I wasn’t planning to wear the tudung immediately after being a Muslim. Nope, I considered it too fast a move to don one. I needed time to adjust. Not all born Muslim women wear one, so I would take my own sweet time. I even told my friend that I’d wear a tudung when the time is right for me. For me, I needed time to get used to the feeling of a piece of cloth and its heat on my head In the meantime, I would cover my head with a long shawl or selendang.
However, as Allah wills it, I was bareheaded for less than a week. I had put on a shawl as planned but it kept falling off my head, much to my frustration. A few days later, as I was fastening a brooch to hold my shawl in place in front of the mirror, a strange thought came into my mind.
I thought to myself, why was I wearing a shawl? What was the purpose of covering my head when strands of hair could still be seen above my forehead? Wouldn’t it be better if I had covered my head properly? I would be following Allah’s instructions if I did so. It would please Him, and pleasing my Lord is the ultimate goal of every Muslim. Therefore I decided there and then to cover my head each time I show myself in public. It was a quick and final decision. I surprised even myself by stepping out of my room with only my face and palms exposed. I learnt that by twisting and turning the shawl around my neck, I would be able cover my chest and hair properly. Alhamdulillah.
During that weekend, I bought a few 40 inches square tudung bawal and learnt to put them on. Nobody actually taught me how to wear one. I had watched friends putting them on. I thought to myself, ahhh a piece of cake, no problem la. I was so wrong! My first attempt was an almost failure. After 20 minutes of fumbling with the flimsy piece of material I had to ask for help as my hands had started to ache. The first week of tudung-wearing took about 15 minutes of trial and error each time. I would be late for classes, hurrying into lecture halls with a half-crumbled tudung.
Naturally my decision to be tudung-clad was greeted with showers of questions and sarcastic comments from family and friends.
“Why must you wear a tudung when other Malays women don’t?
Does anyone force you to wear?
Don’t you feel hot?
Do you get headaches?
Why must you look like one of them Malays?
You look years older when you wear a tudung.
So kolot, take it off.
Why must you cover your beautiful hair?”
My friends Muslims and non-Muslims, who had been shocked to discover my conversion to Islam had a tough time adjusting. They couldn’t recognise me. They had to get used to seeing my face without seeing my hair. My experiments of tying the tudung and shawl in several different fashions were not helpful. Some people started to avoid me because they didn’t know how to deal with me. A few Malay ladies who had worn tudung a year before because it was the dresscode for Muslim women at our previous institution, had taken it off when we entered the university freezone. They had decided to be tudung-free with their rebounded hair, so my unexpected decision to wear a tudung a week after being a Muslim, could be a slap in the face for them. Indeed others had begun to compare me with the former group, but I kept my silence. When non-Muslims ask why I chose to wear one, I would state that it is compulsory for Muslim women to cover their heads because Allah swt instructs in the holy Quran, and as to why some Malays are exposing their hair…well, the questioner would have to ask those women themselves.
I faced a problem two weeks after my first tudung. I have sensitive skin that reacts negatively to nickel and silver. After two weeks, the nickel brooches that I fastened below my chin to hold my tudung and shawls in order had caused a skin eruption. It itched like crazy and I got worried. I worried because I wish to wear tudung till my last breath. I didn’t want to take it off just because of sensitivity to nickel. I consulted my ustazah who suggested that I stitch all my tudung instead of fastening with a brooch. Desperate for a solution, I prayed to Allah swt for help. Alhamdulillah, the skin sensitivity vanished. Until today, I can wear tudung with a brooch fastened under my chin without any skin problem. Strangely enough, only the chin is nickel-tolerant. Wear a pasar-malam watch on my wrist, and I would be scratching away at the spot within hours.
The fact that not all Muslim women wear tudung had not helped mualafs like me. I found myself becoming a spokesperson for the tudung, making non-Muslim friends understand why Muslimahs need to wear one. The more I learned about Islam, the more I realised that it is not just the tudung that makes a Muslimah. Wearing the tudung is not just about covering the head, as some Muslim women in Malaysia seem to believe or want to believe. The al-Qur'an has clearly stated that Allah commands all Muslim women to cover their bodies except their face and the palms of their hands. That means even the arms should be covered till the wrist, and the shape of the breast covered with the tudung. The shape of the body should be concealed with loose and thick clothing. To forgo one characteristic means to be imperfectly clothed for a Muslimah, a sin and frowned upon by God.
Western fashion has influenced Muslimahs to have a relaxed attitude about their dressings. To some, beauty comes first before regilious obligation. My outlook has changed tremendously after my conversion to Islam. I notice that Blouses have 3/4 length sleeves and t-shirts seem to have shrunk in sizes. Even the shirts sold in Busana Muslim boutiques are actually transparent because they show the body shape of the wearer. Therefore, my own experience of
shopping for a suitable blouse or T-shirt that adhere to the Muslim dresscode is almost like looking for a needle in the haystack. Wear a baju kurung but the wider sleeves sewn according to the latest fashion actually expose the arm when it is raised. That is the reasons why we see some Muslims women, having laid-back attitude, go about their business in less than complete coverage of their aurat. Who is to be blamed-the women, their guardians or the fashion-designers?
Like the tudung, my decision to fully cover my aurat had been spontaneous. I started to don hand-socks a month after the tudung. I had followed my heart. It had not been easy, wearing hand-socks in Malaysian hot and humid weather. It is especially warm in the afternoons under the blazing sun. I continue to wear them because after wearing the first pair, it is hard to go out bare-armed. I’d feel exposed, naked if I were to leave home incompletely covered. I’d feel guilty if my wrist is exposed. It is true that I look out-of-place among my born Muslim classmates because I’d be the only one with the tudung at chest level and hand-socks covering my arms. But I don’t care and I try my best not to judge them.
They have reasons that only Allah knows. My ankle-socks, which complete the package, were added to my collection a few months later. My friends got used to my ‘fashion statement’ and thought somebody had influenced me. Yes, in a way they were right. Allah put the thought into my head, the realization into my heart, and moved me into action. I had prayed for His guidance and syukur alhamdulillah for everything.