Taking Off My Hijab

I put on a headscarf because I felt God wanted me to cover up. But then I wondered if it was really required of me.

Andrea Useem

Taking off my


didn’t just happened in one dramatic instant. Yes, there was a moment in a crowded bathroom at the Abu Dhabi airport, in the United Arab Emirates, when I unwound the gauzy blue scarf from around my head and stepped back out into a mixed-gender world, feeling naked.

But really, taking off the


was a year-long process of stripping me down and peeling back the assumptions and beliefs I had wrapped tightly around myself as a recent convert to Islam. It was like I had fallen in love with Islam, married it, and then discovered a whole bunch of things that were difficult, if not impossible, for me to live with on a day-to-day basis. I wanted the relationship to work; I started looking for compromises.

That process was lonely, and difficult, but I stepped out of that bathroom--and that year of endless reflection--as a new kind of Muslim, one, I hoped, I could comfortably live with for the rest of my life. That’s the kind of Muslim I still aspire to be today: True to the religion’s most basic principles and practices, but questioning of dogma and traditional interpretations. Back when I wrestled with these ideas, I realized that I needed some religious breathing room. And I had to take off my scarf to find it.

Andrea Useem with her headscarf




(taking off the


) story begins with how I came to Islam and started to wear a headscarf. I didn’t start wearing hijab right when I converted in 1999. Indeed, when I first said my


, or testimony of faith, in the house of Scotch-Indian-Zimbabwean friends in Harare, I had given little thought to how I would

dress as a Muslim

. Not long after my conversion, for example, I bought a two-piece purple bathing suit and wore it on the beach in Tel Aviv, Israel without a second thought.

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