On Respect

First, let me just say that the amount of response my tiny little blog has received is absolutely heart-stopping. Truth be told, I’m a little nervous. I’d like to emphasize the fact that I’m a new Muslim, and coming from a place of absolutely zero knowledge and experience. I pray that Allah gives me guidance and helps me find the words to convey the beauty of Islam clearly and proficiently.

[Moses] said, “My Lord, expand for me my breast [with assurance], and ease for me my task, and untie the knot from my tongue, that they may understand my speech.”

Quran 20:25-28

I’d like to tell you a little more about my first impressions of Islam today by talking about what it feels like to wear a hijab, or headscarf. Although it’s not as fundamentally important as prayer, the hijab is a well-known part of everyday life for many people around the world.

Hijab (Modesty)

Unlike for men, when women convert to Islam, the change tends to be a visible one. When a woman chooses to dress modestly and wear a hijab, it is an easily recognizable sign of her religion. As an extremely private person, especially when it comes to matters of faith, I was wildly uncomfortable with the idea of wearing a headscarf.

Let me just state clearly for the record that nobody demanded that I cover my hair when I embraced Islam. (If anything, I heard a number of Muslim scholars advising women not to focus on appearance at all early on.) Men generally avoided the topic, and did not at any time bring up my clothing or appearance even when my hair was uncovered.

Let there be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong.

Quran 2:256

Women also accepted me without reservation regardless of how I chose to dress myself. Some of my closest female friends did encourage me to keep my hair covered, having experienced the benefits themselves. (I also heard a rumor going around that women who don’t cover their hair won’t be able to smell anything in Paradise, but I don’t know if that’s true or not.)

Since it has been the regular practice of women since the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to cover their hair, and a strong majority of the Muslim women I know personally choose to do so today as well, so on the day I said the shahada (declaration of faith) and embraced Islam, I decided to see for myself what it was like.

My feelings on covering my hair did a complete 180 the very first time I wore a hijab in public. Alhamdulillah. (Praise be to God).

The first thing that I noticed while wearing hijab was that men treated me with respect. They treated me in the same way they would have treated a niece or sister. When I spoke, their eyes didn’t wander all over my body searching for clues as to whether or not I was available. Men consistently looked me straight in the eye, talked to me like an equal, and responded to the contents of what I had to say.

Tell the believing men to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what they do.

Quran 24:30

Women reacted a little differently than I expected. Quite a few women went out of their way to be extra sweet and make sure I felt welcome. It reminded me of the warmth I’d felt towards women wearing hijab before embracing Islam. I also noticed some women fixing their shirts and checking the length of their skirts after seeing me.

I imagined I’d feel uncomfortable in a hijab, but I found it brought me peace. I thought perhaps I’d feel unwelcome, looked own upon, or even have some straight up negative reactions, but that simply didn’t happen. The response was overwhelmingly one of warmth, kindness, and respect.

Also, my ears were very warm.

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