I know that if I don’t show courage, I won’t be able to live the life that I want.

I’m not struggling with anything on the surface. However, I have my struggle on the inside, which has caused constant unhappiness, and it still does.

Perhaps I should start telling from the beginning. I’m a 26 years old woman with a promising career who lives alone. I don’t remember the exact time when the hijab came into my life, because it feels like covering ourselves with scarves was the reality that comes with birth. In all of my childhood pictures, even though my hair can be seen from the front, like old fashion, I wore a headscarf. I have had never showed my hair outside, I didn’t have an idea about how to be me without hijab, I still don’t. I remember my first day in junior school; I was wearing a headscarf in class. The teacher was pulling off my scarf whenever she went around, and I was fixing it right that moment as I got naked a few seconds ago. For me, elementary school was like being part of a different society where wearing a headscarf is something unusual. 

    It is still in my mind that my friends were asking me, “Is it your family who forces you?”

I was 7 or 8, trying to defend the hijab even though I didn’t know what it means. My years in elementary school have passed by consoling myself as “I am right, they are wrong,” because of how I was raised. In middle school and high school, I was sent to a private religious school where my headscarf was appreciated, not judged. I remember that I was feeling comfortable like a creature that regains its habitat. I started questioning my faith for the first time to the end of high school, I thought I had utterly devoted myself to God, but in fact, there had not been any fire left inside of me. I had certain opinions on religion, but they couldn’t fall out of my tongue. The first fight with myself was about being faithless; Yes, I had done everything right. I had known and said everything I was supposed to, but I just couldn’t feel it, which would make me a faithless person. That ship had been sailed for me, there had been nothing to do anymore, there had been no escape. I was aware of everything, there was nothing left more to learn, I couldn’t learn how to feel. 

I had blamed myself for a while. However, even those days, I couldn’t think of the possibility of not wearing a hijab. It was not possible because I was not even able to imagine myself without it. If you spend your college years wearing a hijab, it shapes your social circle, even from the beginning. On the one hand, one of my friends told me that her faith has strengthened because of me, although I struggled with ideas like “I’m losing my faith day by day, how could I express this?”. On the other hand, I was still projecting the image of ‘a good Muslim”. 

My first sharp rupture occurred when I was abroad for a month for summer school. One of my friends asked me, “Who is your God?” then I laughed. I knew both of us were believing the same God, but she had no idea, I felt sorry for her. That night, I thought about it and resent myself. I said to myself, “What makes you superior to her, why do you act like you know all the answers?” Maybe it was understandable at that time because after all, we, Muslims who knows the truth, were safe while the others were in vain, in the fire. I was raised and taught in this way. (In fact, I would like to mention my family life and profiles of my parents, but I won’t, because I love them and don’t want anyone, even one person, who will read this to think badly about them.) 

Then I had met excellent people, and none of them were Muslim. None of the women were wearing a hijab. When I came back, the change inside me, which can be seen from the outside, was exciting: The change that frightens my family, especially my father. He still tells us how he still regrets sending me there. I think he is aware of the fact that seeing the world opened my mind. After those days, rather than being known with my religious identity, it led to questions like “How could you become the person you are now, considering your family?”. I wish I had supported more by my friends, then I wouldn’t have suffocated by the feeling of being late for everything. I had never thought that I would have been supported by my family. I couldn’t even imagine it. I had told my family that “I’m working now, I would like to live apart.”, that was my first open move. This happened in the way that can surprise anyone who knows my family, but it happened anyway, I did it. I managed to convince them throughout various excuses like a long ride, exhaustion, and productivity. It was like a miracle for me to live alone because even my older brother was living with my family. They laid a condition that using my house as a hotel because the family home is your real home until you get married. It has been 1 year since I moved out to my own home.

The effect of the hijab for me was a sense of protection rather than a religious obligation. I couldn’t give up quickly from the hijab as I did with the other obligations. Sometimes I still feel naked when I don’t wear hijab. When I first went outside without wearing a hijab, at the age of 25, I felt like everyone was looking at me and saying I did something wrong. Also, I didn’t know how to make my hair, like should I tie it up or brush it. That made me feel like I couldn’t be safe without the hijab. I get my hijab off once or twice when I went to the market to adjust before I tell my family. Because even if I knew that they would understand, I couldn’t have the courage to face them. 

Then I told my sister that I didn’t believe in religion anymore. She was the first person in my family who I told, and she said, “Whatever you think, it is your life, and I stand by you.” Whereas I was so afraid that I would be excluded from the family. I told my other siblings within a year, and finally, I told my mother. But of course, I didn’t tell them I was faithless, I just told them that I don’t want to wear hijab anymore because I only got used to this myself. After all those years, you get a similar social circle because of the hijab. I deal with my friends who try to explain religion and get me back steady all of the time. I’m alone, and I am scared. However, I know that if I don’t show courage, I won’t be able to live the life that I want. 

I think my father still doesn’t know, don’t think he will ever know. I will be wearing a hijab in his house, but I will be myself in my house.

(Image: Celia Daskopoulou)

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