"You're at the beach, take your clothes off!" yelled a short, red, pot-bellied man lounging on the sand as my Muslim friends and I walked by, finding a spot to lay our beach towels and chairs down to enjoy a sunny afternoon. I was about 13, and the comment I heard shocked me. My friend who wear the headscarf, or hijab, didn't seem bothered; they kept their head high and continued on. It was in this instance that I realized the strength that individuals who choose to portray their heritage and faith publicly have.
Growing up, many of my friends started putting on the hijab, which is a public symbol of their Islamic faith. As someone who isn't practicing and often questions religion in her life, I became interested in knowing their reasons for putting it on, what the process is like and how it changed their life, it at all. Hearing the stories they had about their journey as a hijabi made me proud. I was proud of my peers for the solidarity shown at such a young age, determined to establish an identity so confidently. I look up to many of my friends who, regardless of any scrutiny or potential encounters such as that on the beach that may come their way, are unafraid of showing who they really are. I asked two of my good friends, Izza Qureshy and Salihah Siddiqui, to explain their journeys through faith, dedication, and identity. Their stories inspired me and will inspire you, too.
Q: When did you start wearing the hijab and why?
S: I started wearing hijab in 6th grade. I had just moved to Cary, and I saw this as a perfect opportunity to make hijab a part of my identity. All friends that I would make in middle school and onward would know that hijab is a part of me.
I: I started wearing hijab in the summer right before my senior year of high school. It was a big change at such an important point in my life, especially at a time when you're young and you feel like everyone's opinions matter. I wore it during the month of Ramadan just to "try it out" but never had any intention of actually wearing it for the rest of my life. After the month was over I enjoyed my life for a few weeks but heavily contemplating if I wanted to wear the hijab. I think the main thing that got me thinking about it was that I felt like if wearing hijab is such a big part of my religion and so many girls have the courage to wear it and proudly display it, what was holding me back? I don't think I as an individual should be allowed to pick and choose aspects of the religion that I want to follow. If everyone did that, what would religion even mean if it's so easily shifted by people's preferences?
Q: What does wearing hijab mean to you?
S: Hijab is my identity. Even though this sounds cliché, it is very true. I feel like it is what makes me, me. Hijab a piece of cloth that makes me feel secure, comfortable, and close to Allah all at once.
I: To me hijab is part of my religion and religion has kept me balanced for my entire life.
Q: What is one of the biggest misconceptions people have about wearing hijab that you've seen?
S: I feel like a lot of people think that hijab is a form of oppression. They think that women are being forced to cover themselves. However, I see hijab as a form of liberation from the society's ideas of physical beauty standards. I know that when I am wearing hijab, I am not being judged by my looks, but more by what I have to offer in terms of my intellect.
I: A huge misconception about hijab is that everyone who wears it is a perfect Muslim. I see this a lot within the Muslim community and for some reason the standards for a hijab wearing Muslim and non-hijab wearing Muslim to be different. I don't understand why girls who wear hijab are more scrutinized for their actions while non-hijabi girls can do the same thing and it's not an issue. It's a big double standard in the Muslim community that we need to work on and grow from. We should encourage and uplift one another instead of pushing people away.
Q: What is one of the biggest struggles, if any, of wearing hijab? Have you overcome the struggle and if so, how?
S: Personally, I have had no struggles when it comes to wearing hijab. I have grown overtime as I started wearing hijab when I was young. I used to not take it as seriously, and not wear it to desi parties or just wore my dupatta loosely. However, now as I have gotten older and understood the importance of hijab, I have started to act more seriously about it. Hijab is not just a piece of cloth that covers your head; instead, hijab should be one's lifestyle. Through hijab I have learned to be a better person and a better Muslim.
I: One of my biggest struggle with wearing hijab is walking down the street knowing I represent my religion. Naturally, when people see me the first thing they notice is the scarf on my head. I have to be careful with what I say and how I act because I never know if the person I am interacting with has ever met a Muslim before. If their first interaction with a Muslim seems a certain way, they sometimes take it to mean all Muslims are like that. I want to show people what Islam is by my actions and leave a good impression to show others that we are kind, friendly, and nice people.
Q: What is one of the most rewarding aspects of wearing hijab to you?
S: The most rewarding aspect is knowing that I am pleasing Allah (God). Also, as I mentioned earlier it allows people to recognize me from my actions and ideas instead of my physical appearance.
I: The most rewarding aspect of wearing hijab is knowing that I am following my religion to the best of my ability and it instills a sense of peace in me. It's fulfilling to feel like I am a part of something bigger than myself and religion has always made me feel this way and I hope it continues to do so.
Knowing that I've grown up with peers who are driven to their values and stances in the world today gives me comfort in not only knowing I'm in good company, but also that it is possible to establish an identity at any age if you truly believe in it. Hearing stories like these made me realize the importance of looking around and understanding the perspectives of others no matter where they come from, what they believe in and how they identify.