At the end of the grade 10 Christian Studies class at Westgate Mennonite Collegiate, students are asked to do a project in which they reflect upon a foreign religious practice.
I decided to don the Muslim headdress, called the hijab, for a week. In class we had learned about the cultural implications of wearing a hijab, but nothing could prepare me for what I experienced over the next few days.
On day one of the experiment, I hit the first bump in the road—actually getting the hijab to stay on my head. A few tonnes of bobby pins and a few headbands later, I innocently crept towards the front door of my house, only to be pelted with my mother’s ringing shrieks as she saw what I was wearing on my head. She promptly sat me down and gave me a 20-minute lecture on the oppression of women in the Middle East, and how whatever it was that I was wearing on my head was a symbol of their hopeless struggle against tyrannical males.
After listening to my explanations of how wearing the hijab in Canada is a choice that women make independently to try to further their relationship with God, she launched into another 30-minute argument on whether or not Muslim women in Canada were just brainwashed by years of tradition and they don’t know what they really want yet. I think in the end I managed to convince her that hijabs are still a relevant religious practice in today’s society, and that they aren’t just some invention to make the women of Islam more submissive.
I was surprised when I actually went out into my neighbourhood to gauge everyone else’s reactions. No one even stared at the hijab openly, although according to my sister who walked with me, I did get a lot of backward glances. I only got one glare from a stranger and he was about five years old and glaring at everyone. I had expected people to be more judgmental and rude than they were.
In thinking about the way that wearing my hijab made me feel over the course of the week, I think it’s overall effect was that of a small burden being lifted off my shoulders. Knowing that people would look at me and just see the hijab somehow allowed me to forget about whatever I looked like on the outside and focus more about what was going on inside. I’m pretty sure that I prayed a lot more than I usually do, and I definitely felt a lot calmer as though I had things more under control. I think that wearing the hijab simplified my life, sort of like removing variables from a science experiment to get to the heart of the exercise.
Although I don’t believe that having uncovered hair is immodest, I think that wearing the hijab was an awesome way to relieve stress and I think that the pros of wearing the hijab outweighed the cons. I think that I can understand why Muslim women decide to put themselves through it. What I find the most amazing about their faith is that after deciding to wear the hijab, almost none of them take it off permanently, even after experiencing (in some cases) enormous amounts of racism. I don’t know if I would be able to show that much commitment to my faith by keeping my hijab on and choosing to brave the storm, even though I could just take it off and be treated like a normal person.
The commitment that Muslims show to their religion is astounding, and as a Christian, I feel enormous respect for them—if I had to wear the hijab and long sleeves for my whole life (including hot summer days and swimming practice) I probably wouldn’t be so eager to wear it as I am now. It kind of makes me feel as though my zeal in my worship of God is a bit lacking. Muslim people take the time to pray five times a day in the same circumstances as we live in. I feel like such a slacker compared to them; if they can make their religion the centre of their lives in today’s society, I think that it is our duty as Christians to do so as well. Even though I’m definitely not going to wear a hijab for the rest of my life (I’m not sure if I could handle that much religious enthusiasm all at once), I think I am going to start praying at least 5 times a day like they do in Islam. If they can do it, we should be able to do it too.