My Hijab Story as a KSA Expat.

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

Asalaamalaikum(Peace be on you),

How have you all been doing?

Would you believe me if I said that the idea of doing this post had been in my mind since the beginning of December, but that doesn’t matter. What got you here is the title, and let’s begin with that.

A very popular trend amidst all Hijab and Modest Fashion bloggers is to do a Hijab Story where they tell when, what and how they started wearing the Hijab.

Now I am neither of these and the way I wear my Hijab is so basic I don’t even use a pin, yeah really. Okay addressing the pin issue, I genuinely find myself struggling with the right way to use a pin to hold the scarf, somehow it keeps slipping even more when I use a pin.

So, why am I here with a post titled that?

A) Because, over a period of time I’ve come to realize that there are so many opinions surrounding Hijab that I wanted to put up my opinion too.

B) I thought it would be a fun way to talk about myself, a good writing prompt for the severe drought that has struck here.

Let us begin then.

First things first, if by some rare chance you still don’t know what a Hijab is, well it is popularly the name given to the garment, Muslim women cover their head with. Though Hijab essentially is not just the head cover as such but dressing modestly on a whole.

I come from a Desi (South Asian) Muslim family, now it is automatically assumed that the Hijab was imposed on me, and that my family will disown me if I say no to it.

Honestly, I cannot speak for every family and parents, but if I was ever to make that choice my parents would ask me why, try to reason with me and maybe insist that I held on for a little longer and such, but I believe I would have the choice.

I grew up not just anywhere in the Middle East, but in The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the place known all over the world until now for it’s intense rigid views and rules.(Winds of Change are blowing left right here) But, more than a rule, the fact that the place is largely populated with Muslims means Hijab is a very normal part of life.

I suppose I was in the 6th Grade when we had moved back to Saudi, after moving for a year to Dubai (Story for another time). Now, things aren’t the same in Dubai Hijab exists, but in schools it was practically non existent.

So, when I came back to Jeddah and found a lot of my new classmates including the non Muslims, excitedly taking out their Abayas to wear as soon as the last bell rang, I confess I was a little taken aback, but in a good way.

I had only worn my scarf that day, which wasn’t part of my attire in Dubai because there was not even a single Hijabi in my school, even in the most senior grade. But, I felt at home and was so glad to be back to Jeddah, Alhamdulillah.

It was the same weekend that along with the new bag, books and stationery that my Abaya was bought, not necessarily the first because I had a tiny one before. I remember growing up in Jeddah, that it was prestigious when you passed to the 5th Grade mainly because you were now to use pens rather than pencils in class and it also meant Abaya time.

I may have missed the phasing part, but I completely understood it. That time was the opportunity to add on something with a personal touch and style on our regular, same green uniforms from the Abaya styles to the way different people wore their scarves, it was a whole new world for us.

Now, I know what you must be thinking, ‘Wow you had such an amazing environment Hijab wise’,

Where is this story even going?

Do you even know the obstacles and hardships others have to deal with?

Do you have any idea how it is for them?

Exactly, I didn’t.

My Saudi brought up self had no clue, only distant stories of incidents. I grew up with seeing women, both Muslims and Non Muslims alike cloaked in Black Abayas all my life, it was my normal.

I hadn’t grown up in an environment where you stood out with your Hijab and Muslim identity. I had no idea of it at all.

So, as must as all (mostly) gulf brought up kids must, it was time for me to move to India for education after school. I had moved to Hyderabad, India. A place where there are large chunks of Muslims, one of the reasons why it was a favorable choice.

Again, you must be frowning your brows, ‘From one Muslim place to another then? What is the big deal?’
Or so I had thought. Because the next series of events were pretty surprising for me as well.
On the first day of Orientation in college, as the butterflies of nervousness soared high within me, all I could see in the auditorium were girls dressed impeccably in high waisted skinny jeans and whatever the latest trend was then, mid way through the program, a girl in abaya approaches me and I am slightly take aback to finally find someone in an Abaya.
After exchanging pleasantries, she tells me that apparently wearing an Abaya was not allowed in the college and they would pick at us and ask us to strip off our Abayas any moment, my brain froze for a second because when you’ve been feeling slightly out of place for a while and then someone directly touches that nerve, you freeze.
But thankfully my brain responded quickly and I realized it wasn’t that big deal, since it was a girls college and there were male staff, but I could stay in my scarf. She quickly denied and told me how the seniors she met had made it very clear that nothing was allowed.
After the break, I went back to my seat, not bothering to find myself another one next to her because I didn’t feel too comfortable. I stayed like that for the whole event, no one told me to take off my Abaya or anywhere in the orientation did they mention that it wasn’t allowed.
The next day in class, I realize that I am the only Hijabi in class. Later on, l used to stay in college in just my scarf and made sure my attire was modest. It had been 8 years since I have had to make new friends and to my dismay, a lot of people came in from the same school here together.
Besides being the only girl in the scarf, I was also the girl who came from a place, the picture of which they had only seen as the media painted it and honestly some didn’t even knew KSA and would say, ‘Oh you mean Dubai?’ and I had to explain that not just a different city but that it was altogether a different country.
I was putting on a smile and trying my best to have at least if not a friend, an acquaintance. The first week passed with lots of judgy looks and stolen glances, and it had started making me very conscious. Even if they had stopped looking after passing their first judgement, I felt like my every action was being judged.
I felt constantly under the radar, I could sense the second glances and looks, the uncomfortable silence when any question was asked to me by the lecturer, to see if I would display any prudence or the slightest slip.
I held the heavy weight of making sure that I was a just representation of my community, religion and also of the place that I grew up in. I tried to be as friendly and warm as I could be, but some days I wouldn’t be up to it and would just give a nod in reply and instantly regret feeling, ‘this is it she is going to hate me and I just validated her notions about us.’
Then next, came our semester exams.
It’s the first exam, the exam has just begun and we are seated in a classroom as big as the Hogwarts Hall and scribbling away all that we had crammed. Right when, the Head of Examinations walks in from the door behind with an authoritative air, she screens the room, points at the front, right at me and asks me to stand up.
I am obviously taken aback, first I am not sure if it’s me that she is pointing at. But as she walks in my direction, she asks me to loosen my scarf and she directs the invigilator to thrust her fingers on my ears to check for any wireless device then checks the ends of the scarf for any paper, all this while 80 girls watch this unfold in the front.
She asks me to keep the scarf loosely wrapped around my head for the rest of the exam and walks away. I am shaken. I hadn’t expected this, I was only sitting here rummaging through my head for an answer. I keep the pen down, take a deep breath and tell myself it’s okay, they were only doing their duty and somehow manage to gather myself and continue.
Later on, I gather from my class mates, how some girl did in fact have a wireless in her ear which she had managed to hide with her open, long hair and the voice from the Bluetooth was loud enough for them to hear too.
So, the examination department got the right information but they looked up on the wrong suspect. Following that, in any exam over the 3 years, if any invigilator remarked on my Hijab, I would reply with ‘It’s allowed, but you can do a check right now if you want.’ I had no reason to bend, I wasn’t the wrong and I wasn’t going to be wronged.
Despite it all, for 3 years, that consciousness was always a part of me. Either it was the field trips or our outgoing program or any event, it was always there and I learned to grow with it.
Moving on, to only a few months back, I joined a training institute for a professional course, hence the people enrolled there are from all walks of life and age. Again, not only was I the youngest in class but also the only Muslim.
Now, even though these people who had lived in and grown in the city of Hyderabad, I was slightly surprised by how strong their predisposed notions were, not only did they disregarded me of being capable and knowledgeable because of my attire but also assumed I was old school.
From clear cases of asking doubts to the person next to me, when I knew the answer and then being taken aback when I answered to saying the most bizarre things such as “You are so lucky, you do not have to bother shopping, your Burqa is all you need.” I mean honestly, have they not seen the markets, they are brimming with women in Abayas all through the year shopping for colorful clothes, jewelry and just about everything.
Since then I have learned that no matter where I go, people will always carry a set of notions based on my attire and the faith it represents, and given the current times, these outlook is a far cry from changing.
And it is now, more than ever that I feel the need to not part with it. Besides my religious obligations, it is a part of me now, and of who I am and I would never want to change that either to fit in or not stand out.
May the Almighty give me and anyone who needs the courage and strength to stand for what they believe in. Ameen.

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