Hi, my name is Sabeen Hayat, and I'm a 22-year-old student living in a European country. Even though there is a decent-sized Muslim population, I happen to go to university and work in places where I'm always the only Muslim girl and Muslim woman of color. Growing up, I never had issues integrating myself into my environment because I dressed up like the rest of the people around me. It never made me stand out, and I used to mesh in with the background easily. But it was only a matter of a few lifestyle choices that made me feel foreign in my country, city, neighborhood, and school. I started wearing a hijab when I was in high school and have incorporated modest Islamic clothing in my life ever since. At first, people started distancing themselves from me, and I stood out like a sore thumb at every social gathering.
I used to get waves of anxiety, even after 2.5 years at my university, when I realized how different I was and how much I stood out. People assumed and had always assumed things about my intelligence; I knew it. And they had always been "positively surprised" by me. And I knew I was supposed to take it as a compliment, but it wasn't easy. Because what if I were less competent/intelligent/eloquent? What would that be like? I was only accepted and valued if I did really well. That's what it felt like to me, at least. I was not too fond of the process of starting a new job, starting a new course in university where we had to work in projects. I hated being stared at and always being the only (brown) Hijabi. I hated it so much, and I had been doing it for years and years.
But then I met an amazing Muslim woman at my university who also practiced wearing a hijab, and she told me stories about some wonderful women who refused to bend. And after they stood their ground, the doors that opened for them were a hundred times better than whatever ridiculous door got closed before. It made me realize that even if I sacrificed my hijab to find work easier or fit into society, I'd never be fully accepted until I abandoned my deen completely. Sacrificing my deen, but at what cost? To please other people instead of Allah.? It is very liberating to submit to God rather than toxic societal standards and strangers who ultimately don't care about you. You're just a passing figure in their life whom they most likely won't even think about. A moment of discomfort will hardly affect them. They don't know your faith, so why does their opinion matter?
I realized that being a Muslim, I was always supposed to stand out among the crowd. Amr ibn 'Awf reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, "Verily, the religion began as something strange, and it will return to being strange, so blessed are the strangers who restore my Sunnah that people have corrupted after me." I now reclaim my Muslim identity with pride, and it makes me feel closer to my religion. When my anxiety is really bad, I make sure to remind myself that it's for a higher purpose. And it's about looking further than the job and focusing on the source of the rizq itself. Do you really think that Allah will give up on one of her loyal servants doing her best to hold on to His Commandments? The sea itself will split open for us to pass by, we just have to keep on walking and keep our head high, and the way will show itself Insha'Allah
No matter how cliché it sounds, I let my love for my creator manifest as hijab in all its forms, scarf or otherwise, and it has brought so much comfort and solace in my life. And I want to make a couple of suggestions for whoever is going through the same struggles while reclaiming their Muslim identity and lifestyle choices. One, make dua and ask for some guidance and help with it. Also, find some scarves you like and try different styles. I had a hard time finding breezy and comfortable hijabs, but with trial and error, I found my favorite hijab brand called Abaya.pk, which has been a true companion to me throughout my journey. Also, figure out what looks good for your face shape and what colors compliment your skin tone and eyes. Even start with turbans at first. I never thought I would ever wear a "proper" hijab. I was a turban and skinny jeans Hijabi for the longest! Also, take your time and wear cute clothes you like! Being a Hijabi is a journey, and it looks different for all of us. Just wear it to a mall that's an hour away from where you live; try it out. Wear it to get groceries. Wear it out with Hijabi friends. Just try it out and see how it makes you feel. I also suggest following most Hijabi influencers on social media to normalize your style on your social media. Sending love and support to every Muslim woman out there fighting her own battles.