I started wearing the hijab on 01 Ramadhan this year.
I haven’t spoken much about this beyond a recent post that pretty much warned people not to ask me about it if I ever did decide to wear the Hijab. That defensiveness had a lot to do with my own personal fears and worries about whether I was brave enough to wear the hijab. I did write about my personal experience of boys cursing a burqa wearing lady in SFO in this facebook post (or appended below). I feared the Hate I felt that day.
Since I started wearing the hijab, people have asked me about my decision and I was surprised that I found myself quite happy to talk about my journey.
I don’t think my story is unique. But it is my story.
I have always known that I would wear the Hijab. It was only a matter of- when? I’ve been raised to believe that young girls must dress modestly and don the hijab as soon as they hit puberty. But I was also raised to believe that there is no point in wearing the hijab if the way I lived my life was in conflict with the teachings of Islam, i.e. no point trying to look like a virtuous Muslim girl by wearing the hijab, if I don’t pray 5 times a day, if I don’t feel a connection to our faith and god, cheat or lie.
And for many years, that connection wasn’t very strong. I’ll be honest. I would only turn to God when I felt I needed divine intervention. Sometime I felt I needed divine intervention for what, on hindsight, does seem quite trivial, like exams or heartbreak. Other times for more serious things, such as praying for a loved one to recover from a serious illness.
While the connection wasn’t very strong, that connection…was, nonetheless, still there. Never in my mind did I ever doubt the existence of God, or my belief in Islam.
One of those times I felt I needed to turn to God was after the miscarriage I experienced 3 or so years ago. I turned to God in my moment of darkness. Praying that he would lift my spirits, heal me physically and emotionally, and not to take away, forever, the hopes of a child in our lives.
When we learnt that we were pregnant with twins, I was over the moon. But I was also riddled with deep dark fears that I would lose the pregnancy. Some of it was fear that God would punish me for all the naughty things that I had done, and believe you me- I’ve been naughty!
During this time, I received a lot of emotional support from many beloved friends. Many of whom are of the Christian faith. Whether they said it explicitly or not, I knew that I was always in their hearts and sometimes in their prayers. I begun to admire their initimate connection and genuine love for their creater, and felt envious of how their faith was such an enriching source of light and happiness for them.
As far as I can remember, I was taught to fear my creator and the fires of hell, more than to love and admire the Almighty’s greatness, compassion and love. I don’t remember people telling me I should wear the hijab or pray to demonstrate my love and commitment to the Almighty. However, I do remember elders asking me why I was not more afraid of the hellfire?
Anyways, the friends, the friend, they inspired me to revisit my connection with my faith and my own beliefs. Their faith helped me find my own.
My connection is no longer rooted in the fear of punishment, but more in appreciation for the gifts that I have been bestowed- my sons, my loving husband, my caring family and friends who have been a source of strength.
It is also rooted in a trust that whatever obstacles that is laid before me, was laid purposefully to help me learn and to strengthen me through hardship. They were and are not meant to break me. The pain of my first pregnancy only proved to my husband and I, that we wanted, more than anything else, to start a family. It also brought us and our families closer together in support of each other.
Did I feel like I needed to wear the hijab to represent this change? I don’t think so. It wasn’t about making a public statement of my commitment and faith. The truth is, I just woke up one day and felt that it was something i wanted to do.
I knew I was far from perfect. Have I missed a prayer since? Sure. Everyone knows how bitchy I am and how I LOVE to gossip. And I don’t even notice anymore when I flirt with men! Whether I like it or not, I am never going to be the perfect Muslim. After all, no one is perfect. It is more important that I don’t stop striving to be better. I believe God accepts me despite my imperfections and will love me for the sincerity of my intentions.
But I didn’t start wearing the hijab the day I woke up and felt like it was the right thing to do. It took me a whole year to finally muster up enough courage to wear the hijab. Much of it had to do with that story of hate I experienced. And some of it was a discomfort of losing the anonymity of identity I once possessed.
“It’s just that i like my anonymity- that i look a little chinese, filipino, thai, malay,cambodian and nepali. i don’t like that people know what race or religion i am, just from looking at me. it’s also why i’m reluctant to put on the headscarf, if i do- i’d be pigeon holed as a muslim girl. i just like my anonymity too much at this point of time to give it up.”
While I’ve come to terms with giving up my anonymity in Singapore by wearing my faith on my head, as it were. I’m not sure whether I will feel the same way if I’m traveling or living in the US or Europe. I can’t be certain that the fears I felt that warm summer day in SFO, won’t flood back and that I’d be tempted to yank the hijab off my head, stuff it in a bag, so that no kid would shout to a bus-driver asking that I be run down.
When that day in the future comes, will I have the courage to face my fears? Will I keep the hijab on despite my fears and insecurities, in the face of possible hatred and discrimination? I’m not sure.
But I have the courage today to say, whatever happens in the future is beyond my control. I do, however, have control of what I do today. And today, I choose to wear the hijab. I choose to be proud of my faith. And I choose to try and be a better Muslim today than I was yesterday.
I choose to take it one day at a time.
I remember like it happened yesterday the chills that ran down my back when 2 boys in a bus in San Francisco yelled to the bus driver, “run her down!” They were referring to a lady crossing the street. She was dressed in an all black burqa. You could only see her eyes. I sat silently. Relieved that they couldn’t identify me, the girl sitting a row before them, as a muslim.
One of the reasons I h
aven’t worn the hijab earlier, is the fear of the hate I would encounter if I did wear it. I also felt shame for feeling that way. Perhaps that was why I hardly share this encounter since it happened the summer of 2005.
9/11 changed the world. And it did so startlingly for the millions of Muslims who do not condone the act but are suddenly vilified because of our identity as Muslims.
My fear hasn’t altogether dissipated despite the fact that I’ve decided to adorn the hijab.
But I’m comforted everyday by the non Muslim friends and colleague who accept me despite this change. I feel no different today wearing my faith on my head, as it were, then before. And I walk down the street everyday knowing, w absolute certainty, that noone on a bus is hoping I get lynched.For that and much more I am thankful for being a Muslim in Singapore.
Today I want to honor the memory of the lives lost on 9/11 and the families, frens and loved ones who must still be grieving their loss. I too wish that 9/11 had never happened and that we were restored the lives, happiness and peace we once enjoyed.