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Hijabi Neglect

K.T Lynn assesses the reasons why she neglected her physical health and appearance after embracing Islam.

Your body is a trust from Allah (SWT). He has provided you with only one;  appreciate  all that it can do and its utter uniqueness.



Deciding to wear hijab can be an overwhelming life change for a Muslim woman. Dealing with the social and spiritual consequences of this decision is more than enough to keep us busy. Unfortunately, this new spiritual development can come at the cost of one’s physical well-being. Wearing hijab is not simply a fashion modification; it is symbolic of a shift in focus from the Dunya to the Akhirah. This shift can be even more overwhelming for new Muslimahs due to their additional lifestyle modifications. The lifestyle modifications that usually parallel the adoption of hijab can be conducive to weight gain and a sedentary lifestyle.


In my own experience, the causes of my “hijab weight gain” were many. No longer did my clothes hug or accentuate my figure. Under the looser and more modest clothing, my weight gain was masked and unnoticed. Since I was used to tight clothing, I did not detect my weight gain until my “hijab clothes” had become too tight to wear.


Before Islam, my focus was mostly on my appearance and various forms of pleasure seeking activities. Shortly after reverting to Islam, I made the decision to wear hijab. I felt like I needed a symbolic line drawn between me and my old life. After beginning to wear hijab, I was intoxicated by the sense of belonging, especially since the belonging was conditional on something other than my appearance.


Unfortunately, like a lot of new Muslims in transition, I threw some of my old healthier habits out with my bad ones. I had previously engaged in frequent exercise and watched my diet. Activities such as clubbing or parties were replaced with more sedentary activities such as eating out or gatherings in the home. I was caught between a constant rotation of hijab and sweatpants or pyjamas. Distracted by my new spiritual developments and unfamiliar with the lifestyle of a hijabi, I focused on growing my spiritual side. Grow I did, about ten kilos within a year.


Just like that.


What had happened?


After careful reflection, it occurred to me that my self-confidence and self-worth were directly tied to the reinforcement I received from others about my appearance. My tight clothes and attention grabbing party personality was not “who I was” but a way to satisfy my inner desires to be loved and feel attractive. Although wearing hijab made me a more spiritual person and shifted my attention from certain worldly vices, it did not solve my cravings for attention. Without the reinforcement from others, I stopped caring for myself; I was completely detached from my desirability and worth. Without being able to exploit my sexuality and attractiveness, I abandoned them. Early in my time as a revert, I was misguided to believe that a Muslim woman’s physical appearance is irrelevant because she does not exploit or showcase her beauty. Despite my earlier focus on appearances, I never made the connection between my previous values and the sudden self-imposed neglect of my physical appearance.


Before Islam, being noticed by others was something through which I valued myself. Something I never considered was what would happen to my self-confidence if I could no longer depend on the validation of others. It sounds silly now, but I never realised that caring for my body was important whether or not anyone sees the fruits of that labour. Similar to the student that does not see the value of an ungraded assignment, I only saw value when an evaluation was given by someone other than me.


Despite the fact that reversion to Islam is a spiritual and intellectual experience, it is not healthy to neglect the physical aspects of life. Islam teaches us to remain on the middle path and to not exist in polar extremes. A vital aspect of this balance is the maintenance of an amanah (trust) given to you by Allah (SWT): your body.
“Thus We have appointed you a middle nation.” (Al-Baqarah:143)


Although maintaining one’s physical self and properly caring for one’s body is an important responsibility of a human being and a Muslim, it is one that is rarely discussed in the Muslim community. Physical fitness and proper nutrition for Muslim women is another topic that is also disregarded, sometimes for cultural reasons. Contrary to some cultural beliefs, the physical maintenance of Muslim women is extremely important and does not require the sacrifice of any religious convictions or modesty.


In this modern age, there are plenty of halal ways to enjoy keeping healthy and to prevent weight gain.


1. Set your intention.
Your physical health is a blessing provided to you by Allah (SWT). You must guard and protect that blessing in order to preserve it.

“Truly, We did offer Al-Amanah (the trust or moral responsibility or honesty and all the duties which Allah has ordained) to the heavens and the earth and the mountains, but they declined to bear it and were afraid of it (i.e., afraid of Allah’s torment). But man bore it. Verily, he was unjust (to himself) and ignorant (of its results)”. (Al-Ahzab:72)


2. Invest in a scale.
Although weight is not a sole measure of health, it is a valuable way keep you accountable.


3. Pamper yourself.
Dress up once a month, even if you are not going to leave the house. Spend a day at the spa. Take a bubble bath. Do whatever makes you feel special and desirable. It can be too easy to be lured into a daily routine of sweatpants and pyjamas after spending all day wearing hijab. It is easy to feel unattractive and frumpy in your Dad’s old ripped t-shirt and pyjama pants. Although not the main focus of keeping healthy, feeling attractive can be a great mood booster and motivator.


4. Explore home exercise.
Exercising at a gym or spending lots of money are not requirements to stay fit! A five minute YouTube video search will generate countless exercise videos available from the privacy of your own home. If you do not have a computer or find the videos difficult, an old school solution to fitness is available for little cost: a skipping rope. Skipping is a fabulous exercise that is portable, cheap and accessible anywhere. Hop to it!


5. Start an exercise group.
Making healthy habits stick is easier to do with the help of a partner or support group. If your community lacks a women’s exercise group, start one! Walking and hiking are great exercises and social activities that can be enjoyed for free. The extra doses of vitamin D you will get from the sunshine is a delightful bonus.


6. Organise a “Health Awareness Day” at the masjid or with your local Muslim service organisation.
Too many people in the Muslim community are unaware of the importance of proper diet and exercise. Due to cultural preconceptions, some might even believe that it is haram or simply superfluous for women to engage in such activities. If no one is talking about it, things will not change.


7. Regular fasting.
“O ye who believe, fasting is prescribed for you…so that you will (learn how to attain) piety”. (Al-Baqarah:183)

Aside from the spiritual aspect of fasting, there are many health benefits to fasting. Fasting shifts our focus away from food as an indulgence and source of pleasure and forces us to observe it as sustenance.


8. Eat to live; do not live to eat.
Too often we rely on food to serve as our halal entertainment and pleasure. It is good to focus on the 80/20 rule. At least 80% of the time, eat foods for their nutritional value and benefits. Limit indulgences to less than 20% of the time. Of course there is no magic formula for health, but as Muslims it should be our focus to remain in balance.


9. Do something active and adventurous.
Instead of going out to eat with friends, take a hike, kayak, ride bicycles, engage in a new fitness class or go old-school and play tag. Mix it up and be unafraid. Simply walking around the mall with proper shoes can be exercise; no excuses!


10. Love yourself.
Your body is a trust from Allah (SWT). He has provided you with only one; appreciate all that it can do and its utter uniqueness.


These reminders are by no means all-encompassing or the only ways to maintain health. They are also not limited to those who wear hijab. All Muslim women, whether wearing hijab or not, need to be aware of their bodies and how to respect them. Too often women are weighed down by obligations and equate taking care of themselves to indulgences. Investing in yourself will not only make you a better mother, sister, daughter and wife, but also it will make you a better and more capable Muslim. Taking care of ourselves body and soul is the only way to true balance and success.


K.T. Lynn is a writer/editor, licensed Zumba instructor, PADI certified scuba diver, and enthusiastic traveler.

You may contact her at therevertdiaries@gmail.com or on her blog at yankeedoodlesaudi.com which chronicles her experiences as a Muslim American and expat in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.