For almost 30 years I wore a headscarf.
For almost 30 years I believed it was an integral part of my faith and I would be disobeying god by not wearing it.
For almost 30 years I believed that if I didn’t wear one, I would be constantly harassed and pursed by men – my beauty needed to be concealed.
For almost 30 years, I was misguided.
I cannot pinpoint when I decided or started to doubt my headscarf. I think it was when I was watching my cousin coming up to the age of 9 – the obligatory age for wearing it. A few years prior to that, I saw my cousins and the family around them start the brainwashing process
“ooh you’ll have a big party with lots of presents when you start to wear one”
“you’ll be more like mum, I will start treating you as a grown-up”
“It’s haram you have to”
And I could see my poor little cousin, she wasn’t having any of it. I could see her sorrow at being the only girl in her school wearing a scarf. I watched her in silence, and decided to do my own research. And that’s the beginning of the journey.
“This is the first misconception when wearing a scarf – a woman is so beautiful that she must be covered.”
My first realisation. I am not beautiful. This is the first misconception when wearing a scarf – a woman is so beautiful that she must be covered. I watched my western friends, they didn’t dress immodestly. They just got on with their day. And most importantly, they weren’t harassed. Did I really believe I was more attractive than all of them? No, I am not. So why was I wearing it?
I put my theory to the test, one day whilst at a conference in Vienna, I stepped out of my hotel room with no headscarf on. I looked around. Nobody could care less. I was actually quite taken aback, where were the wolf whistles? The harassment? Why wasn’t every man in the room looking at me? In fact it was far worse – why was everyone IGNORING ME. I just blended in. I am not used to that. When I enter a room, a bus, a train carriage, a shop, everyone looks at me. But nobody did. And I tried hard to make eye contact, yet nobody looked my way. I was moments away from going up to the nearest man and shaking him and asking him “why haven’t you fallen madly in love with me?” Until I pulled myself together. I was dressing how I always dress. I just lost the headscarf and the world around me changed. My scarf was meant to make me gender neutral, a eunuch. But it didn’t, it made me stand out even more. I walked through the lobby then out in the street. I put on my shades and walked to the nearest supermarket – everyone was getting on with their day. No stares. No pointing. I grabbed my shopping and went back to my room, and put my scarf back on.
It took a few more months after that to fully remove the veil, and the reactions, stories that follow are too detailed to put into this article. So there is more to come. However, it is a decision I never regretted. I am still not fully out – I still live a double life. Many people still don’t know. I put it on in community and family based events. My cousin is still being pressured to wear it. At times I think I should say something to save her. At times I think I should keep quiet and let her find her own words to fight her battles.