‘Narratives of Conversion to Islam: Female Perspectives’ (Part 1)

While some converts made the decision of adopting the traditional mode of Islamic dressing completely and had to a face serious identity crisis, many others are still experimenting with alternative ways of adopting the headscarf without seeming too obvious.

Appearing Muslim

Of the myriad changes that a Muslim convert goes through, one of the most significant ones is the change in dress etiquette. The conscious decision of adopting the headscarf or the hijab has been for many a welcome decision but for others the reason behind many an upheavals.

A reasonable number of converts feel the need to be recognized as Muslims on the basis of their outward behaviors rather than from a mode of dressing so that they could embark on a transcendental journey rather than a materialistic one. Quite a few Muslims coverts who practiced the hijab reported to have abandoned it so that they could evolve spiritually.

For coverts impressed by Islam because of the importance it places on excellent character, a mode of dressing was a trivial issue when compared to major ones like building one’s character; strengthening their relationship with the Creator, so as to build a spiritually faithful Ummah and not one that just appears Muslim.

A Muslimah who refrains from backbiting and telling lies is doing da’wah more effectively than a Muslimah who wears the hijab but not does not display any such behavior that is so essential to the teachings imparted by Islam. On the other hand some converts do not feel the difference in spiritual states with, or without, the hijab.

Appearing Muslim outwardly confers upon a Muslim a political identity which becomes difficult to shrug off owing to the stereotypes conjured by media. Families of converts find themselves unable to cope with this sudden change in attire, making adapting all the more difficult for them.

British White converts find themselves subjected to ‘othering,’ which transforms their political status from ‘us’ to the ‘other.’ As the situation deteriorated post 9/11 and USA’s ‘War on Terrorism,’ the classification has shifted from just the ‘other’ to the ‘dangerous other.’ Most are not even considered British anymore, but rather Arabs or Pakistanis, even to the extent of actually addressing them as ‘White Pakis’ in public.

White converts are suddenly thrust in an alien situation of being viewed suspiciously by their own associates. Islamophobia thus, has an adverse impact on the lives of converts resulting in a loss of careers and seclusion from society.

While some converts made the decision of adopting the traditional mode of Islamic dressing completely and had to a face serious identity crisis, many others are still experimenting with alternative ways of adopting the headscarf without seeming too obvious. A bandana or a hat, being a part of the western couture does not seem to attract too much attention, while at the same time, the purpose of the hijab is also served.

Amongst the Caribbean African community, wearing a hat is commonplace and many Christians still wear it to Church. Hence, for a Caribbean African convert, using a hat as an alternative for the hijab allows them to continue their lives as normal without attracting too much attention to their Muslim identity.

(To be concluded)