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Internationally Choosing Hijab

by Asmaa Hussein

I took my hijab off today.

On my last early morning in Prince Edward Island, I visited a beach that was completely empty. I looked in every direction and there was not a person in sight.

No people around meant I could take my hijab off. So I did. The Atlantic Ocean breeze blew through my hair.

I didn’t know I would, but I cried big, hot tears. Because it felt wonderful. I was spending time with the ocean and some birds, none of whom looked at me or cared that I was there. And I wondered, “Is this how it feels to not wear a hijab?”

I walked, and walked, with my orange hijab balled up in my fist. I looked into the vast body of water, and at the sky, and at my feet, and everything in between. I thanked God for bringing me here, to a place I have wanted to visit since I was a child.

And then it was time to go. I looked at my hijab and then in the direction of the parking lot. From far away I could see tiny figures and I knew a few people were starting to arrive.

I could’ve walked to my car without my hijab. No one here knows me. I could’ve pretended I was someone else for a moment. I could’ve felt the breeze for a bit longer.

But I didn’t. I said goodbye to the sticky salt wind, and I put my hijab on. My hijab blew in the wind, but it didn’t feel the same. Then I walked back to my car, re-entering the world as a Muslim woman.

A woman who is looked at, judged, and always held to a higher level of scrutiny. A woman who just wants to live her life, but is seen as a flag bearer for this faith. A woman who is imperfect, but has to hold up an image of perfection so as to honour others like her. And it’s so, so tiring. No man can understand this heaviness.

But as I walked back, I said to Allah: I do this for You and no one else. And though it’s hard, I will hold onto it. Tightly. Fiercely. With vigour and patience.

There is no other path I would choose, because He chose this for me. And I love and obey Him.

In Jannah, I’ll feel this breeze in my hair again. Cool and gentle and kind, carrying a scent that is better than that of a thousand oceans.

I will wait for that day. I think I can be patient for a while longer.

A Reflection

Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) said, “A time of patience will come to people in which adhering to one’s religion is like grasping a hot coal.”

The moment we remove our vulnerability, humanity, and personal connection from our faith, the farther we stray from the beauty of what Allah (SWT) has given us in Islam. Islam is meant to be practiced by human beings who are flawed and in pain, who struggle to succeed but sometimes fail, and who return to God after those failures. It is not meant to be practiced by flawless robots who feel nothing.

Our humanity is intrinsically woven into the very fabric of our relationship with Allah (SWT), and there is no greater example of this than Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ). May the peace and blessings of Allah be on him.

When I read about the grief he felt after losing his beloved wife, his children, and his companions, I feel the grief as though it is my own, and my heart is drawn to his life. When I hear about the ways his family and companions suffered at the hands of oppressors, I know he felt the same (and more) sorrow I feel when I watch my beloved ones living under oppression. In seeing how he was forced to escape his home in fear, seeking refuge for himself and his family in a foreign place, I know that my feelings of strangeness are not strange at all.

He felt them, too.

Ironically, in response to the messengership of Muhammad (ﷺ), the disbelievers would say,

“What is this messenger that eats food and walks in the markets? Why was there not sent down to him an angel so he would be with him a warner?” (Al-Furqan 25:7)

Little did they realize that it was exactly because of his humanity that we as believers are able to truly connect to his message and life.

It is a mistake to cancel vulnerability and humanity, to gloss over people’s true, lived experiences in favour of a sanitized version of what it means to be a Muslim. There are commandments we sometimes find difficult to practice, and yet we do! We sacrifice our own desires in return for the promise of a beautiful hereafter.

The hot coals burn our hands, but we hold onto them nonetheless. That is to be celebrated.

يَا مُقَلِّبَ الْقُلُوبِ ثَبِّتْ قَلْبِي عَلَى دِينِكَ

Asmaa Hussein is an author, most well known for her book, “A Temporary Gift: Reflections on Love, Loss, and Healing.” She runs a publishing company called Ruqaya’s Bookshelf dedicated to representing the lived experiences of ethnically diverse Muslim children in the form of colourful, fun stories! You can read more of her writings on www.ruqayasbookshelf.com and her Instagram @ruqayas.bookshelf