My decision to put on the hijab was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life. It definitely wasn’t the easiest, though. Being the clothes-hoarder that I am, I started collecting scarves – especially printed ones – when I was 20 years old. I was doing my degree in New Zealand and going to uni in tank tops and miniskirts (tank top + miniskirt = real fashion back then!). None of my scarves were used to keep my neck warmer even on the cold winter days. No, I had my wool ones for that.
Although I never voiced it out loud, at the back of my mind I was building up my scarves collection for the sole purpose of wrapping them around my head someday – with zero idea of when “someday” would be. As it turns out, “someday” was five years after that. At 25, I made the huge leap and became a hijabi.
Why wasn’t it the easiest decision for me, though? Well, for starters, I’m a fashion girl at heart and I spent many years curating my closet that befitted my free-haired self. Weirdly, even as I was collecting the scarves, I didn’t think to stop buying cute tea-length dresses (for classes) and satin halter tops (for my night out with girlfriends). The day I decided to finally make use of one of my precious printed scarves as a hijab, I stood in front of my wardrobe and declared “I need a whole new one!”
This, coincidentally, was one of the perks of wearing the hijab. For me, at least, I’m still the same “fashion girl” but with different clothes now.
So that’s the ‘how’ part of my hijab story. What about the ‘why’?
I will tell you why I personally chose to wear the hijab: plain and simple, I was ready to do so.
I’m not going to explain why Muslim women should wear the hijab. I could mention the verses in the Quran that advise women to cover up, or the idea of modesty in Islam – which, by the way, actually extends far beyond dressing up (the word “hijab” in Arabic literally means “barrier” or “veil”) but I’m not going to today.
I do believe that wearing the hijab – and subsequently, dressing more modestly – is one of the many ways that I believe that I could be a better Muslim. At 25, I felt like it was the right time in my life to make that lifelong commitment.
If you read most stories on reasons women became hijabis, one woman’s reason can differ vastly from the other (as well as the hijab style!), but there is usually one common denominator in all our reasoning: wearing the hijab is our own choice.
Also another thing we all have in common? We were privileged enough to make that choice ourselves.
I consider myself extremely lucky that I was born a Muslim in Malaysia, where the people are predominantly Muslim but live in harmony with other races of other religions. Unlike in certain parts of the world, wearing a hijab here is as casual as wearing a Converse sneakers; no one bats an eyelid at seeing you in one (unless they’re special-edition, but I’m talking about Converse here). As big of a decision as it was for me, I do realise that in this bubble I grew up in, choosing to wear the hijab is not that much of a life-changing decision for me, or one that puts me in any form of harm’s way.
It saddens me that there are people who perceive the hijabis as being oppressed, when – ironically – both sides supposedly have the same idea that choosing what you and only you get to do with your body is the simplest form of empowerment. It breaks my heart that while covering up is a woman’s choice in Islam, there are women in certain countries who are forcefully being put into a hijab by men, which means freedom has been taken away from them. Ignorance and lack of cultural understanding are always two of Islam’s worst enemy sometimes, it seems.
I don’t expect everyone to understand my decision to wear the hijab, but I do ask that you simply accept my decision to do so. And if someone doesn’t? In all honesty, I consider it that person’s loss and not mine. At the end of the day, the hijab symbolises this for me: I am a proud, feminist Muslim woman.