Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Why I choose to be Muhajaba (wear a veil)

As a child, I never thought much about hejab. My mother started wearing it in her 40s. All the elderly woman in the family and my aunts were already muhajabat. My older cousins started wearing a veil after graduating from college and getting engaged. I guess, I thought that it is something muslim women do when they get older - we cover our arms, legs and head. I never asked nor wondered why. For me, it was enough to know that it is part of our religion. I never had the need to inquire beyond that. Then, when I was 13 , during the summer between 6th and 7th grade, my best friend called me one day. She was in an absolute frenzy. Her father demanded that she starts wearing a veil, and she was calling to complain about how unfair he was being. This went on all summer. Her father insisting that she either wears a veil or stay home, then she'd call me to complain about the whole situation. Finally, towards the end of summer, she gave in and agreed to become muhajaba. To celebrate this momentous occasion (and most probably sweeten the situation) my friend's mother took her shopping for  an entire new wardrobe and scarves.  This was the first time that I realized that wearing a veil is something muslim women do once they come of age.

Upon realizing this, my natural reaction was to declare that I too shall start wearing a veil. However, my mother tenaciously refused. She assumed that I was either jealous of my friends new clothes, and thus wanted to wear hejab in hopes that I will get a new wardrobe, or my friend convinced me to wear a veil, so she wouldn't be the only one covered up in class. Neither reason was correct. To me, wearing a veil is part of who I am as a muslim women, just like praying and fasting. Yet, my mother was adamant. She told me that I was too immature to make such a decision at 13. She believed that when I go to high school or college, I'd be tempted to wear the latest designs and long to go to the hairdresser and show off my locks! She believed that I would come to regret wearing a veil, and opt to take it off. Something she would never allow. Little did she know that I would (and will) never fall prey to fashion, vanity, or peer pressure, Little did she know that when I got older she'd have as much control over me as she does of the weather. Nevertheless, she won this round. My friend wasn't the only one wearing a veil in class. Several other girls started wearing hijab that year. I remember them being excited about it. None of them thought twice about the vanity of showing off skin or hair. A few years went by and I approached my mother about wearing a veil. She still stood by her belief that I was too immature to make such a decision at such a young age. Obviously, my mother didn't know me that well.

On April 4th 1994, I was a senior in high school. It was a Saturday and I was getting ready to go to a biology tutor lesson. For some odd reason, I don't know why, I woke up that day, went to mother and said that I will start wearing a veil. She just looked up from her morning cup of coffee, shrugged her shoulders and said "Okay". Again, it is not in my nature to ponder on the reasons why these events have occurred in such a way. I choose to believe that it was meant to happen on this date and therefore it did. So, after years of trying to convince my mother that , yes, I am mature enough to decide to wear hijab, it finally happened without much fanfare. I just put on a cotton sweater over my t-shirt and borrowed a scarf from either my mom or sister, I can't remember from whom exactly. That was all I needed to do to become muhajaba. Back then, I was a bit of a tom-boy (to be honest, I still am). My wardrobe consisted of jeans and t-shirts. All I had to do was buy a couple of sweaters to cover up my arms and borrow a scarf from my mother's or sister's collection to cover my head.

It's been 18 years since I first wore hijab. I have never come to regret my decision. On the  contrary, the older I get , the more empowered I feel as a muhajaba. Growing up, I didn't give it much thought, but in college I realized that the veil provide much more than physical cover up. One can't deny that we live in a visual society. As a veiled woman, I know that I capture the attention of others with what I have to say, rather than how I look. As a feminist, I find this the most empowering thing of all. Veiled woman are evaluated on merits of their work and their value to the organization - void of va-va-voom hair, cleavage, and gams. Knowing that this little piece of cloth has helped me excel throughout my career, makes me walk a little bit taller - parading the fact that I AM A PROUD VEILED MUSLIM WOMAN - and I like it !