I had to take off my Hijab because society refused to accept me
Out of the 50 Muslim majority states in the world, Pakistan ranks second in the list with a Muslim majority population of 97 per cent. And it was among these Muslims that I felt discriminated for donning a hijab.
I began the practice of hijab during my second year in art school. Initially, most of my friends did not pay attention to my additional piece of clothing and encouraged the practice. Eventually, however, I realised that while all my relatives, friends and acquaintances professed to be Muslims, very few supported my choice to wear a hijab.
During the first few weeks of donning a hijab, I was subjected to all kinds of negative comments. If you belong to an average Pakistani household, you would understandably predict that most of these comments came from my relatives. One particularly rude (claiming to be straightforward) cousin of mine commented:
“You look like a maasi (maid)!”
This was also downright rude for my maid, who was working in the next room.
My phupo (a paternal aunt who is infamous in our part of the world and not without a good reason) commented:
“Kia ho gaya hay tumhe larki,(what’s wrong with you) you look 10 years older with this dupatta.”
While this did put me down, I still decided to continue wearing my hijab but in a way that might make me ‘acceptable’. I revamped the way I wore the hijab, something I had seen many of my art school mates do. So began my hours in front of the mirror where I tried everything from the Arabic hump to the elegant Turkish style, but somehow I felt none of this was me. I felt that all of these styles brought more attention to me, which was not the purpose of my hijab. Thus, I was left with no choice but to be mistaken for a maasi and 10 years older than my actual age.
Eventually, the comments turned from negative to confrontational. Some of my so-called modern friends, who were openly confrontational, and perhaps a little guilt ridden, commented:
“Hijab does not mean you have become a Muslim. You can be a Muslim without one. Allah (SWT) will look at your soul and not how you are dressed.”
“I do not trust girls who wear hijab, they are so corrupt from the inside. Most girls cover their faces in public because they want to avoid being seen with a boyfriend. Have you just sacked one?”
With time, I came to accept and even understand these comments; however, what made it the most difficult were the actions that ensued by our hypocritical society. Friends stopped inviting me to parties and get-togethers; you know, since I was now a Muslim and may dampen the spirit of the party. Knowing that my hijab would stand out among the straightened and blow-dried hair, I gave myself some solace in the exclusion. But my ban did not just end here – the presence of the small scarf on my head excluded me from getting hired in the chic art world. In a country where skills are based on appearance, my hijab acted as a determinant. I was automatically stereotyped as the desi type and often, despite working extra hard and being proven right more than once, I was still the outcast.
Naturally, the depression that followed was something that was quite hard to bear.
One friend, a revert Indian Muslim, found it quite difficult to accept a Muslim society’s rejection of the hijab. Her concept of Pakistan was a country made for the purpose of ensuring that Muslims were allowed to practice their own religion without any impediments. But sadly, the same Muslims have become a force against their own religion. In their acceptance of Western standards, they have become quite vocal against traditional Muslims’ appearances and roles.
Two years later, I was still a budding Muslim but I realised that I was not strong enough to fight the society that could not look beyond the small piece of fabric that covered my hair. Hence, the hijab then slowly fell from the head and onto the shoulders, a place where it is accepted by our society.
The question that nags at me now is, why did a small piece of fabric define my existence in a society?Knowing from experience, I am aware that this is not an isolated story. Many girls in my shoes would recount a somewhat similar experience.
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