Some of us cover to protect our bodies and some of us cover to protect our souls. In both cases, respect their choices.
First, a not-so-brief introduction.
There are different levels of being a hijabi. I don’t mean that with regards to reputation or social standing; I mean it with regards to the choice of covering. These levels are not bound by Islamic teachings but determined by the individual, personal preference and level of faith.
Level One: The Turban Sisters
These are fashion-forward ladies rocking everything from boyfriend jeans to abayas. They have watched every YouTube tutorial on how to turn a scarf into a turban and their best friends are hair buns and anything to give their heads that perfect turban look.
Level Two: The Scarfies
Scarfies fall under two groups. Group A scarfies have experienced a light-bulb moment and now realise that it’s not just about covering your hair alone. They wear scarves secured tightly with pins of all sorts while still having a wardrobe similar to that of the Turban Sisters.
Group B Scarfies, on the other hand, are slightly more concerned about the looseness of their clothing. Their scarves hang low—past their bosoms—and their wardrobes are filled with billowy skirts, one-size-fits-all abayas and maxi dresses.
Level Three: The Full Hijabis
These are the sisters whose wardrobes are totally unpredictable. Some wear only camisoles and leggings, others wear jeans or shorts and cropped tops, and yet some wear everything literally. Regardless of what they choose to wear, they all wear a single piece over their attires; this loose cloth is called a Khimar.
As a girl who has proudly moved through all levels—spending a considerable part of my life as a turban sister, a few years as a scarfie and just two years as a full hijabi—allow me to introduce you to life as a Hijabi in Lagos.
1. All the critics and their criticisms.
The first thing you have to endure is negativity and wrong assumptions. Sadly, this can come from family and friends too. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to explain that I am not being oppressed and my dress code is a personal choice.
Once, I was in a shared cab with my friend Aisha, and we were having a conversation on domestic violence. The lady sitting next to me heard my comment on how I would hit whoever hits me and she replied something along these lines: “Your personality… the way you are talking. You shouldn’t be allowing your family oppress you into dressing like this.” I had just a few minutes, but I was sure to thank her for her concern and explain that I’m the only one who dresses this way in my family and yes, it is by choice.
2. Curious questions and more.
Now that you have chosen to cover up, your Muslim friends crown you the Queen of Religious Knowledge. Sisters, I’m listening to Yasir Qadhi and Mufti Menk podcasts just like you. Please don’t assume I can quote parts of the Quran or Hadith off by heart. Although I try to answer questions to the best of my knowledge, it’s still too much pressure.
3. Security around you doubles up.
I understand that we’ve had to deal with Boko Haram issues in Nigeria and the need for extra security measures; however, it doesn’t make it any less annoying. For instance, at the entrance to Maryland mall, my bag always gets checked, and on numerous occasions, I’ve seen people with larger bags just waltz past security like no man’s business.
4. A new name.
Congratulations! You have been rechristened, and your names are *Alhaja, Hajia or Eleha. I’ve never really liked being called any of those because I want to be called my name; I always try to introduce myself if there’s a possibility of a lengthy conversation or meeting next time. “Oh, you can call me Hamdallah”, and if you can’t pronounce that, “just call me Doyin”.
5. Your clothes are now everyone’s clothes.
I have a feeling this is more of a family and friends thing than a Lagos thing. Everyone asks you “please give me one hijab na” until you’re down to almost nothing. I get it, but imagine if every time a friend showed up at your place they asked, “please give me one pair of jeans na, one top na, one shoe na”…
On the sunny side of being a Hijabi in Lagos…
6. Every Hijabi is a potential friend.
There is an unspoken rule Hijabis follow, and it goes thus: “on sighting a fellow hijabi, you are required to say Salaam Alaykum, smile, wave and acknowledge your fellow hijabi.” It’s a small act that shows acknowledgement, and it’s enough to brighten your day.
7. Free bus rides!
This actually never happened to me when I was still rocking turbans or scarves. Either way, on many occasions, fellow Hijabis paid my bus fares. Imagine the joy when the bus conductor says; “dem don pay your money”. Some ‘mummies in scarves’ and ‘daddies in caps’ have also paid my bus fare a few times.
8. Significantly fewer rude comments.
Idumota and Yaba boys would rarely ever touch you or be unnecessarily rude. The worst you would get is a gentle tap followed by “Hajia, dollar? gold?” or an annoying repetition of “Curtain? Bedsheet?”
Compared to being dragged, pushed or called nasty names, this is a better upgrade.
9. All the earth is a place of prostration.
This statement rings true in Lagos. People are always willing to show you a corner, a lounge, a mosque. They would even offer to get you something to pray on, and if you decide to pray anywhere, I don’t think you’d be getting harassed. I’ve prayed at a filling station, at numerous office corners and in many fields.
10. Ten is for God.
All in all, as with everything in life, there are ups and downs and being a hijabi in Lagos is no different; however, I wouldn’t change it for anything. At least, not yet… 🙂
I wish all my Muslim brothers and sister a lovely Ramadan. May Allah SWT accept our fast as an act of Ibadah.
I am Hamdallah; an architect who enjoys writing poetry, taking photos of buildings and making fashion illustrations. I am a creative who believes design is not rigid; hence less can be more or bore depending on various variables.
*Alhaja, Hajia or Eleha – a title commonly used in West Africa to describe a Muslim who has been to Mecca as a pilgrim
*Dem don pay your money (pidgin English) – loosely translated to ‘Your bill has been paid’.