Nawal asked me to write this post for her a few months ago and this is probably the fifth or sixth attempt. Every time I revisited what I wrote, it felt daunting to me to publish something as personal and spiritual as my intention/decision to wear the hijab. So I decided to make this more a reflection of some of the ways wearing hijab has truly empowered me. [Note: This is simply a reflection of my experience. I do not wish to push my ideas and values onto others. If this article is somehow used to convince someone to wear hijab- I might punch a wall. Empowerment is rooted in choice.]
I have worn hijab since I was 12 years old. That means I physically covered myself, and attempted to embody the spirit of it- humility, modesty, and self respect. As hijab is a decision I act on daily, the intention is one I visit often to ensure that I am living a life that is authentic and deliberate. And I find that even now at 26, every time I revisit my intentions and reflect on my experience, I find more and more ways in which wearing hijab has benefited me. In my recent revisit, I came across something in my experience with hijab that so profoundly touched me: its healing and empowering nature.
Feeling a sense of ownership over one’s body is an ongoing struggle for many women through their lives. Most women will encounter some form of sexual violence in their lives, which makes them feel like they are not in control of what happens to their bodies. Their surroundings are also constantly telling them how their bodies should physically look or be dressed. Even healthcare policies dictate how they regulate their reproductive systems. It is so easy to feel like you don’t have any real control over your body.
I’m no exception. I’ve struggled with these challenges throughout my life. I was sexually abused throughout my teen years. The loss of control and ownership I felt over my body and my life resulted in bulimic tendencies. These tendencies were my attempt to regain some control over my body by controlling how it looks. Although I felt as though my bulimic tendencies were my way of regaining control, in reality, I was still victim to social conditioning on female appearance. It has taken a lot of work to improve my health physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Embodying all that hijab stands for played an immense role in my journey of healing and empowerment.
The first way it does so is in a literal sense- it hides my body from others, and I can control who can see it. Last year I started dying my hair colors from hot pink to purple to red. It felt liberating to do something to my hair that was just for me. It wasn’t done to impress anyone or to make any type of statement to others. I purely did it for myself and I had complete control over who could see it. I know it sounds simple, but it felt so good to be able to carry out something relating to my body just for myself. That is the nature of empowerment; it is rooted in having choices as well as having the ability to make a decision untouched by pressures and programming from one’s surroundings.
Another way I have found hijab to be empowering is that it draws attention away from my body and my sexuality so that I may be valued for my intellect, actions, and character. This is very powerful in American culture, where a woman’s body can’t just be a body. It is almost always sexualized. That doesn’t mean Muslim women who choose to wear hijab aren’t sexualized- it still happens. It also doesn’t mean that women who do not wear it are attempting to draw attention to their sexuality. It just means that when I intentionally attempt to shift the focus from my sexuality to the other aspects of who I am, I am respecting and valuing myself. People in my surroundings pick up on that and treat me with an increased sense of respect. It is truly uplifting.
I actively try to promote women’s rights at every level of my life. I intend to empower women in my community through the emotional support that Amala Hopeline offers, and through the vital sexual health education that HEART offers. I intend to uplift all the women that I cross paths with through validation and acceptance of who they are. Finally, I intend to value myself in my choice to wear hijab every day.