‘I have covered my head, not my brain’

28 Oct

I don’t have an exciting story to tell, in fact, it’s probably the simplest and most cliché filled one you will read, but alas, it’s my journey to the Hijab and my understanding of it.

Like most second generation British Pakistani’s, culture had a heavy influence in my life as I was growing up, I would say probably more so than Islam.  Alhamdulillah (all Praise due to Allah) though, as me and my siblings grew up things changed.  We weren’t the type of family who would pray together; in fact when we were younger my father worked such long hours that apart from Ramadhan and Jummah I can’t remember seeing him pray.  We prayed our prayers at the local Masjid, which we attended after school.

Despite that, we had an ethos of segregation in our house, respect, love, understanding and feeling comfortable.  It was essential for my parents that we were allowed to be ‘kids’.  I spent most of my childhood playing with friends in the street, until we moved to a quieter part of town.  My elder sister started secondary school, it was an all girls Muslim high school, and naturally she wore the Hijab.  It became a part of her, she wore it all the time; visiting friends, going shopping, whenever and wherever.  This was then a natural progression for me. I have three older sisters and they to began their Islamic development at the same school. Seeing them in Hijab seemed normal to me, and although I didn’t understand why, I wore it when I was about 10 and started Year 6.  Living in a town with a large Muslim population, there were no comments made to me regarding my Hijab, lots of other pupils wore it at school too.  I routinely removed it during Physical Education lessons or at lunch time when we would place chase, football or anything which took our fancy.

Consequently, I also went to the Independent Muslim girls school, which was now building itself a reputation and setting standards for the education of Muslim females in Manchester, a 100% A*-C record in the GCSE’s one year meant this was the place to be.  The Hijab was part of our uniform thus became a part of me.  And I’ve never taken it off since.  In fact, I don’t even remember feeling that I want to take it off.  I wear it everywhere, parties, weddings, work, when I was at college, even formal functions where I was the only Muslim.  It was my identity, it was who I was, and I was extremely comfortable wearing it.

I’ve always been a confident character, although I spent most of school life as the ‘tomboy’, my love of sports and dislike for shopping, make-up, music and such, meant I was different.  What I loved about my Hijab though was that it never stopped me from progressing; I could confidently play football, netball, rounders or whatever, and have my Hijab on me as I grew older.  The new fashion ranges made this extremely easy for me, many considered this a positive progress for Muslim women who wanted to take part in mainstream sport but felt the attire didn’t fit in with their modest dress, true for me.

I guess as I got older I started to understand it better. I understood what it represented. I understood why Allah had commanded us in the Qur’an to wear it, and then I loved it even more.  I loved that I was doing something Allah had asked of me.   Various changes and tests Allah had given us as a family meant there was a change in dynamics.  We became closer to each other and to Allah.  Salah became an essential part of our families’ routine; I can’t remember the last time my parents missed Salah, so different from when we were growing up.  It’s weird how when Allah tests us, we become closer to Him, times that we consider to be ‘bad’, yet through the ‘good times’, we fail to show our gratitude to Him.

Having attended an Islamic school for five years and little introduction to ‘life outside’, it was only when I went to sixth form I realised why we were taught what we were.  There was a massive push at school for us to understand our purpose in the wider society, for us to have dreams and ambitions, we were always told we were the ‘ambassadors’ of our deen (religion), we represented ourselves, our parents but also Islam.  Growing up and leaving school in 2002, around the time of 9/11, meant that we could have an impact on the opinion people had of Islam and Muslims in modern day Britain.

I always wanted to know growing up, why I couldn’t go to the same school as my friends, why did my dad want to send us here?  If all the girls here were so well behaved, worked so hard, how different could life be elsewhere?  At sixth form, I held on to my Hijab for dear life, not literally, but as a matter of concept.  My Hijab was my get away from what I witnessed, from our own brothers and sisters.  The Hijab seemed to completely change the way people spoke to me, guys who had girlfriends, when they spoke to me would lower their gaze, would call me sister, would give their salam (greeting of  ‘peace’), because they knew that this piece of cloth on my head was  a lot more than a piece of cloth.  It meant something, it had a purpose, it was my barrier between them and me, and it was my way of telling them that I’m not like the others.  Please, don’t take my words out of context, this is NOT to say girls who don’t wear Hijab are all the same, far from it. Some of my closest friends that I have learnt lots from are non-hijabi’s, but it was clear to these boys that I was different.  It was also clear to them that they needed to treat me differently, my persona around them and the way I presented myself, also told them this. I am sure they picked up the vibes early on.

But it wasn’t just that. Many were friendlier than they should be with girls, including those who wore Hijab.  It was more than the fact that I wore Hijab and jilbab, but also alot to do with the fact that I didn’t speak to them unless necessary, didn’t hang around with guys in my free time. The Islam I had learnt at school meant I could share with others and they would ask questions because they didn’t know some of these things, but also because in our RE lessons when the teacher would say something I was more than confident in challenging him.  This may sound like I live a sheltered life and never spoke to a boy, far from it.  My love for football meant I discussed this mostly with them, which shocked them even more that a hijabi would know her stuff!  College gave me a pragmatic approach to life and made me realise that along with the hijab came a sense of responsibility. I needed to ensure I did nothing ‘wrong’. I didn’t swear, I wore modest clothing and wasn’t doing anything that could be construed as ‘inappropriate.’  I am sure the desi’s amongst can relate to how one small error can lead to the whole town knowing about it, and have an impact on the way people perceive you, particularly for a girl.

See, the Hijab isn’t just a piece of cloth. It is so much more than that.  People look at you and have expectations.  After finishing University, I completed my teacher training. My first job was at an inner city school in Manchester.  The Muslim female population at the school was quite high; but there were only a handful of Muslim Asian teachers at the school, none of whom wore a Hijab.  I remember the way the girls who wore Hijab approached me, the conversations we used to have, the way they looked up to me.  Many don’t have these role models in their lives both at home and at school, they aren’t always given the encouragement to do better academically by their parents, and they seek someone on their wavelength.  Many of them were culturally having the same issues I had growing up. Being able to share the wisdom, how to approach it and how to move on made a massive difference to them.  I became an older sister to them, given I was a relatively young teacher too, which not only made my teaching easier but also meant I enjoyed my job.  Although I’ve left the school now, I am still in touch with some of the pupils and it’s empowering to see where they are now.  Having gone onto college and going through their UCAS applications to make a difference in their lives.

It wasn’t only the pupils though, even the teachers respected me more.  The headteacher realised I played a part in the lives of these girls, and she would comment on the relationship I had with them.  A non Muslim colleague, a practicing Catholic, would regularly discuss Islamic concepts with me. We both came from strong backgrounds where family was essential and a sense of togetherness.  He had behaviour problems with various Muslim girls, and I would speak to them or contact their parents, and speak to their parents in our mother tongue. This again, was influential as previously they had gotten away with misbehaving.  He also saw a side of Muslim women that were educated and willing to care for others, whereas some of these girls sadly came from broken homes and it seemed very little going for them, as boys, music and make up became the core of their living.

And tell the believing women to lower their gaze

and guard their private parts from sin and not show of their adornment

except only that which is apparent,

and draw their headcovers over their necks and bosoms and not reveal their adornment…[An-Nur, 24:31]

I remember reading about how as women, we should perceive ourselves as diamonds.  Would we leave a diamond bare for the world to see? Would we leave it anywhere where anyone can touch it?  Never, because it has value.  In the same way, Allah has created women with value.  Allah says of the believing women, that they should guard their modesty, but He also explains the importance of a woman in the household.  The necessity for them to be educated, for them to be good mothers, the Prophet (saw) said that Jannah (heaven) lies at the feet of the mother.  We have such a status in Islam, that makes me feel all warm inside.  I often feel, I would never remove the hijab, though I understand for some sisters it is difficult, and in shaa Allah (God Willing) Allah will give us all the courage to wear it and embrace the lessons and opportunities that come with it.  I just remind myself that this life is a journey, and it is not everlasting. If I removed the hijab today but died tomorrow, it wouldn’t be beneficial to me.

Many will say, why do women wear the Hijab but men don’t? Actually, in Islam the necessity for modest dress is for both men and women, Allah tells both genders to lower their gaze.  I wouldn’t consider myself  ‘proud’, however I don’t think I could remove my hijab.  Yes, it’s lovely for when you have a bad hair day, but it’s more than that.  People approach you and ask questions, you feel a desire to tell them about what you believe and why.  Above all, it stands as a constant reminder to you of who you are, where are you, and to Who you shall return one day.  As young Muslim women who work, it’s important to dress in a formal manner and look presentable, there are now ample opportunities to do that, with the various hijab styles and colours made available.
The hijab isn’t just something for your head, it’s about your mind and your heart.

Everything that Allah (SWT) made valuable in the world is covered and hard to get to.

Where do you find diamonds? Deep down in the ground covered and protected.

Where do you find pearls? Deep down at the bottom of the ocean covered up and protected in a beautiful shell.

Where do you find gold? Way down in the mine, covered over with layers and layers of rock. You’ve got to work hard

to get to them.”

“Your body is sacred. You’re far more precious than diamonds and pearls, and you should be covered too.”

~ Sporty Muslimah

Read more about ‘Sporty Muslimah’ here


2 Responses to “‘I have covered my head, not my brain’”

  1. Mehak fatima ahmed November 3, 2011 at 8:24 am #

    MASHALLHAH nice article.i really like the last few lines which describe hijab importance very clearly.may ALLAH bless you.can i share an article related to hijab here plz?

    • Me and My Hijab Admin November 3, 2011 at 12:14 pm #

      Assalaamu alaikum sister, Jazakillahu khayran for your comment. We would love your contribution. You will receive an e-mail from
      us very soon in shaa Allah. Wassalaamu alaikum, Admin.

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