Growing up, I was lucky enough to have a mother who never saw her hijab as a barrier but rather a source of empowerment and pride. Her portrayal of being a hijabi made me desire becoming one too. So, at the age of 10 I began to wear it full time. When I started, I didn’t truly understand what it meant for me as a woman nor did I know what being a hijabi entailed. As I got older, my hijab opened my eyes to the many truths that life has. Although, my journey to coming to this realization wasn’t easy. It was something that I am grateful for because without it I wouldn’t be who I am today.
The Meaning of Hijab
One of the bigger things that my journey of self-growth has taught me is the meaning of hijab. Although, as a Muslim I always knew what it was – at least literally. I never knew what it meant to me, personally and spiritually. Like everyone, I knew that the hijab is a religious article which acts as a barrier or partition made of some sort of cloth meant to cover up a woman’s chastity. But, beyond its physical properties the hijab is so much more, just like being a hijabi is more than just wearing a hijab.
Ever since I became a full time hijabi, I’ve dealt with criticisms, stares and negative comments while wearing my hijab in public. I’m well aware that I’m not the only Muslim woman who has experienced this, but it still bothered me. Until, my mom explained to me that the negative response that non-Muslims have is usually due to one of two reasons: ignorance or lack of knowledge. Which is why she taught me to always respond back with kindness and a smile, because those two things go a long way.
My experiences as a hijabi, has helped me understand the reason for my mom’s response to negativity towards the hijab. You see, me smiling and responding back with kindness confuses people. Especially, people who view the hijab as a sign of oppression, weakness, and extremism. And as a hijabi, I am a constant representation of my religion. By behaving in the opposite manner of which I am expected to behave, I take away the power that the negativity of others have towards me. All while leaving them with a better impression of what hijabis actually are.
Which is what the hijab does. It is the smile that I direct towards the hate and negativity. It may be a barrier and something that is worn as a religious practice. But, it is also something that grants Muslim women everywhere the strength to take on the world. Because being a hijabi, is knowing just by existing we serve as a representation of the entire nation of Islam. Our hijabs are the crowns which have been given to us to show the status which Islam has given women – as Queens and as a pathway to paradise for those close to her (ie. her parents, spouse, and children). That’s why to me the hijab can’t simply be just a barrier.
Finding the Definition of Beauty
Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. Small, large, circle, square, thin crust, thick crust, stuffed crust, extra toppings. Unknown
You see, I am a culmination of my parents best features. My Filipino mother gave me her almond eyes, long hair, and bold personality. My Lebanese father gave me my curvy body, textured hair, and sharp nose. And, even though society has made biracial features desirable. I struggled with self-confidence issues, especially due to my appearance.
Although, my parents had made sure to instill confidence in me. There were still times when I felt as though I wasn’t enough. Primarily, due to being unable to relate and connect with neither Filipino nor Arab beauty standards. A struggle which began when I was 13 years old on a trip to the Philippines.
During this trip, I was constantly given what I call, “sugar coated insults” from family members. They would go, “…you’re such a pretty girl, but… you’d be prettier if you lost weight.” or ” -..you were such a pretty girl growing up when you had lighter skin, what happened?” These comments led to negative self talk, misery and an unhealthy obsession with my weight.
After spending two years being miserable with my mindset and behaviour, I decided to embark on a journey of self-growth. It had taken me a long time to reach a place in my life where I was content and happy with myself and my appearance. Strengthening my relationship with my hijab was key to fostering a healthy relationship with myself. And by doing so, I learned that being a hijabi is about recognizing the strength it takes to look past the surface to uncover true beauty. Because beauty that is everlasting and enamoring comes from the inside. Something which is reflected by one’s manners and attitude. Not just by external appearances.
Learning to Balance Culture & Belief
Growing up, I watched my friends struggle between following their religious beliefs and adhering to the cultural standards used against them. Which is why being raised in a religious household rather than a cultural one is something that I will forever be grateful for. Because unlike my friends I never felt torn between my religion and my culture. Instead I found a balance between fulfilling my religious obligations and appreciating my cultural background.
Although I did struggle with being biracial due to my inability to connect with either Filipino or Arab culture, I never felt completely lost. Thanks to my upbringing I found comfort in identifying myself based on my religious beliefs rather than my ethnicity. Because if there is one thing that growing up in a religious household has instilled in me, it’s the fact that only God can judge you. And as cliche as that sounds it’s true. Fully believing and understanding this led to so much more acceptance and relief, especially when it came to my hijab.
You see, balancing culture and belief isn’t as easy as it seems. In fact it can be quite hard to do so especially when culture is more practiced than religion in today’s society. Which is one of the reasons why I had struggled with practicing Islam and continue to struggle today. But, being aware that only God has the power to judge me serves as a reminder on how flawed and contradictory cultural norms and standards are. We often forget that norms and standards that our cultural background uphold are man made. And man like all things aren’t perfect.
Which is why one of the biggest lessons, if not the biggest lesson, that my hijab journey has taught me is that remaining true to your beliefs doesn’t take away from your ability to enjoy and appreciate life. Rather it acts as an anchor – providing constant stability through the ups and downs. Not only that but the simple act of wearing my hijab has taught me that I can be more than just my ethnicity. And I shouldn’t have to sacrifice my beliefs just to connect more with my cultural background because it is possible to find a balance. All that matters is that we learn to be confident in who we are and what we believe in because norms, standards and culture are constantly changing. But, beliefs keep you grounded no matter the season.
by Ayah Barghout