Forced into the hijab (Part II)

1) Modesty mustn’t simply be defined in terms of what you’re wearing, but more importantly, how you behave

I don’t know, I don’t think modesty should be as simple as a piece of clothing. I’ve seen women who are truly modest, and they don’t require a Hijab to be so. At the same time, I’ve seen women who dress modestly lead a decadent life. That’s why I think modesty needs to be more than how you dress. It is an entire behaviour. And no amount of clothing could alter that. 

2) Religious decisions should never be forced upon anyone

I always believe that spirituality is a very personal thing. It is something between you and god, and you and god alone. No one should ever, ever come into the picture to influence any of your spiritual and/or religious decisions. I always don’t understand why people see the need to police or ‘save’ other people. Impositions of your own religious beliefs are not only unnecessary, they distance someone else from the religion altogether because it is very off-putting to have someone tell you how to behave. It is also another problem entirely when people tell me to wear the Hijab because they don’t want to be dragged into hell by my sins (i.e my reluctance to wear the Hijab). If anything, what I learnt from my JC experience was that people are able to appreciate the religion even more when they learn it on their own accord. My JC friends are so happy to wear the Hijab because it was never forced upon them.

3) The creation of a dichotomous identity

The person I see wearing the Hijab and my true self – the one who is not defined according to her physical form cannot co-exist. I actually do feel a sense of dissonance and conflict when I have to repress myself in order to maintain the good image of the Hijab. I’ll be honest; by nature I’m quite a free-spirited person who is both sarcastic and enjoys dry humor. I particularly like to make jokes (and crude ones at that) which make many people feel uncomfortable because it’s very unbecoming for a tudung girl to be like that. Due to that I hide my true self and appear to be this seemingly modest person in front of others. And  it worked – people describe me as someone they deem ‘gentle’, ‘quiet’ and shy‘. I can’t decide which is worse – being hypocritical by my wearing of the Hijab or simply to act as I like with no regard for it.

4) People define you in terms of your tudung

People being people, they judge you according to your appearance. When it comes to seeing a tudung girl, naturally, people will see a tudung girl first, and, say, a funny girl second. I do this too, because we always think that people who put on the tudung do so because they are motivated by goodness. As you can already tell, this idea doesn’t apply to me at all. Also I honestly feel sad when someone defines me according to my tudung; because I see myself as someone more than that, and I want to be acknowledged for being witty and funny and other things in which I pride myself for. Furthermore, people see you as ‘the other’ when you wear the tudung. They don’t ever see you or treat you as a regular person in society but as ‘the other’ or ‘the tudung girl’. Personally, I too, wish to be noticed (by the object of my affections) as someone who has a unique personality, but that unfortunately never happens because of how I look.

5) People police your behaviour and they see the need to ‘protect you’

This is an entirely problematic way of thinking which has existed since probably the dawn of time. This is linked to how someone has told me that they don’t want to be dragged into hell by my sins. I recall an incident in school whereby someone told me that my hair was showing and he made a deal out of it. He even jokingly asked – ‘You’re not wearing the inner part of the tudung right?‘ When you think about it rationally, how silly that must sound, because after all, it was simply two strands of hair. The world doesn’t stop when my hair shows, and neither will a hole appear before me and swallow me alive when my hair shows. It was then that I asked him why he felt it was such a problem to the point of accusing me of not wearing the inner tudung. He told me that he thought it would be a sin on his part to not tell me, which fairly reminded me of the kind of things other people tell me when they need to justify their policing of my behaviour or other religious decisions. Personally, I don’t believe that Islam, being the fair and merciful religion it is, would hold you accountable for the sins and the mistakes of others in which you do not consciously partake in. I believe that only the individual and the individual himself should be accountable for such, and not only that, it is an insult to the tudung-wearer to always be reminded that her body is a constant object of sin.

6) Paranoia, awareness of social judgment, and objectification of the self

A few months ago, I decided to do a project on the Hijab, where I challenged myself not to wear the Hijab to see how I would react, since I’ve always wanted to take it off anyway. I always thought it would be easy to take it off, being someone who’s always been reluctant to wear it. It was however, startling to see that it was extremely hard to do. When I didn’t have my tudung on I started feeling paranoid. I remembered taking it off in the toilet and having this intense urge to put it back on the moment I got out of the toilet. I feared someone would see me, someone would come to me and ask me why I am not wearing the tudung, and would then frown upon me. I also felt insecure showing a small part of my neck, and my hair, although the rest of my body was covered. I was experiencing a combination of confusion, insecurity and dissonance within myself. I thought I would feel liberated if I didn’t wear it but what ensued instead was only paranoia. It was amusing to see that when I wore the Hijab, my personality was at odds with my Hijab identity but when I took it off, my Hijab identity in turn was at odds with my personality. That was also when I discovered the idea of a dichotomous identity within myself, which could in no way, merge or be one with the other. Also, that whole experience taught me that objectification must be so prevalent in society when you out of all people, objectify yourself. I’ve always thought I was insecure of my features because I hid my hair, but after years of being conditioned to wear the Hijab, the reverse happened. I was now insecure of my features because I was used to hiding it. It doesn’t do anything for your self-esteem and doesn’t promote a healthy body image at all.

7) Having to compensate

I don’t think wearing the Hijab necessarily equates to a modest way of living. Initially, one of the reasons why the Hijab was so ideal was because it was supposed to shift the emphasis away from how you looked so you could focus on other more important things, like faith, the religion, and ultimately, God. However, if you look at the way things are presently, the Hijab no longer functions that way. It was also supposed to steer the emphasis away from materialism and consumerism, which, as we now know, is simply an ideal. The Hijab market is definitely on the rise now, as we see fashion shows dedicated to not only Hijab and clothing for veiled women but also fashion shows for theTelekung, which is a prayer gown. It is ridiculous to think that a modest piece of fabric that was once supposed to allow women to lead a modest lifestyle now becomes an industry in which people profit from. Furthermore, sometimes, as women wearing the Hijab, we feel the need to compensate, or to make up for what we lack through various means. I’m not saying this is true for everyone but at the very least it is true for myself. I find myself having to dress up more because I want to present myself better because I wear the tudung. Although I know it defeats the purpose of the tudung, I can’t help but to do what I do – because honestly, who doesn’t want others to see the best version of themselves? Dressing up is not about impressing other people but more about making yourself feel better. And this whole process of having to compensate – because I wear the tudung, does take its toll on me. I constantly think that if I don’t wear the tudung, I wouldn’t have to go through so much trouble — because with the tudung, you constantly have to be creative in the way you put your clothes together and you have to work around many things. After you get used to it, it is not much of a hassle, but it definitely isn’t the best way to live, and it definitely isn’t the best attitude to have when you wear the Hijab.

8) No good intentions

I find myself to be, quite frankly, a rather horrible person and because of that, I don’t think I deserve to or am ready to wear something like the Hijab which is a symbol of goodness in society’s eyes. Also, a person such as myself should not be wearing the tudung simply because I don’t believe in it and don’t have any strong convictions to wear it. Furthermore, I don’t think the Hijab or any other religious practice should be done when you’re not sincere about it. Although I wear the tudung everyday, every time I start putting it on the only thing I can think about is how much I dislike wearing it and how I wish I don’t have to. Because of this, my wearing of the tudung is no longer a kind of service to God but is reduced to a pointless ritual which benefits neither myself nor my relationship to God. It is also not of any justice to god, and it defeats the purpose entirely. At this point someone will ask “Why don’t you take it off then“, to which my answer would be – ‘I just can’t‘, as I’ve explained earlier on. 

9) Endless questioning

Whether you wear the Tudung or not, as a Muslim woman, you will constantly be subjected to questions your entire life.

What initially drove me to write about this was because of my deep yearning to have my hair seen, after watching the television yesterday and observing the way this lady’s haircut perfectly framed and somehow enhanced her face. It was the kind of yearning that made me feel pathetic, knowing that having your hair shown is such a natural thing in which many people take for granted. I always wondered what life would be like if my hair could be seen. I always envisioned it to be a much better life, because it seems like I will be free from the many responsibilities, expectations, judgments, hypocrisy and confusion which I have now.

I would like to renounce it, if I could, but that is definitely not within my power.

I would like to say that these experiences are not just my own, but that I am very certain that many of us who have tried wearing the Hijab, or any Muslim woman for that matter, has felt similar sentiments.

To be honest, I am uncertain of where my life will head after I’m done publishing this and if small changes will slowly happen in my life, but I have this sinking feeling that nothing will change – I will forever don the Hijab because I don’t know how to live my life otherwise. 

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