Islam is in My Heart Not in My Clothes: Why I Removed My Hijab
Parveen Ali explains why she decided to permanently remove her headscarf following five years of negativity from those she interacted with – including harassment from the far-right.
This summer, I decided to book a short break far away from London. I was desperate to get away because I had been on the receiving end of Islamophobia from my neighbours, which had affected me.
While on my holiday, I thought about many things, such as whether to continue wearing my hijab, as some people seem to react in a hostile way when they see it. After a lot of reflection, I decided to remove it. I said to myself: let me see how life is without wearing one.
I had been thinking about removing my hijab for quite some time. It was probably the biggest decision I’ve had to make so, on the second day of my holiday, I went to the supermarket without wearing it. It felt strange. I felt naked having my hair out, and guilty. But then the wind through my hair felt fantastic; the last time I had felt this was many years ago.
I decided to book an appointment at the local hairdressers and had a new haircut with layers put in. Once I had done that, I noticed a massive difference in how people were treating me. People were smiling at me, asking me how I was – something I haven’t experienced in a long time.
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When my holiday came to an end, and I was heading back to London, I boarded the train without my hijab, feeling nervous. Thankfully, the train was quiet, with only a few passengers. While on the train, there were so many thoughts running through my head: those of guilt, shame, anger, hurt and liberation.
When I arrived at St Pancras, people were helpful, which felt nice, whereas in the past I had received angry looks. The following day, I went out in my local area. I was cycling past a shopkeeper who said “you look beautiful” and asked why I had removed my hijab. I explained my reasons, to which he replied: “Islam is in the heart, not in the clothing.”
I noticed a big difference in people’s attitude and behaviour towards me once I removed the hijab. People were warmer, kinder and happier. Encouraged by this change, I created a social media post to share my experience. However, shortly afterwards, a group of Muslims decided to attack me online, telling me I have removed my hijab just to gain acceptance from Islamophobes. The barrage of abuse continued on social media and I was forced to defend myself. It was mostly Muslim men saying “what you are doing is wrong. You have given up your identity just to fit in”.
Some Muslim men preach about what women should wear, but when Muslim women get attacked, they watch from the sidelines. I was also disturbed by some Muslim women who were trolling me and backing the men in their online attacks. They showed no empathy whatsoever. This sort of behaviour is pushing people away from religion. The decision to wear or not wear a hijab is between a woman and God.
Removing my hijab does not mean I’m leaving my religion. It does not mean I will be more or less pious. I may decide to wear it again in the future when I feel safer, but the reason I took it off is that I was on the receiving end of harassment by the far-right. In the past five years, I have been attacked many times: on the Tube, in leisure centres, on the street.
I have struggled to find work because my hijab was an issue. Anywhere I went, I sensed hostility towards me, including Islamophobia from fellow students at college and university. One student even said: “When are you going to Syria?”
Muslim women wear a hijab to demonstrate their submission to God and to remind themselves to hold fast to Islamic beliefs such as honesty and being generous to people in need. But, Islam is in my heart; I don’t need to wear a hijab to feel faithful to God.
Main photo: Parveen Ali