I discovered Sarah when a friend directed me to a post she wrote for Worn Journal. I was immediately captivated by her beautiful writing, evocative stories, and genuine insights on hair covering and modesty. I left and comment on the article, asking if she would like to be featured on Wrapunzel, and here is the result! It made me very happy to finally get some answers to the questions I had about the Muslim ideals of hair covering. She’s also a fellow Canadian! Enjoy!
(All photographs are from the article “Cover to Cover; My history with a headscarf“ from Worn Journal.)
Hi Sarah! How is today treating you?
Hi Andrea! Today has been great, although I’m a bit sick of winter. Other than that, I’m great!
How do you choose to spend most of your time?
I’m a part time student and a full time worker, so most of my time is occupied by one of the two. I’m an English major, so I get to spend a lot of my time reading and writing which is enjoyable for the most part.
We found each other because I stumbled upon the article you wrote for WORN magazine. Have you shared your thoughts on hair covering in a public forum before?
I actually have never shared my thoughts on a public forum, ever. A friend of mine is the web editor of Worn and she sent me a message on Facebook asking if I wanted to write something for their blog. I jumped at the chance because I’m a huge fan of Worn, but also I’ve always wanted to share my thoughts and beliefs on covering publicly. It has always gotten on my nerves that most of what I read in news stories were usually written from a negative point of view concerning head covering, and also they were always written by those who don’t even cover!
Can you tell me a bit about why you cover your hair?
First and foremost, I cover my hair for religious reasons. It’s a part of my religion that is very important and personal. A lot of Muslim women wear it for different additional reasons, but what it comes down to is that it’s a religious obligation. I wear the Muslim head covering called a hijab. Hijab is an all encompassing term for covering your hair and body. I feel like it really gives me ultimate control over my body and what others are able to see. Also, I feel like wearing a hijab makes me easily identifiable as a Muslim woman and that way people will know what I stand for.
What does the Muslim religion say about when a woman should start to cover her head? Is there a particular right of passage that happens around the time she starts doing so?
In Islam, Muslim women are advised to start covering around the time puberty hits, however, it’s up to the woman as to when she starts. There’s no particular right of passage that happens, probably because there’s not a set age of when a woman should start covering.
Are there any specific rules that you follow when you cover? (Aka how much skin, colour, material etc.)
There are specific rules and guidelines within Islam for covering. Although a lot of people have their own ideas, I try and stay as close as I can to my religious guidelines. I cover my hair, ears, neck and bosom and I try to wear loose clothing that doesn’t show too much of my figure. A lot of people assume Muslim women have to wear black, but that’s more of a Middle-Eastern cultural practice rather than a religious obligation. I mostly wear long skirts and dresses, but I try not to be boring in my choices. I make sure that even though I am covered, my personality still comes through in my clothing. I try to wear a lot of different colours and even though I follow certain guidelines, I think I still am able to be stylish.
What does the word “modesty” mean to you?
Modesty means to me, being empowered. Being able to dress in a way that allows me to keep my dignity and makes me feel comfortable. It’s different for everyone, but I find that lately aspiring for modesty is something that is looked down on. To me, it’s what I strive for.
What are your thoughts in regards to one’s self worth and covering hair?
Personally, it has given me a great feeling of self worth. I can’t speak for others, and maybe this isn’t something that works for every woman, but covering has really made me feel very confident. In high school, it wasn’t always very easy because of that desire every teen feels to “fit in”, but the more I thought about the reasons why I cover, the more I realised how good it made me feel.
The older I got, the more I started noticing how objectified women are and it made me realise that from the moment we’re young girls, we’re told that a woman’s worth is based on how attractive she is. I feel like covering my body goes against those principles and that I’m focusing less on my physical self and more on who I am as a person.
Do your friends also cover?
My friends I see the most often don’t cover, mostly because they aren’t from religions that follow this practice. Out of my Muslim friends, most of them do cover but there are also some who are not ready to take that step just yet. It really isn’t an issue for anyone as it is a personal choice.
What is your most vivid hair covering experience?
The most vivid hair covering experience was probably getting to write the article for Worn. I never thought anybody would be interested in my experiences with covering my hair, but I don’t think I’ll forget such an empowering experience
Funny/ironic hair covering experience?
Yeah, there have been a few for sure! A lot of funny questions have been asked, and honestly I find it very hard to answer some of them with a straight face. Sometimes people ask me if I have to shower with my hijab or if I sleep in it. Also, I think some people assume that because I cover I don’t speak or understand English. I’ve actually had people ask me when I learned English and how I speak without an accent. They usually get a little embarrassed when I tell them that I was born here in Canada!
How do your friends react to your covering? Your family?
Luckily, I live in a very diverse city so there has been no backlash from my friends and I can’t think of many cases where it has stopped me from making friends. I started wearing a hijab when I was 12 or so, and people asked me questions at school, but it wasn’t a big deal at all. It was definitely something I was more self conscious about when I was younger, just because of that need to look “normal”, but I came to the conclusion that if someone is going to judge me negatively based on my beliefs, they aren’t worth my time. Most of my friends are used to seeing head coverings of all sorts, and it’s really a non-issue. I’ve made some friends at school who are from small towns and have never seen a woman cover her hair and they had a lot of questions at first, but they’re very supportive of my choices. I find that even though obviously someone might not agree with why I cover or my beliefs, they’re still able to respect me and my choices.
My family also had no issue with me covering, but it was a bit of a surprise to my parents. My sisters had waited until much later to start covering than I did, so my parents were a bit scared that I was rushing into wearing one to copy older sisters. I had to assure them that it was something I wanted to do for myself.
Has covering affected you professionally?
I haven’t really had a “real” job yet since I’m still a student, but I don’t think it has affected me in getting any of the jobs I’ve had. I’ve had jobs that have required uniforms and usually employers are lenient. I do worry that at some point in the future, certain employers might be uncomfortable. I don’t really see it being an issue in my future, mostly because our society is getting used to this sort of thing and it’s becoming more and more common.
Please tell us a bit about what covering has done for you internally. Any noticeable changes?
I guess internally one of the biggest changes is that I’m now more of a representation of my faith. Before, nobody would really know I was a Muslim woman but now, it’s very obvious. I know I don’t speak for all Muslim women or Islam in general, but I try to be a good ambassador of my faith by countering stereotypes and negative images. I guess it’s the same for all minorities; even though you can’t represent everyone you still can be the first experience someone has of someone of your faith or race.
What do you look for when searching for scarves?
I usually wear the longer pashmina type scarves as they’re the easiest to wrap around my head and luckily they’re available almost everywhere! I try and find ones that are appropriate for the season, thicker materials for the winter and light ones for the summer.
Do you have a favourite scarf and/or accessory?
I don’t have a favourite scarf or accessory. I don’t really accesorise much, and I have too many scarves to pick just one!
Any covering tips or tricks you would like to share?
For a while I was really annoyed with my scarves made from silkier material falling off my head. To avoid that from happening, I always wear a sort of underpiece to have a little friction between my hair and my scarf. Also, I was having issues with storage so I bought the KOMPLEMENT scarf hanger from Ikea. It really has made storage so much easier!
Do have any nicknames? Where did they come from?
No nicknames! There are a lot of Sarahs out there, so a lot of people just call me by my last name.
What are you grateful for?
I am grateful for so many things. Most days, I’m used to the privileges I have over many others on this Earth and take a lot of things for granted, but sometimes I see something that makes me feel very grateful just to able to walk down the street and feel safe. Above everything, I’m grateful for my parents. The older I get the more I realise the sacrifices parents make for their children and I’m grateful I have two people in my life I can go to for anything. I’m also grateful to have grown up in Canada where I’m exposed to so many different ways of life.