To most people, the hijab seems very simple. It’s always 75 to 180 cm in length. It’s usually a neutral color, like white, black, or tan. It is lightweight and easy to carry, bundle up, and store. It never smells of anything other than old cotton or Middle Eastern fabric. Almost everyone in the world understands the literal meaning of it: They conceive it to be a screen or a veil that Muslim women use to cover their heads and guard themselves with. This much is true, but I consider the hijab to be much more than that. Even though I am a devout Muslim, and have been exposed to the hijab throughout my whole life, it never fails to perplex me.
On Saturday mornings, when the adhan, or the “call to prayer,” sounds at exactly 12 pm at my local mosque, small groups of teenage girls shuffle in for Zuhur prayer. Some girls are Arabian, and they proudly walk through the double doors in their tailored hijabs imported straight from Saudi Arabia. Some girls are of Pakistani and Indian descent; they wear traditional South Asian silk scarves that are held down with a plethora of safety pins and bobby pins, so they won’t mistakenly slip off during prayer. Then there are a handful of American girls who look slightly out of place; they have their scarves loosely tied around their heads and wear classic Old Navy cardigans or bulky sweatshirts that bear whatever school they are attending at the time.
However, everything changes once all of the girls are inside the mosque. Minutes before the formal prayer starts, all of the females line up on the balcony with their shoulders touching and palms resting on their chests, overlooking a chandelier made of gold and crystal. They face the direction of the Holy Kabah and direct their focus and attention onto the imam, waiting for him to raise his hands and begin the sequence of prayer so they can follow closely after. But before all of this unfolds, they straighten their hijabs to the best of their abilities, and neither their background nor clothing matter anymore. Race, ethnicity, age, and socio-economic status are no longer taken into account. The only thing that matters at this moment in time is that they are all covered by the hijab.
The headscarf that I use the most when I perform my daily prayers is layered with two pieces. The inside piece is a grey cap, flooded with a million minuscule sparkles. It’s made out of eccentric polyester and jersey-type material that stretches perfectly to fit my head, and the head of whichever female decides to pick it up and wear it. The outside covering is what is actually referred to as the hijab. It is a long, black veil that is made of pure cotton and flows on both sides of my head. There are brilliantly colored gemstones scattered on the bottom of the headpiece and around the rim. The jewels twinkle when they capture the light. When the two pieces come together as one, the result becomes one of my favorite pieces of clothing that I have hanging in my closet today.
The hijab does indeed effectively hold back loose strands, too-long bangs, or lengthy curls, but it never fails to reveal the “Nur,” or light, of the person wearing it.
When a small group of Muslim girls congregate after Saturday prayer at the Ballwin mosque, they openly discuss everything from extremely overbearing parents to “Islamophobia” and how sad it is to see the reputation of Muslims slowly declining day after day. Even though the hijab is not always the center of these intellectual discussions, it is always encountered in some shape or form, whether silently or not.
Some say they feel guarded and protected when they put it on. Others say they feel as though their hearts are in their strongest place when they wear the hijab and that they feel much closer to God when they have it on. Then there are the girls who have started to wear it regularly, and say that they feel as though they are becoming the face of Islam. It is a tool for identifying them as Muslims and gives them a strong religious identity.
For me, the hijab makes me feel content and at peace with myself, no matter the amount of stress or drama I am presented with at the time.
Whenever I am living my life as a normal teenager, wearing my typical Forever 21 or DELiA*s outfits, my friends describe me as “pretty” or “cute.” However, when I wear the hijab in the privacy of my home or in the reserved women’s area at the mosque, friends begin to call me beautiful, and it makes me ponder what makes them finally use this distinguishable word.
I have realized that the beauty they are referring to is not found in the sparkly surface of the scarf, nor is it found in my blue eyes. The hijab itself is what makes me look beautiful, and more importantly, makes me feel beautiful. The beauty lies in the substantial concept of the hijab and what it means to me as a Muslim girl in the world. It is an established symbol of unity and sisterhood that brings all of the Muslim girls of Arabian, Pakistani, Indian, African American, and countless other backgrounds together as one.
Hiba Alvi is an 18-year-old who lives in the great land of Missouri with her loving parents, quirky siblings, and a very beautiful betta fish. In her free time, she enjoys traveling the world, taking pictures with her Nikon, reading works of non-fiction, and of course, writing.