I had a mini epiphany the other day. This epiphany was inspired through the mindless scrolling of Instagram when I stumbled onto a post of a Hijabi woman discussing her state of depression. The shocking aspect was the amount of comment I’d read which had followed the pattern of judging her current state of mind to her headscarf, which had been apparent in the video.
My epiphany was simply noting a number of situations I’ve been put in which had been quickly linked to the fact I wear a hijab.
You see, I began wearing my hijab at the delicate age of 11. I recall being hesitant and unsure with the covering, possibly even felt like I resented it at times.
Your immediate response to this would be that I must be oppressed, of course. However, maybe that is why I was so timid with revealing myself to the public with said covering. I had already unconsciously been knowledgeable of the fact that I would be perceived much differently with a hijab than without.
I never viewed myself as a victim. I am not unintelligent (in contrast to popular opinion) and I am incredibly ambitious and confident in my motive.
However, spotting me with a headscarf may give you the opposite idea. See, one of the most terrifying thing for any growing teen is the risk of not achieving acceptance. Now, put yourself in the position of a Muslim, Hijabi woman who is of colour and of an Arab nationality growing up in the busy streets of London. Let me just say, you feel pretty damn vulnerable.
From the stories your mother shares in fear of her daughter’s safety when revealing stories of girls who’d had their headscarf stripped off them, or having Hijabi women being pushed off onto train tracks as front headlines. You begin to feel like a branded target for abuse.
However, it wasn’t the risk of abuse that scared me. It was more so the risk of missed opportunities, odd stares and the grilling scrutiny society applies to your daily life. See, in a society where wherever you look, women’s beauty standard is often measured through factors like the brand of hair products used or the trendy cuts people follow, it tends to become quite daunting. The absence of my hair resting on my shoulders felt wrong, even.
This proved to be a problem when different phases followed. At times, I’d notice myself feeling timid about my Hijab and other times? I was over the moon. See, I began to grow more resolved and in love with my hijab. It was no longer a piece of fabric or extra clothing, it was a second skin. It was a part of me. I felt respected, honoured and true to myself as I chose to cover and become more resolute in my belief. But, certain days were harder than others.
The day I walked out of my home in a Hijab I had opened my arms to become more accustomed to odd stairs and new terms to add to my dictionary. The spectrum often followed from Ninja to Taliban, and if nobody had anything to say? You were greeted with awkward smiles and silent shuffles. I was a walking controversy.
My issue was that amongst all the reactions, what I wanted was rather simple. I just wanted to be treated as any other girl with luscious locks rolling down her spine. I wanted to be normal! I never understood why my choice of garments as I chose to follow a religion was such a problem. I felt as though I was struggling through emancipation, which would usually be encouraged or respected. However, I had only ever been viewed as oppressed, or even worse, an extremist.
You see, being a Hijabi comes with a certain rule of inspection you’ll have to pass in society’s eyes, even if it’s only once. The gruelling inspection often comes in the form of possibly a new friend, a teacher or simply spontaneous curiosity. You’ll be, what I suppose you could call ‘Hot Seated’ as you’ll be asked a following of these questions:
Does the Hijab pin hurt when you stick it in your head?
No, you see I had a designated small hole in my head to allow my pin to stick in it without hurting.
Do you shower/sleep in it?
I use Hijab & Shoulders which leaves the fabric of my headscarf silky smooth, allowing me to then blow dry and sleep comfortably in it.
So, like no guy can ever see your hair?
Not even an innocent child. Scratch that, not even my own family can.
Can I see your hair?
I’m actually bald as an egg, so there’s not much to see.
What if the wind blew it away, would you get sent to Hell for that?
First, I will be questioned to see whether it was my intention for the wind to come, or could I have avoided it by walking the opposite direction. Then, regardless of the answer I’ll be thrown into the fiery depth of Hell by Satan himself.
And the winner of being the worst of all is, Ladies and Gentleman.
Were you forced to wear it?
I cannot even humour you with this one as it is a massive issue that I struggle to prove to people who are adamant in the belief of my supposed ‘oppression’ to believe. No amount of emphasis can I put on the No for this question. I’m afraid, you don’t get to play some hero who will save me into liberty. It’s my choice, stop questioning it.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I have no issue with questions, in fact, I encourage it as that means you’ll get your answers from a genuine Hijabi rather than what CNN feeds you. However, when I am still struggling with my faith and I am in certain situations, such as a classroom and your teacher sweeps up a chair to come and grill you? It can be pretty bloody frustrating. What’s worse is when people leave taunting comments, such as when you’re innocently getting your head bandaged by your medical teacher only to receive comments such as ‘This wouldn’t be so difficult had you not worn this thing’ and ‘ you know, you could just take it off, I won’t tell your Dad’ is straight disrespectful and doesn’t need to be tolerated. ( Actual situation, I’ve been in)
You see, I am in my fifth year of wearing the Hijab, and I’ve learned that I will constantly have to tackle Hijabi stereotypes. I’ve learnt to smile that extra inch just to make sure I don’t get shunned as dull or depressed in public. I make sure to be the first to point out my opinion in fear of being perceived as having no character or intellect. I make sure to constantly prove in some way that I am not brainwashed or oppressed. I have to literally fight to appear that slight bit more like any other breathing being.
Also, the fact I hold a responsibility for an entire religion when I put on my Hijab can be very daunting. See, people immediately reflect my actions, back onto Islam. The knowledge that I possibly hold responsible for putting my religion in jeopardy through scrutiny from a person who was displeased by my actions can be incredibly overwhelming. If you don’t believe one person could form a view onto an entire religion, switch on the news.
In fact, I fear that we are going backwards. A recent law permits companies from firing employees if they refuse to remove their Hijab in European work places. Do you understand why for somebody who has lived and breathed this society and acted as an active member of it may be confused by such laws? How frustrating must it be for a person to decide that how I cover diminishes from my working capabilities? Or that a harmless piece of fabric could possibly offend anyone?
These actions result in consequences for too many people for it to be something to overlook. Any Hijabi understands that removing their covering is not an option. Like I said, it’s a part of us. Thus, this means many women will have to resort to staying at home, causing our society to go back in History. Women did not fight for their rights for such a long time for it to be at risk simply because of a few ignorant outlooks. Some of these women will be single mothers with mouths to feed, how are you going to allow that to rest on your conscience?
To gather all this up, I am not ashamed of my Hijab. I am a member of a western society which I honour and love, as well as my Arab nationality. Although, the contrast of the two can be confusing at times, not going to lie. I am not bitter about society’s scrutiny of the Hijab, I understand where said views come from, but that doesn’t make it okay! I hope you’ll one day share my views and help make the Hijab a respected normality.