When I was 18 someone asked me if I would ever consider wearing Hijab. (head scarf) My immediate response was, `No way! I don't need a piece of cloth on my head to be a Muslim. Anyway, I'm quite happy with how I practice my faith - I don't need to advertise it.'
A year later I started university, and as with many people, rediscovered Islam. By the time I was 19, the desire to practice more and more of my faith led to an ever growing desire to wear Hijab - not because of family or peer pressure, but because I realised that this was something God wanted me to do.
Whilst some might suggest that Hijab is not a requirement of Islam, arguing that it is in fact based on an incorrect interpretation of the teachings of the Holy Qur'an and Prophetic example. Without getting into the technicalities of the argument, I disagree.
For me, the purpose of Hijab is modesty and identity. That's not to say I want to force others to wear it or say that I am somehow a better Muslim because I do rather, for me at least, this is one of the easier acts of worship to perform. Of course, it wasn't when I first started wearing it. I was already into my second year at university and had anxieties about the response of friends and colleagues if I started wearing it. How would they treat me? Did I really want to wear my religion on my sleeve (or on my head in this case!)? And, no matter what anyone tells you, vanity is also an issue. How would I look? However, when I actually examined my concerns more closely, I realised that they were just a reflection of my own insecurities.
I actually started wearing the Hijab on the night that the bombing of Baghdad began in the first Gulf War. But this decision had nothing to do with being identified with Saddam Hussein, but because I identified with the suffering of ordinary Muslims around the world.
As I have already noted, Hijab isn't simply about modesty, but also about identity - identifying yourself as a Muslim in every visual interaction you have with another human being. That means that human nature being what it is, people will judge you by your appearance, and your appearance will (I hope) affect one's own behaviour. However, rather than being judged by appearance in the superficial sense, that is, in terms of levels of attractiveness, instead your appearance says something about your beliefs and faith. I would rather be judged on those.
Some 13 years later I still wear Hijab, the style may have developed over time, but it is now an intricate part of my personality. I have gone through university, qualified as a solicitor, brought up a family and actively participated in my local community, all in the knowledge that people recognise me as a Muslim. I have nothing to hide or apologise for on the contrary, observing Hijab has for me been a liberating experience.