Literary Yard

Search for meaning

By Debra J. White

The hijab (also known as a headscarf) came one by one after I said the Shahada, or conversion of faith to Islam in March 2015. Print hijabs, cotton hijabs, silky smooth hijabs and several I bought myself. All were so pretty and nice. They piled up week after week until I found myself smothered in hijabs. I felt like a true Muslim woman now. I still needed help mastering the art of proper hijab wear. The first time I wore a hijab was in 2013 not long after meeting my friend Diba who is largely responsible for my conversion. A family member had passed away and she invited me to a prayer service at a local mosque. Cover your head, she said. That wouldn’t be a problem since I had an ample supply of hats and scarves. I always liked looking stylish even if much of my wardrobe came from thrift shops. I always survived on a shoestring budget, even after graduating with a master’s in social work. I arrived early that day to the mosque, not wanting to show up late and be a standout among strangers. A Muslim woman approached me with a furrowed brow. She asked if she could re-arrange my head scarf. I asked if I looked right. Not exactly, she said. Maybe the headscarf was crooked and I looked as if I’d come through a wind tunnel. She took over and said that’s better. At mosque services and other Islamic events, I gazed at Muslim women I met trying to figure out how they wore the hijab, hoping they didn’t think my stares were too intrusive. I’m from New York City and if someone stared at me too long, I’d think they were a pervert. I might tell them to buzz off. That’s how I was back then. But after I started covering my head, as many Muslim women do, along came a series of comments, some nice, some not so nice. A few strangers said I looked beautiful, which I thought I did too. Muslim women said they liked my scarves and asked where I bought them from. Other comments bordered on amusing or ignorance. Take the lady at the gym for example where I work out. She looked at my covered head and asked if I was hot. It’s summer in Phoenix I said, everyone’s hot. Another lady at the same gym noticed my green print hijab and asked if my hair was green too. I laughed and said that was a good one. Actually, my hair is gray. I’m in my mid-60s. Yet another gym member asked me if I was cold. It was summer. I said why do you ask. She said you’re all bundled up wearing that scarf. Someone else asked me if I slept in the hijab. I replied that I slept in pajamas. Not all comments are amusing, complementary or even ignorant. Some are rude. One woman asked about the rag on my head. I replied that rags are for cleaning. Another asked if I had cancer. I said no, thankfully I don’t have cancer. I do have lingering problems from brain trauma that I sustained in a 1994 pedestrian car accident. The hijab has served in other ways. I use the ends to wipe smudges from my glasses. If I approach an intersection with photo radar, I wrap it around my face just in case the driver in front of me slows down. I don’t want to be identified and get a ticket. And there you have it. That’s been my experience so far as a hijab wearing Muslim woman convert.  


  1. Maybe you could write a second essay on the practical uses of the hijab—above and beyond wiping glasses and outsmarting photo radar cameras. (Does that really work?) Write on!

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