Hijab: not my honour
‘Islam honours you’, ‘showing your hair is fitna’, ‘it’s really bad of your male cousins to see your hair’ , ‘just wear it this once?’, ‘wear it for me, please’, ‘why don’t you want to wear it’. ‘Cover’ cover. Cover. Cover. Veil. Veil. Veil.
I was reluctant to wear the hijab. I saw no reason why I should, I didn’t see anything wrong with my male relatives seeing my dark hair. To me, it was natural. Everyone showed their hair. The way nature intended. Some women wore scarfs for religious reasons. Muslims. They were them and we were us. Distinctly different. But I became one of them and my whole life changed.
I took pride in my hair. It was striking, dark chocolate brown and naturally curly. My hair drew compliments throughout my life. I was proud of it. But to me, it was natural to show it. There was nothing wrong with it. But suddenly, I was shamed for it. I got told how inferior I was compared to my modest sisters, ten and eleven, yet draped in hijab. I refused to cover and this infuriated my father. His girls must be modest, they must veil, they must cover. It is shameful for him to have a daughter that is 15, shows her bare arms, neck and hair and wears modern western clothes. That isn’t acceptable for my father. The family would gossip and say how dishonourable I am. Dressing like one of them. A kafir.
My flesh was covered up bit by bit. First my arms. My western short sleeved tops were replaced with long loose tops, that covered the length of my arms and neck with a high collar. My father bought several and I was too polite to turn it down. It would have been seen as rude, and we were newly reunited after many years. I was young, I was impressionable, I wanted my father to like me and be proud of me. I wanted my family to like me. So I wore the shirts. He was very proud of that. His first step was done. Now that hair. That was a big problem.
Scarfs. I was surrounded with scarves. Blue, pink, green, black, cream. My father insisted I choose some. Every time I refused, he insisted some more. My cheeks burning in public, I chose the pink to get it over with. I had no intention of wearing it anyway. I would just obey his demand. He started taking me and my 20 year old female cousin and my siblings out to bowling over the next few days. A way to bond, he said. He spent some time talking with my cousin in the car, in a language foreign to me, that I needed to understand, I wanted to badly, and yet I didn’t. I soon learned that things were talked about me, things planned for me behind my back were communicated like this so I never understood. Foreign words that influenced my life. My cousin got out the scarf at bowling. Before I could protest, she wrapped the scarf expertly round my head and secured it with a pin in the right hand corner. My dad beamed and so did she, as she stepped back and admired it. Mashallah. I didn’t understand that word yet. The last and next time that word was spoken in that context was when my eyes were weeping with pain due to a black niqab constantly jutting and scratching it. Mashallah. At least you’re covered. She said ‘uncle, she chose it herself!’. I stood frozen, in shock. I was thinking, but I didn’t. You chose this, you wear it with pride, but I don’t. I don’t. Why are you doing this?
I was made to wear the hijab part time during that summer. My attempts to take it off were met with lectures and a poorly disguised glare. My father raised his voice at me for the first time when I refused to wear it when he took me outside to meet new family. Males. Seeing my hair. The horror. He said the wives of our prophet wore it. Normal Muslim girls your age wear it. Why can’t you? It’s bad of people to see your hair. It’s fitna. It looks bad on you. I replied, but no one will see my hair and automatically fall in love and propose to me. He flipped. He said I didn’t give a shit what he said, did I? He pushed me over, and I fell off the sofa onto the floor. I cried out of the anger and indignation I felt. I believed every male that was attracted to me, it was because I was uncovered. I learnt my father would never be proud unless I covered. Just like his other daughters. I learnt his love was conditional. I could have it and listen to how he would give me the stars if he could. I could have the love of a father I’d been deprived of after 15 long years. All for covering my hair. A small price to pay, I felt then.
Now I look back and realised I should have told him to go to hell. I should have stayed firm and not covered. I should have done a lot of things, in hindsight. That’s my regret. The fact I was impressionable, too weak to stand up against him. My father. Semi tyrant, semi manipulative bastard.