A hijabi can be explained as a muslim woman who wears a hijab. We got 10 Nigerian women to share why they started wearing a hijab, and how being a hijabi is dealing with a lot of identity erasure, stereotyping, fetishization, and Boko Haram “jokes”.
I was motivated to start wearing the hijab after seeing my friends in it and attending Islamic camp every December. Now, I still wear it because it makes me more comfortable, confident, and I feel closer to God. One thing I really hate, is the constant fetishization by men. A couple of days ago, someone told me to my face he heard “Alhajas are very good at giving head”. He also said “All your clothes make me want you more”, and he heard “Alhajas are very good in bed”. Another thing, is that Muslim men should stay out of hijabis business. We had a clubhouse discussion for women only, and Muslim men were infiltrating. Someone even came to the Twitter to start making jokes about it, like we are not allowed to be sexual beings too. Lastly, people also expect you to be able to take Boko Haram “jokes”, or be apologetic for Boko Haram’s atrocities.
I’ve worn the hijab since I was a kid, but in the secular schools I attended, I didn’t wear it. I’ve seen people get insulted for wearing the hijab in open spaces, but it has never happened to me. When I finished secondary school, I stopped wearing the hijab and started tying scarves. I read the Quranic verse that enjoined Muslim women to draw their head covering over their bosom, and I started to wear it again. People should understand that while we dress to show that we are religious people, ultimately we are humans and have flaws. No one is perfect and although we strive to be good people, we are not necessarily better than others.
I’ve always been a bit in and out of it as both my parents are devout Muslims, but I’d say taking it more seriously when I was like 17-18. I got to be more in touch with my religion and my relationship with my creator. Hence, I gained more in-depth knowledge of the hijab, what it stands for, and why I should wear one. People tend to assume that hijabis are pretty stuck up people who have no lives outside of the hijab. They also think we can’t relate to things like poetry, politics, movies, books etc. Also, they think hijabis are being oppressed or forced into wearing one. Everyone talks about how women should be allowed to be expressive, I wonder why that does not apply to hijabis as well. Lastly, the hijab isn’t a symbol of war or terrorism. As funny as this may seem, I’ve had people look at me weirdly or even whisper “Boko Haram” when I walk down the road.
I’ve been wearing the hijab since I was a child. I grew up seeing it as a part of me just like other clothing. From a very young age, I knew why I was wearing it and I wanted to keep it that way. I wear my hijab because it’s a commandment from Allah, and it was designed to protect women. I would not say wearing the hijab has affected my day to day life. I’ve kind of created a life for myself where I don’t have to compromise on my hijab because it’s non negotiable to me. I remember when I was growing up, and I had to write an exam outside my school. I was sent out of the exam hall because of the hijab. The woman insisted I take it off or she won’t let me write the exam. I decided I’ll stay till the paper was over just to make sure she won’t let me in. After being delayed for some minutes, other students started shouting till she let me take the paper.
The incident shook me because not only did she try to take off my hijab, but also accused me of carrying expo under it. It was also shocking because she was a Muslim woman too. I live in England now, and I don’t think there’s a bog difference with being a hijabi here and in Nigeria. Maybe except for the strict laws in place, so people tuck in their feelings more. Even though I know no one might attack me, I still look over my shoulder because you never know when someone would be disgusted to see a Muslim woman in a hijab.
Something I have noticed, is that people don’t want to get rid of the stereotypes on what Muslim women can do, and it was clear when they spoke to me. I am a creative, I go for auditions, do photography, production. A lot of the time, the conversations never seem to care for the minority that was me. I think I’ve grown to block out the noise. Now, I create spaces that help Muslim women feel comfortable. Honestly, me not wanting people to not treat hijabis differently is not really for me, but for other young Muslim women.
We grew up with Islam and once I grew old enough, I wore the hijab. As a 10/11 year old, I didn’t really know why I wore it. All I knew was that our way of dressing was to wear long clothes, and cover the hair. As I grew older and started studying and learning about my religion, it appealed to me. I wear hijab because God’s says so in the Quran, and because it is an act of worship. There are other perks to it as well, like the sense of community it brings but first and foremost, it is a religious obligation. There’s this stereotype people have about Muslim women in general. People think we’re docile, meek, demure and can be ridden upon. So, no one bothers to learn your name; you’re just an Alhaja who doesn’t talk too much.
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I started wearing the hijab at a time when I was suffering from a major identity crisis. I was testing out different things and in that period, I stumbled on a verse that told women to cover their awrah, so I thought why not? It was later on during the journey that I got on board with the “this is what Allah ordered” train. I liked it, and I sort of found solace in my new identity and Islam. I was struggling with a lot of things, but random people telling me “As-salamu Alaykum” because of my hijab made me feel less alone.
People tend to expect hijabis to take everything without getting angry or upset. We’re supposed to be the embodiment of easy going, patient, nice and all things good and it does not work that way.
I started wearing the hijab when I wanted to get into the University. It was a fresh start, a new me. I had also been planning to take up that new identity for nearly a decade at that point, so I was beyond ready.
Waiting was something I did, because I did want to put in on then take it off. I also did not want no influence on my journey. Outside of it being a religious obligation, the hijabi lifestyle aligns with my personality. I’m not the short skirts, short dresses kind of person. So, something about being a hijabi makes it easier for me to be myself and to wear clothes that I’m most comfortable in. It feels like I’m home. Honestly, I’ve felt uncomfortable going into certain places because of my hijab. Places like events without representation. If I am invited to a place and not see anyone that looks like me, I’ll just turn back. The one thing I hate so much is this Alhaja thing. It is so annoying, and they use it to put you in a box. I have also noticed it is not a thing with non-Nigerians here in England at all. It is so silly, and a form of identity erasure.
It’s practically an obligation in my religion, so I wear it to please my Lord. Most people see it as being overly religious, even fellow Muslims. Meanwhile, the fear of God and the need to do more to just practice my religion to the best I can is why I keep wearing the hijab. I think my biggest struggle is the fact that I am a law student, so I am supposed to look “corporate”, and no one would want to employ a woman who prefers long dresses to fitted skirts. It is confusing because I’m offering my brain, isn’t that what is needed to help your company? Also, I want people to stop thinking I will steal something in a store and hide it under my hijab. The extra attention we get from store attendants is unnecessary.
I started covering my hair at University. One day, I didn’t want to brush my weave to class because I was lazy. I was staying over with my friend who was a hijabi so I borrowed her scarf to class that day. The next day, I did the same. I ended up covering my hair through out that week without realising. After, I decided that it was way better than stressing over my weaves and I began to just start covering my hair. I haven’t stopped since then. I researched more about my religion, and I found out that your parents can give you religion but you have to find faith yourself.
In Nigeria, you don’t get the stares as you would abroad. You also don’t get asked ignorant questions like “do you cover your hair in the house or when you shower”, or “do you have hair underneath your scarf.” However, in Nigeria, some think you are forming holier than though. Also, just because I am a hijabi does not mean I am a better Muslim than those that aren’t. I believe everyone is on a different journey or path when it comes to religion. It puts pressure on hijabis, because you are expected to be perfect and that is so unfair. I am not perfect. We all make mistakes, we all sin. Allah didn’t create us to be perfect, we are all beautifully imperfect.
I started wearing it in primary school around the age of 8/9 and I guess my mum just wanted me to get used to the idea. I was 9 going on 10 when I started wearing it fully, and I continued largely because that’s how I was brought up, and I was comfortable with it. While I was in the north, I did start to think of experimenting. I’d see my classmates pictures when they go home and they’ll just tie a turban or some won’t even cover at all.
My hijab was more conservative. No trousers; just skirts and socks. This continued till my third year in the University. In the third year, I started experimenting again with trousers, long tops and kaftans. By the second semester of my fourth year, my socks had gone. but I still wear skirts or trousers, as the spirit leads. When you wear a scarf, people might be more approachable. When you wear a khimar, people stay away but are more respectful. Conductors, customer service representatives treat you with patience, and are more kind to you.
Currently, I’m still vacillating between the turban and wrapping my scarf around my head and neck. My parents don’t know I wear a turban now, only my sisters know. If my mother knew, she would kill me. She’s very black and white, and even me wearing trousers always causes fight. If she finds out, she’ll say I’ve embarrassed her. Honestly, she fears for my hereafter and I understand, but it’s not to live a lie in your faith.
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