By Afreen Ziauddin for The Tempest
People have no hesitation to tell me that it’s useless for me to pray five times a day and watch Islamic lectures, simply because I don’t cover my head.
I could see his hand coming, practically in slow motion, casually moving out of his pocket. I winced, knowing he wanted a handshake. What could I say?
“I apologize for coming off the wrong way,” I blurted, feeling terribly awkward and hoping God would find some contentment with me for doing this for His sake. “But I can’t shake your hand. Sorry.”
“Oh,” he said, and dropped his hand. “Sure, got it.” He stepped backward respectfully – he was Muslim, too, so he understood the premise – but I could see the surprise in his eyes.
It’s the look I always get when things like this happen. It’s what I like to call the But-You’re-Not-Hijabi-look. Because why would woman who’s not dressed in the hijab possibly care for something as trivial as a man shaking her hand? If you don’t care about covering your head, why should it matter whether a man touches your hand? It’s that same look in which I see intrigue, confusion and sometimes even slight annoyance.
“You’re kind of like a non-hijabi-hijabi,” a friend of mine jokingly remarked once when I told her about the incident. She, like myself, didn’t choose to don the scarf. Not because she wasn’t “ready.” It’s just that as much as she loves her religion and prayed, part of her still loves the world too much (as much as we both hated to admit it).
Part of her still loves to feel the wind blow her hair as she sticks her head out of the window of her car. Part of her still loves the feeling of doing her hair to go out in public. As much as I like to think that my situation was more complex, I hate to admit that my reasons for not wearing it weren’t any different.
On countless occasions, I’ve worn a headscarf and have even worn something as daring as a midnight black full-body ninja suited abaya in malls, grocery stores, and even on my own college campus. But as wrong as it may seem for me to put it this way, I like to think that my faux hijabi lifestyle allows me to have the best of both worlds.
Of course, my double life doesn’t exactly go unnoticed. I get constant remarks when I opt for a more modest outfit even on the most hottest days of the summer (after all, what non-hijabi wears a full sleeve shirt to a fourth-of-July festival?), or when I wake up for prayer at dawn, or when I would excuse myself to pray when hanging out with friends.
It baffled my Muslim and non-Muslim friends alike. “But you act so hijabi,” they tell me, confused. My non-Muslim friends, who were all too accustomed to seeing me occasionally fashioned in my Muslim gear on Snapchat were unfazed when they saw me wearing it for the first time in person. “So why don’t you just wear it already?” they asked me once. When I once had a casual conversation with family friend about an interesting Islamic lecture I watched, she abruptly responded with, “I’m so surprised you don’t wear the hijab. I mean, since you’re so knowledgeable about Islam and all.”
And it makes me question myself. Am I a hypocrite for making prayer a priority? Am I a hypocrite for always wanting to learn more about my religion and opting for online Islamic lectures at times instead of Netflix, for keeping a professionally friendly distance between my male acquaintances and quietly telling them that I’m not comfortable with them giving me hug?
Should I have just let that guy shake my hand because I don’t wear hijab?