By Amjad Bouchelaghem, Algeria.
Translated from French by Jessica Sutton.
When I turned 20, spirituality reached a peak in my life. The importance of my religious beliefs had never before been as strong. I had arrived at a point on my journey where God, my spirituality, my beliefs, were above everything else in my life. I started to reflect, more and more seriously, about my place in the world, about social conditioning, about myself, as a human being, but more importantly about myself as a woman.
It was at that moment that I decided to start wearing a hijab.
I have always been fascinated by human beings, both normal and pathological aspects, the things we do and why we do them, why it is that certain people do things that others can’t even conceive of. I have also always paid special attention to the relationship between men and women. How we see ourselves, how we speak to each other, for what reasons, at which times and in what way. Then, I started to pay attention to relationships between women ourselves, our behaviour when we are alone together, and particularly our behaviour when we are with one or more men.
And that was the point I started to observe myself and my behaviour more carefully. I started to notice what changed in me when I was in the presence of a man. What I said or didn’t say, how I said it, and especially what I said to other women and how I behaved with them. I was shocked to discover the extent of the difference. The tone of my voice, the words I chose, the gestures…it wasn’t me, I didn’t recognise myself in this person. These are the moments when a person returns home and says to themselves “but why did I do that? It wasn’t at all what I was thinking on the inside!”
I didn’t want any part of that anymore. I wanted to be the same on the inside and the outside. I wanted my appearance, the ‘outside’, to reflect the more important things deep inside me – my spirituality. It’s a little like when we love a particular kind of music, and we feel it represents us so much that we want to show the world, and we start to change the way we dress as a result. This is what wearing the hijab has allowed me to do, put my spirituality to the fore, and has helped me to be the same woman, inside and out. Helping me to be myself above anything, and so to have the same behaviour with everyone, man or woman, or at least do my utmost to reach that goal.
I knew that, in wearing the hijab, I would be less beautiful. Less seductive, less appealing, and that was exactly what I wanted. To no longer be in a relationship of seduction with men, unless I truly chose to be. To no longer see men simply as potential sexual partners, to no longer see myself as in competition with other women, simply because they are also women. I have never seen the hijab as a way to make life easier for men, or to protect men from temptation. I also don’t see it as a way for me to conform to the society around me, after all, my own father never even spoke to me about wearing a hijab. Instead, he always encouraged me to think carefully about the causes and consequences of my choice, and to always stay true to myself.
In deciding to wear the hijab, I was only thinking about myself. About reclaiming my body and my image. I thought only about the feeling of power that I experienced. I have the power to decide who will have the right to see or not to see my body, and what exactly they will see. When I say that wearing the hijab is the most feminist act that I have ever accomplished in my life, people don’t understand me. But, I never had such good and positive relationships with men and women equally, before I started to wear it. And when you understand what feminism really is, that it’s about choice, it makes sense. I think staying curious is the best way to avoid judging people before you know their story. So that is really my message, I want to encourage people to be more curious, to ask me questions before judging my hijab, and to avoid generalising about my religion, before really knowing it.
Read the original text in french below:
About the Author:
Amjad Bouchelaghem is 26 years old and from Algeria. She is a clinical
psychologist, and works at the association for Psychological Assistance, Research
and Care (SARP). She essentially works with groups of youth on violence
against women, and interpersonal relationships, as well as with groups of women to
reinforce their psychological capacities and help them to be more autonomous. She
is also an activist for the cause of women’s rights.