Prior to 1997, I had always seen the hijabis in Nigeria as ‘local’ or unfashionable. I wasn’t practicing the deen then, even though I was born into a Muslim family. I never even wanted to be associated with Muslims.
I adopted the head covering while in 3rd level in the University after, through Allah’s guidance, I felt an emptiness and the desire to move closer to my Creator. I began practicing the deen and up till date, I still can’t explain the force behind adopting the head covering. All I can remember is that one morning while preparing for lectures, I picked up the black silky scarf I used for my salah and thought “How will it feel wearing this for lectures?” I gave it a go and that was simply it.
What did my friends say? Of course they saw me as a big joke and made fun of me. Some even said it was temporary and I would take it off soon. The hijab now revealed my identity as a Muslim, and annoyingly, people began asking me the reason behind the change. When I replied that “I am a Muslim”, they insisted “you don’t look like a Muslim.” It is common belief that Muslims are not fashionable, interactive, attractive, sociable and do not have good command of the English language. As all of these qualities are possessed by me, you may agree that it is an utter fallacy which they believe.
Soon after I began covering, a student pastor in my department invited me for a chat and tried to convince me to accept his way of life. I had never received such an invitation before I started wearing my hijab. I guess my way of life before the hijab was bearable to him, but this hijab issue presented a visible problem worth addressing.
I was never tempted to take the scarf off completely, but I tried to limit it by covering my hair alone. One day I put on a denim hat to go and study in the auditorium, but I had to return to my room when I felt uncomfortable with my ears exposed. I now knew that there was no way for me to just cover my hair alone. I stuck to my “cape hijab” which dropped just covering the head to the bosom.
All this happened while I was away at school. Back home, during the holiday, I had to face my parents. My mum would not have it at first, but it wasn’t only the hijab that changed about me. Even my character had changed, and I was so much more helpful, calmer, and I was really practicing the deen, so this pleased my mum a lot. After discussing my need to wear the hijab with her, she finally understood and gave me all the support I needed, alhamdulillah. As for dad, he was okay with it but he didn’t want the colour black. Alhamdulillah, it’s not compulsory that it must be black hijab in Islam, otherwise there might have been trouble here!
The next hurdle I encountered was that seeking a job was not an easy task with the hijab. I went on an interview with a man who happened to know my father. I was happy and thought “Yes! I have this job.” To my surprise the man told me I was so good for the position and would get the job but only without my hijab. Of course I told him that I could never compromise my hijab for anything.
Don’t bother asking, I didn’t get the job.
For some days afterwards, I couldn’t tell dad the outcome of the interview, but when he finally asked, I told him all that happened. He was quiet for a while, but then I could see he was worried. My job search continued. I was getting worried myself when I had no job and there was little or nothing to really sustain my upkeep. Don’t get me wrong, Dad was supporting me financially, but I was too shy to ask for money for some basic needs like toiletries and the “female stuff”.
My friend and sister, Fatimah Bello, was a great pillar of support during this time. She encouraged me in my job search and even helped to support me financially. We were roommates in university and became very close. In the midst of this turmoil, Allah (SWT) recalled Fatimah just after I got a job. May Allah (SWT) bless her soul. I still miss her very much. Allah (SWT) is with the faithful.
The job I ultimately got was in an Islamic school, helping to guide the children morally, and was given to me partially based on my being a hijab-wearing Muslimah. This became a job I truly enjoyed.
In 2003, I moved to Ireland for “greener pastures.” I felt a sense of normality here as I didn’t receive any resentment towards my dress, and in fact I had a job where hijab was not an issue. I must confess now that I was influenced by the lifestyle here. Though I kept my hijab, I had started wearing jeans, trousers, skirts and tops that were semi-fitted. I hadn’t been wearing these things back home after I picked up the hijab.
A wind of change came when, through listening to lectures, reading Islamic books and above all Allah’s guidance, I realised how I had deteriorated in my dressing. I now considered myself not covered enough. For the second time, I got my courage up, and began wearing an outer flowing garment.
My first day wearing this one piece Jilbab was in November 2009. I went to pick up my children from school and while walking from the car park to the school, I could feel all eyes on me. Other parents moved some steps away from me when they saw me coming. Even those that would normally chat with me while we were waiting for the kids now kept their distance, except for Fiona who asked me “what the occasion” was, and I casually told her, “It’s my new look,” and the reason behind my change, she genuinely appreciated it.
How did I feel when the others did that? Well by Allah (SWT), I felt like the queen that I truly am! I was happy and so at peace with my soul. The more they looked, the more confident and happy with my decision I became.
A month later, my trip to Florida in the USA added another dimension to my hijab experience. I had taken off all my jewelleries in order not to beep while going through the metal detector, as is my usual practice while travelling. I was still in the queue when I saw that one of the officials was staring at me and whispering to her colleague. It was now my turn to go through the detector. I did so without any beeps and was about to move on, but was called aside. What for? A V.I.P treatment. I was taken to a smaller room to be thoroughly checked.
The lady conducting the search actually told me “I am doing this because of your burqah.” Of course, I wasn’t even wearing the burqah and wondered how she couldn’t know the difference.
I am not surprised, after a decade and a half of wearing hijab on four different continents, I’ve come to expect such reactions regularly. The only time I didn’t have to bother about my hijab while abroad was in 2010 while in Saudi Arabia on Hajj, as I was surrounded by fellow hijabis and this made me feel special.
Fawziyyah Emiabata is a mother of three, living in Ireland and has a background in English studies. As an avid reader and promoter of literacy, she owns the online bookstore and bookclub www.muslimteenreads.com, which aims at providing a forum where Muslim teenagers can connect with like-minds across the globe.