Forced into the Hijab (Part I)

Ramadhan has always been a special time for me because it’s the time when I sit down and reflect about my religion more seriously. I don’t mean for this to look like a biography, but I thought that it’d be easier to write things chronologically.

See, for as long as I can remember, the Hijab has always been an obligation enforced upon me and my sister.

As a young Muslim, you don’t really question these things but you just do it because your parents tell you to. When I was younger I don’t remember if I had true conviction for wearing it, but I wore it anyway. I just assumed it was the norm since my mother wears it, and because it was compulsory to wear it when you went to religious classes. So I did.

It was only in my pubescent teen years when this strong sense of dislike towards the Hijab sat at the back of my mind. The pubescent years was when how you looked started to matter, and for me, a person who has always struggled with low self-esteem, it aggravated the problem. I recall this incident that happened some time during my Secondary School years. My friends and I were out for a “Jalan Raya” outing. I was the only girl wearing the Hijab. I resented it the moment I put it on as it made me feel uglier than I already was. Seeing how pretty the other girls looked in something other than their Secondary School uniforms was enough to implant this small seed of jealousy within me. What worsened it however, was when the boys snickered, labelling me “alim” or pious because I wore the tudung. I remembered them laughing about it when I shortly excused myself to pray. It was something that damaged my self-esteem even more. At that moment I hated my parents for forcing such a thing upon me, and I hated the Malay community for endlessly criticising – it is a problem in their eyes to both wear it and not wear it. Most importantly, I hated that company; and that was when I swore to myself never to attend a “Jalan Raya” with anyone other than family.

This dislike for the Hijab continued into my JC years, although in a smaller scale. The JC years introduced me to new perspectives on the Hijab, both good and bad. For one, my Chinese friends were more accepting and encouraging of the Hijab than my Malay friends. They told me things like “You look good with the Hijab, it frames your face nicely“, “You’re pretty“, “I like the way you dress” which really made me feel better about myself. Never once did they question me for my decision to wear it. The Malays in my JC, were nicer than the ones I met in Secondary School. Not only were they non-judgmental, they never once snickered at me for wearing the Hijab. Furthermore, the girls were undergoing a transition like myself. We were all at the age where we wanted to take our lives more seriously, and the Malay girls I knew were all making the decision to wear the Hijab because of varying reasons. I was really happy that they were making the decision to do so, and listening to their stories made me feel more optimistic about the Hijab. However, along with it came a deep sense of jealousy. You see, my friends were the sort who were never forced to wear the Hijab by their parents. When they wanted to wear it, it was a decision they made on their own accord, and I truly respected them for that. It was something that was never in my capacity to do. How I wished I were them, loving and embracing the Hijab for all that it is. I couldn’t however, as my deep sense of repulsion for it was still there. You see, the more you are forced to do something, the more you shy away from it.

The present is when I’ve been starting to really rethink the whole idea of the Hijab. I am in uni now and it seems that in uni, at any given point of time, people see you in the Hijab and only the Hijab. I remember in year one I didn’t even bother to adopt a defensive attitude towards the Hijab. My friends asked me why I wore it, and I just answered “Because my parents forced me to“. I remember in JC I would tell my friends lies like “Because it allows me to be more modest” or something of the like, which, looking back, must have sounded really baseless and presumptuous.

Stay tuned for the second installment of this piece, where our contributor shares her thoughts on wearing the hijab. 

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