I wore hijab for eight years before taking it off recently. I had wanted to remove it for a long time, but I waited until I went overseas, as I thought that would make it less of an issue.
There were several reactions when I took off my hijab. The most common one is curiosity – people trying to find out why I did it. They then look for someone or something to blame it on. Whether it was my boyfriend’s bad influence, or the fact that I live in a “kafir” (infidel) country, or the Richard Dawkins and Karen Armstrong’s books that I read, there must be an external reason. Of course, they would never think that my decision was made after intense self-contemplation.
Some people sent me verses from the Koran and hadith; some saw me as a troubled postgraduate student who was losing her identity because of cultural shock; some pitied me for my “religious setback” at a time when most of my friends had already covered their hair. The remaining few were indifferent – the reaction I preferred the most.
My parents told me that when they had a big family gathering, one of my relatives blamed me for being a bad influence. He said my action caused a domino effect because it inspired my cousins to do the same thing. Since I was still overseas studying, I could not respond to that accusation. But even if I were there, I probably would not have said anything for fear of hurting people. My inbox were also flooded with text messages from people offering to discuss this matter with me.
What I want to tell all of them is this: Thank you for your concern, but I am not lost, and nor do I need to be guided to “the straight path”.
We simply choose different paths and assuming one is better than the other is counterproductive. We can never have a fruitful discussion if you already have a preconception of what is right and what is wrong from the beginning. I will be there not to be listened to but to be fixed.
A woman who no longer wears the hijab does not affect your life at all. She does not do any harm and she does not make you a sinner (it’s not her fault if you are a pervert who cannot control yourself). Your action is hurtful to her. She already struggles with a significant change in her life and she does not need any more pressure. She may wear it again someday, but even if she did, your actions might have made her less interested to do so.
Please, people, do not insist that as a fellow Muslim you must warn women who take off their hijab. These women know all the religious consequences and they decide to remove their hijab anyway. There must be a strong reason for that, and perhaps they prefer not to say it to avoid hurting others with their perspectives, or because they are reluctant to influence others to do the same thing.
If you dismiss women who took off their hijab, you should look inside yourself and examine what is missing. Is it possible you feel that way because deep in your heart you want to do the same thing but you can’t? Do you envy her freedom and courage? Because if you are already satisfied with your spiritual life, I guess there will be no more room for hate.
Ironically, I received some encouraging responses from people whom I perceive as deeply religious Muslims: a man who saved his scholarship money to go on hajj from the UK and a woman whose parents are Sufis. They say that each one of us has a different spiritual journey and they are proud for me to embark on it. In other words, they see a person through her soul, not mere appearance.
I find their open-mindedness beautiful. The world will be a much better place when people love the creations – alongside with the complexities of their minds – as much as they love the Creator.
Aulia Ardista studied Cultural Policy in Scotland. Currently, she is volunteering in farms/kennels across the UK; living her dream of a minimalist lifestyle in nature. She owes her life to Zen philosophy, animals, books, and Game of Thrones.