I decided to wear the hijab on 10 November 2001, the day of an Australian Federal election. I chose an auspicious date for this turning point in my life, the day I started to dress like a ‘Muslim woman’, just in case I forgot. It would be a date I could look up in the history books, an old memory trick I picked up from a book from my father’s shelf in Sudan.
I hadn’t given the decision very much thought. I consulted with my friends at school, some who wore the hijab ‘full-time’ and some who did not, and then decided. My mother had worn the hijab for as long as I could remember, but we had never discussed it specifically. I had always assumed that at some point, when I became a woman, I would wear it just like my mum did.
In some ways I made a powerful decision on a whim. This was a whim I felt was right at the time, and one that would shape my future beyond anything I could have anticipated.
In Islam, we are not judged on our actions until we reach adulthood, which is when we hit puberty. For women, that moment is straightforward: it comes with the arrival of your period – this is a generally accepted norm. For some Muslim women, they will start to wear the hijab ‘full-time’ once this happens, and some women will opt not to; there are cultural and personal reasons for these decisions.
I thought I had reached that stage of adulthood, even though I would only really get my period two years later. I decided that I had matured enough and it was time for me to step up to being an adult. I had no patience to wait for the ‘usual’ time it took for something to happen – I had decided that at the age of ten I was now an adult, and that was that!
My decision had nothing to do with the events of September 11; it was about doing what I was taught an adult Muslim woman was supposed to do. I didn’t connect wearing the hijab with 9/11 at all, because at the time it still seemed like an event that was so far removed from my reality. I can understand why people would think they are related (I have often been asked if I wore it in protest), but even in hindsight I think my motivations were more religiously focused than political. My identity was simply uncomplicated as a young Muslim. I knew the ‘right’ thing to do by Islam was to start wearing the scarf when I was of age because I knew that Muslim women wore the hijab. So, once I became a woman, I would too. It was the equivalent of wanting to wear your mother’s lipstick, a stepping stone up into the world of womanhood.
This is an extract from Yassmin’s Story by Yassmin Abdel-Magied RRP $34.99 Available now from booksellers, online retailers and as an eBook.