Why I Took Off My Hijab

Thursday, 29 September 2016 - 08:22:59 WIB
By : Arlita Rachmawati Rahman | Category: Faith & Spirituality - 23679 hits
An increasing number of women have approached me to talk about their hijab-wearing decision lately. One person told me that she has been having thoughts about taking off her hijab as she felt that she has grown increasingly "naughty" and “bad,” because she doesn’t pray as frequently and has started drinking alcoholic beverages. When she told me this, I thought, so you think people without hijab are naughty or bad?

More than a year ago I decided to take off my hijab, which I had worn for about a decade. It was a huge decision, especially coming from the predominantly Muslim Indonesia, where I grew and lived. But there was a process before I made this decision and now I want to share this process in the hope that I could enlighten some confused hearts and minds.

I moved to Sweden in the fall of 2014 to study. A couple of months after that, a friend said that every time he saw a woman wearing hijab, he assumed that she was conservative, close-minded and unapproachable. These assumptions bothered me because I felt that those three traits did not apply to me.

I asked my classmates whether those were the same things that popped in their minds when they saw me. They were some of the most progressive and open-minded people I had ever met, but all of them said they thought of at least one of the three characteristics. I then started thinking: Why does it bother me? If that is not who I am, then who am I? Would I feel better without the hijab? Would it be different if I didn’t wear it?

So I decided to experiment with not wearing hijab for a full month to see how it felt. I felt better and more like myself. At the time, I felt that it was a “privacy” issue, like a gay person who doesn’t want to wear a t-shirt declaring he is gay. Although he may not be ashamed of being gay, he just doesn’t want to share this personal part of him to strangers. It was the same with me. I was not ashamed of the fact that I am a Muslim, but I did not want to share this personal thing with strangers.

When I was going back to Indonesia for the summer, I thought reluctantly that I had to wear the hijab again, like when kids are forced by their parents to do something they don’t want to do. But then I thought if wearing the hijab was the right thing to do, then why was I not happy and why did I feel forced to wear it? I thought if I wore it again just because I was visiting Indonesia then I wasn’t standing on my own principle. I knew that if it was the right thing to do, I should always stick to it no matter where I was, instead of altering my values according to the people surrounding me.

That made me question myself further: why did I wear hijab in the first place? After digging deep into my memory, I realized that the reason I decided to wear hijab when I was 15 was because I wanted to hide myself. I thought that I was an ugly and an awful human being.

My breasts and my bum are noticeably large and thus made me an object of unwanted attention and comments. Instead of feeling sexy, I thought those noticeable parts of my body was making me unattractive and I was uncomfortable with how I looked. Adding to that, my teeth were uneven. So uncomfortable I was in my own skin, I started to develop  self-loathing of my body. I did not want anyone to have any sexual thoughts of me. I wanted to be as asexual as I could.

Where I am from, wearing hijab is the norm to show you are a good Muslim woman and a good person. So the hijab seemed like the best solution as it enabled me to hide my ugly self and it made me look like a good person. A false solution to my self-hatred.

I felt as if I had tricked myself and others into believing that I was a good person because of my hijab. I had not done any research about the hijab, which I now regret. I did not know why it was commanded by my religion back then. I just knew that wearing it is better than not wearing it.

Ten years had passed since then and I still hated myself – even more. I felt like I was a hypocrite. People, as did I, thought that because I wore the hijab, I was a good person. I did not need to do more, it was enough. I hated myself as it enabled me to get away with not improving my devotion. If I did something bad or I didn’t do something good enough religiously, I could appease myself of the fact that at least I wore the hijab.  For some this might motivate them to be a better Moslem, but for me it had the opposite effect.

I have lived my whole life in a communal society where others have stronger power in defining who I am. I was too busy with life that I had never even asked myself who I thought I was. The standards I set on myself were society’s standard – that a good Muslim woman should wear the hijab, so I followed it mindlessly.

Based on the contextual history of the hijab that I read, women had to wear it to protect themselves, assuming the identity of a noble woman. Back then, amidst wars and slavery, noble women with a fine piece of clothes over them had better protection from sexual aggression than others. Today, humans are generally more equal, at least officially on paper, so the hijab as a method of protection is less relevant.

Some argue that the hijab is stillrelevant as a means of protection because it makes women less attractive and sexually desirable. But it is indisputably true that what people think as attractive varies. Covering up your hair doesn’t necessarily make you less attractive, especially with the increasing diversity of the hijab culture, including fashion. Some women actually look more beautiful with hijab, others less so. Some men may be more aroused seeing women covered up because they think it’s more mysterious.

In Islam there are basically two main regulations, one that covers human-to-human relationship (habluminanas) and the other human-to-Allah SWT relationship (habluminallah). I think that hijab is more heavily laid upon the relation among humans (habluminanas). Therefore, I do not think wearing is to “satisfy” Allah SWT, as it is not really a habluminallah (relation to God). I believe that there are many other and better things I can do to keep my relation to other humans well. My faith and spirituality would not be something I would like strangers to identify me with.

At the age of 25, probably late compared to others, I started the process of finding out who I was. When you live in a society, you become society and society becomes you. Wearing hijab means that having society’s definition, standards and values placed on me. There are too many social stigmas embedded in hijab of that I do not like. I wanted to see who I was apart from the society that nurtured me. I took the hijab off because I wanted to get to know myself without society’s values etched in me. The hijab convoluted my value and my view. I wanted to stop hiding myself. I wanted to stop others from defining me.

I thought I was ugly and the only way to compensate that was to do well in other fields, like academically. That was why I was ambitious in school. In a way that thought brought me to where I am, but obviously it has proven to be an unsustainable fuel for my soul. I hid my body because I hated it. I wanted to start accepting the body that God has given me by not hiding it. After that, I shall start loving myself.

It was a purely personal reason that I decided not to wear the hijab anymore. I do not think that God will think less of me because of what I wear. It is what I do and what my intention is that define me in the eyes of God. I do not think that not wearing a hijab makes me less of a Muslim and I do not think wearing one made me a better one either. I do not think wearing a hijab has anything to do with my devotion. It was just purely a piece of clothes for me.

Before I officially decided to take it off, I talked to people who are closest to me. It was exhausting both physically and emotionally. Some turned out to be less open-minded than I expected. Although most of my friends somewhat accepted my reasons, I know that some think I have gone astray. I can’t blame them because it is a very personal journey that is hard to understand, if you have never been in a similar one.

I became the object of some gossip, which was expected. Some people think I took it off because of Sweden’s influence or Westernization. I can't say it's entirely wrong, although it is not the main reason. Sweden’s tranquility gave me the opportunity to look into myself and to question my decisions in a way that I had never done before. For me, it is harder to figure out yourself in a communal society

Yet I have never regretted it as getting to know, accepting and loving myself were my most pivotal priorities. If I keep wearing hijab, I might be able to save face but ultimately lost my “soul” as I would value others more than myself.  Now I have started to know, accept and love myself more. I am able to love myself and, consequently, I am able to love others truly.

I took off my hijab not because I wanted to do more “naughty” things that would be forbidden if I were wearing the hijab. I still do the same things I did when I wore the hijab. People should not base their actions and responsibility solely on the hijab. When one takes it off, it is not the fault of the hijab – it has not failed its tasks.

I am not against wearing the hijab. I am against doing things mindlessly without the knowledge of the full context and meaning of it, as I did more than ten years ago. That is like taking a shortcut. This is the conclusion of many long and complicated discussions between myself and other wonderful friends and strangers to whom I am thankful. If you wear hijab because you are fully aware of all the aspects and you are comfortable with it in every aspect of your life, then do it. If there are discomforts, then question it and read more about it.

Arlita Rachmawati Rahman is a liberal Muslim who tries to find the logical explanation of religion versus rationality. She is trying to do the cliché job of saving the world from climate change by questioning socially affected human behavior

Got an opinion on this issue? Let’s talk about it in the comments section below.

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Athena | 29 September 2016 | 13:56:29 WIB
Arlita, you are not alone! I feel you. It feels like I read my very own story. Our path is not easy, be strong!
etta | 29 September 2016 | 15:52:43 WIB
Arlita, hugs ^_^
Ruby - Astari | 29 September 2016 | 16:29:35 WIB
May you find what you've been looking for. Peace.
Arini | 29 September 2016 | 16:35:02 WIB
You are not alone. I been through this before, i wore hijab since school till university, then took off when i started to work, then now i am wearing again. For me, hijab is very personal matter and the relation is only to god and not for communal society. I have been throuh a lot of discussion and reflection when i make my decision. You are allow to be your self and do not think to much what are people think about you. As long as you are good person, they will not see you wear hijab or not. Keep spirit!
Ivonne | 30 September 2016 | 04:16:31 WIB
Arlita I really admired your determination and your courage to write a beautiful, clean piece of work that i can feel came straight from your heart. I met you when I was in Sweden and let me tell you are absolutely lovely beautiful and honest person, please be stand on your own beliefs that made you be more beautiful and adorable girl. Ivonne xx
MosesSoewarto | 30 September 2016 | 07:29:27 WIB
How are you dear arlita?
Han | 30 September 2016 | 09:07:29 WIB
Good to hear you finally find a way to appreciate yourself better. May it never change. 😊
Intan | 30 September 2016 | 18:54:08 WIB
Very inspiring story. I have the same feeling.
Azalea | 01 October 2016 | 11:47:01 WIB
This is like reading my own story. I no longer feel alone and A LOT better with the way I am. Calming and inspiring, thank you, Arlita! <3
Tia | 01 October 2016 | 18:52:35 WIB
You are so brave. I feel you too, and this past 3 years has been pushed me to think about my decision about hijab. But still, I'm afraid of social judgement, that somehow will bring bad impact to my family (you know, if it is just me they're talking about, I'll be fine. But they will talk about my parents for they fail to teach me, etc).
It might take years to finally decide, but thanks for inspiring me and us all. Keep strong :)
fani | 02 October 2016 | 16:05:23 WIB
I agree that we should only do what we aware what the consequences and with reasons. Especially in religion. Too bad that more n more people just do what is "right" and not question it beforehand.
Me myself is wearing hijab, but because I did fight for wearing it years n years ago, I know exactly why and what I choose. But its okay if you do that, I know its your choice and its good for you.
Go Arlita!
mitha | 06 October 2016 | 21:59:27 WIB
good for you for making choices about yourself, Arlita!
and shame on them who thinks women are naughty and bad if they don't wear hijab.
Cicilia | 07 October 2016 | 23:45:04 WIB
Thankyou, dear!
You make me realize that everyone has their own decision why they want to do something unusual in their Community and follow their own way.
Dian | 13 October 2016 | 05:26:36 WIB
Hi Arlita,
Nice sharing. I felt the similar thing since i moved to Australia. But the difference is I took my hijab off if only i didn't meet my Indonesian friends here because i realize how they will start talking behind me of what im doing.
I have a question, as you said you grew up in predominantly Muslim family as me, how did you convince your family at least your parents about this?
erie | 13 October 2016 | 19:53:47 WIB
hey dear,
I read your story and it reminded me of myself. Im going to korea for master next year and god-knows-how-many-times; i actually been thinking about what you thought too,ALOT.in my neighborhood there's a lot of girls with hijab that are not as behaved as what ppl thought; did bad things and get away with it freely. at first i felt cheated, why would they do that and why cant I? but there's this thing that tickling my mind over and over. this life we're living today, it is not for eternity...there's another door waiting for us right after we died. every thing we did will be taken for granted. "our behavior" and "the stereotype" of hijab is two different things, count in a different way in the afterlife, either a sin or a merit. IMHO, wearing hijab is not about willing or not willing to. if you're a muslim women its an obligation to wear one in certain age, whether you're good person or not :)
Putri | 24 October 2016 | 18:35:57 WIB
I really want to take this piece of clothe on my head off but is still too afraid to do that. Afraid of what people around me would do and say. Coward, I know. :(
putri | 25 October 2016 | 08:55:08 WIB
thankyou for sharing your story arlita, your story was similliar with my current situation. i live in religious family where my old pals always compare me with other daughter who more religious and wife-to-be. i have same decision to took of my hijab for years but to took off hijab need a lot of bravery, i don't think i'm ready to handle all judgement from family or friends haha
Annida | 05 Desember 2016 | 08:37:52 WIB
I am 16 years old and I have worn my hijab since I was 13. I am thinking of taking it off since my reason to wear it in the first place was my Mom's pressure — and to hide my thick and coarse hair. Then, I feel the same exact feeling that you described. My Mom is religious but she's quite open minded. However, I'm not ready yet to face the consequences. I sneakily take off my hijab now and then, but it's really exhausting.
Alpha | 14 Desember 2016 | 09:20:53 WIB
I like your writer up , I think it was so honest about the hijab and our relationship with God and people around us .... My take on this is that we fear men more than GOD in our spiritual relationship and even when we mask our self from men we can't do the same for GOD cos he is all seeing so be your self . Brave
Ilda | 21 February 2017 | 18:39:41 WIB
I did the same way. And I am so happy to know that I'm not alone in this world who think that the religion is a 'verb', not a 'noun'. Thanks for the great article!
Mei Li | 03 March 2017 | 11:09:02 WIB
Now i know that i am not alone. I am not as brave as you.. I didn't talk to people who are closest to me especially family. But when I go to the new places and meet new peoples, I didnt wear headscarf again. It feels like, re-born again :)
Thanks for sharing this,dear..be a good person, be adorable, be blessed.
nabila | 05 April 2017 | 09:07:32 WIB
i've read your article and i am so inspired with how you questioned and
search totally about how to define yourself. i hope that your journey and your fight to learn about islam is still going on and i hope that every act that you do in the aim to learn islam , Allah will love you more and more .
Andany | 01 May 2017 | 18:15:07 WIB
Hi Dear, your personal experience tells a lot about our society in general. As a non-muslim, your story reminds me of my muslim friends who were 'forced' to wear hijab. Now that I'm thinking about it, our society was and still is illogical in pushing women to be someone who they are not just for the shake of other people convinience. Thank you for sharing your thought and encouraging other women who are facing the same dilemma. I might don't have much to say about religion but as a woman and a free human being, I believe everyone should be given the right to choose express and being the true of theirselves. Keep inspiring!
Lina | 18 May 2017 | 00:51:32 WIB
It's like reading myown story! Glad to know i'm not alone. Your story was so inspiring ! this comment section sonehow better than the other one in bahasa Indonesia.
Shameen | 13 June 2017 | 04:12:37 WIB
Please to show us breasts and bum. i poo poo in hijab. i love you miss
Kiss | 03 July 2017 | 22:07:54 WIB
This really hit home, especially because I grew up in the same environment as you did. The different is, I do not try to justify myself both in front of God or in front of another human being, and in my most humble opinion, you should not too. First, if there exist a God who get mad at me and will punish me for all eternity just because I am not willing to let go of my confidence, then I do not think it is the loving God we're all talking about. If I believe in something, then it is the God who loves all and discriminates none. But it is a topic for another day, religion as a stand alone is always an intriguing matter. Second of all, if someone think that what i wear is their business then uh oh clearly they are not getting the right education or there is something wrong on their head. In the end of the day, as the people say, those who matter won't mind and those who mind just don't matter. You probably only live once so do what you want to do and enjoy it, cheers.
Wulan | 13 September 2017 | 23:16:06 WIB
Very honest of you, Arlita! I am Indonesian as well, but I am Catholic and I don't want to wear any religious related accessory because I don't want people to judge me based on that. Btw, I always think that hijab/jilbab desexualise women and make them, as you said, asexual. I don't want to ask this to my Moslem friends wearing hijab (though I am indeed curious!), because I am afraid it will hurt them. But it is nice that I can read it from you. I am also interested that the hijab is worn because of low self esteem and self hating. Again, very difficult to find a honest argument for this, as hijab is perceived as sacred and saying anything bad about it is taboo, especially in Indonesia.
All in all, I will defend people's rights to wear hijab if they want it, and their right to not wear hijab if they don't want. Cheers!
Niena | 19 September 2017 | 01:32:50 WIB
Hi Arlita!
Have you read the instruction for wearing hijab in Quran? It's 'wajib' just like 'shalat'. You have to do it no matter what. Cheers!
Mayq | 23 September 2017 | 21:57:18 WIB
@Niena Have YOU read it? The Quran only instructs women to cover the chest. What constitute as 'wajib' and have universal interpretation are only the five pillars of Islam. Not hijab.
Vendetta | 06 March 2018 | 14:04:11 WIB
Hello @Wulan and others who think this post represent Indonesian muslimah society: what one's feel about hijab doesn't mean it represents what others feel about hijab, same thing about their experience about hijab. One person's experience does not represent the whole society.
Vendetta | 06 March 2018 | 14:06:22 WIB
What I observed so far, if muslim girls were forced to wear hijab without proper knowledge, understanding and depth in their belief, they will eventually feel burdened, and pressured and thus resulted in depression, anxiety, insecurities, dilemmas and what have yous, and when finally went to different country, felt the courage to take off their hijab (something they won't be able to do in their community).Worth to acknowledge, people from the opposite of Arlita's experience, they found hijab later in life maybe in their late 20s or 30s or 40s and they wear it because they really want to and they believe it's obligatory.
Vendetta | 06 March 2018 | 14:12:03 WIB
Based on more than 60 fatwas and ulamas who stated that hijab is obligatory, I believe hijab is a must. I was 40 when I decided to continue wearing it after hajj. Before hijab days, I was quite liberal in the way I dressed myself, I didn't mind wearing mini skirts, tanktops, bikinis, etc. After 'adjustment', I still feel liberated, still feel myself. I've always been confident with myself and my views. I'm an active working mum friends with peeps from various religions & races. Before and after wearing hijab :) so best luck to all of us, with or without hijab.

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