks one year since I became a hijabi.
What Does This Mean?
The word ‘hijab‘ is an Arabic word for ‘veil’ or ‘covering’. It is best known as a headscarf that is symbolic of Muslim identity for women of the Islamic faith. The hijab and various other types of head coverings are also worn by women of Christian faith (i.e. Amish, Mormons, Quakers, Nuns, etc.). ‘Hijabi‘ is a term coined for women who wear the hijab on a regular basis. I have been a hijabi for about a year now, and as my “hijabiversary” approaches, I think that it’s important to shed light on my decision to wear the hijab.
To many people that I know, my wearing the hijab came as something sudden. I never discussed my decision to wear it with many people. Sometimes people assume that when you make a drastic decision, it comes from the influence of someone else. However, for me that wasn’t the case at all. Embracing the hijab was a decision that was made solely on my own, and I think people should know that. Discussing the hijab opens up a bigger discussion about being Muslim, but that is an entirely separate topic for another day. However, I will discuss some of my early influences that ultimately helped me decide to wear hijab.
My late grandmother Malikah (may God rest her soul), was one of the first women in my family who I witnessed wearing a head covering. She introduced Islam into my family many years ago, and was more influenced by the Nation of Islam than traditional Islam. She was highly influenced by the teachings of Malcolm X, who towards the end of his life, fully accepted and began practicing traditional Islam.
Back in the day, my grandmother and great aunt used to wear turbans and headwraps as an expression of both their African and Muslim pride. This practice was also passed down to my mother and aunties. Although I am the first woman in my family to embrace the traditional style of hijab for the sole purpose of Islam, it was these influences that gave me confidence in covering my hair and showed me that it can be beautiful.
My Grandmother Malikah (front left) and my Great Aunt Fatima (front right) wearing headwraps in the late 1970s.
Testing the Waters
Deciding to wear hijab wasn’t easy for me in the beginning, especially since I don’t have any women in family who wear it, and initially, I didn’t have friends who wore it either. I first started testing it out in the summer of 2014 by wearing a hijab to the mosque for Friday prayers and any time I visited the mosque during Ramadan. Other than those times, I was still wearing my hair uncovered on a regular basis.
The biggest challenge was wearing it at work. During this time I was working as a photojournalist, which involves a lot of face to face communication with others. I thought that since I didn’t begin my job wearing hijab, I couldn’t just start wearing it all of a sudden because it would seem strange. Although some of my coworkers knew that I was Muslim, I was somewhat worried about what management and people out in the field would think or say if i started wearing it and I wasn’t ready to deal with any type of backlash about it.
Over the months, I continued to pray and ask God for guidance and strength about if I should wear hijab. I spent a lot of time reading online forums and watching YouTube videos about hijab and women’s decisions to wear it or remain uncovered. I remember scheduling lunch with one of the first Muslim sisters I became friends with just to discuss the hijab. I remember sitting across the table from her at the back of Barnes & Noble, discussing her decision to become a hijabi in high school.
Tahmina is from a Bengali, Muslim family so assumed it was something imposed on her by her parents, but she assured me that it was her choice. I asked her to show me how she wrapped her hijab, so we went into the bathroom for a tutorial. She first showed me how she secured her hair underneath with a bun and an under scarf, and then how to wear the hijab over it. First, put the scarf on your head, make one side longer than the other, take the long side, then wrap it over your head, and secure it with pins on the other side. After that, I had it down.
Some days I felt that I had made up my mind that hijab was not for me. Then other days, I would practice wearing it in the mirror or shop around for new scarves. I knew that I looked beautiful in hijab, but I was on the fence because I knew that wearing the hijab isn’t a part time thing. You can’t wear it one day and then decide the next day that you want to flaunt your hairstyle. I knew that wearing hijab was a solid commitment that required consistency.
I remember one morning after leaving work, I was driving and praying out loud. This was during the time when I was becoming deeper into my Muslim faith and I was seeking a lot of guidance. I still had a lot of battles I was fighting within myself and my environment. I had decided then that soon enough I would wear the hijab consistently, but I just needed a little more time.
My decision to wear hijab wasn’t only for myself, it was deeper than that. Number one, I wanted to do it for God’s pleasure. Secondly, wearing hijab would allow me to take a step further and fully embrace Islam and become a better person by doing so. From that point, I began mentally preparing myself to become a hijabi.
Selfies wearing a turban headwrap, taken December 2014
In December of 2014, I began regularly covering my hair in public by wearing turban headwrap styles when I wasn’t at work. Since it was pretty cold, I would just wear winter hats on the job. Wearing a turban in public wasn’t so odd because it wasn’t like I had never wrapped my hair before. With me being of African descent, people wouldn’t know if I was just expressing some African style or just having a bad hair day.
Only I knew that I was preparing myself to cover my head in public, long-term. Wearing a turban is still an option for me on some days. Many Muslim women wear turban styles as an alternative, which some Muslims dispute is not the same as hijab. Either way, it is up to the woman to decide how she chooses to present herself.
Selfie taken wearing a black turban, December 2014
Fully Embracing Hijab
At the end of January 2015, I knew that I’d soon be leaving my job because I would be preparing to relocate to California. Almost immediately after I resigned, I began to fully embrace the hijab. I knew that between that point and when arrived in California I could begin my new journey as a hijabi. At first, when I began wearing hijab out in public, I was a bit self conscious because I knew that people who were used to seeing me without it would notice the changes.
Living on the southeast side of Wichita, Kansas, I remember being the only hijabi I would ever see in my area. Most Muslims in Wichita live on the northeast side of town, near the Islamic Center or the University. It is mostly in those areas where you would see women wearing the hijab. I felt self conscious not because I was ashamed of being Muslim, but I wasn’t ready to engage in any conversations about my Muslim identity. To my surprise, not many people whom I came into contact with said anything. It was my own family who had the biggest reaction to my hijab. However, now I think that just about everyone has grown to accept it and has gotten used to it.
A selfie I took with my nephew Khalil last spring, 2015
Wearing hijab isn’t only about covering your hair. Hijab is part of a complete package that represents who you are as a person. It is your outer presence as well as your inner qualities, your speech, behavior, and most importantly your closeness to God. In Islam, there is an Arabic term called ‘awrah‘, which is any part of the body, for both men and women, that should not be visible to the public.
For Muslim women, the goal of hijab is modesty and drawing attention to your inner attributes and characteristics, not your physical assets. So with my decision to wear hijab also came a wardrobe transformation. Short shorts, tight skirts, dresses, halter tops, and other revealing clothing was no longer something that I wanted to wear, because I understood that these were not acceptable for Muslimahs. I have donated and given away probably over 100 pieces of clothing during this transformation.
“Social Media Reset”
Something that also came with wearing the hijab was what I call a “social media reset”. It makes little sense to walk around wearing hijab and dressing modestly and having loads of pictures online that portray the opposite. This is an inconsistency. So I slowly began removing photos from my Instagram and other online profiles that were “un-Muslimah like”.
This was a slow process because I had attachments to a lot of my photos, especially those with lots of likes, but then I remembered that this was the entire purpose of wearing hijab. It was no longer about showing off my beauty and seeking the attention or approval of others, it was about my relationship with Allah and maintaining a heightened sense of modesty.
Some of my first selfies taken after becoming a hijabi, January 2015
Hiding Your Hair?
I have had people ask me, “So what’s so bad about showing your hair anyway?” Well actually, there’s nothing bad about showing my hair. That is a misconception. However, we must acknowledge the fact that a woman’s beauty is centered around her hair and outer appearance. Our hair is referred to as our “crown and glory”. This is why we have hair salons in abundance and the hair industry is a billion dollar business.
Women (and men) love for their hair to look nice and many people go through great lengths to achieve certain looks. In many cases, our hair determines our level of attractiveness to the opposite sex. Therefore, by choosing to cover my hair in the presence of a man, I am forcing him to look beyond my outer beauty and further into who I am as a person.
Pleasing God, Not People
By wearing hijab and dressing modestly, Muslim women aim to please God, not society. But at the same time, we still have a right to express ourselves by accessorizing and wearing nice things. Our concerns are less about the judgment of others because God’s judgment is what truly matters. Wearing the hijab has taught me that there is a big difference between looking pretty and looking sexy, dressing modestly and dressing to impress others. It has also taught me that when we aim to put God first, our decisions become much different.
Since I began wearing the hijab, I haven’t been approached by men asking me for my number or out on dates. To some women, this may seem like bad thing. However, in Islam, women do not date for various reasons. Why men no longer do this may be for a number of reasons (could be fear), however, I’m happy with the fact that they know that I’m not just someone that they can come up to and make advances at. In the past, I may have felt like something was wrong with me or maybe men didn’t find me attractive, however, now that is not of a concern for me.
I have experienced an overall heightened level of respect from both sexes. Because I can’t read minds, I can’t explain exactly why. I am aware that everyone has their own individual opinions about Muslims. Some people’s attitudes towards Muslims can be described as fearful, cautious or wary, and some can be described with solidarity, respect and understanding. Either way, I’ve found that many people are eager to learn more about Islam and when they see a hijabi, they see an opportunity to ask questions, which is a blessing for us to share our knowledge.
A group photo with friends at Torrey Pines State Beach, San Diego, CA.
After relocating to San Diego, CA., I learned that the Muslim population is much more widespread, and bumping into other hijabis in any part of town is a normal thing. The solidarity with Muslims in this city is recognizable and I no longer feel any bit of insecurity about going out in hijab. I guess this is also because people here don’t know me and the ones who do, met me as a hijabi. Even after going back to Wichita last spring for a short visit, my new found confidence came home with me. I was no longer self-conscious or worried about what anyone else was thinking about me wearing the hijab. I knew that I was doing what was best for me, that’s why no one else’s opinion mattered.
I have found real joy in wearing the hijab and embracing a heightened sense of modesty. Mixing and matching scarves with different outfits is a true test of fashionability. With a collection of scarves of various colors, patterns and fabrics, there is always a number of combinations to choose from. Every girl loves to accessorize, so adding hijab into the equation makes it more fun. I’m always looking for new scarves to add to my collection. You can never have too many hijabs!
Based on some of the questions that I have been asked, many people tend to think that Muslim women wear the hijab 24/7. Below I have created a chart that may better help anyone with questions to understand when the hijab is worn.
Disclaimer: This may not apply to all hijabis.
| HIJAB NEEDED
||NO HIJAB NEEDED
|In the presence of men who aren’t family
||Around family or husband
|Around husband’s male family
||In the shower
|While inside of the mosque
||Any other time that isn’t listed to the left
If you have additional questions about the hijab or Islam, you can find more information from credible online sources such as al-islam.org and whyislam.org or visit your local Islamic center.
Copyright 2016 Myjaedah Ballard