Friday, November 22, 2013

How Hijab Came to my Family


20 years back there was no female in my paternal or maternal family who covered her head with a scarf or dupatta. Not even my grandmother who wore sleeveless blouses in her youth. I can use this fact to elaborate on how ‘liberal’ my family is as well how ‘ignorant’ it was about the particular concept of hijab in Islam.

Interesting how something can be perceived by one man as liberty and the other as ignorance. Anyway, moving on…

How it Started – Back in 1998, my closest cousin, Kiran, moved to UK for her higher studies at the age of 18. When she came back to Pakistan, the family was inquisitive about the head scarf she wore everywhere she went on top of her jeans and tops. Her mom too, after a few months, followed suit. When questioned, they explained the importance of covering up satar in the light of the Quraan and ahadith. This was in 1999, when I was 10. And this is when I, my mom and my grandmother realized how wrong it was not to cover up.

For a few years we didn’t copy them, but we did respect their hijabs. A couple of years later, my mom started going to the market with her head covered. As a pre-teen, I watched and things started seeping in.

The Pushing – Even though I was indifferent to or perhaps even liked the hijab, I never thought  of adopting it. After all I was just 12. Also I was not to be pushed into it. Once, my granny asked me to put a dupatta on my head because we were to meet a religious person. I scrunched up my nose and refused. No one tells me what to do with my clothes. Though later I had to put it on with a sullen face.

But I was never pushed into anything luckily permanently. The only requirement set by my dad was ‘modest’ clothing i.e. wearing loose clothes. So until today most of my time at home got spent wearing loose tops and jeans/pjs/pants. They are way more modest than fitted kameezes with dupattas left behind on the iron stand.

2005 – At the end of grade 10, I came to terms with the practice and decided that I would cover my head in a consistent fashion. The scariest part was speculating my mom’s reaction who did not cover up at family gatherings and weddings. But mashaAllah, when she found out, she encouraged me and stood up for me. Very soon, I saw her covering up at events too, mashaAllah. And since, then the scarf/dupatta/chadar has never left my head even inside my house in the presence of na-mehrams.

2006 – I guess, this is the year when it happened. My grandmother stopped wearing saris, something she wore all her life as a primary dressing, and switched to wearing kameezes to ensure that her belly wasn’t showing.

2010 – My only paternal uncle’s daughter, Hana, started practicing hijab too. Born and brought up in London, she could’ve gone either ways. But I think it was the sort of community in East London and my uncle’s religious nature that contributed to her choice. Alhamdulillah, her two teenaged sisters too are gradually coming to hijab and her mom followed suit too.

This is also the year when I started wearing an abaya – something no cousin or aunt of mine carries, unfortunately.

2012 – Another khala’s two daughters, now 16 and 17, seeing me and my elder cousin, Kiran, have now started doing hijab too at family events.

A summary: I have a total of 12 female cousins, 6 hijabis and 6 non-hijabis. All non hijabis but one live in the West.

Interestingly in all cases, the daughters started taking the hijab first and their mothers followed suit soon.
The criticism – No matter what you do, you can never please everyone. There are relatives who support the hijab, there are the indifferent ones and of course there are the critics too. My mom’s 65 year old aunt, who’s a Ph.D and a professor at Karachi University commented on how my hijab was extreme. And I don’t blame the lady. After six decades of her life, watching girls dress up like fire crackers at weddings, she must have naturally felt put off by my loose pistachio colored abaya. Understandable. Even for relatives who support the headscarf, abaya is something that is taking time to get swallowed.

And the criticism goes equally for the young men in the family who have adopted religious values and sported beards. (Point: my family isn’t sexist :P)


In the end, what does matter is the growing tolerance towards the very concept of women complying with the Islamic hijab. With a little acceptance of the elders, who have already lived out most of their lives, the younger generation has a long way to go in terms of changing the socio-cultural landscape.

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