I’ve been wearing hijab for approximately 3.5 years now. Long enough to have experienced the amazing sisterhood and occasionally its ugly twin sister, condemnation, but not long enough to have forgotten what it was like as an undercover (ironic, isn’t it) Muslim. I have to admit that it was pretty fun sitting in tutorials about Islam without having to say again and again that no, my dad/brother/non-existent husband did not force me into wearing hijab. It was fun going to job interviews and not being quizzed about my religion instead of my work experience. But it wasn’t always fun being part of the Muslim community as a non-hijabi. At times I felt the need to prove to others that just because I wore a t-shirt didn’t mean that I skipped my prayers or dated boys. I worried that observant Muslim men wouldn’t consider me, then worried in turn that if I put on the hijab some Muslim guys wouldn’t consider me.
Like the scaredy-cat I am, it took aaaages for me to finally put it on, but it’s now as much a part of me as my hair was. As for marriage, I’ve observed a whole lot of different scenarios in the community. In volunteering circles, it’s become a lot more common for non-hijabis to be welcomed with open arms. Consequently, their male counterparts will get plenty of opportunities to get to know them beyond their external appearance, and as such, draw more informed conclusions about their level of religious practice. But this doesn’t mean that it’s an even playing field. There are plenty of guys who wouldn’t consider a girl who doesn’t wear hijab, regardless of her level of religious observance. It’s not that they dislike women who don’t wear it or see them as inferior; they simply feel that hijab is a pre-requisite in a potential wife.
Before you decry the apparent unfairness of it all, bear in mind that there are just as many, if not more guys who specifically do not want to marry a woman who wears hijab. They fear that she will be too observant, forgetting that there when it comes to practice there is no such thing as too much. Some of them come from cultures where hijab is uncommon, and as such they are unsure of how to relate to a woman who wears it. Many of these guys do not wish to be identifiably Muslim, and with a wife on their arm in hijab anonymity goes out the window. Goodbye blending in, hello stares, glares and ‘bewares’. Undeniably life becomes a lot more complicated as a visible member of a minority group, and while it saddens me that guys would discriminate on this basis, part of me understands their fears and concerns.
While I’ve mentioned attitudes on either end of the spectrum, from what I’ve observed a large chunk of Muslim guys fall somewhere in the middle. Their stance can be summed up as ‘hijab would be nice, but if she’s nice I’m happy’. For these guys, hijab is a bonus rather than a pre-requisite. They would support their wife’s decision to wear it and even gently encourage it, but they feel that there are more important factors to take into consideration than whether or not she wears hijab. If I’m correct and this is the most prevalent attitude, women who don’t wear hijab in fact get two bites at the cherry: they will be considered by these guys as well as the ones who refuse to consider hijab-wearing women. But it doesn’t always feel like a win. When speaking to these girls they have referred to a seeming need to display the extent of their religiousity; they are assumed to be not as observant as girls in the hijab and so must put in some work to show that this isn’t necessarily the case.
I don’t intend to condemn any of the above attitudes. After all, people certainly have the right to filter out potential partners based on whatever criteria they see fit. If a guy prefers a girl in hijab, that is in fact understandable and perhaps commendable. God knows hijab-wearing women don’t experience many forms of positive discrimination, so I’m happy to take this one! But I also know plenty of amazing sisters who do not wear hijab, and I would hate to think that they are automatically pigeonholed as irreligious. (My pre-hijab self was pretty awesome, if I do say so myself.) My point is just that in different contexts, different considerations come into play. My point is also that hijab rocks, and if a guy doesn’t think so, he isn’t necessarily a bad person, he just isn’t the guy for you.
Have you ever experienced discrimination on the basis of wearing hijab from a potential suitor? Or on the other hand, have you ever experienced discrimination for not wearing it? Guys, what are your thoughts on how important hijab is in a potential partner?