Today’s guest post in the Let’s Talk about Hijab series is one I have been eagerly waiting for. Sarita Agerman and I are doing a little blog-swap. Last week I was at Hotchpotch Hijabi in Italy with I Don’t Live in a One-Word World and this week she is visiting Djibouti Jones. The way she approaches Islam on her blog is open, honest, deep, and ultimately, relatable. I find it fascinating that when she writes about being a newbie at mosque or about the hijab mirror test, though I have never prayed in a mosque or committed to wearing hijab on a daily basis, I can connect with her stories as they shed light on my own experiences. And this is what good writing and true living do. I also love the virtual friendship we are forming and the fact that when I told her my kids were going back to Kenya on Monday she said she would pray for me. This is what the Let’s Talk about Hijab series is after – not uniformity but community. Enjoy…
Outward Sign of an Inward Faith: Am I Good Enough to Wear This?
Not all women choose to wear it and there are (as in everything) different interpretations of whether it’s obligatory or not, but in my case the hijab was something I choose to adopt pretty much straight away. For me, it was part and parcel of the process of converting. My relationship with the physical scarf was a useful gauge as to how I was progressing in my tentative spiritual journey towards Islam.
I had the occasions, like many other female converts, when I would watch Pearl Daisy or Nye Armstrong’s videos till late into the night. I’d squeal with excitement and then rush to the mirror to try the hijab out for myself. Of course, it would be wonky or fall off but that didn’t matter. I didn’t mind that I couldn’t pull off the architectural feat of keeping the scarf on my head because I was happy, excited and feeling open to the new emerging influence in my life.
The times when I looked into the mirror and disliked my hijabified reflection were, with hindsight, the times when I was feeling scared by the changes that were going on in my life. As I wrestled with the theological differences between two faiths, I saw this battle play itself out in front of the mirror on a smaller scale. I’d get tangled up in my scarf, get annoyed with it and then throw it to the ground in exasperation.
During one of my more enthusiastic phases, I ventured out wearing an experimental turban to the local garden centre in the sleepy English village where I lived. I pottered about the pots and petunias with my internal paranoia pendulum swinging between feeling confident and breezy to ‘aargh everyone’s staring at me.’ In reality though, I don’t think any of the passers-by were particularly shocked by my presence and were probably more concerned about which pebbles would suit their new rock garden. Yet despite the lack of drama, it was still a significant step for me. It made me realize that despite my occasional paranoia, I actually felt comfortable with people being able to identify me as a Muslim by the way I dressed.
This realization brought with it a strong sense of responsibility. I didn’t feel at the time that I had enough Islamic knowledge to wear an article of clothing so steeped in tradition and with such political and religious connotations thrust upon it by the media and society. I worried that I’d be asked questions about Islam which I won’t be able to answer.
Or perhaps even worse (in my mind), was the fear that someone would speak to me in Arabic and I’d have no idea what to say in return. There have been so many times when someone has said asalaamu alaykum to me in the street and I was so excited that all that came out was a weird ‘waaaaaaaaaaaaaa,’ as it was the only syllable I could remember of the expected response ‘wa alaykum salaam.’
Social awkwardness aside, I often felt inadequate wearing something which represented faith and modesty when I was still in a transitional period of discovering more about Islam and my own personal beliefs. I can understand why some Muslim women find the act of wearing hijab tough because it comes with the weight of representation. If you miss a prayer or two as I sometimes do, or find yourself daydreaming about lunch during Salah (the five daily prayers) then you begin to feel bad wearing something that for many people, whether rightly or wrongly, represents piety. If you think in that way then it’s easy to feel like a fraud when you fail to achieve the high standard which you expect of yourself and think others expect too.
Hijab shouldn’t be viewed as an accolade, like a medal for winning a race, rather it should be viewed in the same way as the number pinned to the chest of a long-distance runner. It says to the world that you’re participating in a spiritual journey which is still in progress and even though at times you might fail miserably, you’re going to keep going.
In this way, I see the hijab as way of acknowledging that I’m not perfect but that I aspire to the values which the hijab represents. It isn’t there to chastise me for my failings but to remind me and encourage me to carry on despite them. The important thing is to consider our intentions and to continue trying, despite all our weakness, to be a better person and improve our relationships with God and those around us.
Sarita is an English language teacher from the UK who currently lives in Bologna, Italy with her husband. She converted to Islam two years ago and began to write a blog last year as a way of sharing her experiences as a new convert and newbie teacher in a foreign country. She has recently started studying the Arabic alphabet with the aim of one day mastering the tricky letter ﻉ.
You can also find Sarita on Twitter and Facebook.
Other posts in the series:
Why Doesn’t Your Wife Wear Hijab? by Anita Dualeh
Hijab: the Universal Struggle by Pari Ali
Asking the Right Questions by Afia R. Fitriati
Through the Eyes of Children by J.R. Goodeau
Rethinking the Veil by Marilyn Gardner
The Thousand Stories of Hijab, by Chaltu Berentu, a video via The Poet Nation
i appreciate what you’ve said, Sarita, acknowledging the fact that we are all on a spiritual journey
on the other side, i sometimes wish i felt more uncomfortable and more of the responsibility of wearing the name Christ-follower. if there is anything i’ve learned from my muslim friends here, it is how easily i slip into irreverence when it comes to my faith.
i wonder if part of the difference comes from coming to a faith as an adult versus growing into a faith from childhood…???
I think you’re right – a lot can be said for coming into a faith in later life as opposed to growing up with it. I certainly took things for granted as a Christian because I was so familiar with them, especially as my parents were ministers themselves so it was an integral part of the fabric of family life. I remember joking that I thought Jesus would be difficult to live with because he knew everything about you and that would make me uncomfortable. Now I’m more aware of my actions – perhaps because as a Christian it was easier to go under the radar and people wouldn’t necessarily know you were religious whereas now in hijab I’m very visible.
I rambled a bit but thank you for making me think about that topic. It’s an interesting idea.
I echo Richelle’s thoughts above. I wear a gold Ethiopian cross around my neck. It is probably one of my favorite possessions. Throughout your post I kept on thinking “What kind of responsibility do I feel toward wearing a cross” – it was a punch gut reaction. As Rachel said in her introduction, that’s what good writing is, bringing us into your world and giving us all kinds of thoughts about where the parallels lie. Thank you for this post!
i have a gold croix d’agadez and i feel the same way about it – i can’t wait to get the chain fixed and be able to wear it again. yet several years back, when i first started wearing it, i had some members from my very baptistic extended family unhappy because they identified the cross with a crucifix and catholicism – and wondered if i was signaling a change in how i lived my faith.
that thought probably would have never crossed my mind otherwise.
Thank you, Sarita. I very much appreciate hearing from your point of view. I love your comparison of outward symbols of faith likened to the numbers on a long-distance runner’s chest, as opposed to a gold medal around their neck. As a follower of Jesus Christ, that’s how I view the cross I wear around my neck…a symbol of my identity as someone who is dedicated to the life-long journey of being a disciple of Jesus…one who daily stumbles and falls, but one who is in it for the long haul. Eugene Peterson wrote a great book on this subject for Christians: “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society.”
Thanks again, both to Sarita and Rachel. Blessings!
Marilyn, just when my comment was posted I saw yours. Yes…my gold cross is also one of my most treasured possessions! My grandmother gave it to me on my 16th birthday, over 20 years ago. It had been given to her by her godmother when she was young…well over 80 years ago…and I’m not sure about it’s origins previous to that. I’ll have to call my grandma and ask! 🙂
This is fascinating to me – how these outward symbols – hijab and a cross – can remind us of our need to be pursuing God. I hadn’t made the connection/comparison until y’all did in these comments. Thanks for this lovely interaction.
What a great post. I too like the analogy of a number pinned to the chest of a long-distance runner.
very very great article!
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I am finding these posts very interesting. Is there ever a worry that the outward symbols can distract or be a sign to others that is not essential to our respective faiths?
This is NOT a criticism but a genuine query.
Love this interaction .