One good thing about wearing hijab is that you are immediately identifiable as a Muslim. That’s also one of the bad things. Because the truth is, sometimes it feels more comfortable to travel incognito. I don’t always want everyone who sees me to know what religion I belong to. And not only what religion I belong to, but also to know that I think enough of it to allow myself to be “branded” as one of its ambassadors.
Because that’s what you are when you wear a hijab. I’ve written about this before (“Muslim Women: Ambassadors for Islam“) but now that I’ve been a Muslim for a while, I thought I’d revisit the topic.
I’m fortunate that I haven’t received any negative reactions to my hijab, either at work or when I’m out in public. But sometimes the hardest situation to get through involves family members, especially when you’re a convert and no one else in your family is Muslim.
This has been on my mind a lot lately because my daughter is getting married soon and I had to decide what I was going to do about my outfit. Mother-of-the-bride dresses tend to be conservative in appearance, but none of them appealed to me (they all look the same). Not only that, but I wasn’t sure how they would look with a hijab.*
Mind you, I wasn’t even sure I was going to wear the hijab. I felt uncomfortable about being “exposed” as a Muslim at my daughter’s wedding. What would the other side of the family think (they’re mostly Catholics)? What would my daughters’ father think (he’s an ordained minister)? And most importantly, what would my daughter and her fiancé think?
I finally got up the nerve to ask my daughter and she was almost surprised that I’d considered not wearing my hijab. “It’s who you are, Mom. Of course you should wear it.” She and her fiancé are totally fine with it.
Then I realized that if I was going to wear it to the wedding, I’d also have to wear it to the bridal showers. That made me nervous because it would be the first time I would be meeting anyone from the groom’s family, besides his mother, and I hadn’t been dressing hijab then.
I could tell that my oldest daughter was uncomfortable with my decision. She was afraid that people would make a big deal about my being Muslim and that it would detract from the wedding festivities. Not only that, but she hadn’t even told her boyfriend that I was a Muslim. As far as I know she still hasn’t. (My grandson, who is eleven, has been with me when I’ve worn hijab and he barely seems to notice.)
I was nervous when I went to get dressed for the first shower, but as soon as I put on the hijab, it felt so natural that I calmed down immediately. And as soon as I got to the shower, I realized that I needn’t have worried. Maybe my hijab was the elephant in the room no one wanted to talk about, but no one acted funny toward me.
My ex-mother-in-law, however, did mention it. She wanted to know why I wore it and how I came to be a Muslim. But she didn’t say it in a judgmental way; she seemed genuinely interested.
I can understand people having questions. And I’d rather people ask than talk about it later, when I’m not there to correct any misconceptions they might have. Once when I was waiting in an airport with my husband, the woman sitting next to me said, “I hope you don’t mind, but I was wondering about your scarf.” She wanted to know if I had to wear it all the time and if I had hair under it. But that led to more questions about Muslims in general. She was perfectly pleasant and seemed happy that I would talk about it with her.
It wasn’t lost on me that we wouldn’t have had that conversation if I hadn’t been wearing my hijab. But the flip side is that I was thrust into the role of being a representative for Muslims. That’s not a bad thing, however; at least I was able to show one person that not all Muslims are terrorists and suicide bombers.
I met a young woman at the mosque a few weeks ago. She was wearing a hijab of course because she was there to pray. But she told me that people don’t ask her much about Islam because she doesn’t wear the hijab normally and a lot of people don’t even know that she’s Muslim. All I could think was, “What a lost opportunity!”
That doesn’t mean that I think all Muslim women should wear the hijab, but at the same time I wonder why some of them don’t. Are they uncomfortable being asked about their faith? Have they had bad experiences when they did wear it? Do they work somewhere that frowns upon their wearing it? (Although technically it’s illegal to prevent a woman from wearing a hijab at work, there are instances where it might not be appropriate, or where the woman herself might not feel comfortable wearing it.)
I’m glad I made the decision to wear the hijab. There are times when I wish I didn’t have to wear it (like when it’s hot), but for the most part I feel more “complete” when I have it on (and I don’t have to worry about what my hair looks like!). I enjoy the instant camaraderie I experience when I meet another Muslim (even, or especially, when he or she is a stranger). And I’m proud to wear it as a symbol of my faith.
*I finally decided on a lavender abaya with a white lace hijab for my daughter’s wedding.