Whether it is Hijab or some other act of worship, this is something that applies to us at some level or other.
On hindsight, now that I have taken that step, I find it puzzling that, out of all the commandments of Allah, wearing the hijab is probably the most discussed and often, the most resisted. I am making a broad assumption here – that sisters who are considering the hijab are more or less cognisant and accepting of the other commandments of Allah – such as prayer, fasting, abstaining from certain actions and are otherwise steadfast (or try to be). Hence, they accept the truth of Islam. Yet when it comes to complying with something related to appearance, there is massive hesitation.
The issue of hijab is one that many practising Muslimahs find difficult to implement. We do not see forums which discuss people’s personal journeys towards Salah, or journey away from backbiting, envy, stinginess or riba; these things are not extensively discussed, simply because we accept them as the absolute truth. There is nothing to discuss, and implementation is done on a personal level. One would be quite astonished to stumble across posts proclaiming that “for twenty years, I have understood the importance of charity, but resisted, and now I accept and just made a donation!”, or “Gossip free for 3 months now, Alhamdulillah!”
Yet, in the issue of hijab, it seems that extra persuasion and support is required.
I am not judging or criticising anyone, because I too resisted for the longest time. I figured out that if I could comply with most of the other commandments, then maybe I could get away with this one sin, and on the balance (literally speaking) my good deeds will hopefully mitigate the sins caused by my lack of hijab. Hence I went out of my way to somewhat over-perform in other aspects of Islamic behaviour in order to counterbalance and compensate. Of course, on looking back, I was trivialising the issue greatly. In my mind I was convinced. I sort of hoped for Allah’s mercy to let me pass through the eye of the needle.
Also I had never been a publicity seeker. Religion was a very personal thing to me, something to be practiced discreetly and in private. Wearing the scarf would be equal to shouting your affiliation in the middle of the street. It would draw unwanted attention towards you, put your private beliefs under public scrutiny and provoke reactions that you might not want to deal with. And, even though I lived in a Muslim society where the hijab was accepted and not seen as some sort of grotesque terrorist headgear, it was something that I would rather not do. Why wear my religious heart on my sleeve, when Allah knows the contents of my heart?
Deep down I also stereotyped and subconsciously assumed that hijabi sisters were wired differently – as if they were genetically designed with an inbuilt head covering from birth! Or taking it to a less ridiculous level – they didn’t care about their looks as much as I did, due to their better upbringing, lack of the vanity gene, or whatever other reason I concocted in my head – so it would be easier for them than it would ever be for me, to conceal their beauty.
Somehow the threat of hellfire and all the prescribed punishments did not instill sufficient terror in my heart as it should have. The human mind is amazing, it can sweep bits of information under the carpet and have selective amnesia on certain issues. I now recognise it as a lack of faith.
I could not compare myself to the first generation Muslimahs, whose faiths were so strong that if an order came from Allah, they would immediately submit out of sheer devotion and obedience. They were in a different league, and to me, constituted wholly unrealistic benchmarks.
Going to the other extreme, I looked at some of my hijabi friends and acquaintances. Their behaviour was rather bewildering; some of them did not perform the salat at all, others behaved with men in a pretty sordid manner, and yet others had weaknesses like being judgemental, racist and prejudiced. Not really the kind of people I wanted to be associated with, through dressing or otherwise.
The strange part was, if asked by a skeptical non-Muslim, I could take them from A to Z, of all the pro hijab arguments, and how this piece of cloth is not to oppress Muslimahs, but to elevate and protect them, how it prevents the erosion of modesty and chastity. Yet, every time I contemplated putting one on myself, I would hesitate. I rationalised and gave excuses. Surely Allah will understand that deep down, I meant well and behaved modestly? Is He not the Merciful, the Beneficent, the Forgiving, the Eraser of All Sins?