Let’s be honest. There is some serious stereotyping when it comes to wearing a hijab in the western world. Women are often portrayed as brainwashed and oppressed by either their father, brothers, or husband when it comes to covering up.
I have been a Muslim for about 1 ½ year, and this year’s Ramadan was my second try at fasting. I am currently living in Sweden with my husband, and the fasting took around 20 hours every day. Ramadan itself was a challenge, but I decided that this year, would be the first time for me to try on a hijab in public and not just in the safety of my home. This turned out to be an even bigger challenge.
The scarves and styles
I have previously traveled to Iran, where it is mandatory for women to cover their head with a scarf. But anyone who has ever visited Iran knows that they have their own take on the hijab. They do look graceful, with a loose garment covering about half of their hair, rather than covering every single strain, as other Muslim groups. During my stay I wore the hijab in a similar style. It was a bit uncomfortable in the beginning, since the scarf would easily slip, but I learned to manage it and grab it before it would fall off. After Iran I traveled to Pakistan, where in the larger cities, young women normally wouldn’t wear a hijab. However, when visiting the countryside and mountain areas and when in public, I would wear a black hijab a bit tighter than when I visited Iran. So when it came to Ramadan 2016, I felt I was ready to try covering my hair completely.
Tutorials as a saviour
I had for a while been following several of the hijabi trendsetters such as “Love with Leena”, “Haute Hijab”, and “Dina Tokyo” which gave a huge inspiration, when it came to gracefully wearing a scarf, while still looking western and modern. However, even with their brilliant videos on YouTube, they made it look easy, while I was confused about fabrics, dimensions, under-scarfs, ninja scarfs etc. I had no clue on how to keep my hair nor how to style it correctly. At the end I looked for advice from a hijabi friend from high school.
We had a small reunion, enjoyed iftar together and she showed me how to arrange my hair under the scarf, as well as keeping the scarf from slipping. She ended up handing me three new chiffon scarves, and they turned the experience upside down.
When in Public
The chiffon scarves were super easy to work with. The fabric is light and manageable, and the finishing look felt lighter than any other scarves I had tried on. When pinned down, they stayed as they should. I felt ready to go as a public hijabi.
I asked my husband to join me for the first time wearing hijab, since I was extremely nervous about people staring. And staring they did. The glares were different: some a bit hateful, some with pity, and I will be honest – it was a bit hard to get used to. My husband got the harshest stares though. “They look like they want to kill me when they see you…” he said to me, while walking me to the train station. “It looks like they think I am forcing you to wear it.”
Wearing a hijab was my own choice, and after getting used to the stares and glares, I loved it.
When visiting some friends in Copenhagen, I noticed a huge change in behavior around me, when travelling with public transportation. Even though I wasn’t wearing tight clothes, and covered everything else but my hair, since I had become a Muslim men would still approach me with sleeky comments and catcalling. The moment I was walking around in public with a hijab, it felt like I had been freed from the hypersexualized culture and objectification, which women can normally suffer under. It was a huge relief, especially when I think back, having to deal with this since the age of 11.
Reactions from fellow Muslims
One thing that motivated me was the huge amount of different reactions I got from fellow Muslims. Suddenly strangers would greet me with a “Asalaam Aileykum” and a hand over their heart. Of course some were curious, but in general I felt a new found respect from the Islamic environment. The new-found bond with fellow Muslims overshadowed the glares from others, and though it still feels uncomfortable when a native Dane or Swede is staring at me, the understanding smiles from sisters and brothers run deeper than the misunderstood concept of the hijab among others.