My thoughts on de-jabbing*

by mkrayem

Hijab image

I have no idea who coined the term de-jabbing but it refers to the choice of Muslim women to no longer wear hijab. The word hijab is commonly used to describe the head covering but in actual fact refers to the entire concept of modest dress and behavior.

Muslim women wear hijab for a variety of reasons and I don’t believe any of them are static. Primarily women will state that it is fard (obligatory) upon Muslim women to adhere to a modest dress code of which the head covering is an integral part. But like all aspects of Islam, there is no compulsion.

This of course means that one must choose to engage in practices of their own free will. I see this choice as being part of what keeps faith strong. If you freely choose to engage in something you obviously do so for good reason and this reasoning allows one to maintain the practice more diligently and sincerely. This is especially difficult to do when something becomes routine. If we consider the act of prayer for example, which Muslims engage in five times each day (minimum), it can easily and often does, become one of those things we must check off our ‘To Do List’.

But what in the case of hijab? The most difficult thing about hijab is that it’s an external marker of faith, that brings with it much expectation. The expectation is not limited to what we assume God intended when He ordained such for women but the expectations of Muslim communit(ies) and non-Muslim communities (to use a very ambiguous dichotomy).

Choosing to put on the hijab happens in different ways for different people. Some of my friends (in particular the ones who attended Islamic schools) just kind of started wearing it. There was no definitive moment for them. They didn’t have an epiphany or sit down and deeply consider what it meant, they just wore it to school and kept wearing it after school. It was their norm. For others it was a choice that required so much consideration. Neither is better or worse, they’re just different.

Before I chose to wear hijab I thought about it for nearly a year. I was young (16) and still finding myself. Heck I’m still finding myself now. I went to a school where cultural diversity was some bizarre anomaly and while I had started making Muslim friends outside of school they weren’t exactly my BFF’s… not yet anyway.

Just after my 17th birthday I bit the bullet, stopped thinking about it and just did it. It was over the Christmas holidays and I had a week or two to settle into it before going back to school. It’s a definite adjustment. Every time you leave your house you’re convinced the world is staring at YOU. Of course it’s mostly paranoia but everyone who’s been there will tell you it takes some getting used to.

I eventually got over it until the day before I was due to go back to school and let’s not beat around the bush here, by the time night fell I was freaking the hell out. Regret had well and truly seeped into every fiber of my being and I resembled something of a Gollum/Smeagol split personality, except it was less my precious and more Holy hell Mehal what have you done? What were you thinking? Were you thinking? Do you think? Think Mehal, THINK! Then it was This is something you want to do, why do you care so much what people think of you? Just be who you want to be and if people can’t deal with it, it’s their problem. This went on for hours. No exaggeration.

The actual experience of facing my peers is a matter for discussion at another time. The point is I eventually got over my regret. But that doesn’t mean over the course of nine years I’ve never had doubts about hijab and my commitment to it. I’ve also talked through the possibility of de-jabbing with friends who have been considering it. It’s a confusing thought process where you feel like you’re being pulled in multiple directions. It requires talking through with people who understand you, are not inclined to judge and love you unconditionally – you know those people who’ll still be there regardless of what you decide.

There’s a lot of judgment passed on girls who choose to no longer wear hijab. There’s often the misconceived notion that somehow these girls are totally rejecting faith, that there is no hope for them and that if they were ‘true’ Muslims (whatever that is) they’d never even contemplate such a decision. I once heard a young woman profess that if any of her friends did decide to no longer wear hijab they could consider the friendship over. Odd given many of her friends never have worn hijab. Another explained ‘isn’t that the end of the road?’

I’m not sure which road people travel but I’m a believer that the only ‘end’ to your road is death and even that is really a temporary abode. As for a rejection of faith none of my friends who’ve stopped wearing hijab have denied it as being obligatory, nor have they renounced their faith. Oddly enough the same people who pass judgment on girls who choose to no longer wear hijab are those who also judge girls in hijab, claiming their dress is inappropriate, their behavior is inappropriate and it would be much better if they just stopped wearing it altogether.

In my experience these same people are ones whose interaction beyond the Muslim community is limited- reserved for necessities and special occasions. I understand why we as a community don’t wish to praise the action of removing ones hijab. But does that mean we are not sympathetic to the tensions, reasons and situations that result in such a decision? Can we really not understand that sometimes life is simpler without it? But mostly can we not understand that in some situations it is the pressure our own communities place on us that results in the internal dialogue of ‘does hijab represent me?’ largely because at times our definition of women in hijab is so narrow.

If that’s not your challenge in life, then shut up and be thankful for it. If your actions were truly for your Lord your concern would not be in condemning others under the guise of ‘guidance’ but in offering love, mercy and compassion. Judgment is not your domain.

I’m the kind of person who loves pretty freely and unless you turn into a psychotic, axe murdering rapist, if I’ve loved you before you can rest assured there’ll always be a soft spot for you no matter how far apart we drift. I’m the head cheerleader for unconditional love because there is no other love I can justify. Conditional love (and I’m not talking about any relationship that involves abuse) is something I find very difficult to reconcile. I believe so much that love stems from the connection of two souls that I simply cannot fathom how you’d place conditions on that love. So honestly hijab or no hijab I can’t say that determines how I see you. But when I do see or hear of women who’ve de-jabbed my initial thought is ‘could that be me?’ because of all the women I know at one point or another these women were dead certain about their commitment to hijab. I’m also sympathetic because life is challenging. It’s a constant hunt for purpose, a quest for meaning and an ongoing leap of faith, even if their faith doesn’t resemble yours.

My only hope is that as women we find spaces where honest dialogue can be had, where we can vulnerable and confused and where the people around us will not exploit either of those to their advantage. I hope that we find peace in our decisions and I hope that regardless of the path you’re on you find the love you need to get you through because above all I believe life is about survival and truthfully we cannot survive it alone.

*As a disclaimer, I don’t like the term ‘de-jabbing’, I’m not claiming to be a scholar and this isn’t a post about what hijab means to me. And finally, the girl in the image is not me (but how cool is the green light? Looks all Nitro!)

(image credit)