Of hijrahs, hijabs & hate comments
Note: This is NOT a hijrah story.
To my friends, acquaintances, Instagram and blog followers,
Last November, I made a really huge decision when I decided to start wearing the headscarf, or what Muslims call the 'hijab'. 2 more months and it'll be my 1 year hijab anniversary! It feels like I've worn the hijab all my life even though it hasn't even been a year. I had many doubts and concerns before taking that huge step but in the end, it's true what they say, when you're ready you just know.
I get a lot of girls, and sometimes even guys, asking me to write about my so-called 'hijrah' but I've always been very hesitant to do so. I'll be very honest why: a part of me genuinely believes the hijab is a tiny component in my spiritual development and secondly, I don't feel like wearing it has dramatically changed me. I still continue to struggle to be the kind of Muslim Allah* has asked of me. I, personally, don't understand the obsession with women's hijab stories.
* It's important to note that what society expects of a Muslim woman aren't always what is asked by Allah. People do not carry the wisdom nor compassion Allah has.
My hijab story in a tiny nutshell
One fine day, the desire I had to wear the hijab since I was a teen became rock solid. It was no longer something I could ignore or delay. Just like that, I took the plunge and started wearing it. The end. My spiritual journey goes on.
If you were surprised that someone like me would wear the hijab—trust me, even I'M surprised. When I was in uni, I would get my hair done every other month. Colouring, treatments, the whole shebang. A month after wearing the hijab, I still kept asking myself: 'Am I actually doing this?'
There were 3 people in my life that actually gave me realistic advice about it and if a girl comes to me asking for advice on wearing the hijab, I would tell them the same thing I was told: you'll wear it when you're ready and when you are, nothing on earth will stop you from wearing it.
What exactly is hijrah?
Hijrah means emigration in Arabic but it's frequently used by Malays as a term for an 'advancement' in one's spiritual journey—so basically, you went from point A to point F. The word itself is commonly used when a Muslimah decides to don the hijab. I'll be frank: it annoys me that many people seem to take a Muslim woman's religiosity seriously only when she wears the hijab. It's as if one's connection with Allah is only made official once her hair is covered.
From my point of view, a person's hijrah can be anything. It can be when someone went from not praying at all to slowly fulfilling their 5 fardh prayers. It can be when someone decided they want to quit drinking for the sake of Allah. To me, anything that you do to better YOURSELF and get closer to HIM, is an act of hijrah. So I find it rather problematic when people make it seem that wearing the hijab is the biggest hijrah for a woman—as if she went from point A to point Z.
Wearing the hijab does not mean one has reached the highest makam of taqwa (piety); the hijab is a means to an end. It's something that will assist you in your journey towards Allah provided your intentions are pure. If someone can honestly tell me they never think badly of anyone and has stopped speaking ill of someone (ghibah), then I consider THAT to be one of the greatest hijrah ever. I hardly know anyone who don't backbite and it's the tongue that mirrors the condition of hearts.
Can you imagine that?? Backbiting of the heart is not permissible and yet, the average Muslim on social media hardly talk about this because they are so obsessed with the outer appearance of religiosity. They prioritise the shell more than the content.
The sins of the heart vs the sins of the limbs
I asked my ustadh, why is it that people are happy to humiliate and insult others who they believe are sinning i.e. not covering the aurat, while remaining completely unafraid that they're hurting someone's feelings and ruining their reputation?
In essence, he told me that: It's easier to work on your religion outwardly—most people refrain from sinning outwardly (drinking alcohol, zina, gambling, etc) because outward religiosity is also tied to their reputation and no one wants a bad reputation. Not everyone avoid sins because they're afraid of Allah but rather, they are afraid of people's condemnation. But when it comes to the sins of the heart, which are invisible, there is no one to police them. So people can do everything correctly on the outside but the inside is neglected.
Inward and outward modesty
Modesty IS required and valued in Islam. And yes, it is a big step and a commendable one for any Muslim, whether man or woman, to dress more modestly. But to only acknowledge that one has made a step further into their spiritual journey simply because they have decided to express it outwardly... who are we to decide where their spiritual level is at? Our knowledge of someone is only limited to what we can see or understand whereas Allah is Al-Basir (All-Seeing) and Al-Alim (All-Knowing).
There are many people who may not appear 'Muslim' but still practise the religion to the very best of their ability and who knows, perhaps someone who sincerely struggles towards Him, is more beloved to Allah SWT than someone who has only experienced ease. Wallahu a'lam.
Modesty or haya' is a virtue manifested both inwardly and outwardly. In this zahir-obsessed age, we all know that even the hijab is also starting to lose its meaning and is quickly becoming a centrepiece for pop culture in the Muslim world. Let's not pretend that only 'uncovered' women can act or appear immodest; even hijabis can be immodest in what they wear and how they act. Do I need to mention what's recently been viral on Malaysian social media?
We have to stop reducing the hijab to just a piece of cloth a woman wraps around her head; the hijab is a whole package and not everyone gets it right straight away. Modesty can be a lifelong journey for the urban Muslim woman, such as myself, who have difficulty reconciling modern standards of beauty with Islamic standards of modesty. I admit, this is a very real problem and slowly but surely, I'm unlearning the concepts of beauty I've been conditioned to accept through the different environments I grew up in, both KL and England, plus the images I'm constantly exposed to. Hellooo fashion industry!
There are many Muslims who look 'holy' outwardly but their actions don't match their appearance. There are so many paths to Allah SWT and we shouldn't be quick to assume where someone stands with Him because only HE knows what is in the hearts of His creations.
I've always loved my religion and taken it seriously—the hijab was just one out of many things I struggled with. But of course no one knows that because I don't make my ibadah public. I don't post videos or pictures of me reciting the Quran, going to the mosque or all the Islamic classes I attend or how often I attend them. Why would I want to? I'm not insecure and I don't need people to know about my religious acts. I only need to be validated by my Creator, not His creations.
Things are never as they seem
There are many people who choose to hide their acts of ibadah—because hello, showing them off is a sin—but because you don't see their deeds nor do they fit your expectations of the ideal Muslim, you somehow assume that they've no connection with their Creator. You only see what's on the outside; you've no clue what goes on behind closed doors. You don't know if everyday they are struggling with complicated life problems. You don't know how they were raised or the kind of influence they have around them—these are very real challenges for some Muslims. You don't have these problems? Great. Allah protected you and gave you more.
I'm also going to be really honest about something else: before donning the headscarf, I was afraid to share some of the beautiful lessons I learnt during my classes with my ustadh because I knew if I showed love for the deen, there will be someone who will irritatingly ask me: 'Then why aren't you wearing the hijab?' I know myself well and these comments will put me off from continuing my pursuit for sacred knowledge.
I know how harsh, condescending and judgmental some Malays can be on the keyboard. I've seen non-hijabi ladies post about religion only to get backlash and comments like: "Pakai tudung dulu baru cakap." (Wear a headscarf first then you can talk). What kind of mindset is that??
When my cousin TTA wore a hijab for her khatam Quran, she received comments like: 'Sekarang je baru nak bertudung?' (Only now you wear the hijab?) Comments like these make my eye roll all the way to the back of my skull. It's no surprise that many people don't want to be associated with the so-called religious Muslims; they make others who are struggling feel so worthless!
If you desperately want someone to cover up (I've no idea why it concerns you) then make a sincere dua for their hearts to change. It's the niyya (intention) of the hearts that move the limbs to do good. Similarly, if your tongue is saying mean words and your fingers are typing words of hatred on people's profiles, you might want to check how your heart is doing before you play God and decide what's good for others.
I've been taught by numerous ustadhs and shuyukh (plural for sheikh) who are humble enough to tell their students that the turbans they wear are not reflective of their spiritual status. Sometimes they go as far as to tell us that we should not be easily impressed by how long someone's hijab is or how big their turbans are because we don't know how their hearts are.
In all the years I've been taught by my ustadh, I think he's put larger emphasis on my aqidah (creed) and akhlak (virtue ethics) than my dressing. He once told me that a good teacher knows what their student needs and has to prioritise what needs to be improved first. He compared it to fixing a car: 'If the engine is broken, why do I need to waste time on the exterior?' My ustadh took a wise approach and with time and continuous education, I was naturally inclined to the hijab.
It is my ustadh's kindness and sincerity that has always given me the encouragement to keep furthering my fardh ain. He's never looked down on me and instead would always ask me to pray for him and his family. Because I never once felt worthless in his presence, I always did my best and went further and further into the deen. Sometimes how you make a person feel about themselves can really affect their spiritual progress.
Sincere nasihat (advice)
While it's true that it's the duty of a Muslim to correct their brothers and sisters, there is adab in doing so. Being harsh and condescending (or what Malays call 'loyar buruk') is not an effective way of delivering advice.
My ustadh told me that advice has to be filtered through the soul of the person delivering it. Only then, will the advice be pure and enter right into the other person's heart.
Ask yourself: how would YOU like to be advised? The problem with keyboard warriors or people who act on their ego, their advice comes from their zahir so their words just go from body to body, not from heart to heart. Another tip is to ask someone who's much wiser than you for a second opinion before giving advice.
The hijab is not a fix-all solution
I don't feel comfortable when people praise me for wearing the headscarf (although I'm sure they mean well) because truth be told, I have SO much more to fix. The condition of my heart is not great; don't be fooled by a piece of cloth I choose to put on my head. I still struggle with huge sins such as not backbiting and thinking negatively of people. These sins have become so common and encouraged by a gossip-hungry culture, that we don't condemn it as strongly as we should.
People will happily criticise a woman for not dressing modestly but when there's a post of someone bashing a person they dislike, you hardly see the same type of Muslims rush to 'advise' them. Instead, they only care how long a woman's headscarf is or how much of her hair and skin are covered. The hijab will come naturally for any other woman just like it did for me, but you don't get to decide when someone's heart will be open to it, only Allah SWT can. You're not the dispenser of hidayah, Allah is.
I just finished a 3-week Islamic course by Deen Intensive a week ago and one of our teachers, Ustadha Saraa Sabbagh, said: "Wearing the hijab or having the beard is the easiest part of being Muslim. We need not only look Muslim but start ACTING Muslim."
Wallahu a'lam. Allah knows best.