The third most obvious question I get asked is why do I cover my hair. This!…..I could probably write pages and pages on, it’s the most personal thing and yet has a very public representation.  I’m going to try to articulate this to the best of my ability to let others try to understand why I personally wear it, even though many Muslim women will give you different answers for why they wear it, because after all, it is a choice and a very personal one.  Usually, I can spot people who are lost and bewildered when they see me, especially in professional/business environments.  They just don’t know where to place me. I don’t fit into any previous bucket or stereotype many people already have outlined in their brains.  They usually don’t see Muslim women that cover their hair in business schools, corporate settings or in business and professional settings.  Usually, there is this puzzled look on their face and this hesitation of wanting to ask directly, yet going about it in roundabout questioning to get the answer.  Many times, I’ll just directly ask them, as they deal with their internal struggles, is there anything you want to know? Any questions you might have?  And then, they relax and say yes. I’ve been dying to ask you—“do you have cancer?” (yes, I’ve been asked this many many times).  Then, they continue on, “because my (insert: friend, relative, cousin, spouse…) has cancer and I just want you to know we support you”.  I smile.  “No, I don’t have cancer. I do have hair still but I cover it because I’m Muslim”.  Then usually we go through the apologizes of assumption but it opens up bigger questions and dialogue.

I have realized that depending on how I wrap my headscarf, I get different assumptions and different questions. It’s almost worth doing a sociological experiment and study on human behavior and their assumptions and perceptions of others. I take it all in stride and don’t mind the questioning, I find it interesting to see where people come from, how they make their decisions on others, and how stereotypes are broken. I’ve spent most of my life breaking down misconceptions whether intentionally or unintentionally just through my being.

So…why do I wear a headscarf, especially when there are plenty of Muslim women who don’t? Some of my thoughts and perspectives about it have changed throughout the years, but there has always been one core element that has remained the same and it’s the hardest to explain in person, let alone on paper. I’m not going to write about any of the debates/discussions/discourses about it because it is truly a decision, a choice every person makes for themselves and everyone is entitled to their own choices for how they want to live their life. For me, the heart of my decision has always been a deeply spiritual one.  In the simplest of explanations, wearing the headscarf keeps me focused on a commitment I have made to live a life of integrity and to strive to uphold the full capacity of human behavior: compassion, honesty, empathy, awareness, justice—the values that make up my moral compass. Yes, it’s a lofty task but it is a decision I’ve taken on to try to spend my time on this planet, utilizing and improving the best characteristics we hold, a constant state of transformation and elevation.  My way of dressing and showing up in this world is a daily choice and reminder of how I want to be in this world, how I want to show up as it relates to others, focusing on the soul and then letting it flow outward. So, what does this have to do with a hair covering? For me, it became a very spiritual question and struggle.  The struggle of wanting to fit in and ‘look good’ in front of others? I remember clearly asking myself, why can’t I do this (cover my hair)? What’s holding me back? Is it fear of what others might think of me? Are my decisions in life going to be driven by fear? By wanting to fit in? To just look good? To pamper my ego? To just look like everyone else for the sake of it? To change based on perceptions of the times/culture as they change? Or do I want to live my life authentically me? Based on what I want my soul to be? What I want my core to be?

Ultimately, who’se going to win this battle, my soul or my ego? Who will run my life, my soul or my ego? How can I master my ego and be able to reign it in? For me, this is just one avenue of mastery. It’s a lifelong struggle of continuous transformation—looking in, calibrating, adjusting, and moving forward to a higher plane.  For those with understandings in eastern mysticism and religions might understand. How can I reach annihilation of the self/the ego to connect to a higher plane and connect to others in a way that is real, from one soul to another? For me, its letting go of the outward and focusing on the inward and my decision to wear the hijab is just one way of helping me let go of the importance of the physical aspect of my body, the importance and stress society has placed on women as regards to their physical beauty and focusing on polishing the inward beauty to let that step forward. My struggle is to resist the changing constructs society places on women and their standards of beauty, but rather redefine beauty as it comes from within.  In the end, it’s a choice. I chose to redefine the narrative of what beauty should look like for me and what I want to achieve to beautify myself—inner transformation that starts with controlling my ego to let my soul help me navigate my life.  This daily choice is also just a starting point.

Now, to answer the practical questions I usually get: I only wear the headscarf in front of men that aren’t family. I don’t wear this in front of my husband, son, brothers, father, uncles or in front of other women. Hijab is more than just covering the hair, its also the overall way you dress, in a covered, modest way. Muslim men also have their own version, just different. Fun facts: I try out different hair styles and colors all the time, sometimes a hit, sometimes not, but I can just giggle and keep it to myself, girlfriends and family members.  Another fun fact, yes, I have TONS of scarves of different colors & prints, to match different outfits.  Also, another side not I get questioned about: I personally just have no desire to “keep up” with the changing landscape of beauty. I do enjoy beauty and celebrate it, but I don’t have the desire to give extra time to get up every morning and get myself done up with hair and makeup.  Sometimes I’m just grateful I can wrap my hair and get on with the important tasks I have ahead.  At some point, I’ll write about inner cultures of Muslim women, what goes on behind the hijab, how we do celebrate each other and beauty, creating safe spaces for ourselves.

Again, just want to reiterate that this is just my personal story, my personal journey for why I wear hijab, and others have different perspectives, different answers for their own choice of their journey in life. Afterall, women (and men-sikhs) all over the world chose to wear a head wrap, their crown, for many different regions and its all a personal choice, so let’s celebrate the different colors of our wraps! ?