The woman behind the Hijab: A student’s journey to self-discovery through faith

She has been asked a lot of weird questions like, “Are yougoing bald?”

“Do you have cancer or something?”

“Why are you covering up your head?” “Do you shower?”

She exclaims, “Ugh, so weird!”

Rabbia Razzaque, psychology major at UTSA, gets the wholearray of stares and weird questions. She, like millions of other Muslim womenacross the globe, chooses to wear the hijab.

“The word hijab comes from the Arabic word hajaba, meaningto hide from view or conceal. In the present time, the context of hijab is themodest covering (a scarf that covers the head, neck and throat) of a Muslimwoman,” says Razzaque.

Today, people often associate Muslims as terroristspacking AK-47s or as poster girls for oppressed womanhood. These stereotypesexist throughout western culture, including university campuses like UTSA.

Students share their thoughts on Muslim women likeRazzaque. English major Leann Acuña says, “She shouldn’t have to be oppressedby men like that to where she has to cover her whole body, head to toe. I feelbad for her.”

Another student, who wishes to remain anonymous, says, “WhenI see a Muslim woman covered up, the first thing I think is, ‘why is shewearing that and what is the point?’”

English major Emma O’Connell says, “I feel bad for thembecause it is like 105 degrees outside and they are covered from head to toe.”

Technical communication major Connor Eustermen says, thefirst thing that comes to his mind when he thinks of Muslim women are thewords, “afraid and oppressed.” However, not all reactions to Muslim women oncampus are seen as negative.

Despite student opinion, “young Muslim women arereclaiming the hijab, reinterpreting it in light of its original purpose togive back to women ultimate control of their own bodies,” says Razzaque.

Born in Pakistan and raised in the U.S., Razzaque wasnever really close to her faith. “I was Muslim by name.” She jokinglyclarifies, “You know when you’re like labeled something but you’re not reallypracticing?”

“I didn’t really pray, I didn’t read the Qur’an, I didn’treally dress modest. I was just born Muslim.”

“Religion wasn’t a strict thing in my house,” Razzaqueexplains. “That’s why I had to go kind of through a self-discovery to find outwho I really was on my own.” However, it wasn’t until high school, when a guestspeaker came to her school and spoke about happiness, that Razzaque started herjourney to self-discovery.

“He spoke to us about happiness and how you literally lookin all the wrong places, and it literally hit me, because I felt like at thatmoment, that was the exact same thing I was doing.” Rabbia remembers, “As hewas speaking, I was like crying like, ‘Oh My God, this is what I’ve been doingmy whole life! What is wrong with me?’” she shouted.

This random speaker who came to Razzaque’s schooltriggered something inside her to learn about God. But this was something shehadn’t learned about before, so this journey was sure to be a difficult one.

“What’s being Muslim? I had to figure that out on my own.I had to figure out what hijab was on my own. I wasn’t really exposed to that.”

She began reading the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam,which teaches modesty and chastity. The Qur’an says a woman is required tofollow the dress code called hijab. Muslim women view wearing the hijab as anact of faith and feel a sense of honor, respect and dignity from wearing it.Surprisingly, Razzaque realized, “When I wear the hijab, I’m not looked at formy outside appearance anymore. When people see me now, I automatically getrespect.”

Nonetheless, people have a hard time getting used to thehijab, as did Razzaque. “When I started trying on the veil, trying to see whatit was like…” she stops to explain that you can’t quite go from wearing jeansand short sleeves to “all this,” using her hands to illuminate her modestclothes.

“It took me a long time; it was little baby steps I had totake.” Razzaque wasn’t the only person getting used to her new identity; herfamily had to get used to it too.

Razzaque says no one in her family wore the hijab, “So itwas a big step for me to wear it on my own.” Taken by surprise, Razzaque’sfamily had their own set of reactions.

“Why are you wearing that?” they would ask. Her dad said,“You’re not going outside wearing that?” in a curious, but worried tone.

“People are going to make fun of you.”

Despite what her family said, Razzaque remained headstrongand embraced her new modest appearance.

In western society, the hijab has come to symbolizeoppression or forced silence. In Islam, however, it’s neither. The hijabsymbolizes freedom for women– freedom from the constant judgment of self-appearance.Razzaque laughs and says, “It’s so ironic when people say, ‘Oh, you’re sooppressed,’ because I have never felt so free in my life.”

She adds, “I felt more enslaved back then; I feltoppressed then because I felt like I had to dress a certain way, act a certainway, like I had to fit in.” She continues talking quickly in a somber tone, “Ifelt enslaved to what society wants me to be like,” she says, “but now that Ifound what God wants me to be, I feel like I have a higher purpose. I feel freenow. It’s just liberating.”

Far from humiliating or oppressing, wearing a hijab grantsrespect and presents a separate and unique identity. The hijab covering alsoprovides a sense of beauty for Razzaque. She uses an analogy with a diamond toexpress her newfound beauty.

She starts off slowly, thinking about her choice of words,“I think about it sometimes as, the most beautiful things aren’t found justlying on the streets. You don’t find diamonds just lying on the street.” Shebegins to speak quickly as she becomes inspired. “They’re closed up, they’recovered. You have to go to a store and you have to ask someone to look at themand they have to open up the case and get the key and stuff,” she continues.“So the most precious of things aren’t just lying on the floor, they’re coveredup and they’re protected and sheltered.”

After 9/11, there has been a controversial obsession withthe hijab. Some people are scared and cautious to approach Muslims likeRazzaque. However, as a student at UTSA, Rabbia feels welcomed and accepted.

“At UTSA, there’s a lot of diversity, so I definitely feelcomfortable,” she says. UTSA has nearly one thousand Muslim students and about500 of them are a part of the on-campus organization, Muslim StudentAssociation.

Razzaque has been lucky not to have encountered thediscrimination that other Muslim students may experience across the nation.

A simple Google search provides heart-wrenching stories ofMuslim students in America who aren’t as accepted as Razzaque. Daily, Muslimstudents are discriminated and teased for their appearance and culture.Razzaque says softly, “One of my friends got told she had to go back home [byanother student].”

Razzaque explains this struggle for Muslim women isn’tjust for women in America; it’s a global issue. “It’s a constant struggle tofind your purpose and once you find your purpose, you hold on to it,” she says.

After searching for her own purpose and happiness,Razzaque found her self-worth by reclaiming her faith and learning about Islam.“I found my beauty through God,” she says. Although she receives constantstares and odd questions daily, Razzaque is passionate for her faith and therelationship she has with herself and with God.

When explaining the hijab’s purpose and why she wears it, shesays, “I feel like if you understand what you’re doing it for, then it’s worththe fight. If you’re passionate about it, it’s worth fighting for.”

Razzaque no longer feels nervous or anxious to put on herhijab and step outside. She has found her ha
ppiness through God and wearing thehijab. “The hijab means everything to me. I could never find myself or figureout who I am in any other way. I am not myself when I’m not wearing the hijab.”

Razzaque feels her identity, as a Muslim woman, is anidentity that comes with great power. “I feel like I’m carrying the message ofIslam just being who I am. It’s a huge honor that I have.”

“People ask me, ‘what does wearing the hijab mean to me?’”she stutters. “I would pretty much die for it. It means everything to me,” shesays. “This is my journey I have taken in my life, it took me a lot of roughpatches to get where I am now, and literally, I am at more peace with myselfthan I have ever been before.” She starts to smile. “I feel more free than Iever have before. I feel like I finally found my purpose in life and it allgoes back to my relationship with God.”

Razzaque feels that neither she, nor any Muslim woman,should be looked at sympathetically. She is not oppressed or a terrorist– sheis simply liberated.