This is the second part of our conversation on dejabbing or removing hijab. Read part one here.
Tasnim: Have any of you considered dejabbing as a way of not being marked as Muslim, and do you feel like where you live makes a difference?
Nicole: My reasons for dejabbing are complex, and complicated, and personal – but living in Europe, am not going to lie, played a big factor. I felt like a misfit in hijab. Like I was somehow out of place. It turns out I am a misfit anyway, but the weird thing was is that when people saw me in hijab, as soon as I opened my mouth, it is like they didn’t expect me to use my words or something or speak my languages fluently. Being an expat is for white people, right? In hijab, I felt like an “immigrant.” Without hijab, I felt like an “expat” even though that is not the proper label for me either (not the right social class, not the right family situation, not the right job, not the right amount of money…) There was this desire, after my divorce, to just going back to being that random white girl. I wanted to “pass.” I didn’t want to be a spokesperson for all of the Muslims ever, I didn’t want to “build bridges” or whatever. I wanted to go about my day.
Krista: I think the issue of being a spokesperson can be a big one. I’ve never worn hijab regularly myself, but can think of a few people I know who have been active in movements against racism or Islamophobia, and whose activism started while they were wearing hijab. Whether they wanted it or not, this inevitably put them into a role of being spokespeople for the headscarf and symbols of how woman can choose to wear it and still be strong, empowered, feminist, and so on. And then when people in that kind of position decide, for their own reasons, not to wear a headscarf anymore, suddenly they have all these people who think that they’ve switched “sides.”
I have friends who have had people congratulate them for their “bravery” for taking it off, or for finally being able to make their own decisions, or whatever. It becomes really awkward for women to stop wearing the headscarf when they have been so visible with it – there comes a point where taking it off gets seen as a victory for those who are already wary of the scarf. For most people I know who no longer wear hijab, they are no more against the idea of women choosing the scarf now then they were when they did wear it regularly – it is simply not what they personally prefer to wear. But for people who have been so visible when they did wear hijab, being publicly recognised as someone who has stopped wearing it ends up being seen as a statement against the scarf, even if this is a statement they have no intention of making.
Tasnim: Yes. I think about this quite often. What would people assume? That I’m “throwing off hijab” and therefore that they need to applaud this as becoming a fully liberated person? I would have no idea how to deal with that. On the other hand, I don’t know about passing, but if I dejabbed I would at least be less marked as Muslim. Sweden is not as bad as my experience of the UK, but I’ve had things yelled at me a few times and I’ve heard kids telling their parents they’re too scared to sit next to me on the bus because I look like a häxa (witch). This is usually when I forget and channel my inner goth – I can’t really wear colors that are too sombre. Each time this happens I tell myself: wear bright colors! Remember to smile!
Just today I was travelling by train and rooting in my bag (I’m a large purse girl) and there were a lot of electronics, and the older lady across from me gave me a look that I interpreted as nervous, so I made a point of giving her a nod and a smile and making sure she got that me and my bag were harmless. Maybe it’s all in my head. But maybe if I wasn’t wearing hijab, I wouldn’t be second guessing everyone, or they wouldn’t be second guessing me.
Fatin: I thought about this a lot especially when 9/11 happened. I was in my senior year at Brooklyn College in Brooklyn, NY. I remember the confusion and the anxiety as news trickled out. There were no smartphones at the time so there was no instant newsfeed. I found a payphone and called home for a ride. My parents told me to hold tight, they were on their way. I remember watching the news and hearing about the Muslim hijackers. At the time, my parents thought it was best for me to stay home for a few days. Tensions were already high at our school over recent events in Palestine. There was some talk about not wearing hijab. I took the opportunity to stay home. I’m not gonna lie, I was scared.
I remember feeling like I didn’t want to take off the hijab after the attacks for two reasons. One, I had only started wearing it a few years before. So I was still really getting used to it. And two, I really felt wearing the hijab was something I was doing for Allah so I wasn’t going to let people’s ignorance and fear change that. That being said, I feel the climate now is so much more dangerous and divisive than 9/11. There was a call for calm after 9/11 that we haven’t heard now. Watching the news from the safety of Jordan, I worry about my family in America constantly. I support whatever they need to do to be safe.
Izzie: Things changed for me when I moved to USA this year. I was aware of the political climate here, and to be frank way before the recent attacks, I already decided to not wear a hijab in public. I usually never spoke about being a Muslim too, unless asked. And not many people know there are Muslim Indians, so my identity usually started and stopped with being an Indian. I kept it that way. From praying with open windows and doors, I kept my blinds shut when I prayed. Don’t many people just relate Muslim prayer with extremism? Dejabbing as such hasn’t been too traumatic for me, because it was something I had been doing only for 3 years about now. However, it affects me that I cannot pray at work. Maybe I can. Maybe I am overthinking it, but I don’t believe in praying in fear. Worried someone is going to come in and probably going to question my intentions. I am assuming the worst in people, I know. But I am very new to this country, and I am taking it slow.
Shereen: When I think about the question ‘Why not just take it off?’ I feel that it is my decision and I don’t want my life dictated by others. I believe if we start conforming for others, just because we can, it doesn’t set a good precedent for others who can’t just change their appearance to fit in. The decision to cover was mine alone and my way of committing more to my faith, so I believe that what God asks of me is more important than strangers on the street, so I try my best to keep it on. Of course, I say this from a position of privilege. I spend a lot of my time outside the UK in the UAE where it is more acceptable to wear it than not.
Izzie: For me, as I dress myself in Loft and Ann Taylor and carry Vera Bradley bags, I hope that I am blending in. My extra colorful backpack may mean no one is going to stop me to examine it. Maybe being an IT engineer from India, I would just be looked at as one of “those” H1B visa holders. But then I think about my nanny, she is a hijabi of Indian origin, an American citizen who for the most part seems unaware of the political nature of her surroundings. She doesn’t seem to cover up any part of her identity. She cooks curries (for me too) and usually smells of spices. She wears a Gap sweater above her abaya. She says her next-door neighbor fills their doorway with air freshener because they smell of Indian curries. I constantly worry about her. I once suggested her to switch to beanies and caps for the time being, she didn’t even seem to understand my concern. I, however, stopped letting my baby go on walks with her to the park. I know maybe I am overthinking it, or over reacting?
I am not brave enough to proudly proclaim my religion like I was in India. I am also not happy with not being able to showcase such a huge part of my identity. Now with the recent attacks, we have seriously started questioning our move. Is this really the land of opportunities?
Tasnim: Don’t tell yourself you’re not brave enough! You should do what makes you feel good – and know that both are legitimate choices and that no one has the right to make you feel bad either way.
Sya: I agree. Honestly, at this point in my life I’ve reached a stage where I can say that I don’t care for others’ opinions of me, because my conscience is clear: I read the Quran and I reflected, and I made my decision. I feel that God will judge us based on our efforts in anything and not whether we happen to be in the right camp, or not (also applicable for being Muslim, eating halal, etc). It took me a long time to feel comfortable about this, because of how judgmental we all tend to be. That being said, some days I miss wearing the hijab. In my ideal world, I would be able to wear it on the days I felt like wearing it, and not wear it on the days I don’t feel like wearing it.
Krista: Yes! I feel the same way. I think it says something about the way that “hijabi” really gets seen as an identity, something that you “are” or you “aren’t,” as if these categories are entirely fixed. In some ways, I kind of appreciate de-jabbing stories for this reason (even if they’re sometimes cheesy and full of stereotypes), just because they at least make the point that wearing a headscarf one day doesn’t mean that you have officially pledged to be A Hijabi For The Rest Of Time.
Tasnim: I might join you in that, Sya and Krista, and we could add a word to the growing hijabi lexicon…re-jabbing, de-jabbing, semi-jabbing?