This article is part of a special series exploring our stories as visibly Muslim women in the last two post-9/11 decades.
I choose to be visibly Muslim because Allah (S) asked me to. And, there is no greater honor than being asked to represent Islam by our creator Himself.
I could technically end this post here. But, let me explain.
There are obviously many ways a person can be visibly Muslim, even if they do not wear hijab. However, there is no denying that hijab is the most obvious indicator that someone is a Muslim, and so my post is centered around choosing to wear hijab in today’s world.
When Allah (S) ordained hijab for Muslim women, He said,
يا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ قُل لِّأَزْوَاجِكَ وَبَنَاتِكَ وَنِسَاء الْمُؤْمِنِينَ يُدْنِينَ عَلَيْهِنَّ مِن جَلَابِيبِهِنَّ ذَلِكَ أَدْنَى أَن يُعْرَفْنَ فَلَا يُؤْذَيْنَ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ
O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to lower over themselves a portion of their jilbabs. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be harmed. And ever is Allāh Forgiving and Merciful.
al Aḥzāb: 59
When I first started wearing hijab (at 13 or 14 years old), we were taught that women must wear hijab to guard their modesty and beauty. It wasn’t until I was in my 20’s that I truly learned why Allah (S) asked us to wear hijab – and it made a tremendous difference in my relationship with hijab, and my faith in general.
The author in Washington, D.C.
Yes, modesty is a part of faith. But that is *not* the only reason Allah (S) prescribed hijab. To quote Anse Tamara Gray in her Lean In – Our Feminist Manifesto
(which you really must read, by the way!):
“There are pat-explanations that people like to throw around about ‘why’ women wear hijab in Islam. They are mostly irritating stories about diamonds and pearls and oranges – equating women to objects of decoration or pieces of fruit. But if we peel back the human interpretation we find that Allah (S) Himself has laid plain the reasoning for hijab. That we may be known. Like a sports team – We recognize each other. Like an ethnic background – we feel comfortable with each other Like a flag held high in the field of battle – we bravely go out each day – in every country of the world – and represent our Prophet ﷺ – our religion. We represent our men, who too often blend into the background, and we represent our hurting women who need our activism. We represent any woman of faith unsure how to outwardly express her conviction. We wear the scarf that we may be known.”
Allah (S) wants me to wear the hijab so that I may be known and recognized as a Muslim woman. That’s why I choose to be visibly Muslim. I exist to serve Allah (S) and worship Him, and a part of worshipping Him is following His commands.
Wearing hijab strengthens my convictions and is a constant companion, reminding me of Allah (S) and what pleases Him – like standing up for injustice and being a flagbearer for the oppressed. It reminds me to be kind, to be gracious, and to be merciful towards others. It helps me be more empathetic. It reminds me that I cannot be a good servant of Him if I do wrong to unto others or to our planet.
It reminds me of my priorities. It makes me feel strong and makes me stand up taller knowing that if I have been specifically tasked by Allah (S) with the responsibility of being visible, then I am worthy of it. And, that is the most powerful, impenetrable thing a woman can be granted: confidence in her strength and in her self worth – regardless of what men or greater society thinks, regardless of insane beauty standards,
It teaches me that if my strength and self worth is derived from anything or anyone other than Allah (S), it will be lacking.
I wasn’t asked to tone down my strength or my personality – I was gifted specific talents by Allah (S) himself and tasked with using them to represent Him and put forth His message of justice (adl) and excellence (ihsaan) into the world.
The author at an apple orchard with her daughter in her arms.
I’ve grown to *love* being visibly Muslim – and I recognize that this is partly because of my personality and environment, and that isn’t the case for every woman. It can absolutely be exhausting to feel like you have to represent an entire [extremely diverse] religion, especially in our post 9/11 post-Trump world where bigotry runs rampant. It can certainly be unsafe in some areas (in which case if you actually fear for your life, you are expected to prioritize safety!).
There were times where I did not feel as confident or comfortable in my hijab or being visibly Muslim. When I first started wearing hijab the summer before ninth grade, as mentioned earlier, I didn’t entirely understand why I had to wear it, and I didn’t necessarily have a lot of pride in my identity. I postponed wearing it as long as I was able to before puberty, because I didn’t want to quit playing softball in my town – something I felt I couldn’t do confidently with my hijab on. I didn’t like going alone into the grocery store wearing my hijab.
A part of that is also because I wore hijab in a newly post 9/11 world about three-to-four years after it happened. The stares were hard to ignore and hard to endure. The comments, even harder. Suffice it to say, I definitely didn’t love being visibly Muslim at first.
So what changed? It wasn’t necessarily my understanding of hijab, which I mention wasn’t solidified until I was in my 20’s. It was more my understanding of Allah (S) and His attributes. In the years following my decision to put on hijab, I attended many halaqas and lectures at my masjid that centered around learning more about Allah (S). The more I learned about my Lord, the more I trusted in His wisdom (which feels like it should just be a given, but it’s not). And so, wearing it out of obligation became wearing it out of trust, and eventually, out of love and understanding and even pride. By the time I was in my senior year of high school, I couldn’t have been prouder to be a visible and vocal Muslim woman.
Over the years, I’ve learned to love hijab not just for its beauty and virtues, but also for its struggle. In the hard moments, I remind myself of the reason I’m here on this Earth: to worship Allah (S) and get closer to Him, and that I’m only here in passing. This alone makes a tremendous difference in my faith – remembering that we’re only here for a short time, like visitors passing through. Perspective is needed sometimes, and is very sobering. It helps me shift mindsets and reprioritize. Every moment that I struggle to wear hijab, and still choose to, I know that Allah (S) prepares something greater for me than what I lost.
I don’t fear being labeled, because I’m going to be labeled anyway – and if I’m going to be labeled, I’d rather be associated with Allah (S).
The author meditating on the beach.
For anyone who is struggling with wearing hijab or being visibly Muslim, know that it is a struggle – especially living in a non Muslim country – and it is also a journey. It’s not like you wake up one day and everything is great. This is a struggle that every woman who wears it endures, but Allah (S) is always there to lean on, when it is easy and when it is hard. Lean on Him. Trust in Him. My advice to you? Get to know Allah (S). Truly get to know Him. Learn about his attributes. And, speak to Him. Ask Him for help and ease. He will not turn you away.
I end with Anse Tamara’s words (again):
“Women – lean in to the responsibility. Wear it, and stand proud. You are not an orange. You are not a diamond. You are a Muslim woman. Stand up and be known.”
Noor Suleiman is Haute Hijab's Marketing Manager.