Wearing a headscarf in the U.S. or in any country where Muslims are a minority means giving up your anonymity. You are surrendering your ability to blend in, and some women really struggle with that, particularly if they’re shy. I’m comfortable with the attention. I also recognize that I have to be more aware of my surroundings, and ready for strangers to tell me how my faith is oppressing me (when, ironically, they are the ones trying to deny me the freedom of my choice and are oppressing me
). I understand that although the headscarf may signify freedom, boldness, and expression to me, to others it means something else entirely. It’s not a great time for American Muslims, and the scarf is literally a target on my head attracting anyone who wants to villainize us. And there are many. I’ve unfortunately met some of them over the past few weeks, one even yelling at me on public transportation.
So why do it? It’s important to stand up for the principles you believe in — against bullies of all kinds. Eyes are on me all the time, whether I’m attending my nephew’s preschool graduation in a church, when I’m commuting to work, or watching a movie at the theater. It’s not easy. It’s downright uncomfortable at times. But, I choose to see those moments as an opportunity to change perceptions many non-Muslims (and some Muslims) have about the scarf, the broader concept of hijab, Islam, and Muslims.
Modesty and hijab are not mutually exclusive. That’s not news. Modest fashion is now a $96+ billion-dollar
industry. There’s also such diversity in the way Muslim women feel about, understand, and observe hijab. Some women hate it because forms of it are forced on them. Some Irani women have undertaken a social-media campaign to show themselves without the scarves and the long black chador coverings as a way of protesting being made to wear them. I get that. The headscarf is a source of strength for me, but that stems largely from the luxury of having a choice about if I want to wear it and how I want to wear it.
I’m a professional in my 30s, living on her own and working as an attorney and consultant in New York City. I am also a former hijabi, a de-jabi, and now a re-jabi. These things might seem like contradictions to some, but it’s entirely consistent in my mind as part of a long, nuanced spiritual journey that continues to change and challenge me even today. My story only seems novel because it disturbs the existing narrative about what the headscarf and dressing more modestly signifies.
Hijab has always been about much more than a headscarf. For me, it’s something much larger that happens to extend to my attire; it involves rejecting objectification and oversexualization, embracing modesty, and claiming ownership of my sense of self-worth, power, and potential. And even more important, it's helped me to honor my promise to constantly keep changing my life to better suit myself.
Zehra Naqvi is an attorney, a community organizer, and a writer. To read more of her work, please visit The Observeum. You can also follow her on Twitter @ZehraNaqvi1.