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ON HIJAB - A PERSONAL ESSAY

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Disclaimer: This post originally appeared as a two-part post on my personal instagram @ammaraza. This is the extended version of that post. I wrote this to discuss a couple of things: 1) a lack of acknowledgement/respect for the purpose of why a woman wears a khimar/scarf/hijab* and the people who are supportive of that decision; 2) And its opposite: an oversimplification of the reasons of why a woman doesn't and 3) An oversimplification of the woman who wears it, how much or how little she does.
These are my personal reflections and not meant for religious information/rulings.
*For the purpose of this article I'm using hijab/scarf interchangeably to mean the head covering worn by Muslim women.
 
[On Hijab] You would think for such a visibly obvious topic it would be easier to talk about. Usually though, It's either you wear it, or don't, and the conversation ends before it begins.
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Being a Guyanese Muslim is an important part of my identity. It is an undeniably powerful thing to be VISIBLE. But that's the thing. It's powerful. And sometimes it's not the power you want to portray.
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The expectation is that things get easier as you get older. But many times it doesn't. Anxiety is not easier to manage. You don't easily grow into yourself. Two kids later and you can still be soul searching and no one thinks you would be, least of all yourself. Most days you are, entirely, managing your kids and life by yourself and it's always easier to do the thing that feels COMFORTABLE. Everyone assumes they know you based on a scarf you're wearing. Where do you end up but lonely and sad. Something you always did becomes a weight that you can't manage.
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The past few years I've had difficult challenges that permeated into every aspect of my life. The circumstances are different but It's a feeling I've met before.
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I wore hijab all throughout my preteen and teen years. It wasn't an easy thing to do. The person I felt wasn't what anyone saw.  It was common for people to assume I didn't speak English or guess six other countries before I had to tell them I'm from a country in South America. I felt I was constantly explaining who I was over and over to my peers and adults and it was exhausting. My love for fashion always seemed to come out wrong so I just didn't bother. I had a few health issues that were huge challenges. I wanted people to listen to me, but it seemed my scarf was doing the opposite.  I had conviction but no tools to deal with what I was going through.
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When the terror of September 11 happened and all of its aftermath, most of the girls in my school stopped wearing it then. I remember my parents feeling nervous about me wearing a hijab for the first time. I remember feeling I didn't want to take it off then because it felt forced on me to think I should, when I was wearing it despite health challenges, and terrible bullying incidents (some even physical). The day afterwards, while on the way to school, an older woman angrily shouted at me "You should go back to your country!" The shock and embarrassment I felt from that comment from an adult suddenly gave me a different level of insecurity and anxiety. However it seemed absurd to let those comments, by people who had no idea where I was from or what my faith teaches, to dictate what I did. Still, the anxiety and insecurity from incidents like those would always return.
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You know what's hard? To do something even when you're uncomfortable. It really is.
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What if you don't want visibility? What if one day you don't want to deal with anxiety or you want to feel like another layer of yourself: free from anxiety, fear. More comfortable, uncomplicated. Blend in, finally. If I had the option, maybe I would take it, too.
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Identity is usually not that easy.  To peel back a layer and the next is suddenly not only easier to be, but a version that is yourself, completely. 
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The only time I didn't wear hijab for an extended time was at sixteen, the week I was in the hospital for a surgery.  Even though I was recovering from a major surgery I felt a sense of relief I didn't know I could feel. I FINALLY had mental space to deal with a difficult situation without the addition of something else.  I didn't have to explain or answer awkward questions to anyone. I decided what people learned about me first.
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There were a couple other times later on, after high school, I didn't wear it to see if I would have that same sense of relief. Mostly, I just ended up feeling like a girl who was supposed to be wearing a hijab and wasn't because everyone else made her feel she couldn't. The only way I arrived at that conclusion was growing confidence and growing a feeling deeper than that - faith (eman).
*** 
As a woman, I'm different versions to different people and especially to myself.  Not all versions fit with the hijab wearing version and that's part of the struggle. At times it feels as if I'm portraying a version of myself that is so different from how I feel. Or I want to be more in control of how I'm perceived. Or I want to emphasize another part of myself, because it gives me a different feeling of contentment. Faith is part of identity, but never is it the only definition.
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Yet wearing a hijab is meaningful on any level.
Sometimes it means allowing the MOST purposeful part of your life visibility even when you're at your worst and feel the most lost.  Sometimes it's the best version of yourself. Sometimes it's the most consistent thing you do.
*** 
-Ammara (@ammaraza)
Please note the online shop is closed until April 2019. Send an email to hello@yftbyammaraza.com for any questions or comments. I'll be changing up my website and products soon. A future post will clarify those details!


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