Yasmine classifies herself as Muslim and has been a Muslim her entire life. Modesty and humbleness are reflected in the way she talks about Islam. With childlike wonder, she speaks about Islam being always new to her: every day she learns something that draws her in. She explained, “If I am in a religious gathering then I cover my head […] or if I am amongst elder members of society that are in a religious circle, sheikhs etc. then I also feel inclined to cover my head. [It’s] a lot of outfit changing depending on the person!”
Yasmine recently moved from the UK to Malaysia and shared the diversity she’s observed: “You have the Malaysian Muslims who wear long colorful skirts and tops called ‘bijou kurung’ that cover them. They’re very loose and beautiful and very bright, they often wear matching hijab.” However, because Malaysia is also home to many other cultures and religions, Yasmine described the variety of styles of clothing she encounters in her average day, “Indian Malays generally wear traditional attire, and then Chinese Malays have a more western influence, so you see everything from abayahs to microskirts on the train! It’s quite a spectacle!”
Her opinions and understandings of how Muslim women are supposed to dress have continued to evolve and change over the years. She went through stages with her own dress that, though her body was covered, weren’t always modest. Now, a bit older and wiser, she firmly believes in and advocates modesty – both internal and external – and tries to make sure her neck, arms and legs are also covered. Before experimenting with wearing the hijab, she would normally wear smart casual clothes; long sleeved tops, loose trousers, long dresses and skirts. She likes to look presentable and a little bit quirky and is not a follower of fashion. Yasmine admits to being a bit lazy, and likes to be comfortable: with her current style of dress she doesn’t have to worry about displaying parts of her body that she feels shouldn’t be exposed.
“I wanted to go up to all these YouTube stars and say ‘Hey, your hijab is yours, but why are you making women like me feel as if they need to be trendy, full of make-up, spend a ton of money on clothes and have a different hijab for each occasion?’ I thought they were no better than the fashion magazines out there.”
Her desire for comfort and simplicity influence her daily beauty routine as well which normally consists of a face wash, moisturiser, and spot of eyeliner. She’s minimal with makeup but does also like to spritz a bit of perfume on. She adds, “[…] especially in Malaysia where it’s hot and pungent most of the time! When I was in the UK I never really bothered with perfume at all.”
When she started to wear the hijab, she became self-aware and also very aware of her surroundings. She revealed that while wearing hijab, she also became more judgmental: “[…] all of a sudden I wondered why certain people who I knew were Muslim weren’t covering up.” As she browsed the internet searching for ways to wear different styles of hijab, she admitted getting very irate and disillusioned by all the hijab and make-up tutorials. It bothered her that girls were wearing skinny jeans and stilettos and donning the hijab. She related: “I was overwhelmed at my own bitterness and even my husband noticed that there was a negative change in my behaviour. […] I realised it was making me much more bothered about my external self than I wanted to be and [I was] focusing more on women who were not covering.”
She continued, “I wanted to go up to all these YouTube stars and say ‘Hey, your hijab is yours, but why are you making women like me feel as if they need to be trendy, full of make-up, spend a ton of money on clothes and have a different hijab for each occasion?’ I thought they were no better than the fashion magazines out there.” She deleted her Instagram account after getting tired of seeing all the hijab selfies, feeling at the time that they defeated the purpose of hijab. It was only after speaking to her nieces, who are in their late teens, that she began to understand that these young women were trying to do a service to many who wanted to feel beautiful in their hijab. When a female colleague at work commented on how much she loved the turban style Yasmine wore one day, Yasmine felt good but insincere. She pondered if she was again trying to become a fashion icon, and it made her reflect on who she was really wearing it for and why.
Reflecting on her assumptions about living in a ‘Muslim country” Yasmin related, “I imagined that working in a Muslim country would be a breeze for me to wear the hijab and go to work. How wrong I was! I immediately noticed the differences in people’s behaviour towards me. Whilst the older Muslim men applauded me and told me they preferred to see me in hijab, one of my colleagues approached me [and asked] ‘So, is this a part-time thing?’ At first that comment annoyed me, but I realised that he was probably used to women trying the hijab on and then taking it off again, so I brushed it off.”
Yasmine explained the reactions of her family and other co-workers: “My mum was happy I was wearing it, but wanted to make sure I was still being me. My sisters weren’t so bothered and didn’t really have an opinion. I also spoke with my husband who encouraged it and wanted me to wear it, but he also saw the sadness of the struggle I was facing to be myself in hijab.” Some of her colleagues told her that they didn’t know she was Muslim before she wore the hijab. She also noticed she wasn’t asked out to lunch as much and was taken off an event that she was originally asked to speak at – presumably for not being as audience friendly any more. She also had staff members asking her if her husband was ‘forcing’ her to wear it. It was a question she found extremely bizarre until an older Malaysian Muslim woman explained that once Malaysian women were married, they were often ordered to wear the hijab by their husbands and that it was no big deal, just a part of the culture.
Overall her experiences prompted her to reflect on how many people she judges on a daily basis – especially those who didn’t wear hijab. The piece of cloth on her head ultimately helped her to acknowledge her own character flaws and instilled in her a desire to change. As her experiment drew to a close, she decided to focus on making sure that when she does wear hijab, it’s for the right reasons. After her week-long experiment, she’s still not ready to commit to wearing a headscarf full-time. She explained, “I wear the hijab more now as an act to draw closer to Allah, but not every day, and not in a lot of situations.” She had always struggled with the idea of covering one’s head, believing it to be a command and an inherently beautiful practice, but she acknowledged that a strong will, and honesty with one’s intentions, must come with that choice.
Janet Kozak joins two other sisters as they upgrade their level of hijab and assess the changes they experience.
Janet Kozak experiments with the niqab – eating out with a newborn and a niqab proved to be quite a challenge!
Janet Kozak is founder and COO of the PR and communications firm Resoulute. She’s an entrepreneur driven by business insights and boundless creativity. Janet’s most interested in women-owned business development and social causes including public health issues and domestic violence education in Muslim communities. She founded an online advocacy and support group, Muslim Women Against Domestic Violence and Abuse, and also recently spoke on the topic of financial abuse at the 2nd International Conference on Women’s Empowerment in Karachi, Pakistan. She can be found on Facebook and Twitter.