Does Clothing Make the Muslimah?

I was so excited—and nervous—when I went to get my driver’s license renewed because I was going to photographed in my hijab. That might seem like a little thing, but it’s actually not. It means that for the next four years I’m going to be identified as a Muslim whenever someone sees my driver’s license.

I was so proud when the license bureau agent asked if I wear the scarf for religious purposes and I was able to say yes. I love to be identified as a Muslim.

The problem is, I’m often not.

Even when I’m wearing the hijab and dressed in long tops or skirts and long sleeves, I think a lot of people miss the distinction merely because I don’t “look” Muslim. I have fair skin and blue eyes and a certain all-American look about me. It just doesn’t seem to occur to people that I might be a convert.

I’ve even had Muslims ask me where I’m from as if they can’t believe that someone who looks so obviously American could be a Muslim. When I reply that I’m from the U.S., they look either shocked or surprised. Because of that, I’m especially grateful for the Muslims who immediately greet me with “asalaamu alaykim.” They make me feel welcome, as if I’m a “real” Muslim.

I’ve heard from a lot of converts that born Muslims treat them as “second-class” Muslims. I’ve been very fortunate that my born-Muslim friends have always supported me and been as excited about my conversion as I am. But I understand the frustration that comes from being a convert.

One reason why I wear hijab is because it makes my new religion real for me. I want to make the statement that I am proud of being a Muslim. It’s definitely not something I’m ashamed of.

And yet I find myself waffling when I’m around people I know don’t approve of my conversion. When I’m going to see them, I look for excuses to not wear the hijab (I’m going to be with family, etc.). But because I don’t push it, my faith rarely becomes a topic of conversation.

I realize that everything I do as a Muslim makes a statement about Islam. But I’m torn sometimes between wanting to proudly proclaim that I’m a Muslim and not wanting to make other people feel uncomfortable around me.

I was thrilled recently when a friend brought me a jilbab back from Libya. I own five abayas, but I never wear them unless I’m going to the mosque or some other special occasion. I love having an excuse to wear them, but do I really need one? Why don’t I wear them all the time?

It has taken me a while to acquire a wardrobe that conforms to the standards of hijab. When I think about how I used to dress, I cringe. I’ve found that I like not displaying my cleavage and accentuating my body shape. (Of course, it might has something to do with the fact that I’m overweight!) I wouldn’t dream of wearing the things I used to wear. So I guess I have changed to some extent.

I have to remind myself that I’m a work in progress, that I’ll become more bold about my faith as time goes by. But I’m impatient: I want to be a full-fledged Muslim now.

And yet I also need to remember that it’s not what I wear that really matters. It’s easy, especially as a Muslimah, to think that my clothing is more important than cultivating a relationship with Allah through prayer. And yet, what I wear is a part of what makes me a Muslim. Submitting to Allah’s rules helps me to give myself more fully to Him. And so I understand the emphasis on what Muslimahs wear.

I’m actually thankful that Muslimahs have a dress code, so to speak. It does help me to feel Muslim. Now all I have to do is act more like one.

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Ellen

Editor and chief writer at I, Muslimah and Femagination. Ellen also contributes regularly to Elevate Difference. She is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with two cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

3 thoughts on “Does Clothing Make the Muslimah?”

  1. I like ur blog Ellen n so proudof u.. Lol for me when i see an American look Muslimahs I feel so proud of them n its d opposite for me.. I dont feel they rnsecond class muslims.. I feel they r better than us born muslims.. Coz they converted to Islam after searching n being convinced themselves.. They will get better credit for being muslims.. That means they have pure souls which led them to Islam..

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