I was born with my umbilical cord wrapped around my neck. My mother, exhausted from having given birth, and my father, staring in shock, could only watch on as the doctor took action. Calmly, efficiently, she snipped off the cord and so I took my first breath. This is a story I’ve heard many times, and this is a story that perfectly highlights the nature of not only my life, but of human existence as a whole. Death is an inevitable truth that follows every single one of us from the moment we appear in this world. And we never know when it may come for us, so it is crucial that we treat each day as if it is our last. Death is the reality that drove me to becoming a niqabi.
When I was first considering wearing niqab, I was desperate to talk to someone else who had taken this step. I needed to hear about someone else’s experience. So I went through all my contacts, stretched all my connections, and yet came up empty-handed. Until finally, by the will of Allah, I stumbled across the profile picture of a girl who I had mutual connections with but had never interacted with. All I knew of her was that she was wearing niqab in one picture, and I messaged essentially this complete stranger, asking if she’d be willing to get on a call with me. And Subhan Allah, she said yes. We had one phone call which lasted maybe an hour. And then years later when I began wearing niqab, I texted her to thank her, and she replied by congratulating me and making du’a for me. And that was the extent of our interaction, two conversations, years apart. But what she did for me — the advice, the sisterhood, the instant support that I was offered – those are things for which I will be forever grateful.
I went to my parents next. I remember when I told my dad what I was considering, he only had one thing to say. He told me, “Sarah if you’re doing it, make sure you’re doing it with the right intentions.” It was a reminder that I needed. Even now when sometimes I feel my intentions start to waver, I think back on that conversation, and I renew my purpose for wearing niqab.
Before I committed to it fully, I went through a period where I would wear it once a week. I was trying to get myself used to it, how I felt with it, how others reacted to it. So, every Thursday, I would wear niqab to campus. And the days I wasn’t wearing niqab, I would wear a mask. This was the first semester back after covid, and there were a lot of students wearing masks, so it wasn’t anything that looked out of place. Even when I was wearing a mask though, I wore it with the intention of doubling as a niqab, although it of course came without the societal pressures of niqab and was much easier. So, I very easily grew accustomed to sort-of-but-not-fully wearing niqab, and it took something really big to push me to the next level.
Over winter break, my uncle passed away. It’s sad how often it takes something as jarring as death to puts things into perspective. There is a difference of opinion on the ruling of niqab, but the one that I follow is that covering my face is a recommended act – there is reward for doing it, but there is no sin for not doing it. But witnessing death like that made me see the frailness of my own life, how my own death could be right around the corner. I realized that I need all the reward I can get before I meet my Creator. I began to understand that my fard acts weren’t enough, I needed to perfect my sunnahs as well, niqab being one of them. And I was already doing it once a week, so why not just commit to it all the way? My uncle’s passing was the catalyst that pushed me to go through with wearing niqab full-time, and so I pray that every time I adorn it, he is rewarded as well.
I will admit however that this wasn’t the easiest decision. I didn’t want to diminish the seriousness of this choice. Once I took this step, I wanted to have taken it for good and not keep going back and forth on it. But it quickly became a test when I saw how everyone was reacting to it.
A lot of the people who I was sure would be supportive, or at the very least not make a fuss over it, were extremely critical of my decision. I got told I was being “extreme” and doing “too much” by those who should have had my back. Someone I trusted tried to pull my niqab down in public because they thought it would be “funny.” I understand that it was a big change for everyone, but it was also a big change for me, and I, myself, needed time myself to adjust and grow comfortable with it. The way I saw it was that if my parents were supportive of my decision, and they were alhamdulillah, then no one else had the right to interfere or be opposed to my choices. And it truly hurt that a lot of the criticism came from those who should have been proud of me. But at the same time, the amount of support I got from the overall Muslim community, as well as even the non-Muslims in my life, was beautiful to witness.
The one thing I was completely unprepared for how difficult it would be to eat. And that’s when my mom as well as my friends really stepped up. My mom taught me how to bend my upper body forward so my niqab would fall away from my face, and I could eat without making a mess. When I went out to lunch with some friends, they insisted on offering me the seat closest to the wall – something any niqabi can tell you makes eating so much easier. When I grabbed ice cream with another friend, she offered to hold the bowl while we walked, so I could hold my niqab with one hand, and eat with the other. So many people were so cognizant, and it opened my eyes to the strength that comes with being in this ummah. I began to understand why the concept of community is stressed so much in our religion.
Wearing niqab also did wonders for my confidence. It made me so much more comfortable with being Muslim and talking about Islam. It forced me to self-reflect on my words and actions and renew my intentions to do everything for only my Rabb.
One point I will mention is that wearing the niqab also unfortunately made many Muslims put me on a pedestal. People came to me as if covering my face meant I had a higher level of eman, even though that is absolutely not the case. I wear niqab because of how much I sometimes struggle with concentrating in salah or because of how difficult I can find it to connect with the Qur’an. And so, part of my intention is that because I’m struggling with these other elements of the deen, I can at least maximize the part of the deen that is easy for me – dressing modestly.
I’ve been wearing niqab for about a year and a half now. It is a decision that I’ve doubted and questioned — yes, but also one where every doubt is swiftly followed by relief. On each occasion where I’ve begun to feel uncertain about niqab, Allah SWT sends me some kind of sign, and I’m able to find contentment in this matter. To anyone who’s considering starting the niqab, or deciding to put on the hijab, or even just attempting to dress more modestly – say bismillah and go for it. Life is too short, and death is too quick to be hesitant on these matters. And as long as whatever decisions we make are made for the sake of pleasing our Rabb, He has promised us a beautiful reward.