I’m eighteen years old, American, and am living in the wilds of Missouri State at the moment. Not that anyone notices that about me at first sight. The first thing they notice is that I wear hijab. I wear niqab, to be exact, but until I came here that was just called wearing hijab.
It wasn’t the world’s hugest deal. It wasn’t a barrier between me and life, a sign of Worse Things, an expression of any kind of rebellion. It was the way I wore hijab. It was the way most people wore hijab back home, where hijab wasn’t the first thing you noticed- no hijab was the first thing you noticed. It was worn outside, and taken off inside, and it wasn’t a sign of special faith or super bravery.
Then we came here. One of my first bewildered impressions of America was the amount of skin that was showing the frigid day after Christmas in New York. We were the only Muslims in the whole place, it felt like. Covered.
It didn’t get a whole lot better at the masjid there (at least we had one) where although it was a large community we were the only family of girls that dressed that way. We stood out, a bevy of doves in a crowd of bright parrots. We were the niqabis, fresh from the Middle East. We were, it sometimes felt like, the strangers. We found kindred spirits more often with Arabs than anyone else, often glad to hear their home tongue or see something familiar to home (us, lol. No one wanted to believe we were full-blooded Americans).
At first this continual singling out of my hijab passed me by. Then it bothered me. Why was it so- continual? The society in which no one bothered to ask further if they were confused. They simply assumed. A place in which I was more likely to be threatened than respected. Where if a man stopped in front of me in public, I half expected an insult rather than anything else. A place where I still do.
I understand now why it’s a big deal. It’s a not a societal norm in any way. I have to work around it. I can’t say I never resent it- the way we who wear this type of hijab are somehow often excluded from the popular hijab dialogue and given our own little platform, sometimes, only when someone wants to ban it. The way people assume at once- even if it’s an assumption I wish were true. The way other Muslims take the trouble to paste us as too extreme in words others hear as truth and they can never take back.
Feelings I never had to bother with before all come to the surface. Like wishing people would acknowledge me. Or how, hearing how a sister in niqab was chased down by policemen and stripped, my chest clenches in fear and anger. Or wondering if today is the day someone will choose to turn around and insult me.
But I promise myself I will never turn around and take it off to make life easier, because I won’t bend to prejudice. I won’t give you the reason to say it is so hard to do. I refuse to stop doing something right for myself because someone else is doing something wrong to me. I can’t give my reason for taking it off as because it prejudiced people, because the way to overcome prejudice is to face it, not remove the disturbance and hide.
I don’t go to school and I work from home. All of you out there who have to go to work and school every day, not sure if today will be the day you need that extra strength, I give you a Muslim sister salute.