Wearing The Hijab -- A Fashionably Spiritual Look

YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia, Video//Culture Feature, Words: Maahum Chaudhry//Video: Ann Bassette/Min Lee//Photos: Ryan Furtado Posted: Oct 17, 2006

Editor's Note: Making a pilgrimage to the holy cities of Islam convienced one young woman to begin wearing the hijab. Along with fulfilling a Muslim tradition she found the hijab to be a hot fashion accessesory. Maahum Chaudhry, 15, writes for YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia. Lee, Bassette and Furtado are editors at YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia.

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- I have a total obsession with color coordination. I match my shoes, my clothes, my bracelets and my nose rings. I even have prescription glasses in four colors to help me match. If I could change the color of my braces everyday, I would. I think almost any outfit looks cute if you have the right accessories, but if you wear the wrong colors, your whole look will go to waste. And now, I have something else to help my color coordination – my hijab, the headscarf I wear as a Pakistani-American Muslim woman.

I didn’t always wear the hijab. I’ve never considered myself a very spiritual person – unlike my father, who prays beyond the five daily prayers, which I usually struggle to make. My family would often go to religious programs around the Bay Area that focused on traditional and Islamic teachings. While I was there, I would wear the hijab and feel very spiritual, but that feeling wouldn’t last even a week when I got back home I got caught up in the hectic details of daily life. As I started talking to more and more people at these religious gatherings, I began to realize one way I could maintain that spiritual state longer was to have a permanent reminder to keep my actions in check – and that for me was the hijab.

I would meet women at these community gatherings who were very successful in their careers – they were magazine editors and doctors and lawyers – as well as being very religious. Plus, they all wore the hijab. Meeting these women really shattered the myth that women who wear the hijab are oppressed and stay at home. Wearing one was empowering and made me really start thinking about what it means to be a Muslim woman in America.

The biggest factor that helped me decide was that during the past two summers, I went to go perform the lesser pilgrimage, or the Umrah, in the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah in Saudi Arabia. My family and I went on this trip with a large group comprised of people from the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. We were all Western Muslims from different countries traveling with highly respected scholars of both the East and the West. The first year I was totally in awe of everything and could barely comprehend what was going on.

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I was in shock when I actually saw the holy Ka’ba in person, since this is the holy site Muslims pray towards five times a day. Also, following the actual footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad – who I had grown up learning about – was so exciting and profound that I wasn’t able to concentrate on my prayers. This year, the importance of these spiritual moments sunk in deeper. It made me think that something should change in my life.

But the spiritual aspect of the trip wasn’t the only thing that contributed to me wanting to take on this headscarf – part of it was how beautiful the women who wore it looked. They had made the hijab into something quite fashionable.

As I would go to pray at the holy mosque, I saw many young women wearing brand named hijabs. I remember one woman in particular wearing a Christian Dior headscarf with Gucci shades while carrying a black Coach bag. Though she was wearing the traditional black abaya, that fully covered her body, I noticed she wore Gucci boots as well. And though she was fully covered in modest clothing AND wearing all black, I have to say she was looking a lot hotter than the latest barely-wearing-anything model on the cover of Vogue magazine. After seeing her, I had to buy a brand name scarf, so I got a Calvin Klein one with CK printed all over it.

After that, I saw many women carrying around REAL Louis Vuttion and Burberry bags – my mom’s pretty good at telling a real from a fake – and they all had designer clothes on. Even the younger girls had a brand called Fulla, which I would compare to The Limited Too, in cloaks and scarves. The women who were in plainer clothes were no less beautiful, often wearing scarves of different colors. The way they wrapped their hijabs, accessorized and held themselves – they really managed to stand out.

One of my excuses for not starting the hijab earlier had always been that I thought I looked weird in it. More that I knew it would differentiate me from my other friends and that I would stand out, and that wasn’t something I wasn’t too fond of. I knew that even though people looked beautiful in it, it didn’t fit the image of what most people considered beautiful. But seeing these women in Saudi Arabia totally changed that idea. I realized that I would much rather wear a nice scarf covering my not so great hair and expose people to another type of beauty. While in the holy cities, I began to pray that God would give me the strength and courage to start wearing the hijab. One day, on my way to the mosque, I finally felt that I was ready. After a few days of keeping it to myself, I told my mom and she was overjoyed. My mom already wore a scarf over her head, but I never really considered it the hijab because you could always see her hair. When I told my mom, she decided she would start wearing it properly as well.

After that my mom and I would go shopping practically everyday to buy headscarves in different colors and designs. I always considered my mom to be quite fashionable and she always encouraged us kids to be the same, and she felt the same way about hijabs. So she had no complaint as I went on hijab shopping sprees practically everyday. We both love a bargain as well, and with the exchange rate, many of the hijabs that I bought started from less than $2 – compared to $15 in America. So I went all out and bought a hijab in almost every color to match to my clothes back home. I currently have a bet with one of my teachers to see how long I can go in the school year without wearing the same hijab twice.

I officially began wearing the hijab on the first day of school at Lowell High in San Francisco this year, where I am a sophomore, and have been receiving lots of compliments on it. People have commented on how cool it is that I get to match my “hair” to whatever I chose to wear that day. “It is SUCH an accessory,” one of my friends said to me. And she’s not the only one to think so. One of my other friends compliments me when she thinks that the hijab that I’m wearing that day goes well with my complexion, she’ll say something like: “It brings out your eyes.” And the girls aren’t the only ones to think so some of my guy friends have told me that they think it looks “cool,” “exotic” or as one friend put it: “It makes you look friggin awesome!”

And I agree. Though I do wear it for my religion, there’s no harm in looking good while doing it.

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