Hayaat's Hijab

*This blog post was originally published as "Happy World Hijab Day".

Veiling feels like a hug from God to me. I feel so divinely protected and valued. Even if this world forgets me, I know Allah won’t. It’s a constant reminder for me of my worth as an individual and as a woman. I’ve veiled my whole life, but I've freely removed it and put it on depending on different circumstances. 

One misconception people have is that Muslim women are forced to veil, but it is a personal choice and journey. There is no compulsion in our religion. If anything, I had the opposite problem, where ignorant people made it difficult for me to wear it. 

I grew up playing sports and broke many stereotypes and norms doing so. I’ve even gotten applauded multiple times in the sports and fitness realm out of respect while outperforming biased misconceptions. I was on my high school's basketball, soccer, and cross-country teams rocking the scarf. I sing, I dance, and I am a beautifully intricate kaleidoscope of a human. I am not reduced to my hijab. If anything, it enhances me. It is a silent protest against the exploitation of womanhood while encouraging people to know me for my soul and not just my appearance. 

Most people don't know this, but "hijab" in itself just means partition or barrier. It’s not the literal headscarf. That would actually be called and referred to in the Quran as “khimar." A hijab is a wall. The barrier between us not visibly seeing God is a hijab. Men in Islam also have hijab. In that sense, it’s more of a concept. It’s in the way we act, lower our gaze, and cover. This concept is interdimensional.

Personally, I don’t identify with the term “hijabi” because it’s a recent term and there’s so much more nuance around the practice than that gentrified word. "Hijabi" is the Americanized term of the Arabic term “mohajaba” meaning a woman who practices hijab. And I, Hayaat, an Ethiopian American Muslim, am a humbly practicing Muslim woman with many quirks and flaws. There's a certain sense of perfectionism attached to the standard that comes with the term “hijabi” that I don’t abide by. Even if society holds me to that, I know my Lord doesn’t. And I frolic within that space between with my raw and colorful humanness.

I love wearing my scarf at the library. Other Muslims in the community can quickly recognize me and we exchange salaams. There's a sense of community and spiritual recognition that makes my heart warm. I’ve even had young kids at the library look up to me for wearing my modesty proudly and beautifully. One time, a non-Muslim patron sent me a picture of his daughter posing, wearing a scarf on her head saying, “Do I look like Hayaat?!” It made my heart so warm. Kids at the library are eager to show me any book covers that have a Muslim girl on the front saying “Hayaati that’s you!” and it’s the sweetest thing ever. I receive such kind compliments on my ensemble. 

Coworkers have even told me to start a fashion blog, since I come into the job with style. I feel very blessed to work with such wholesome people. I’ve had more good than bad experiences veiling at work. There’s one incident I still laugh about. Another veiling woman of a different religion said a really arrogant statement trying to put me down. Instead of getting angry, I asked her about hers and then politely educated her on why I wear it, too. I wish more people would focus on what we have in common more than our differences. Everywhere I go in America, at least one of my identities is attacked, and it’s exhausting always having to justify my own existence. But for the most part, I am grateful I can still be me and all of me. I love me with my scarf on and with my curls out. I am blessed to have a choice and to have safety in that choice. My beauty will follow that wherever I go.

If you’re on your modesty or spiritual journey and you’re reading this, always remember your inner beauty. It is through our character, our tongue, and our heart that our charm is fashioned. “The world and all things in the world are precious but the most precious thing in the world is a virtuous woman"--Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Integrity is everything. There is value in staying true to yourself, and so much more value in us women than the world gives us credit for. Stand on your abayas if you can’t stand on business in this world, because it will try to take from you. 

*Flips the long side of my heavenly paisley scarf as if it were hair*

Hayaat Abeba

Resources to learn more:

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Kids Fiction and Graphic Novels

Kids Nonfiction

Teen Fiction

Adult Nonfiction