Cover Yourself: An Islamic Woman Unveiled

Since the age of ten, she has worn a scarf over her head. At 16, she had an image in her head of how she would dress when she was “grown up.” She’d be hugging books to her chest and wearing a light blue, floral, ankle length skirt, a blue long sleeve blouse, and of course a headscarf. That was who she was supposed to be, what she thought she’d become.

“Cover yourself.”

A phrase she’s heard all of her life, but only now has she realized it’s true meaning. What she thought referred to her body and hair, meant to cover her “self.” Her identity, her feelings, her voice. The fabric around her head, the loose clothing on her body taught her that she should be quiet, reserved. Otherwise she would lose respect. The constant fidgeting to make sure everything was covered was always in the back of her mind.
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The cloth started to make her itch, digging into the soft skin under her chin. She was told her hair and body were a thing of beauty that would attract lustful stares from the eyes of unwanted men. She was a jewel and a jewel must remain hidden and protected.

The only man who would be allowed to appreciate her was her future husband. She was protecting her body for him. She realized her body was no longer her own. It was being covered until a man deemed her worthy to be his wife. This is what is expected of her as a woman according to Islamic law. She admires the women who can remain covered and have successful careers. But now, the scarf she put over her head with pride at the young age of ten no longer held the same meaning.

Now the cloth and loose clothes that were supposed to protect her only brought more stares from both men and women. Stares of confusion, of pity, of hate.

There were days when she pinned her scarf into place wishing she could break free, but knowing to do so would bring shame. What once represented freedom, respect, and pride to her, now only made her want to scream.

She was tired. Tired of pretending to be this girl. Tired of pretending to represent a faith she wasn’t sure she even believed. What was so wrong about showing her hair?

There was the day when she was brave and ventured with her head uncovered. She waited for something to happen. For someone to notice. But no man stared at her. No man tried to even speak to her. Women passed by her without giving a glance. In fact, she passed by as though invisible, because she looked just like them.

It was as though the person she’d been hiding was able to come out. She felt no need to hide her opinions, to conform to a certain idea that the world had of what a proper Muslim woman should be. Instead, she could be anyone, she could simply be.

She felt the wind on her neck and the rain in her hair. She felt a sense of belonging. She felt freedom.

Photo Credit: Trenten Kelley via Compfight cc

  1. Such a lovely, thoughtful piece. If only we all felt free to be ourselves, to let our lights shine and to not judge each other by our different colors, customs and languages. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

  2. B. Janine Morison

    Thank you Nabilah for writing this. I loved the sensory imagery but most of all I felt a deeper understanding for wearing a head scarf and what it really represents for a woman. The freedom is both intellectual and visual at the end. Beautifully written.

  3. Natasha Alexander

    Thank you Nabilah for sharing. This piece is so real and beautifully written. I believe with all my heart it will inspire so many women.

    You described your moment of freedom so beautifully, I could feel it with you.

    Look forward to reading more of your writing.

    Much love,


  4. Your piece was beautifully crafted. It drew me into her world. I felt the cloth on my skin, itching. I felt the fidgeting. I pictured myself pulling down the sleeves. I felt her need to escape, to stop pretending, to be her. I felt her fear, her shame, her becoming a woman. I cheered for her bravery. I felt the wind in her hair as she walked down the street unveiled. I felt the rain. I felt her freedom and joy. Thank you. It was my pleasure to read this piece.

  5. Nabilah (such a pretty name),

    Thank you for sharing. Your piece is a lovely eye opener. Education, understanding unites us. We all wear a veil of sorts I believe; bravery of your kind is important, yet rare. Belonging…freedom…I’m smiling reading you have found both. I’d like to read your tweets on baking cookies too! 🙂

    Gonna share now on my FB wall, in hopes your profoundly honest and thought provoking words will inspire others living behind veils of their own, to feel the “wind on her neck and rain in her hair.”

    So happy you are here,

  6. Rachael,

    Thank you so much for you’re comment. When I first wrote this piece it took me awhile to share it. I was afraid I would receive backlash and unkind words from the Muslim community.

    I appreciate your kind words and I hope that everyone who reads this understands my intention to share the way I came to understand what the veil has begun to mean to me.

    I’m so glad I was able to publish this here.


  7. I feel for your early confusion. Im sorry for people who were confused by what you wore, as if it spoke to who you really are.

    Im glad you came to understand freedom in a more personally enriching way, it is also my wish for women to seek this wonderful sense of self and no longer be beholden to some doctrine or false ideal that is primarily meant to keep them suppressed.
    I wish we all could do more to more to encourage other women to escape and find this freedom. Thank you for sharing, for opening up, may the discussion that follows help people understand the human underneath the veil and hopefully encourages everyone to have more compassion so that women in this position feel safe and secure to find their way too.

    much love to you, glad you are here

  8. Thank you Nabilah for sharing your story.
    We are honored to add your voice to the collective.
    It is my hope that your words will help erase prejudice, and encourage other women of your faith to bravely seek their own freedom.


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