Taking off the veil

My journey with the hijab lasted five and a half years. I donned the hijab during the summer between middle school and high school. I planned my hijab ...

Sep 28, 2013

My journey with the hijab lasted five and a half years.
I donned the hijab during the summer between middle school and high school. I planned my hijab debut on July 1, to be precise. I had to start on a significant date and I figured the halfway point of the year was sufficiently significant.
It was of my own volition, or so I believed. In reality, I wore the hijab because it was what all of my friends were doing. In the same way other kids had their first drink or their first cigarette, I started wearing the hijab. Among my friends, wearing the hijab garnered instant admiration and respect. They would say things like, "You're so brave ... I could never ..." Of course, I did it for the religious reasons as well — modesty and the whole shebang — but those were more of an afterthought.
On the first day of highschool, I relished the anticipation of my friends’ reactions. But alas, in politically correct suburbia, all I got were a few stares and radio silence, doubly strange as I hadn’t even warned my friends. I was bitterly disappointed. I had prepared my reasoning and my explanations of why Muslims wear the hijab and why the hijab was significant to me, but nobody was asking.
The questions would eventually trickle in, but they were always from people I didn’t know who felt comfortable asking strangers stupid questions such as whether I showered in my hijab or if I ever took it off.
My hijab immediately felt like second nature. I never struggled with the idea of it or the fear of being bullied. Rather, I was disappointed in the lack of attention. It felt the same as before, except that now I didn’t have to worry about doing my hair. Protip — hijabs are great for bad hair days and lazy people.
I had attended Sunday School since I was five, but it wasn't until 4th level — a class filled with teenage girls — that we were encouraged to wear the hijab. We heard lectures and we heard stories. The girls who had already started would regale us with tales of how they were treated with so much more respect, especially from males, after donning the hijab. For those girls, the hijab was empowerment in the sense that people respected them for who they were rather than their appearances. I was confused. Honestly, nothing had changed after I began wearing the hijab. I don’t think anyone treated me differently for better or for worse. All I had were some funny stories about strangers and their stupid questions.
Fast forward to my sophomore year of college. It had been a year since I had moved to the Middle East to go to university. I was no longer one of a handful of hijabis, although we weren’t by any means a majority, just a significant minority.
I took off my hijab.
I didn’t do it on purpose. I had never even considered taking it off. It kind of just happened. I was getting off the plane to Spain and it had slipped off and instead of just readjusting, as I was wont to do about every thirty seconds — I was never a fan of pins and perfection — I just left it. I didn't wear it for the rest of the day, or the day after, or the day after that. I still didn’t feel any different. Even in a cosmopolitan university, political correctness prevailed, and still no one raised any questions about my choice.
Now, I pretty much only wear the hijab on family occasions. I can’t say that either wearing or not wearing the hijab changed my life. All I can say is that it didn’t mean anything to me and that made me uncomfortable.
The decision to wear or not wear the hijab is one that is often depicted as a defining moment in a young Muslim’s life, and I believed that for a long time. But in taking off the hijab, I also realized that for me, it was simply a piece of cloth.
Amel Yagoub is a contributing writer. Email her at
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