Thursday, April 22, 2010

Holding my head up high in the corporate world

By Shanaaz Hassem-Jaylarnie (Johannesburg, South Africa)
At first I was not very keen on this whole thing but, prompted by my sisters, I decided to visit the blog. Hijab that got me thinking. Then suddenly after reading a few lines, I felt that I had an obligation to tell my see, I grew up in a very strict, but liberal home- where my parents gave us freedom yet controlled it. As ironic as that may be, I always think that they somehow managed to get just the right balance. Not letting go too loosely, yet not holding on too tight. I only wish that I can be that perfect to my kids.

There were several times in my young life where my father would get into a session with me about starting to wear a headscarf. As opinionated as I was, I would always respond that I was not ready, and I guess that my parents did not want to force something upon me with the fear that I would not enjoy wearing it and see it as a burden.

One day at the age of 22, I suddenly decided that I had to change my way of dress, and don the hijaab. Since I was young, just entered the corporate world and had many friends from various faith groups, this was a difficult choice in my life. The decision would soon rock my world as I knew it. Without realising it, the decision to wear a hijaab began changing my entire life, opinion and almost everything about me.

I soon found myself restructuring my wardrobe since, in my opinion; I could not cover my hair but bear my arms. I could not cover my hair but wear jeans that revealed the shape of my body, so my entire style of dress was under scrutiny, and I had to buy clothing that was more appropriate to go with my hijaab. Almost like a new self.

At this stage of my life, working in a modern environment, I found that I was suddenly looked at in a different way. In the corporate world I was suddenly respected, and it was almost as if my opinion meant more. Non Muslim women looked at me, and admittedly admired my transformation. They looked at me as if I had climbed Mount Everest. Maybe I was more beautiful with my flowing hair hanging down my shoulders but, somehow, that meant nothing to me any longer. People looked at me and wondered how I could give up fashion and modernity for a headscarf and loosely fitting clothing but I could see that deep down they actually respected Islam and respected me because I had given up all of that to be a true young Muslim woman. I neither felt restricted nor found the need to blame anyone, since this was a decision that I had made for myself. I found it exciting to get a scarf to match a certain outfit, and still managed to be stylish and modern, in an Islamic way.

The men in my workplace suddenly took me more seriously. I could sense that they now placed me on a pedestal, and that my opinion seemed to matter more. If anyone ever engaged in a conversation in an inappropriate manner, they would make sure they did it when I was not around. It was astonishing because even if a person used a vulgar word, they would apologise to me, out of a whole group of people.

My hijaab empowered me and gave me an opportunity to prove my true worth. It also made me a better person. I found myself more down to earth. That many years ago, not many young girls covered their hair, and the message conveyed was that a young girl who covered her hair had to be taken seriously, and had to be respected.

Even though I worked in an environment where there were men and women mixing, my conduct as a Muslim hijabi protected me from the fitna of the workplace. Alhamdulillah later I met my husband, who told me that if it was not for my hijaab, he would not have taken a second look at me. Some people feel that if they wear a scarf, it will make them less beautiful and they won’t find husbands. I can tell you, that this is not the truth. I can tell you that when Allah wills to give you a husband- you will get one. And I can tell you that if a man turns you down because of your hijaab; keep your chin up and never lose hope- you will find someone better. Insha Allah.

Sometimes the people who look at you, almost as if you are an embarrassment to them are our very own fellow Muslims who choose not to cover themselves.

In my first year of marriage I lived in Pretoria, where there was not another Muslim in sight for almost 40km’s. When I walked into a store people looked at me as If I was from another planet. As uncomfortable as I had felt at that time, I realise today, that they were actually the ignorant ones.

I still get those who look at me with pity, then there are those who see me as a Neanderthal. They look at Muslim woman and their small children as if you have no weight in society. There are those who are so confused that they cannot explain their glances. But I know the impact that I have, because I am a walking example of a person in constant struggle.

Wearing your Hijaab protects us from so much that we will not be able to comprehend. I always say that Muslims are so lucky, because the difficulties we endure makes us that much stronger. We are setting the example for the next generation. How will our daughters and nieces wear hijab with confidence if we do not? It’s much much more than just covering your body. It’s a daily struggle, it’s a battle, and at the same time its an opportunity. I would say to any muslimah, make that choice today. It may not be easy, it may be not nice, but you will be sure to see the rewards in time to come. Take advantage of being a Muslim woman. It’s not a burden, it’s a gift.


  1. Maasha Allah :) i love your story!

  2. Love your story, you are one confident woman.

  3. This was inspirational I loved it...the thing is my friend and I are 16 we have been in hijab I for a year and my friend for 6 or 7 months we face difficulties like the ones you named people look atus like we are aliens or non humans I was searching for some inspirational words for her that she can actually relate to and this story was IT thank you