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February 28, 2016

Gabrielle Deonath ’18: My Hijab Journey

by Gabrielle Deonath '18

I was two months away from my 16th birthday when, on July 2, 2012, I wore the hijab—the headscarf that Muslim women wear to maintain a state of modesty and to be valued for their inner qualities and personality—for the first time. The choice to wear the hijab was a journey in itself, one that would alter my life.

Gabrielle_DeonathBoth of my parents are Muslim. My mother practices, but my father, who converted later in life, does not. The only other person in my family who wears the hijab is my maternal aunt. I never thought of wearing the hijab until the beginning of my sophomore year of high school in October 2011 when I came across All American Muslim, a reality show on TLC, which depicted five Muslim American families in Dearborn, Michigan. The women on the show varied in their levels of devotion. I noticed that the women who wore the hijab were not limited in any way. They had an additional layer to their lives and a deeper connection to their faith, a connection I wanted.

I spent eight months weighing my decision, at first on my own and eventually with the guidance of the school social worker with whom I met weekly. It wasn’t like I was following a fashion trend. If I chose to wear the hijab, I wanted it to be a lifelong commitment.

I ultimately decided that the connection to my faith that the hijab would provide me, along with the opportunity to discover who I was aside from “the girl with the pretty hair,” outweighed the few cons that were on my list. I saw the change as an opportunity to travel within and find new parts of myself.

Wearing the hijab, I have journeyed even further than I could have imagined. Four days after I wore it for the first time, I discovered a popular Islamic blog. Inspired by some of its articles, I began to journal my path that lead to my wearing the hijab and submitted my personal essay. To my surprise, two weeks later, the editors informed me that they wanted to publish my piece. A few months later, when my essay was posted online, it attracted a large readership, and soon after I was offered my first paid writing job as a contributor to the teen column of SISTERS Magazine. At the age of 16, I had become a published writer.

Writing is now my deepest passion. Writing for SISTERS Magazine has allowed me to give a voice to young Muslim women around the world who have had experiences similar to mine. It has also led me to other opportunities that have sharpened my skills and have let me share the stories of young women outside of the Muslim community.

I am now more attuned to the way that Muslims are represented in the mainstream media and, as an aspiring fiction writer and journalist, I hope to minimize the promotion of misconceptions of any group of people.

With the hijab, I no longer blend in with the crowd. That was especially true in high school where I was the only student to wear the hijab. When I started a club to promote religious tolerance, I was told that it was too controversial. Through conversations I had with the school principal, I was made to feel that my hijab was part of the problem.

It was a relief to come to Adelphi where the Muslim Students Association (MSA) had already been formed. I felt included and part of something greater, and now, as MSA president, I strive to make other students who join us—Muslim and non-Muslim—feel welcome.

In a political climate in which politicians feel comfortable making derogatory comments about those of my faith, wearing the hijab puts me in a vulnerable position. There are days when I want to melt into the background, with my long hair blowing in the wind. But how boring would that be?


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