[Pictured: A young girl, Laila, smiling, wearing a navy-blue ḥijāb]

Bright eyes and a beaming smile. This is how Laila looked when she donned her navy-blue ḥijāb to school for the very first time on her ninth birthday.

Surrounded by an environment that stigmatizes not only religion, but its adherence as well, the choice to wear the ḥijāb can be overwhelming for many women, much less one at the tender age of nine. Laila’s mom, Sr. Mahjabeen Alikhan, prepared her daughter from a young age to love the religion of Islam, from memorizing the name of the Ahl al-Bayt (The Noble Prophet and His Family (ʿa)) to praying her ṣalāh on time. This young girl followed her parents’ teachings and in the month of Rabi ul Awwal (3rd Islamic Month), she approached her parents about beginning to wear the ḥijāb.

After the initial surprise of the request passed, Sr. Mahjabeen impressed upon Laila the gravity of the choice, wearing the ḥijāb is not something she can choose to put on and take off on a whim. Knowing Laila was sure of her choice she began the preparation to speak to the Principal and teacher at Laila’s Charter school.

Sr. Mahjabeen spoke with the Principal, explaining the compulsory practice of wearing a ḥijāb for girls at the age of nine and supporting their daughter wholeheartedly in this personal choice she has made. The Principal vocalized her happiness at Laila making this choice on her own and expressed her support for anything she may need and ensured that her ḥijāb would not contradict the strict uniform policy at their school.  

Next on the list was her class teacher, who had already been informed by a very excited Laila that she will be wearing the ḥijāb. Her teacher proclaimed she will be delighted to see all the colorful ḥijābs that Laila will choose. And as every girl has their closest friends, Laila shared with her three best friends this monumental and permanent undertaking she had chosen. She described it as “a valuable piece of fabric that covers and protects a woman’s beauty” that she had chosen to wear. Her friends exhibited their loyalty to her by not only respecting her choice to follow her religion but chose to support her no matter what.

As the day neared to Laila’s ninth birthday, Sr. Mahjabeen wrote up a brief informative note for her daughter to take to school. She noted what a ḥijāb is and the many forms in which it is worn, the respect that it deserves, and reminded everyone that the choice to wear the ḥijāb does not now make her a stranger!

[Photo of note written by Sr.Mahjabeen reading: “Hello everyone … This is Laila. Today I want to share some important news with all of you. I’ve decided that I want to observe ḥijāb. Ḥijāb is an Arabic word and means “to cover” or “to dress modestly”. This includes covering the hair. Muslim girls and women all around the world wear different types of ḥijāb. Some cover themselves in a long fabric from head to toe – all you see are their eyes, some only wear regular clothes that cover their arms and legs and use a smaller fabric to cover their hair. Girls usually start wearing ḥijāb at the age of 9 and since my birthday is coming up, I’ve decided I want to wear one too. [Pass the ḥijāb around] This is what I will be wearing, I will pass it around so you can see what it is exactly. Once I start wearing it, it’ll become a part of my uniform, a part of my everyday clothing and most importantly – a part of me. Just like it’s wrong to peek under someone’s clothes, it’s wrong to peek under, lift, pull, or yank a ḥijāb from someone’s head. In the beginning, it may be strange for all of you to see me wearing this, but it will be an even bigger adjustment for me – especially being the only girl in the entire school to wear one. So please be kind and respectful of my beliefs and don’t treat me any different. I am and still will be the same Laila you all know.]

Armed with a handful of ḥijābs and a thoughtfully crafted note, Laila was ready to meet her peers at school with an explanation for the change in her attire.  

Her nerves crept up as she faced her class, “what would they think? Would they accept me? Will everything be different now?” her thoughts raced, she read her note aloud and her confidence grew with every passing word. She gladly handed out the ḥijābs for her curious classmates to explore and with the support of her teachers, she proudly explained her choice.

Now as a symbol and beacon of the religion of Islam, Laila can be seen as the flag bearer of her religion, wearing the ḥijāb proudly to cover her beauty. She answers questions with conviction and even strangers will greet her with “salāmun ʿalaykum” (Peace be with you). One sincere step Laila took towards God and He paved the road with ease and tolerance.