We Are Atheists and We Wear the Veil

Beyond the Veil: 10 Untold Stories

When I published my article “I am an Atheist and I Wear the Veil” more than a year ago, I never expected the overwhelming feedback and support that soon followed. I was mostly surprised by the dozens of women over the internet who shared similar personal stories with me, and I was particularly touched when they said that my story had inspired them.

Some of these women were total strangers and some were already friends, but we never spoke about the matter before. The most pleasant surprise was when two of my middle school students opened up to me and told me that they are “like me”. These brave women’s stories need to be heard.

It’s true that some girls/women wear the veil out of conviction, but the world needs to understand that not all those who are veiled wear it voluntarily. Many girls/women are forced by their families and societies to live by beliefs that contradict their own. They are deprived of living their lives the way they want to, a privilege taken for granted in other countries, simply because they were unlucky enough to be born in countries where many believe in a religion that treats women as being inferior; a society that thinks females should not be given the right to decide what they want in their lives.

My life has changed to the better since I took the veil off and became more open about my atheism. I have achieved many of my dreams, yet I still have lot of struggles to overcome to become truly free, but the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

I spoke to some of the women who contacted me in order to collect their stories in one article and they all were supportive and helpful. Ten agreed to share their stories. Some of them found it too hard to put their stories into words by themselves, so they sent them to me via voice notes instead.

I salute them for their courage and for daring to share far more personal details than I had dared to. Most of the interviewees preferred to keep their identities anonymous as they are still living in their prisons, and coming out may put their own lives and safety in danger. Two of them are students of mine. I hope that their stories too will inspire and help other girls who are still living a secretive life out of fear of violence.

Finally, I would like to note that the hardships girls face in Lebanon largely depend on where, or what religion, they were born into. Lebanon is a mosaic of sectarian communities and socioeconomic diversity. These vary from the liberal to the ultra-conservative. In almost all of these communities, however, women are strongly discouraged, even forbidden, from moving out of their family households and leading independent lives. This is only exacerbated by the poor economic conditions of Lebanon, as salaries as low and rents are high, thus women can rarely afford to break free.

The below stories prove that the fight for women rights is a must. It will remain an urgent need as long as there are females suffering from misogynist and patriarchal societies.

As you read these stories, always remember that these are veiled women you see every day. Never assume on first impression that all veiled women are believers or that they have voluntarily made that choice. You never know what’s really going on in their lives.

1. Rola (a pseudonym) – A 19-year-old woman from Lebanon

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 53648a8ebe5c4ba39669dbfb200ece63_18.jpg
Source: Unknown

“My story started when I was 8 years old. My father started talking about the veil, and that since everyone in my family is veiled, I should be too. At such a young age I was in love with my hair and clothing as any young girl would. I never liked how the veil looked like, or the clothes veiled girls wear. Of course, no one listens to what a little girl has to say, so subsequently I was forced into wearing a hijab without my consent. That’s when things started going downhill… I kept crying all day and all night but it was of no use; nothing could change what my father stands for, so I had to give up for a while. Up until I reached seventh grade I used to get the highest score in class, although I was still hurting too much inside and thinking about taking my veil off day and night. My depression started increasing, and I would cry for days non-stop. I ended up starving myself because I had absolutely no will to eat whatsoever and as a result, I lost a remarkable amount of weight. My mental state started affecting my grades in school, so I started failing my classes. I had nothing in mind but that piece of raggedy cloth on the top of my head, and what the hell I needed to do to take it off. I loathed the way I looked like. I couldn’t stand looking at myself in the mirror without crying and feeling disgusted. My hatred towards myself made my confidence grow weak, and it triggered a state of anxiety in me. I slowly deteriorated, and then my mom got worried. I started suffering from chronic heartache, and rapid heartbeats. I started getting regular checkups at a cardiologist, which diagnosed me with Tachycardia, resulting from stress and anxiety. That of course meant I had to start taking medications. All that, and my father didn’t bat an eye. My condition stayed the same for years to come, and mom was on my side trying to convince my father to let me take it off. She tried countless times and so did I, till I eventually took it off. Ever since I said I wanted to take it off (I was roughly 8 and a half years old), dad started treating me in a mean way, as if he has given birth to a child he didn’t even want, and this has had a massive impact on me. I lost my father ever since then… he didn’t even talk to me. And now that I took it off, he cut all ties with me as if I never existed. I haven’t had a loving touch of a father for years… It’s really tragic what religious fundamentalism and extremism could lead to. These brainwashed people have drastically worsened our lives… May my story, among many others be a clear reminder that the oppression we’re living in is definitely not okay, and that we need to try our best whenever we can to end these barbaric practices”.

2. Sally (a pseudonym) – A 21-year-old woman from Syria, living in Lebanon

Unfortunately, she still wears the veil unwillingly.

Source: Caricature of Toka Nistani Womens Status of Iran

“I’m a girl living in an Islamic society in Lebanon and my family has always been over-protective. Everything was as I wanted in the beginning. I had dreams. I was an optimistic girl with dreams of graduating and getting her certificate to start her own job and make her parents proud. My family wasn’t really too religious. They didn’t pray and my dad did not fast.

When I turned fourteen, my dad yelled at me, saying that I should change the way I dress and start wearing the veil. He said my clothes should be tall enough to cover my curves.

I cried whenever a guy complimented me, because my dad would blame it on me because I am not wearing the hijab. Whenever we fight, he would bring up the hijab. I eventually started to self-harm by mutilating my arms. I tried to commit suicide several times.

I’m not allowed to go alone with my friends, I’m not allowed to talk with any guy, and I have been made to go to a girls-only school. My family has gradually become more religious with time. One day, some of my relatives came to visit us and my dad saw me going to greet them while wearing a t-shirt. He got furious and said that from now I must wear the veil, whether I like it or not, and that I am not allowed to ever step out of my room again unless I am wearing it. That day I wore one of my mom’s hijabs and went out to see the visitors. They looked at me in wonder, but they didn’t say anything because they already heard what my dad was saying inside. I got back to my room and cried a lot, then started cutting myself. I wasn’t feeling any pain while I’m hurting myself, I just wanted to end it.

Many days came and went by. My mum knew that there’s a guy who is in love with me. She didn’t really like him, but when she knew that he really wants to be with me, she told me that he should talk to your dad. When my dad knew, he got mad because I’m talking to a guy whom he did not like. He forbade me to talk to him ever again, but I continued to do so in secret. My mom knew about this and told my dad. He got very angry and he started hitting and kicking me so hard, until he got a knife and wanted to butcher me. My mom interfered and pushed him away, but she was pregnant, and this caused her to have a miscarriage. Of course, my dad put the blame on me. He said he will divorce my mom if I don’t listen to him and keep on wearing the hijab, so I wore it just because I love my mom and I didn’t want my parents to be separated. After that I attempted suicide by drinking chlorine. I thought I’ll finally die and end this bullshit life I am living, but I didn’t die. My dad thought I drank it because I wanted to be with that guy, but the truth is I did it because I lost my freedom. They took my freedom from me to feed their ego.

All of this affected my studies. I eventually ended up failing in my last year in high school, and they made me drop out. I started working to contribute to the expenses of the house.

My dad was an alcoholic and my brother is gay. My mom blamed this on evil souls haunting our house, and they blamed this on me because I am a metalhead, claiming that it is satanic music. They want to forbid me from listening to music, going to concerts, or getting guitar lessons. My uncle got married to a religious woman and he came with her to Lebanon. She started brain washing my parents even more. I became agnostic when this creature appeared in our lives. She made me hate everything related to religion more than I already did.

Since I am Syrian, and with no university degree, I am working for 12 hours a day with very low payment; and I am only allowed to work near the house, where they can monitor me. This means I am rarely seeing my parents, and after what happened I just go back home and I don’t even talk to them. We barely talk now. Even if we talked, we will end up fighting about silly subjects. The same scenario of fighting about what I wear and playing the guitar is repeated every day.

I asked my dad to register me in an institute to study, but he refused. He refused to let me study or learn anything, because in his opinion I’m better staying at work waiting for a good man to come marry me. Since then, I started thinking about running away.  I have had enough. My brothers come and go and they are allowed to do everything, but I’m not because I’m a girl in a stupid society where I have no rights. But I’ll always try to find a way to leave this house, this family, this prison. I was afraid of escaping first, because I didn’t want to cause them any pain, but when they kept pressuring me, I realized that they don’t care about anything, but feeding me and letting me sleep so that I go to work. This is not how you protect your daughter; this is how you end her life. I’ll never stop until I find a way to flee, but first I’ll need some help, and when I get it, I will run away. Even if they find me and kill me, at least I will die once and for all, instead of dying every day”.

3. Rania (a pseudonym) – A 19-year-old woman from Lebanon

Unfortunately, she still wears the veil unwillingly.

Source: Unknown

“I was 18 when I first told my parents about wanting to remove the hijab (a decision I’ve been wanting to make since I started my teenage years). I thought after starting college it would be easy, that they would see me as a grown up making my own life choices. I was wrong. It was a disaster; my mom was furiously angry and my dad had a mini heart attack. I was losing my mind as I saw my plan crashing in front of me.

I’m almost 20 now and still struggling with them, fighting over everything and anything, all because of my choice. They blamed my university education and threatened to keep me from going (since they pay for my tuition). They blamed everything just because they could not fathom that this is actually a choice that I made on my own, THEIR girl.

I’ve been wearing the veil for 11 years – more than half of my life, and still I can’t accept it. People say it’s my choice since my parents “asked” me when I was 8 years old, but how can a child understand and make such a decision, a decision that I saw as an opportunity to become like my mother and the women in the family. I thought I was growing up; little did I know I was turning my life to hell. Yes, this is how I feel every morning when I have to wear it to keep going with my life. It is literally a burden on top of my head. My issue with the hijab isn’t just with the looks, I’ve been an atheist for 2 years now and the hijab just doesn’t represent who I am. People see me and judge me for something I’m unwillingly wearing, something that directly contradicts who I am and how I think. This has also made me feel insecure about my looks. The stress I’m dealing with gave me anger and anxiety episodes. I developed a depressive mood. I can’t stop thinking about it, and how my life would be totally different if I just take that piece of fabric off of me, how relieved I would be then.

Although it’s been more than a year since I first discussed the topic with my parents but I feel I’m moving forward, I have accomplished so much over this year and I will not go back on my decision and my freedom of choice for the sake of anyone no matter how much it will cost me”.

4. Malak (no family name is provided to protect her identity) – A 20-year-old woman from Lebanon.

Unfortunately, she still wears the veil unwillingly.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is kafeera.jpg
Source: KafirComics by RavanKiani

“I wore the hijab when I was 8 years old. In fact, I first wore it by my own will. This is natural for a young child who is affected by her surroundings, especially that my mother and older sisters wear it too.

I was convinced by the concept of wearing the hijab until the age of 16. By then, my thoughts and beliefs had entirely changed. I started thinking outside the box. In short, I turned into another person. That young stupid girl isn’t stupid anymore. She is no longer afraid of being hanged by her hair by God if she does not wear the veil, as they used to tell her.

Four years later, and to this day, I still can’t take off my veil. Of course my family is the main reason behind this. I can’t even imagine their reaction if they knew about my will, but I am sure it won’t be pleasant. My mom is the control freak of the family; hence, all decisions should be made by her first. She gave me her trust and a little bit of freedom, and so I don’t want to lose this.

It is not easy at all to live with two personalities: a “perfect” quiet personality that I adopt in front of my family, relatives, and people who only know my name, and another personality for my friends, a fun personality that loves dancing, singing, and doing weird stuff.

It is not easy to not be able to say my opinion in some places, because my opinion is different from what my veil represents to people. Opening up to my family will cause me a lot of problems that I can’t handle right now.

I want to continue my studies and try to immigrate to another country that would accept me as I am. It is true that this won’t truly solve the problem, but it will help me to avoid discussions that I don’t want to go through with my family. I hope that my parents will accept me as I am with time, and that parents will understand that they don’t own their children’s lives. I hope that parents would know that they don’t have the right to control their children, nor to disregard children’s thoughts and desires”.

5. Alaa (a pseudonym) – A 29-year-old woman from Lebanon

Unfortunately, she still wears the veil unwillingly.

In protest of compulsory Hijab to women, a campaign of men wearing the veil has been active for the last few years.

“I was born to a very religious family. The concept of discussion does not exist in my family, and we all had to wear the veil as soon as we turned 9, whether we liked it or not. I didn’t even know that I have the right to say no. I studied at a religious school that forced us to wear the veil starting grade 3. They forced us to wear long and baggy clothes. When I reached grade 3, they made me wear the veil, and I still wear it since then.

I used to love to look like the other girls who were my age. I wanted to wear skirts and shorts, to play freely and let my hair loose. Of course I couldn’t do all of this, because I am veiled, which means I am a grown up, and I should stay quiet and “respectful”.

I tried to rebel when I reached high school. It was then when the problems with my parents started. They used to hit me every day. I used to tell myself that it’s okay, that I will eventually grow up and be able to take the veil off. But here I am, 29 years old, and the verbal and physical violence are still ongoing.

Despite my age, and despite the fact that I hold a master’s degree and I have a job, I still can’t take the veil off. I still have to wake up every morning and put the veil on before going out.

It is suffocating me. I am very disappointed with myself. Perhaps I should have been stronger than I am. I should be stronger now, but I don’t know how to be so.

The last time I opened the subject with my parents, I got beaten up very badly. My parents are good people at heart, but when it comes to this issue, they turn into monsters. My mom even confiscated my passport, ID, car keys, credit card and she has tried to also take my phone away after one of the fights we had because she is afraid I might run away. I reached a level where whenever I think of finally doing it, I freeze in my place and panic. Then I put it on, and go to work”.

6. Samah (a pseudonym) A 15-year-old Syrian refugee living in Lebanon

Unfortunately, she still wears the veil unwillingly.

Refused to be Sex Slaves: 19 Yazidi Girls Burned to Death by ISIS Terrorists in Iraq’s Mosul
Source: syriatruths.com

“I am supposed to be letting my hair loose, and let it fly freely with the wind. I wanted to wear dresses and to celebrate my birthdays, but none of these happened. Instead, happiness was when a day passed without listening to the sound of bombs. ISIS had come to the area where I used to live in Syria. They occupied it for several years. While they were there, they closed all schools, forbade females from going outside their houses alone, and forced us all to wear the veil and be covered in black from sole to crown. They forced the boys to prepare for Jihad. They gave the young ones teddy bears and knives to practice beheading on them. I used to see decapitated heads hung on spears in our streets. The men were forced to grow their beards, or else they would be flogged. I saw people getting slain and beheaded in front of me. A dark and regressive ideology had taken over my city. In their minds, women bring shame and are just mere servants.

I remember clearly once when my parents were out of the house at night in another area. There was a storm outside and I could hear the sound of militants breaking into people’s houses. I was still awake with my sister, waiting for hours for when our sinks would finally have some water so that we can fill our containers and store it. I started to imagine that a man will break the door and put a bullet in my heart. My thinking was very limited back then. Something changed in me back then, I don’t remember it, but something definitely changed in me.

My family was finally able to escape Syria. We arrived to Lebanon in August 2015 after having to pass through several checkpoints. I finally saw that city that is full of life, Beirut. After one month of our arrival, it was hard to find a house for us, so my family was divided and each one of us slept at our cousins’ houses. It is very hard being a burden on others.

It wasn’t long until my dad found a job as a janitor in a building. We are six in total, including my dad and mom, and we are living since then in one small room together. The toilet is even part of the kitchen. Till now we still live in this “sardine can” that robbed me of my privacy. We fight every day because of the tight space we live in.

That was okay, for school started soon, so I had another place to spend my time at. I registered with my siblings in the afternoon shift of public schools, which is designated for Syrians in Lebanon and funded by the United Nations. I felt ashamed of my accent, because others would judge me because of it. I felt embarrassed of uttering any word in English in Lebanon, for I did not know English like the others here. We didn’t study English back in Syria.

I escaped the war but now I have to endure a challenging life in Lebanon. I just wish I was never born. My first friend at school was called Rokaya. I felt like she was suffering like me, but she knew how to speak their accent, so I learned it from her. I got the highest grades in my class, and I still do since then.

We took off the black Abaya after we left the ISIS occupied area in Syria, but then my parents made me wear the veil in Lebanon, not taking my opinions or wishes into consideration. I wish I can take it off. My views towards religion have changed drastically. I have different views than those of the people around me. I wish I can go live one day in a different country, where my choices are protected, where I can be free and take my veil off”.

7. Rana (a pseudonym) – A 15-year-old Syrian refugee living in Lebanon

Unlike the others, she is okay with her veil, but she is suffering because of religious people in a different way. She is Samah’s best friend.

Source: Unknown

“My only fault is that I was born a female. My family came to Lebanon in 2011 before things turned to the worse in Syria. We stayed out of school for three years after we came. My family didn’t really care, and I was too young to even understand and demand my rights.

My family strictly follows traditions and religion. Their mentality is very narrow and backward. Still, I feel sorry for talking badly about my family. They made me wear the hijab when I turned 12. I didn’t know why I had to wear it, nor did they ask me for my opinion about it. I don’t reject the hijab now, but I only wish if I had the chance to wear it on my own, for I consider myself forced to wear it by my family, instead of wearing it by my own will.

By the age of 15, and during summer vacation, I was preparing to go to school. Instead my family forced me to get married to a guy that I never even met. He was 21 years old and illiterate. I didn’t want to get married. Instead, I wanted to continue my studies.

My dad was very happy when he heard that a guy came to ask to marry me, for all they cared about was getting rid of me. My brother, who shares my mentality, refused this too, but he couldn’t do anything back then. He also got deprived from the opportunity to continue his studies. I kept on screaming frantically “NO! NO! I DON’T WANT TO!”. I entered a catatonic state and I fainted. My mom refused to let my siblings help me. I just heard her say “leave her on the ground. If you are not a virgin and this is why you are afraid of getting married, then just say it already”. I just kept on saying “may God never forgive you!”.

My siblings tried to convince me that this guy will allow me to go back to school. Eventually, my parents took us to a Sheikh to make the marriage contract and they took me out of school. They told me that my only place is at my husband’s house, and my only role is to serve him. Until one day, my family received a phone call from the United Nations. They said they scheduled for us an interview to study our case to see if they can help us immigrate to Europe or Canada. Hence, my family divorced me immediately from my husband and put me back in school, in order to look more compliant to UN standards so that we are able to travel. This did not work though, for my sisters were all married when they were teenagers. Thus, our file wasn’t eligible for immigration.

This shattered all of my hopes of living abroad, free from my abusive family. They still beat me every day. Sometimes my body bruises for a whole week. My dad even once took off few of my hair locks while beating me. They threaten me every day that they will not allow me to continue my studies. They say that they will tear the certificate when I get it this year. They overburden me with house chores and with taking care of my younger sister, for they want to distract me from studying. They want me to get married instead, waiting for any suiter who would come and propose again.

My abusive mom told me several times that she would bring me the poison, and all I had to do is to drink it. I tried to realize her wishes once; I tried to kill myself. I drank a medicine that I found, but all it did was make me sick.

Things are a little better now. I finally have lots of friends, and I am closer to my older brother. I consider him my best friend, and he is the only one who supports me. I wonder what the future hides for me”.

8. Tayma Hteit – A 28-year-old woman from Lebanon

Oppression Photograph by Luke Moore
Source: fineartamerica.com

“I come from a very religious family, and they made me wear the veil by the age of 8. They threw me a party back then, got me presents, and said that I am now as grown as my veiled neighbors. This was something powerful in the eyes of an 8-year-old child.

I started growing up and my thoughts started to develop too. I used to be very religious when I was young. Hence, I studied religion a lot. I have always loved reading, which made me think even more about everything around me. My thoughts started to clash with everyone around me. I did not dare though to speak up my mind. I already know how they would react, and it is anything but a pleasant reaction. I eventually became agnostic and stopped believing in religion completely when I grew up. The more irreligious I became, the more I studied religion in institutes; and the more I knew about religion, the more I drifted away from it.

It was impossible for me to take off my veil when my family was with me in Lebanon. I didn’t even dare tell them about my views regarding religion. There were a lot of problems at home, and they are too religious and close minded. Yet, in early 2015, I started to open up a little by expressing my thoughts at my work environment. I used to work in a religious channel, so they fired me. Then I made up a plan to escape from the country. I took advantage of a conference related to my work that is happening in Jordan. I managed to convince my parents to go to Jordan for the conference for few days. There, I stayed in contact with them to play it cool, but at the same time I was searching for a job to stay there, away from them. I did find a job within a month and I took off my veil. I published a picture of myself on social media with the caption “This is the real me whom I have hidden for a long time”. My parents knew what I did and that I took off my veil there, so they stopped talking to me completely.

I had some problems later on and I ended up losing my job. I was alone there, and my parents had broken all ties with me for two years. The only condition for them to speak to me was that I wear the veil again. I eventually ran out of money. I experienced hunger, a feeling that I never thought I would experience in my life.

I managed to go back to Lebanon and I had to work in extremely tiring jobs where I was taken advantage of, but I had no other choice. My brother knew of my situation, so he opened the door again for me, but the fights about religion started all over again.

Religious bullying doesn’t only come from the parents, but from the society and friends too. They pressure us to follow their own beliefs, and if we dare to oppose them, they will bully us. We will lose all feelings of security and love that we ever had. They force us to come to this life because of a selfish feeling they have, just to satisfy their need to breed, and then they think that they own us and own our thoughts. They think they have the right to especially control girls, that they should decide what a girl should wear, think, and say.

I can barely manage to find a proper job because of the economical situation in the country. I lost my favorite job, a journalist, that I worked in for 9 years, just because I shared my religious and political thoughts. I passed in a year of extreme depression and suicidal episodes. This has left its imprint on me till now. I am currently studying a different major and starting from zero again. I am hoping that I can immigrate later on through my new major to a country that respects my freedom and my views towards religion”.

9. Maya (a pseudonym) – A 27-year-old woman from Lebanon

Unfortunately, she still wears the veil unwillingly.

“Identity Crisis”
Source: https://www.residentadvisor.net/dj/identitycrisis

“I come from a religious family, so of course they made me wear the veil. My family taught me the importance of being religious and they planted the idea of heaven and hell in my head. They made me memorize the stories of the prophets. Yet, my mom taught us to be rebellious through her actions, and not through her words.

I used to overthink everything they taught me. I used to imagine that there are angels on my right and left sides to record my sins and good behavior, just as religion says. I always thought about where god is and if god really exists. But I felt guilty about my thoughts and tried to repress them.

When I went to university, I started to have an identity crisis. All the questions I repressed as a teenager started to surface again because of my studies. I researched every topic in my religion and I started to doubt the Quran. I wondered if it is true that only the Shia go to heaven, and if a man who did nothing but good in his life will go to hell just because he is from a different religion. I read more through the history of Islam and I found out that the conflicts within Islam are actually political and not religious at all. I almost stopped praying by then. Doubt tortured me, and I became seriously depressed.

I realized later on that I am not really convinced by the veil I am wearing. I even remembered that I did not wear it by my own will, but that I wore it because it is something that I had to do. I didn’t even know what it means back then. I entered a phase of severe depression and I stopped talking to people. I even stopped eating and my hair started to fall drastically. My religious friend thought that it must be someone who is brainwashing me. They always think that we are not capable of thinking differently on our own.

When I confronted my parents about my desire to remove the veil, they responded with severe rejection and violence. I started working in order to become stronger so that I am able to face my parents for one last time when I finally take this step again, even though I know the dangerous outcomes that I will have to endure”.

10. Fatima (no family name is provided to protect her identity) – A 23-year-old woman from Lebanon

Iranian Woman protesting mandatory Hijab and asserting her personal freedom.
Source: boredpanda.com

I’m the eldest among four girls and I first put the hijab on when I was nine and a half years old. My parents are not particularly religiously strict but by the time I hit nine, I was expected to put on my hijab. The pressure came mostly from my parental grandfather who kept pressuring my father to get me to wear it. I wouldn’t say I was forced, but just too young to understand this kind of commitment. One day my mom casually brought it up, asking me to go to the store with her so that she can choose a hijab for me.

At that time many of the girls in my school were starting to wear a hijab as well, so a part of me, the part that wanted to fit, the part that was jealous and that wanted the acceptance and praise they received for putting it on, was excited to finally be like all the other girls around me. That day I simply went with my mother, picked a simple one-piece hijab and put it on. From that point on it became part of my identity. Maybe the realization did not hit me right away then, but as time went by, I realized how this simple piece of black fabric defined so much of who I was as a person. People simply treated me differently. There were so many expectations that I felt I had to follow. Girls who wear the hijab need to be proper, need to be well-behaved, they can’t laugh out loud, there’s no point in inviting them to stay out late and so on. Many people just put me in a box and I felt that many of the things that they thought about me had nothing to do with who I was as a person.

Nevertheless, my young-self tried to conform to all of that, thinking that else I would bring shame to the ‘concept of hijab’. You see, when you wear the hijab, you feel like you represent Muslim women, that you represent Islam. All my life I heard people put hijabi women down for the littlest of things, shame them for things non-hijabi women would do all the time. It’s a label that’s stuck to you. It defines everything about you, and if you don’t conform, it suffocates you. My belief system, my ideas and thoughts were assumed to be summarized by the garment I had on my head. This became a problem as I grew older, because who I was as a person, my authentic self, was neither seen nor acknowledged; it was denied and discarded. I became an atheist wearing something that went against everything I believed in. I was outspoken on closed secret social media groups among like-minded people, but in front of my community I was a mute, a conforming hijabi who was too scared to confront her parents about taking her hijab off. To this day I’m amazed that I managed to actually do just that, but it took so much courage.

Actually, it was my sisters who helped me. They too took it off and they confronted my parents with me about it. If it weren’t for them, I might still be wearing it today. I took it off at the age of 20, 11 years after putting it on. I remember how we talked to my dad. We sat down in the living room. I already told my mom before but it was my dad who needed convincing. We approached the subject, not by asking him for permission to take it off, but by simply telling him. In a certain way, we were blessed to have parents who were not incredibly strict. I constantly hear horror stories of parents who are forceful, who are abusive, who would never allow their daughters to take it off. I know so many girls living a double life, hiding who they truly are from their parents. It took us courage to speak to my father. He was very upset and he tried to convince us otherwise. I remember how tense that conversation was, but we finally managed to be done with it.

The first time I left the house without my hijab, I felt naked. I was petrified of the thought of being seen by anyone who knew me, and this bothered me. For so long I wanted to be free of this restricting garment and all the excess baggage that came with it. But I just hated myself at first. I wasn’t really hiding that I took it off. I went to school normally, I met people and went on with my life. But for the longest time, I never put the fact that I took my hijab off explicitly in words. I never said it or just told someone. For the first half year I did not put a facebook photo of myself without wearing it. I just pretended that it didn’t matter, that it was just something I did not need to talk about. But even though I was not talking about it, the people around me were. Many of my old school friends suddenly became distant. Many people came up to me and told me that there were people talking about me to them, and not in a good way. I lost a very close friend, and she never explicitly told me why. I felt betrayed and upset. I got depressed for a long time and was flunking my courses that year. I thought taking it off should’ve been a relief, but here I was, losing people I deeply cared about. In addition to the people talking behind my back, I had to deal with snarky self-righteous comments being thrown at me constantly. It was exhausting. I felt like I had to justify myself in every step. It drained me. Even those who ‘accepted’ me said that what I did was fine as long as I did not brag about it. What they were telling me was that what I did was shameful but they won’t judge me as long as I shut up about it. It wasn’t easy. I couldn’t celebrate my bold decision. I couldn’t move on to live out my true authentic life the way I wanted to. It took time.

The first time I posted a picture of myself on Facebook without my hijab on was a surreal moment for me. The picture was simple, just my face with my hair down and nothing more. No background, nothing but my face up-close. I remember just posting it and waiting for a reaction. I never talked about taking my hijab off on Facebook before posting this picture, and although many people already knew from others and from seeing me on the streets, many on my friends’ list did not know yet. I had mix reactions, but for the most part the feedback was positive. I had people ask me in the comments things like ‘weren’t you a hijabi?’. I ignored those comments for the most part but they upset me, they made me nervous. But the outpouring of love drowned them, and for the first time in a long time I did not feel ashamed. I was glad with the choices I made and I wanted to share them with anybody who was willing to listen. During that time, I finally started to openly talk about my experience with the hijab and about how taking it off was a good thing and how many women share this sentiment and they shouldn’t be scared of doing what they want to do. I realize that I have things easier than many other women who are unfortunately stuck with families that might hurt them for making the choices that they want to make, but I want them to know that so many women out there support them and believe in them and are there for them. I hope they can break free one day and I wish them all the love and luck in the world. Don’t be ashamed, you’re right and those who tell you otherwise and put you down for it are wrong”.   




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Sarah Harakeh

An English literature and translation graduate, teacher, translator and a librarian who dreams of a better secular world.