A View Through Hijaab – Story of a Sister – Saleh-As-Saleh
A View through Hijab – By Sister Khaula From Japan 10/25/1993 
“A view through Hijaab” is an informative account of life in Hijaab. Written by Khaula Nakata, it is the experience of Hijaab as seen through the eyes of a Japanese woman who embraced Islam.
My Story To Islam :
As most of the Japanese, I’d followed no religion before I embraced Islam in France. I was majoring in French Literature at the university. My favorite thinkers were Sartre, Nietchze and Camas, whose thinking is atheistic. At the same time, however, I was very interested in religion, not because of my inner necessity but of my love for the truth. What was waiting for me after death did not interest me at all; how to live was my concern(58). For a long time I had a sort of impression that I was not doing what I should do and I was wasting my time. Whether God existed or not was the same to me; I just wanted to know the truth and choose my way of life-to live with God or without God.
I started to read books on different religions except Islam. I had never thought that Islam was a religion worth studying. It was for me, at that time, a sort of primitive idolatry of the simple mind (how ignorant I was!). I made friends with Christians, with whom I studied the Bible, to come to realize a few years later the existence of God. But then I had to face a dilemma because I could not “feel” God at all, in spite of my conviction that he should exist. I tried to pray in church, but in vain. I felt nothing but the absence of God.
I then studied Buddhism, hoping I would be able to feel God through Zen or Yoga. I found as many things in Buddhism that seemed to be true as I had in Christianity, yet there were many things I could not understand or accept. In my opinion, If God exists, He should be for everyone(59) and the truth should simple and clear to everyone. I could not understand why people should abandon ordinary life to devote themselves to God.
I was really at a loss for what to do to reach the end of my desperate quest for God. It was then that I met an Algerian Muslim. Born and raised in France, he didn’t even know how to pray and his life was quite far from the ideal of a Muslim; nevertheless, he had very strong faith in God. However, his belief without knowledge irritated me and made me decide to study Islam. To start with, I bought a French translation of the Qur’an, but I could not read more than two pages. It seemed so strange and boring. I gave up my effort to understand it alone and went to the mosque in Paris to ask someone to help me. It was a Sunday and there was a lecture for women. The sisters welcomed me warmly. It was my first encounter with practicing Muslim women. To my surprise, I felt myself very much at ease with them, although I’d always felt myself a stranger in the company of Christians. I started to attend the lecture every weekend and to read a book given to me by one of the Muslim women. Every minute of the lecture and every page of the book were, for me, a revelation, giving me great spiritual satisfaction I’ve never known before. I had an excited feeling that I was being initiated into the truth. What was wonderful, Subhaanallah (Praise be to Allaah), was my feeling the presence of God very close to me while in the posture of Sajdah (prostration).
(57) Sister Khaula visited the Women’s Office of The Islamic Guidance Center in Buraidah, Al-Qassim, Saudi Arabia on 10/25/1993. She shared this information with other Muslim Sisters in the Office. 1 found it important to share with our Muslim brothers and sisters the Story of Khaula’s coming to Islam followed by her experience and advice concerning the Hijab.
(58) This is the concern of so many people in the World and especially in the West or in countries dominated by Western culture. People become “workaholic” to keep up with more and more of what they want to have. The secondary things of today are the necessities of tomorrow! The Medium way described by the Creator, Allah, is ignored except by the few.(Dr.S. As-Saleh)
(59) Allah is the God of everyone. This thought translates that God must be one. There is no nationalistic belonging to God! Being the God of everyone, He does not command some people to worship Him alone while at the same time makes it permissible for others to set up rivals with Him in worship. This means that His worship must be one and that it is not up to us to define this type of worship. The way of worship belongs to the One and Only One True God, Allah. This constitutes His religion and He had named this way: Islam.
Khula’s Story with the Hijab :
“Two years ago when I embraced Islam in France, the polemic around the wearing of the hijab at school was very hot. The majority of people thought it was against the principle of the public school which should keep its neutrality towards the religion. I, who was not yet Muslim then, could hardly understand why they were worried over such a tiny thing as a small scarf put on the head of Muslim students…but, apparently, French people who had faced the serious problem of the increasing non-employment rate and the insecurity in big cities became nervous over the immigration of workers from Arab countries. They felt aggrieved by the sight of the hijab in their town and in their school.
In Arab countries, on the other hand, a great wave of coming back of the hijab was being observed especially among the young generation, against the expectation, shared by some Arab people and the most of Western people, of its passing away from the scene as Westenerization took root.
The Islamic revival symbolized by the current resurgence of the hijab is often considered as an attempt of Arab Muslims to restore their pride and identity which have been repeatedly undermined by colonization and economic retardation. For Japanese people, the actual adherence of Arab people to Islam may seem a kind of conservative traditionalism or antiwesternism, which (the) Japanese knew themselves in the Meiji era at the first contact with the Western culture, and because of which they reacted against the Western life-style and the Western way of dressing. Man has always had a conservative tendency and reacts against which is new and unfamiliar without realizing whether it is good or bad for him. Some people still think the Muslim women insist on wearing hijab which is the “very symbol of the oppressed situation because they are enslaved by the tradition and are not sufficiently aware of their lamentable situation. If only, they probably think, the movement of the women’s liberation and independence awakes those women’s mind, they will take away the hijab.”
Such a naive point of view is shared by the people who have little knowledge of Islam. They, who are so accustomed to the secularism and the religious eclecticism, are simply unable to understand that the teaching of Islam is universal and eternal. Anyway, there are more and more women, beyond the Arab Nationality, all over the world embracing Islam as the true religion and covering the hair. I am but an example of these women. The hijab is surely a strange object for non-Muslim people. For them, the Hijab does not cover the woman’s hair but also hides something to which they have no access, and it’s why they feel uneasy. From the outside, effectively, they can never see what is behind the Hijab. I have kept the hijab since I became Muslim in Paris two years ago…In France, soon after my conversion, I put a scarf, matched in color to the dress, lightly on the head, which people might think a sort of fashion(60). Now in Saudi Arabia, I cover in black all my body from the top of my head till the tip of my toes including my eyes…At the time I decided to embrace Islam, I did not think seriously about whether I would be able to make the five prayers a day or put the hijab. May be I was afraid that I might find the negative answer, and that would affect my decisions to be Muslim. I had lived in a world which had nothing to do with Islam until I visited, for the first time, the Mosque of Paris. Neither the prayer nor the hijab were yet very familiar to me. I could hardly imagine myself making the prayer and wearing the hijab. But my desire to be a Muslim was too strong to worry about what was waiting for me after my conversion. Indeed, it was a miracle that I embraced Islam, Allah Akbar.
In hijab I felt myself different. I felt myself purified and protected. I felt the company of Allah. As a foreigner, I felt sometimes uneasy in a public place, stared by men. With hijab, I was not seen. I found that the hijab sheltered me from such impolite stares. I was also very happy and proud in hijab which is not only the sign of my obedience to Allah but also the manifestation of my faith…besides, the hijab helps us to recognize each other and to share the feeling of sisterhoods. The hijab has also the advantage of reminding the people around me that God exists and reminding me of being with God(61). It tells me: “be careful. You should conduct yourself as a Muslim” As a policeman becomes more conscious of his profession in his uniform, I had a stronger feeling of being Muslim with hijab.
Soon, I started to put the hijab before my going out from the house whenever I went to the Mosque. It was a spontaneous and voluntary act and no body forced me to do so. Two weeks after my conversion, I went back to Japan to attend the wedding ceremony of one of my sisters, and decided not to go back to France, Now that I became a Muslim and found that I’d been looking for, the French literature did not interest me any more. I had rather an increasing passion for learning the Arabic(62).
For me…it was a trial to live in a small town in Japan, isolated completely from Muslims, But such isolation helped me to intensify my consciousness of being a Muslim. As Islam prohibits the women to disclose the body and to wear clothes which accentuate the body line, I had to abandon many of my clothes such as mini-skirts and half-sleeve blouses. Besides, the Western style fashion does not match with the hijab. I decided, therefore, to make a dress by myself. I asked a friend of mine who knew dress-making to help me, and in two weeks I made a dress with a “pantaloon” after the model of a “Pakistani dress”. I did not mind people looking at my strange “fashion”.
Six months had past since I went back to Japan, when my desire to study the Arabic and Islam in a Muslim country grew so intense that I decided to realize it. I went to Cairo where I knew only one person.
I was at a loss to find none of my host family spoke English. To my great surprise, furthermore, the lady who took my hand to lead me into the house covered herself all in black from top to toe including the face. Such a “fashion” is now familiar to me and I adopt it for myself in Riyadh, but at that time, I was quite surprised at the sight.
I attended once in France a big conference for Muslims, and in that occasion I saw for the first time a woman in black dress with a face-cover. Her presence among the women in colorful dress and scarf was very strange and I said myself: ” there she is, a woman enslaved by the Arabic tradition without knowing the real teaching of Islam”, because I knew few things of Islam at that time and thought the covering of the face was but an ethnical tradition not founded in Islam.
The thought which came to me at the sight of a face-covered woman in Cairo was not very far from that. She’s exaggerating. Its unnatural…Her attempts to try to avoid any contact with men seemed also abnormal.
The sister in black dress told me that my self-made dress was not suitable to go out with. I was not content with her because I thought my dress satisfied the conditions of a Muslima’s dress…I bought a black cloth and made a long dress and a long veil called “Khimar” which covers the loins and the whole of the arms. I was even ready to cover the face because it seemed good “to avoid the dust”, but the sister said there was no need. I should not put the cover-face for such a reason while these sisters put it because they believed it a religious duty. Although most of sisters whom I got acquainted with covered the face, they constituted but a small minority in the whole city of Cairo, and some people apparently got shocked and embarrassed at the sight of black Khimar. Indeed the ordinary more or less westernized young Egyptians tried to keep a distance from those women in Khimar, calling them “the sisters”. The men also treated them with a certain respect and a special politeness on the street or in a bus. Those women shared a sisterhood and exchanged the salaam (the Islamic greeting) on the street even without knowing each other… Before my conversion I preferred an active pants-style to a feminine skirt, but the long dress I started to wear in Cairo got to please me very soon. It makes me feel very elegant as if I had become a princess. I feel more relaxed in long dress than in a pantaloon …
My sisters were really beautiful and bright in their Khimar, and a kind of saintliness appeared on their faces…Every Muslim devotes his life to God. I wonder why people who say nothing about the “veil” of the “Catholic Sisters” criticize the veil of the Muslima, considering it as a symbol of “terrorism” or “oppression”.
I gave a negative answer when the Egyptian sister told me to wear like this even after my return to Japan….If I show myself in such a long black dress on the street in Japan, people might think me crazy(63). Shocked by my dress, they would not like to listen to me, whatever I say. they would reject Islam because of my appearance, without trying to know its teaching(64). Thus I argued with her.
Sixth months later, however, I got accustomed to my long dress and started to think I may wear it even in Japan. So, just before my return to Japan, I made some dresses with light colors and white Khimars, thinking they would be less shocking than the black one.
The reaction of the Japanese to my white Khimar was rather good and I met no rejection or mockery at all. They seemed to be able to guess my belonging to a religion without knowing which it is. I heard a young girl behind me whispering to her friend that I was a “Buddhist nun”…
Once on a train I sat beside an elderly man who asked me why I was in such a “strange fashion”. I explained him that I was a Muslim and in Islam women are commanded to cover the body and their charm so as not to trouble men who are weak to resist this kind of temptation. He seemed very impressed by my explanation, may be because he did not welcome today’s young girls’ provocative fashion. He left the train thanking me and saying he would have liked to have more time to talk with me on Islam.
My father was sorry that I went out even on the hottest day in summer with a long sleeve and a head-cover, but I found the hijab convenient for avoiding the direct sunlight on the head and the neck… I felt rather uneasy in looking at the white thigh of my younger sister who wore short pants. I’ve often been embarrassed even before my conversion by the sight of a woman’s busts and hips traced by the shape of her tight thin clothes. I felt as if I had seen something not to be seen. If such a sight embraces me who is of the same sex, it is not difficult to imagine what effect it would give to men.
Why hide the body in its natural state?, you may ask. But think it was considered vulgar fifty years ago in Japan to swim in a swimming suit. Now we swim in a bikini without shame. If you swim, however, with a topless, people would say you are shameless, but go to a South-France’s beach, where many women, young and old, take a sun-bath in a topless. If you go to a certain beach on the west coast in America, the nudists take a sun-bath as naked as when they are born. On the other side, at the medieval times, a knight trembled at a brief sight of a shoe of his adoring lady. It shows the definition of women’s “secret part” can be changed. How you can answer to a nudist if she asks you why you hide yours busts and hips although they are as natural as your hands and face? It is the same for the hijab of a Muslima. We consider all our body except hands and face as private parts because Allah defined it like this(65). Its why we hide them from male strangers. If you keep something secret, it increases in value. Keeping woman’s body secret increases its charm. Even for the eye of the same sex, the nape of a sister’s neck is surprisingly beautiful because it is normally covered. If a man loses the feeling of shame and starts to walk naked and excrete and “make love” in the presence of other people, he would then become no different than an animal. I think the culture of men started when men knew the sense of shame.
Some Japanese wives (put their) make up only when they go out, never minding at home how they look. But in Islam a wife tries to be beautiful especially for her husband and a husband also tries to have a nice look to please his wife. They have shame even between themselves and towards each other. You may say why we are “over-sensitive” to hide the body except the face and the hands so as not to excite men’s desire, as if a man looks always at a woman with a sexual appetite.
But the problem of sexual harassment so much talked about recently shows how men are weak to resist to this kind of attraction. We could not expect prevention of sex harassment only by appealing men’s high morality and self-control…As a short skirt might be interpreted by men to say: ” if you want me, you may take me”, a hijab means clearly, “I am forbidden for you. “
Three months after coming back from Cairo, I left Japan to Saudi Arabia, and this time with my husband. I had prepared a small black cloth to cover the face with…Arriving at Riyadh, I found out that not all the women covered the face. The non- Muslim foreigners of course put only a black gown nonchalantly without covering the head, but the Muslim foreigners also uncovered the face(66). As for the Saudi women, all of them seemed to cover perfectly from top to toe. On my first going out, I put the niqab and found out (that) it (was) quite nice. Once accustomed to it, there is no inconvenience. Rather, I felt quite fine as if I became a noble and special person. I felt like the owner of a stolen masterpiece who enjoyed the secret pleasure: I have a treasure that you don’t know and which you are not allowed to see. A foreigner might see a couple of a fat man and a woman all covered in black who follows him in the street in Riyadh as a caricature of the oppressing-oppressed relationship or the possessing-possessed relationship, but the fact is that the women feel as if they were queens guarded and lead by servants.
During the first several months in Riyadh, I covered only the part beneath the eyes. But when I made a winter cloth, I made on the same occasion a thin eye-cover. My armament then became perfect and my comfort also. Even in a crowd of men, I felt no more uneasiness. I felt as if I had become transparent before the eyes of men. When I displayed the eyes, I felt sometines uneasy when my eyes met a man’s eye accidentally, especially because the Arab people have very keen eyes. The eye-cover prevents, like black sun-glasses, the visual intrusion of strangers.
Khaula further says that the Muslim woman “covers herself for her own dignity. She refuses to be possessed by the eyes of a stranger and to be his object. She feels pity for western women who display their private parts as objects f or male strangers. If one observes the hijab from outside, one will never see what is hidden in it. Observing the hijab from the outside and living it from inside are two completely different things. We see different things. This gap explains the gap of understanding Islam. From the outside, Islam looks like a ‘prison’ without any liberty. But living inside of it, we feel at peace and freedom and joy that we’ve never known before…We chose Islam against the so-called freedom and pleasure. If it is true that Islam is a religion that oppresses the women, why are there so many young women in Europe, in America, and in Japan who abandon their liberty and independence to embrace Islam? I want people to reflect on it. A person blinded because of his prejudice may not see it, but a woman with the hijab is so brightly beautiful as an angel or a saint with self-confidence, calmness, and dignity. Not a slight touch of shade nor trace of oppression is on her face. ‘They are blind and cannot see’, says the Qur’an about those who deny the sign of Allah, but by what else can we explain this gap on the understanding of Islam between us and those people.” (3/1993)
Note: Khula’s article was sent (late 1993) to the Women’s Office of the Islamic Guidance Center, Buraidah, Al- Qassim, KSA.
Source : The Hijab Why ? (pg 43-55) – by Dr. Saleh As-Saleh (rahimahullah)