Actions are according to intentions. (Bukhari and Muslim)
When you fill your gas tank intending to eventually drive to the masjid or buy groceries for the sake of providing iftar for your family or vacuum your room for a cleaner surface to pray on, you are turning ordinary actions into acts of worship, and you are being rewarded therein. For us Muslims, especially during the month of Ramadan, this is the power of living for the sake of Allah (SWT).
I remind myself of this most when I put extra care and time into my hair. Like many hijabis, having a consistent hair care routine, managing the impacts of wearing scarves every day, or even making peace with our self-image is not always simple, but He (SWT) gives us assurance that any struggle we endure to worship Him, whether physical (e.g. fasting), mental (e.g. studying), emotional (e.g. friendships), or spiritual (e.g. praying), does not go unnoticed. Allah (SWT) says, “And that each person’s effort is going to be seen. Then each person will be recompensed for it with the fullest recompense.” (Qur’an 53:40-41)
The first time I heard a YouTuber being candid about the physical consequences of wearing the hijab, I immediately became defensive as I watched her video. I was resistant to her truth (and my own) not only because it seemed sacrilegious at face value, but because it felt like our dirty laundry being aired out in front of non-Muslims. As a Muslimah in the West, it’s hard enough trying to convince society you’re wearing the hijab of your own free will. So, being truthful about this hassle on top of the unconventional practice of hijab would never help our case. Why is she telling them?
The truth of the matter is that many aspects of our faith require willpower and perseverance. Fasting long hours, stopping on road trips to pray, avoiding impermissible foods, and so on. Hijab is just another way we practice submission to Allah (SWT) in an acknowledgment that this reality we experience is only temporary. Limits on what we indulge in, our individual capacity as humans, and how little time we have on this planet, remind me that there is another place for us that is unbound by these finite parameters.
And while I can articulate all this, it’s a lot more convenient to say half-truths like “scarves don’t affect how I care for my hair” just like I do with a shrug and “not really” when people ask me whether I’m “hot in that” in a 90-degree Georgia summer.
If we aren’t intersectional, some of us, the most vulnerable, are going to fall through the cracks. – Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw
My earliest memories of feeling beautiful were just after my mom finished washing, braiding, and oiling my hair. I’d shake the numbness out of my legs from sitting on our hardwood steps for forty-five minutes, run to the bathroom, hop on the step stool, and look at my reflection. Without fail, because my mom is crazy talented at everything she does, I’d look in the mirror and see a princess every. single. time. And when she gave me jebjeb? You couldn’t tell me nothing.
Somewhere between those childhood days and the beginning of college, I stopped feeling pride about my hair. In middle school, I felt prettiest when it was straightened. I never considered wearing my hair naturally for Eid or henna parties. At one point, my aunt advised my mom to try an at-home relaxer on me. I remember feeling embarrassed that only I was receiving the treatment and not my sisters. After all, up until high school we shared the same products. I cringe thinking about it, but there were times when I was washing my hair every day (yikes) with Pantene shampoo (double yikes) and letting it air dry before pulling it into a bun and throwing a cotton scarf on (∞ yikes).
When I went to Eritrea in 2016, my aunts agreed that my hair was “difficult”. My grandma sent me to the salon to get a lekhai mask made from butter and eggs that would help silken my hair. That summer, I also found my aunts using skin-bleaching creams to lighten their complexion. I learned then that texturism, like colorism and featurism, is a mode of anti-Blackness that has been deeply internalized amongst Black women. In “‘Light Skin is the Right Skin? and Long Hair Don’t Care?’: An Investigation of Colorism and Texturism Amongst Black and Latina Women,” Rakim Griffin writes about phenotypic biases towards eurocentric standards of beauty, or straighter hair and lighter skin. Though the texturism I experienced impacted my self-worth, I spent lots of time thinking about the fact that my hijab concealed my hair making it comparable to an invisible identity. My older sister who dealt with colorism was not awarded those privileges that summer.
Before I completely took the reins of my own hair care, my mom’s final attempts to help me out consisted of her bringing home Bumble and Bumble products which she got great deals on from the spa where she worked and her whipping up concoctions of honey, yogurt, and mayonnaise for deep conditioners. Given the fact that it became harder for me to distinguish whether the people around me were trying to manipulate the look and feel of my hair or whether these efforts were actually suited for my hair type, I refused them altogether.
When I got to college, big chops were a huge trend – they’re still so satisfying to watch. According to Byrdie, “Natural hair, by definition, hasn’t been altered by chemical straighteners, including relaxers and texturizers. Pressed hair may still be considered natural because once washed, the texture usually returns to its unaltered state (as long as no heat damage has occurred).” At that point, I didn’t even know what my natural hair looked like. I was inspired by the Natural Hair Care Movement’s resurgence and knew that my damage needed to go. I “upgraded” to Shea Moisture (a win is a win), and, alhamdulillah, I’ve come a looooong way since then.
When your hair is covered every day, it’s easy to get away with doing the bare minimum to care for it. No one else really sees it. SubhanAllah, this also made it all the more rewarding when I embarked on my journey. I was taking care of my hair for none other than myself.
Are you ready to do this? (Hair Love, 2019)
As a Black Muslim & hijabi, I have endured a long & gratifying journey to embrace my hair. Throughout quarantine, graduating college, and moving back home, I grew tremendously, and so did my hair. During Black History Month last year, I started making occasional TikToks about my natural hair care journey (now private, sorry). I shared my initial hesitancy with being candid on the platform given (1) the inability to show my hair on camera, and (2) uncertainty regarding whether my feelings would resonate with folks. To my surprise, they did, mashaAllah! The reaction, including from non-Muslims, was empowering. So I created a short series offering my non-professional, easily-embraceable tips and tricks as a young adult hijabi navigating our unsung challenges. The discussions that erupted were as much for me as they were for my fellow Muslimahs. While social media isn’t really my platform anymore, I figured I’d share something here.
My current favorite protective style is a combination of twists and braids. To achieve this look:
Navigating the thinning, receding, dryness, frizziness, etc., caused by constant coverage and damaging fabrics is difficult, but there is so much support and community out there today. There are also infinite natural hair care styles, products, and materials that are compatible with our hijabs. Follow @4c_hijabi on Instagram, @hijabi_hair on Tiktok, and check out Amatullah Shaw’s Buzzfeed article, “Black Hijabis Are Sharing How They Take Care Of Their Natural Hair, And I (A Black Hijabi) Wish We Talked About It More.”
Taking care of our hair may be intricate, but it’s rewarding. We can find beauty in the struggle by reminding ourselves that self-care is essential to sustainable communal care and that there is an even greater reward from Allah (SWT) for our devout intentions. I hope this piece has been a token of encouragement, hair love, and/or resistance. May every strand of our hair bear witness to the intentions and actions we have made for the sake of Allah (SWT). May He grant us patience, grace, and care. May He allow all our efforts to bring us closer to Him (SWT). Ameen.
Hibah Berhanu is a 24-year-old organizer, writer, and filmmaker based in Metro Atlanta, Georgia. As explored in her personal blog, Hibah's interests include politics, sociology, Islam, and pan-Africanism.