What we choose to wear can say something about us. A shirt might declare our love for a certain musician or sports team, a ring might proclaim our commitment to another person. For many Muslim women, wearing a hijab is an expression of religious faith and modesty. It can be worn as scarf covering the head and neck, or a niqab, a face veil typically worn along with a headscarf, or a burqa, a one-piece veil that covers the face and body. Hijabs can be made from dark-colored and unadorned fabric and they can be colorful, with beads and vibrant designs. As with all the ways we express ourselves, the reasons why and how some Muslim women choose to cover—or not—are individual and nuanced.
“It’s in your heart, not what you wear,” says Shadia Abdulahi, a high school student in Auburn. Abdulahi does not wear a hijab—it was never something her parents insisted on, she says, although she did give it a try when she was younger. She decided that her faith is something she feels inside, regardless of what she’s wearing. Still, she chooses to dress modestly. “I don’t like to show off my body a lot,” she says.
“I wear the brightest colors,” says Abdulahi’s mother, Fowsia Musse, a cultural broker, medical interpreter and community health outreach worker in Lewiston and Auburn, who’s also involved with nonprofits that empower the immigrant and refugee community. “I like to wear sparkling stuff in the middle of summer…My father, who is very religious, and also westernized, he taught us the religion. He said I should wear anything I want to wear. Growing up, I wore shorts and jeans. I was goth, I listened to The Wallflowers and Goo Goo Dolls and music like that.” After moving to Maine in 2003, Musse started working with the Somali community and discovered, “the women in the community didn’t feel like I was reflective of their community and culture,” she says. Gradually, she started wearing the hijab. “It itched a lot of my head,” she laughs. “But now it has become very comfortable. I could have a good hair day or a bad hair day.”
“I always wear hijab turban-style,” says Hawo Abdille, community relations coordinator at Lewiston Public Schools. “Depending on the family, depending on how you grow up, in elementary school little girls start wearing hijab.” It becomes more of a habit then, she says.
“I started [wearing hijab] when I was 10,” says Awan Ali, a mother who lives in Lewiston. “It became a part of me.” Ali says she feels like wearing hijab offers her religious protection from evil eyes and harm, and it’s in line with her own modest nature. But also, the hijab carries with it a certain respect. If she’s crossing the street and people see her, they immediately see that this is her way of life. It signifies that she is a Muslim woman, and so people will respect her.