She looks at her reflection in the mirror and only sees beauty. She carefully lifts her thick dark hair, forming it into a bun and covers it with a cap. Centring her hijab, she makes her scarf longer on one side, wrapping it around a pin so it remains secure. Secure is what she has become.
“When I wear hijab,” Sophia Malek said, “I feel I have a blanket over my dignity and body that protects me from harm. … It’s not a visual feeling; it’s a comfort within my soul.”
Malek is a 22-year-old Muslim woman born and raised in Canada. Her parents are from Pakistan. Initially, she said, she did not feel close to her hijab. At high school, she was too focused on things other than her religion or her hijab.
“When I was in high school I was socially confused,” she said. “I did not know what I wanted other than attention and popularity.”
Laury Silvers, an instructor in the department for the Study of Religion at University of Toronto, said Malek’s response to her community is not unexpected.
“Everyone’s independent choices are made in relationship to the different communities they belong to and how they want to relate to those communities,” Silvers said.
It was not until Sophia went to college that she began to sense relief.
“I began to pray. I met a friend who gave me advice. My friend told me that getting closer to religion would help me become content with myself. So, I began to pray, read Quran, and got close to religion; wearing hijab everyday ever since that day,” Malek said. “I’ve become so happy and peaceful.”
“(Sophia) has found that hijab signals to others and to herself that she belongs to a group of people who have values that she admires,” Silvers added. “In general, women wear hijab for all sorts of reasons far more complicated than simply ‘it is a religious obligation’ or ‘it keeps reminding (them) of God and to be a good person.”
Nasir Alvi, co-owner of I Love Modesty shop, a clothing store that carries hijabs in Mississauga, promotes the idea of religious head dress as perfectly in tune with contemporary dress.
“(The hijab) should not be portrayed as something new that’s disrupting the modern way of life.”
“In the end,” Malek said, “I love being a hijabi in a non-Muslim society. I believe it adds more character to my personality and gives an idea of what a Muslim woman truly is.”