I started wearing hijab when I was around three years old. It was both cultural and religious, so I never questioned it and wore it on and off until I was in my 20s.
I attended Hajj with my siblings around that time – about 10 years ago. During Hajj, I became fascinated with the niqab – that is the full veil that covers everything except your eyes. I started wearing the niqab in Saudi Arabia and continued after I returned to Nigeria.
I really liked the sense of freedom I felt from wearing the niqab – freedom from people’s gaze, comments and judgment. And wearing it also came with respect. In northern Nigeria, when people see a woman in niqab, they assume you’re a very pious person.
But after a while, people’s reactions made wearing the niqab more of a political statement than I intended for it to be, and my parents wondered if I was becoming ‘radicalised’ or a fundamentalist.
I just became exhausted, and after about seven months, I stopped wearing the niqab and went back to just the hijab. But then I phased out the hijab entirely and went to just wearing scarves. Then, I stopped wearing scarves.
Now, I’m well into my 30s and I pretty much have my head uncovered.
My evolution from niqab to uncovered happened in around 2008 when I was dealing with my sexuality and was exploring my feelings about Islam. I felt I couldn’t be both Muslim and queer at the same time, so I prioritised being queer and rebelled against everything else.
First, I chopped off my hair and went for a stereotypical lesbian haircut. I stopped going to religious spaces and even stopped participating in cultural activities that had religious leanings, stuff like weddings. I didn’t go to any place that required me to wear a scarf, a veil or any covering.
I had a hard time with my family during this period. They didn’t take it well. Neither did my friends or my community. It was a great shock to everyone.
It took a while before I realised I can be both Muslim and queer.
These days, I miss wearing the hijab for various reasons – familiarity, fitting in and a veil from aggressive eyes and attention. In Nigeria, there’s a certain harassment that comes to people who do not wear stereotypical female clothes. Because I sometimes wear masculine clothes, people will say really mean things.
They ask me if I have a man’s private parts. They ask why am I trying to be a man. So to avoid this, every now and then I throw on a hijab and just get on with my day. And as weird as it sounds, in the right moment, the hijab can be a source of protection for me.
Azeenarh Mohammed told her story to to Chika Oduah | Published by Al Jazeera on November 29, 2016