I’ve received several direct messages sent anonymously from Somali girls asking me about how I removed my hijab, my family’s reactions and how they can do the same. As someone who’s worn hijab/jilbaab for 20 years, I am reminded of the high stakes involved when exercising one’s agency. This is about more than hijab. I believe this conversation requires openness and willingness to address agency, coercion, and unhealthy relationship dynamics.
Choice doesn’t exist if there’s coercion. At 6 years old, I had the hijab draped onto me without much afterthought. It wasn’t presented as a choice per se. Having something done to me without my permission negatively impacted my confidence and trust in myself. When I attempted to create boundaries, they were toppled over by guilt. I began doubting if I was really capable of making my own choices. If I couldn’t choose to wear whatever I wanted without fear of violent repercussions, how could I even dream of living the life of my own choosing?
As women living in the chokehold of patriarchy, we are socialized to grow accustomed to routine violations from our partners, institutions and family members. We’re provided a laundry list of how not to trigger our own mistreatment. This level of victim blaming directly contributes to the normalized abuse of women and girls. Women exercising their agency to not wear hijab or date whomever they want has resulted in dire consequences. Do I really have a choice if I am confronted with this level of fear? I am not free if I’m afraid.
I should be able to choose to remove my hijab without verbal abuse, beratement or fear of violence. I shouldn’t have inherited the responsibility of preventing an assault. Reading messages from young women who are embarking on a journey of unlearning an oppressive system that has debilitated us for so long is an incredible privilege. But I am profoundly saddened by how much of our lives is spent mitigating intimate, domestic and systemic violence. My advice for safely removing your hijab includes the following:
- Do it when you feel safe enough and remove yourself from people who believe it’s acceptable to use force or violence against you
- Remember: you should be able to make your own choices that make you happy without fear of upsetting or offending people
- You should be able to establish boundaries without worrying about their reaction
- Recognize that controlling aspects of your dress, mannerisms or major life decisions is absolutely abuse
- Setting and enforcing boundaries is a quick way to find out who values you as a complete person and who only values what they can get from you
Our lives do not have to be inundated with violence and oppression. We were not created to endure suffering and our resistance is a testimony to this. I think it’s time to start engaging in conversations about what liberation looks like. For me, it’s the absence of danger, coercion, and abuse. We’re meant to explore and engage with the world around us without any fear. This is a basic, fundamental right. Ultimately, we are all on this journey to unlearn what no longer serves us and to live the life of our own choosing instead.