Reader Question (is this becoming a pattern?) – being yourself when the world doesn’t want you to be

Y’all, I’m not becoming an advice columnist. I swear I’m not. Do you know how bad I would be at that job? I would be terrible at it! But here’s a question I received that I felt particularly moved to answer. The questioner, as always, has asked to remain anonymous. Because she is not a native English speaker, I’ve taken the slight liberty of editing her question.

I’m 19 years old (20 soon) and I grew up in a very, very, very conservative Muslim family. I have worn the hijab since the age of 8 years old, and honestly, I hate it. I feel imprisoned and like a hypocrite. Every single day wearing it is torture, it’s like I’m lying to myself, to God and to the entire world, only for the sake of pleasing my parents, and because I’m scared as hell of my dad might do if I take it off.

I have no self confidence, and it really hurts more and more as I age. I feel like I’m not doing anything in my life, because I’m not even myself, so how can I achieve something?

Recently, I’ve been thinking about taking it off in secret. I feel guilty for those thoughts, but it’s honestly my only escape, what else could I do? My dad is not mean, nor is my mom, and it makes me feel even more bad. If they were bad parents, I would probably have done it without hesitating, but I love them, and those feelings also make it hard.

I really don’t know what to do, and I’ve never felt so lost in my entire life.

Oh, sister.

It’s hard enough to rebel against people we hate, but it’s harder still to rebel against people we love. I’m sure your parents really are wonderful people – most parents are! And I think that’s why you will probably need to have a conversation about this with them eventually.

I used to take off my hijab in secret. I would wear it out of the house, take the bus to university, then take it off the moment I got on campus. I’d fold it neatly, stow it away in my satchel, and not take it out again until it was time to go home. I felt terrible about it, not because I felt like I was lying to Allah (who could see what was in my heart anyway), but because I knew I was living a lie.

My situation was a little different from yours. My mother and I get along just fine, but my father is a very conservative Muslim who is fond of strict punishments for small infractions. I did try talking to him about not wearing the hijab, and he told me that I had no choice because I’d “decided” to start wearing it at age 12 and couldn’t back out now. (I didn’t actually decide – he made that decision for me. Had I had a say, I probably would have refused to begin with. I wear the hijab to pray, but I don’t feel the need to wear it outside.) So I had to lie to him instead, even though I didn’t want to, even though I would much rather have just been honest.

My father and I don’t talk any more, and this is one of the reasons why.

Have you tried talking to your parents about these feelings? You say they’re very conservative, but also that they’re kind people. Maybe they’ll hear you out and maybe they won’t, but isn’t it at least worth trying? If they refuse to listen, then you know you’re not rebelling against people who want you to live your own life – you’re rebelling against people who want to control you, no matter how good their intentions. I think that’s an important distinction. If your parents aren’t violent or abusive, you should at least give them the chance to do the right thing here.

Wearing the hijab is such an intensely personal decision. Nobody but you can make it. If you don’t feel like it’s right for you, you shouldn’t wear it, and nobody should force you to wear it. By the same token, if you wanted to wear it and your parents didn’t want you to for some reason, I would tell you the same thing. Your body is your own, and it is up to you what you choose to hide from society and what you choose to show. Allah did not give control of your body to anybody but you, nor did Allah give anyone else the right to take that control away from you.

Here’s what I think your game plan should be:

  1. If you think you can do so safely, find a good time – when you and your parents are both in a good mood – and sit down and have a conversation about your feelings. Tell them what you told me – that you feel like a hypocrite, that you don’t want to lie to Allah or to anyone else, and that while you’re still a devout Muslim, that wearing the hijab just isn’t the right choice for you.
  2. Let your parents respond. If they’re good people – and you say they are – they should at least be willing to hear you out and have a reasonable conversation.
  3. If they agree with you, great! You can stop wearing the hijab freely and feel better because you’re being honest with yourself.

Of course, there’s a chance – a pretty good one – that even if they understand your reasoning, they won’t agree with it and will want you to keep wearing the hijab. In that case, there are a few things you can do:

  1. Keep wearing it and feel miserable
  2. Take it off in secret (but in the knowledge that you tried your best to work out an accommodation with your parents and they refused)
  3. Take it off in public (knowing that this will probably cause conflict with your parents)

This isn’t an easy decision to make. You’re 19 years old, so I assume you’re either in university or working, if your parents allow you to do either. You’re a young adult and should be allowed to choose how you live your own life. On the other hand, living at home means making certain compromises. Only you can decide what you’re willing to sacrifice and what you’ll refuse to give up.

It might turn out that living at home just isn’t a feasible option if you want to decide how you live your own life. I was your age when my dad kicked me out. He and I simply can’t live together. I’m happier when he’s not around. It might be that your relationship with your parents would be better if you didn’t live with them and had a little independence.

It also might be that you can’t afford to move out, so you have to put up with a few concessions, like wearing the hijab. It all depends. How much is this issue worth to you? You’ve said you feel like you’re living a lie and you can’t achieve anything because you can’t be your authentic self. It sounds like something’s got to give. You just have to decide what it will be, and what kind of price you’re willing to pay.

Talk to your parents if you think it’s safe to do so. See how they react. Make your choices from there. Remember that safety always comes first. And no matter what, don’t forget that Allah gave your body and your life to you only, and that you are the only one with the right to decide how you live it.

Allah bless you and guide you, wherever your path may lead.

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6 thoughts on “Reader Question (is this becoming a pattern?) – being yourself when the world doesn’t want you to be

  1. It’s sad to see that minute issues like these that arise from culture have overwritten the values of Islam. The whole concept of Hijab itself is twisted and literally “man-made” and is not echoed in the “words” of Allah in His Revelation. And for those who are gonna quote that all famous verse of covering, they should realize that the concept of Hijab isn’t there as well. What the Lord mentioned of the covering of the breasts to protect the dignity of the female body has been twisted into a prison cell of a gender by traditions and culture.

    • I feel like a breathed a breath of fresh air when I read Islam related TRUTH that you wrote. I’m not even Arab or Indian decent or Musim, but the farthest existence from it. However, I did have some neighbors at one time, an older couple, defected here from Iraq long ago. They were our neighbors for a number of years and became like a set of adopted parents to me and the most beautiful set of adopted grand parents to my then youngest 2 kids– and not long after stuff went down that infamous morning in NYC was when we began getting to know one another. Others seemed to distance themselves from this worldly, intellient, super loving, incredibly decent, older, then-recently retired medical doctor couple (who retired by having to escape their homeland). So, I do know, first hand, what true Islam is. In getting to know them our two youngest, and especially my then youngest born & bread American daughter before and some years after beginning school, (as those were why she was able to spend even more time with her informally adopted grand parents), but this loving-yet-not common situation that I am aware of, was a life educating experience. I told them feel free to teach my kids as much Arabic as they would be able to learn. My then youngest learned a very strong use of the Arabic language.(Their son was also a doctor but was killed back in Iraq by the Bath party). Had I been foolish enough to only believe what the TV reported of their repetitive dishonest and bias knowledge of Islam/Muslims were, basically, all about, our two families would have missed out on many years of a lot of family ties, so many loving and trully beautiful memories, and a wealth of cultural education. A few years ago the father passed away. They asked if I could assist serving the women at their local mosque for his funeral sevices, to wich I did—and, yes, I stuck out like a soar thumb while my long blond locks tried their best to stay under my barrowed head covering, and yes, a number of men on the mens side often looked at me as if to say, “well, this is, FOR SURE, something we dont see every day!”. It was my final gift of love to my profoundly decent and loving adopted dad, as well as his wife, who was, understandably, so heart broken. BTW, his wife joined him about a year later. She passed away peacefully in her sleep one morning. They did have many friends in their cultural community and a few relatives here by that time who were able to properly handle all arrangements the way they rightfully needed to be handled, which brought to a close a very unique (at least for our geographical location) loving, strong collision of two extremely different families from polar opposite backgrounds, that forever became more inriched and all the better for having done so.

      I realize this initial post is almost a year old, as are many comments, but as a mother, all I can do is worry for this poor guy or girl’s agony of what she/he is and has been going through. As a mom, my ONLY worry for if any of my kids were LGBT would be concerns for their happiness and safety. I did grow up in a religious background and I can tell you I believe any religion who teaches a parent to outcast their own child for said reasons, I believe to be man-made, politically motivated, evil, and anything BUT of God/Allah/Garnisha, etc. Since I somehow began believing I would think for myself instead of having others TELL me how I should believe, at that point, I really didn’t care that I lost relationships with biological family members or “friends”, because I realized I made better friends and somewhat formed new family relationships with very, very good people. The circle then became far more positive. I am sure I am not the main stream of people but I do know the category of those I suppose I do go in is filled with those who are good, well intentioned, interesting, and who have courage—even if some don’t think so-bet your bottom dollar you have courage.

      My heart goes out to the guy/girl with this struggle and I hope he managed to find strength. I hope his family kept loving him. I hope his mother and his father remembered, above all else, that is their child they have always loved….and hoping they always will. It wasn’t like he did violent criminal acts against humanity. He just wanted to let them know he or she is gay….It’s not like he or she scammed people through banking, ponzi schemes, and mortgaging fraud. It’s not like he or she was a serial killer, its not like he or she was a drug dealer. It’s not like he or she owned a news channel that intentionally spews racist bigotry to the masses utilizing female anchors regularly dressed like cheap call girls, while they ALL FALSLY portray themselves to be good Catholics and Christians (albiet telling flagrant LIES along the way—or just making some of it up as they go while happy to do so.)

      As a mom now in her 40s, I do not even remotely comprehend how any parent can turn their back on their own child simply because he or she is gay or cross dressing or wants to change his/her gender. Ya, it may have been unexpected, and it might be a few moments to soak in a, “Uh! What the hell just happened?” Or a “Oh, geez, totally uncharted territory—AGAIN” but so is a new job prospect, so is your oldest teen getting dropped off at home and clearly had been drinking, anyone who found out their teen age daughter is pregnant or if their teen age son got a girl pregnant–thank you God we never had that one happen and I would have had a much worse time dealing with that one had it happened–which we would have. Other things which, to me, would have been worse OR uncharted territory would be losing a job, having a car break down, losing a home, changing religions, choosing to always believe in God while no longer believing in organized religion, finding out one of your kids chose to drop out of college for a year to try to figure out what the new field of study would be, etc. All I know is in this family, sometimes while flying blind, mom and dad love their kids and since we’re not dead yet from those little surprises and curve balls life will FOREVER throw at parents, looks like that won’t be the reason my husband and I leave this world, and frankly, we really don’t give a flying f**k if our friends or family no longer like us, gossip about us, or make jokes about us for always loving our kids—OUR kids. They are our children, forever, come what may. We will love them until the day we die and if Heaven is for real, we will continue loving them from their, too. Please always love your kids if they come out of the closet because they are YOUR children not “things”. Don’t let anyone or any evil religion con you into believing you cannot be their parent and love them–or their partner as long as he or she treats them right. Remember, God and ONLY GOD, if one believes in God, will be the judge in the end— not your church leaders or church members, not your neighbors or relatives so none of them should be casting judgment as if they ARE God himself. Who the hell are they to think they have business telling YOU how to love or no longer love YOUR kid? Not their kid but YOUR kid. Besides, most of those who would be like that simply hide their dirty little secrets from others— and they have them.

      Sorry my post was so long, but, the mom in me had something to say, so I said it.

  2. Pingback: The Seventy-Seventh Down Under Feminists Carnival | Zero at the Bone

  3. I’m so sorry that that question still has to be asked, but I’m so glad you were the one she asked and not some nutcase. I had friends who took off their hijabs when their parents weren’t around or weren’t able to find out. It’s such an awful thing, to lie to your parents. I don’t think any one enjoys it. I really hope this person has a positive outcome.
    I recently found your blog and think it is wonderful. Especially as a Muslim myself, I’m glad to have your voice in the world. I loved your blog/letter to the bisexual Muslim who found you through a search engine.
    I have nominated you for a Liebster award, and hope you will choose to participate. It’s basically an informal award from bloggers to other bloggers. You can learn more about it here on my blog: http://wordsacrossborders.wordpress.com/2014/10/10/liebster/

  4. Awesome advice so clearly, sensitively and intelligently put. I can see why you were moved to answer, so clear this came to you at the right time, right place. This girl needed YOUR answer. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts and posts. Thanks 🙂

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