The first incident did not bother me too much and I didn’t think that I would stop wearing hijab. It started bothering my 7 year old son though, and he started asking me a lot of questions.
We were standing outside the supermarket. There were 2 boys who were walking around the store, giving me strange looks, but I didn’t pay heed to them. Later, as I was standing outside with my 3 children waiting for my husband to bring the car around in the parking lot, they drove by. They honked at me and showed me the middle finger. They also said something in German that I didn’t understand. That was very disturbing. My son saw it too.
He asked me: ‘What did they say?’ I tried to play it down, but he said again: ‘No, they showed you the middle finger. Is it because you’re a Muslim? I saw that, why did they do that ?’ Then he started asking me questions whenever we crossed the German or French border. As movement across EU is relatively free, if you live here, you tend to cross borders often; buying groceries in one country and living in another. My son would ask me: ‘Can you not wear the hijab today? Can you just wear a cap? So that they don’t stop you.’ Although I have to say that at the border, they have always been very respectful. I never had any trouble.
I was living in a non-Muslim country. And I cannot change their perceptions about the hijab. I’ve been travelling in Europe, and because of me, my family felt disturbed, as we were treated like a Muslim family. Most people in my family are fair-skinned and had I not been wearing a hijab, nobody would have recognized us as Muslims.
“The thing is, people stop respecting you as a human being. All they see is that piece of cloth on your head and then they make their own judgements; she is wearing a hijab, she must be illiterate, her husband must be beating her up, she has 10 children, whatever.”
Everyone is different. For some people, love is most important, for some, money is most important. For me, respect is most important. The lack of respect I was getting was killing me. Every day, I was reacting. The kids were joking about my anger. I was trying to pick my battles but a point comes when your patience is finished. I didn’t know whether to lash out at people in English, Urdu, any language. And that was not good for the children because they were getting upset and they were getting a wrong image of their mother. All this because of the reaction I was facing from people outside. I chose not to retaliate because my children would think I’m always fighting. There were a lot of incidents. My husband didn’t face them because he is a man and you cannot tell which religion he follows. Only I could be seen in my Hijab.
Things started getting worse for Muslims around the world. Now, when we hear of news that a hijab-clad woman was attacked, it doesn’t affect us like it used to. Ever since I stopped wearing hijab, my life has become easier. My husband is also more relaxed.
The major deciding factor for me, or the final straw was this experience:
We were in Cannes with extended family. We had spent the entire day in beach-garb and flip-flops. I was wearing hijab. My sister and her husband were there as well. Her husband is very anti- hijab and makes no secret about it.
When we stepped out again in the evening, I did not realize that everyone would be so dressed up outside, on the streets. There was a festival going on and we descended the promenade at the peak of the festivities.
My brother inlaw who was always strongly against the hijab, turned around to tell me: ‘I think you must be looking the worst over here today.’ At that point, my husband was standing there, and I looked at him, expecting him to say something. But he said nothing. The look he gave me – it broke my heart. He didn’t have to say anything. I could see it in his eyes, that he wished that I looked better. That was the time I needed his appreciation. To say that you still look beautiful to me…but he didn’t. That broke me.
I never told him that he was also one of the reasons I took off the hijab. Because it was something that I felt inside. And even he did not know that he had looked at me like that. So I cannot blame him. It just came out naturally – the look he gave me.
The moment I stopped wearing hijab, I tried to dress up and look good. I noticed that he was happy. And he was more appreciative of my appearance. So 2 major things that made me stop wearing Hijab; the disrespect I was facing from others, and that look in my husband’s eyes.
It is more difficult to stop wearing hijab than to take it on. That is a more difficult decision. It’s never easy. Just as when you decide to wear the hijab, it’s a struggle every day. You want to look good, you want to flaunt your hair. Let’s be honest, we want to look good for our husbands. We don’t dress up at home. Your husband sees you in your pj’s at home. And he sees you in your hijab when you step out. When is he going to see his wife dressed up properly? Never? So it is draining for a relationship. If you feel it’s affecting your relationship, then the relationship should be saved. You should bring that spark back into your life.
Physically I feel more positive and confident after I stopped wearing hijab. I dress up modestly anyway, but now I feel more confident living here. I’ll be honest, I was actually scared to step out with the kids alone. When I was pregnant, I would tell my husband: ‘What if someone pushes me in the street and I fall on my stomach.’ I was scared. I wanted him to say it, that it’s okay for me to leave it, but he didn’t want to take that burden; of him telling me to leave the hijab.
He did tell me. ‘Why did you leave it? You had already taken the most difficult step. It’s Ramazan now, maybe you could have thought about it gradually, after Ramazan.‘ But I told him. ‘I cannot be a munaafiq (hypocrite).’ If I’m not feeling something from inside I cannot do it from outside. When I was happy taking it, I did it. It made me happy. I was on a different level spiritually. I did not care what people thought.
You should not be traumatized if you decide to wear something. It was very unfair what I was feeling for myself and my children. When I had started taking the Hijab 4-5 years ago, my daughter really wanted to take the hijab as well. But I told her that, ‘You’re too young right now.’ Now that she’s older, she never says she wants to take it. My son is so relieved. He used to tense up when he saw a policeman approaching and I used to be scared that he might get angry, that someone mistreated my mother. I worried that my children might acquire a twist in their personality because of these experiences. These days we have to be very vigilant that our children don’t waiver towards any extreme.
My father always wanted me to take the hijab. I never did. And he never forced me. I see some mothers making their daughters do it at 8-9 years of age. But I don’t. Mothers have this view that then, their daughter will be used to it. I see their point, but don’t think I would ever do it. I have never forced anything on my children. My parents never forced me. My husband never forced me, or my inlaws. It was my decision to take on the hijab and mine to take it off as well. I feel humanity matters most. For Allah also. To me it never felt I had become a better Muslim if I was wearing hijab. I just felt I was making Allah happy and that made me happy wearing it.
“I believe there are many people going through this dilemma. Islam teaches you to follow what you can maintain. If something is becoming extreme, you should think carefully. In Pakistan or Dubai, taking the hijab would have been okay. But here, it had become extreme for me. I could not find a middle path. I couldn’t find a balance. Many women can find a balance. I have friends who continue taking the hijab and are happy taking it. I’m still feeling guilty, so maybe I don’t greet other Muslims on the road confidently enough. Maybe I have to try harder. That nearness I felt to the Muslim community has dissipated.“
I was invited to a mosque for iftar once and I met a lot of Bosnian women – a lot of Muslim women wearing beautiful hijabs, looking lovely. There were many people living their lives wearing hijab. I felt so bad that I was even thinking of leaving it. But I had no support system. No one in my family was wearing hijab. I was already fighting so many battles, it drained me.
To those who are thinking of taking it off, it’s their choice. I won’t say anything. It is more difficult to leave the hijab than to take it on. That is a more difficult decision. It breaks you. It makes you doubt everything you believed in. I thought about it for a year before I finally decided. You think, then you push it at the back of your mind, and then you feel, maybe I should leave it for now. And when I’m ready and strong enough, then maybe, I will do it. It’s never easy, just as you decide to take on the hijab, it’s a struggle every day.