The last day of grade 5 was special; it marked the end of elementary school and the beginning of ‘teenhood.’ My elementary school wasn’t super fancy and couldn’t afford to take us on lavish field trips, but that year they did something for the first time – they took their fifth grade graduates to Centre Island located in downtown Toronto. I was excited, ecstatic, and wanted to take off my hijab for the class trip because it was a special occasion. My parents weren’t strict or overly religious, but they did dress my sisters and I in hijabs to school every day. We also attended weekend Quran classes at the local masjid. With that said, my parents were also on the same boat as I was – taking off the hijab for special occasions. My mom was a hairdresser when she was in her twenties so she blow-dried my hair and put beautiful curls at the ends with fresh cut bangs. I was in love with my new look for my graduation field trip the next day. When the special day had arrived, I couldn’t find myself to leave the house without my hijab – I felt naked! I kept reaching for it and placing it back on my bed, and after doing this a few times, I scurried to find my older brother’s baseball cap and quickly threw it on before my father hollered last call to my siblings to head out the door for school.
As the years went on, I found myself in similar situations, feeling similar emotions. Weddings, birthday parties, school concerts, and choir rehearsals. Special events and occasions, I would do my hair either professionally or by a friend and as I would head to the door I would feel waves of emotions I couldn’t understand or explain. I was sad, empty, scared, but also happy, excited, and over-the-moon. I was conflicted and knew what to do – but why couldn’t I do anything but stand by the door lost and confused.
As a child, I loved to identify myself as a Muslim because I was proud of it. As a child, when I saw a woman wearing hijab it looked like the best way to let the world know that the woman that was wearing it was a Muslim. I loved it and I often found myself associating myself as apart of a loving group of people. Growing up I tried to talk to many girls about it and tried to soak up as much knowledge as I could on why we were told to wear it, how to wear it, once I even asked how to swim with hijab -- I wanted to know everything.
Even though I did not know much, I could not help but be intrigued by hijab.
When I finally told myself that I wanted to wear hijab all the time – even at special functions and occasions – I shocked myself.
Initially, my close friends were against my decision to wear it to the events and even had one of them pull it off my head as we got out of the car at a wedding. But when I started to say the small yet huge word, no, I did not think about how my decision would affect other people, I only thought about how it would benefit me.
If you ask me why I dress modestly and cover my hair I'll give you a different reason every time. I've learned to respect myself, it protects me from people that may not necessarily be the best for me, it forces me to be the best person that I can be (because let's face it-- by wearing hijab I'm a direct target in the public eye), and it constantly reminds me that looks are transient but a person's personality is forever.
It's been a tough past decade and a half for Muslims and I see that there are women and girls out there that are starting to contemplate taking their scarves off as a result of the backlash they're receiving simply because they identify as Muslims.
In the midst of an Islamophobic era, I realized that I shouldn't be scared because I'm not doing anything wrong. I was born and raised in this country and grew up under the notion of freedom of religion. I have the right the dress the way I please and please Allah alone.
If people hate me because of what I represent then I'm better off without them in my life.
What they don't realize though is that while they're busy trying to protect themselves from a hijabi like me, I'm busy trying to protect myself too. I'm trying to protect myself from succumbing to the common perception amongst women in a society where they think that they have to wear less, look a certain way or even act a certain way to be considered beautiful.
With the rise of Islamophobia, it has been rough for some, and I have no doubt that it'll only get worse. My only hope is that if any woman or young girl decides to stop wearing hijab, I pray that it's not due to Islamophobic backlash or because of the fear of losing friends. May Allah SWT make it easy for me and everyone else that receives backlash for attempting to practice religion in public.
Hijab might be tough sometimes, but I can honestly say that wearing it was the best decision I've ever made in my life, and my love for it has only grown stronger.