To Never Hide

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.

Advertisements

Food Talk

Eating in public. I mean, it’s simple, right? You buy the food (if you have any money, or if you don’t, sit around sadly until someone offers at least a drink)  and you usually sit down. Then most people will lift their greasy goodness or their loaded fork to their mouth and- well, you know the drill.

But what if……..your mouth………is covered up? That is, behind a veil of cloth. Light cloth you can breathe through, but………not light enough to let a fork through?

That can present a major problem- for me. (Well, only minor, because my part time job isn’t really an eating out salary and I haven’t yet mastered the art of bamboozling men into buying me food on a date. Or- okay, I don’t go on dates, but still.) Often it’s not so much the eating itself as people all watching intently to see how you eat veiled, thereby depriving you of the privacy needed to lift the veil and……..eat. (There, I said it. Lift the veil.) Not even lift it all the way, but if you want to fit a burger underneath without making a mess, it requires a pretty good flip of the niqab and everyone sees what you were covering.

So sometimes, you just can’t eat. You sit there staring at your food while the rest of the patrons stare at you, and count the sesame seeds and salt granules and wonder if the restaurant will ever empty. And then everyone gets a bit impatient. ‘I just don’t feel comfortable,’ only goes so far with other people. Even if you truly do feel uncomfortable with giving people a show when all all you wanted to do is eat- the stares are uncomfortable, the not eating is uncomfortable, and starving, I have to say, may top both.

But wait! All is not a bottomless pit of despair and starvation! There is a savior- permit me to introduce the Side Flip.

It’s not really so much a flip as an artful lift. (An artful lift of the veil- shades of Orientalism!) It’s lifting your niqab not up from the front, but open from the side. Sounds weird, but it looks fine, and if I can eat ice cream…..well, I’m weird already. I wish I could say it took a twirl of the finger, a specially timed lift, and a tilt of the head, but really you just slip it open on the side away from people (in case you always wonder why niqabis like getting a seat by the wall, it’s not because we’re afraid of being shot) and eat like everyone else. If you’re eating something big- I guess you guys can tell I like burgers- you can lift it open further and hold your hand- the hand that’s already holding it open- open a little, or in a delicate half-fist or something to provide coverage. That works. But if you’ve got a seat in the center of the arena and an audience to boot, you might not be comfortable, like I said- in which case I order a smoothie. Delicious, fulfilling, and you can always tell your friends your niqab makes you svelte. (Even thought you go home and tear off your hijab and pig a grilled cheese.)

There’s also another solution. Just put the food under your niqab and make a mess if you’re the arty careless type. Then go home, because you’ll be a mess.

A fork is in some way another story. I’m pretty sure every niqabi has at some time or other lifted a fork (probably while talking wittily to someone) and tried to put it in her mouth right through the veil. I know I’ve done it; it’s a bit awkward because people don’t understand how you can forget you have it on, and you come across as a complete airhead. (I mean, you can’t forget you have pants on, they think. Well, if they were as light as a well made niqab, you probably could!)

(I’m sure there will be some incredulous wonderers as to why on earth we go to all that trouble. Read my previous articles! )

Disclaimer: The picture does not depict me. I would never be able to eat rice with my fingers in public; so whoever you are, you have reached a talent above mine and I will refrain from claiming your accomplishment.

 

 

‘So Much Holier Than Thou’

‘So much holier than thou.’

She described us like that, in one sweep. All of us, those of us who have just begun, those of us who have been wearing it for years. Those of us who wear the niqab. She didn’t like women to wear the niqab- it made them think they were ‘better than her in her loose pants and headscarf’ and ‘holier than thou.’

It was both annoying and enlightening. I felt like cocking an eyebrow-(you sound pretty arrogant yourself, and exactly how many of these unbearable sisters did you meet?)-but resisted. It wasn’t the fact that she accused someone in the niqab that annoyed me, nor her defensive attitude, but her assumption that it wasn’t the person in the hijab that was acting arrogant.

It was the niqab. It was the fault of the sweep of light cloth that covered their faces from public view that brought humble sisters in jeans down to the hateful sin of arrogance in niqabs. It was the source of corruption that made them treat her with less respect. It was her complaint.

It reminds me of an incident that happened while I was in school here in America. It disturbed me- as well as made me think. A girl in the grade below me married, and when she came back to school it was in niqab; her husband had asked her to wear it, and we were all quiet on the subject until the teacher pulled her aside and spoke to her.

“Now that you’re wearing the niqab, you have act like it. You don’t see them joking with the boys like that.”

The girl was silent. I could only shrink into my seat,my soul protesting.Even now I think I should have spoken up, even now remembering the accusing silence of the classroom. I should have spoken, but I couldn’t; it was all I could do that painful year to speak in my heart, and speaking aloud evaded me.I wanted to stand up in my seat and set them straight, make it clear, defend her and myself from the quiet. The words didn’t come; the girl went silently to her seat,the teacher briskly picked up her book, and class began.

I should have told them that hayaa’ was not encapsulated in the niqab. That the idea that the more you wore the better you had to act was banana peel, and you had to act right no matter what you wore. That this gesture of covering didn’t suddenly lift a girl onto a higher purer plane of character than the other muhajabahs around her. That if they knew chumming with the guys could lead to trouble, they shouldn’t have been silent the entire rest of the year. That for all they knew, the reason I wasn’t friends with the boys was because I didn’t like any of them. That already this sudden covering wasn’t easy for her, and making it harder wasn’t right. You don’t know anything about me, I wanted to cry. Nothing.

Nothing except that I wear the niqab. (And suck at math.) This isn’t a gesture that I am better and purer than the rest of you. This isn’t a proof of virginity or a flag of a jealous husband. This isn’t a nose-thumbing at the lesser covered of my sisters. It isn’t, to me, holier-than-thou. It isn’t. It really isn’t, for me. I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, it’s personal.

It’s between me and Allah, because honestly there’s no one else I could be doing it for. It’s an act of worship. All of you- all of you, covered and uncovered, are my sisters. I don’t avoid friendships with men because I wear a niqab, to be honest. (If I ever took it off, I’m sure I would hold myself to exactly the same standards.) I’m not sure I understand the defensiveness, but I guess the only thing I can say is- my sister, I apologize for the bad impression, but we’re not all like that. Believe me, we’re not. If I think a judgement, I don’t convey it; but why do you think all women in niqab are the same? Your judgement is eerily close to non-hijabis deciding the exact same thing about hijabis. Like you, and you have thrown it back- at us. You don’t see a woman in short shorts and decide she’s a prostitute. You don’t see a girl in full hijab and decide she’s either an arrogant self-oppressor or someone who has reached a special marker in faith. And I don’t care what you wear that much. And I wish it wasn’t true, but some of the most vicious condemnation of the niqab has come from our brother and sister Muslims too. Some of the worst abusive insults and the most painful snubs.

It isn’t the niqab. It’s the girl in it, whether she’s shoplifting or saving a life, that you can blame or admire. You don’t have to take it from me, but think about it.

(She also said the niqab was cultural, but I’m too tired to summon my full rant mode for that right now.)

In This Hijab

I wonder sometimes, as I walk down the street in my hijab, what people are thinking; I can imagine, but none of it turns out pleasant. I know sometimes I am seen as backwards, oppressed under my hijab, subservient to ridiculous rules. Sometimes I am given quiet pitying smiles as if to say- I’m not scared of you, poor thing, and I can only smile back as if to say-at least someone’s sensible here, honey. I still know that no one bothers to see me. As a person with a life and dreams just like every girl. After everything-a woman, like all the others.

 

Looking at me-
Who do you see
dressed in folds
of flowing cloth
dark as Arab eyes?

Do you see me?
a Muslim girl
with dreams so fierce
and hopes
and loves
and tears
and passions
a woman,underneath?

Smiling-different-
a girl who
loves to dream stars
hear the wind calling
whispers to flowers
writes to become herself
weeps like you
from tired eyes-

Do you see me?

Dressed in hijab, as dark as midnight skies?

Looking Deeper

I have been called a shadow, a mystery, a faceless example of oppression. I walk outside with my head and body covered, my face veiled. I get it all, the stares, the whispers, and oh yes the smiles- of genuine friendliness, of annoying pity, of sarcastic amusement. They see only that I cover, not that I am following my convictions and am no less human then they are. A symbol. Not a girl who prefers to cover but is just like other girls in many ways, but someone to stare curiously at until she passes by. No one notices suede boots or a white purse, glasses or a smile.

You become accustomed to it in time. Sometimes I have the sad feeling that my own non-Muslim relatives wouldn’t look close enough to know me in my hijab. In a culture where you are measured at first glance by your body and dress, no one knows how to go deeper. But we sisters have learned; we tell the difference in the details, the shoes, the purse, her voice, how she carries herself. Her eyes, her energy or ennui, her attitude. We learn to know each other more carefully, remembering laughs and gestures and the way her eyes crinkle when she smiles. I have never once confused my two sisters in their niqab; they’re so different, when you learn to look.

They all look the same. Why black? Don’t they know they don’t have to do that here?!?!

It’s black, I tell you, out of choice. I could get white or plum or blue, but I choose black; partly because I identify with my sisters in Islam who dress the same, partly because that’s the color I prefer, partly because that’s the easiest color to buy. Yes, it’s head to toe. Or to be more accurate, head to a little past my ankles. Yup, it probably looks foreign. That’s probably because it is foreign to you, as foreign as the concept of modesty and purity, as foreign to you as dedication to Allah and living with goodness. Yes, it is a choice, believe it or not; a choice that hurts no one, unless you use it to hurt me.

A choice to live close to Allah’s Way, to try to be modest and pure, to distance myself from the painfully shallow way so many live. It’s a choice I saw was beautiful, from a young age. A choice between right and wrong, between ease and respect, between losing my religion and holding tightly on to it in its entirety. A choice of dignity. A choice that, yes, belongs here, because I belong here, and that I can only ask you to respect.

Shagoofa’s Story

 Shagoofa is a friend of mine. We met through writing. When I finally met her I was amazed to see that she wore ‘abayah and niqab. I was curious how a girl who began in ‘jeans and tunic’ found the strength and dedication to wear the full hijab at only nineteen; unlike me, who began in Yemen where everyone wore it, Shagoofa started her journey alone. Interviewing her for the blog, her story brought tears to my eyes and I think can be a benefit for all of us.
(delicatescarlet)-Can I ask you some questions about why you started to wear the niqab? It impressed me because everyone is so scared of looking too ‘extreme’ or ‘scary’. How did you overcome that?
 
(Shagoofa)-Well, I starting covering when I was 11 (just a scarf and regular clothes). I wasn’t so aware of what the actual hijab was until I moved to Oklahoma. My sisters suggested abaya and the khimar, but I had no idea that that was the legislated attire. I looked at what the other ‘hijabis’ around me wore- jeans and a dress/ tunic.
 My love for niqab started when I was about 9 because of this sister named A’isha. Subhan Allaah I had never seen a woman so beautiful and elegant before without knowing what she looked like. She looked like something so unreal, like a princess. When she spoke to me she was kind and gentle. I wanted to be like her.
  When I moved to Oklahoma I was 16 and in public school. I was the ONLY hijabi/Muslim at my school, so for orientation I walked into a cafeteria filled with about 500 students all at once staring at me. It was slightly mortifying, but I had to pretend it didn’t bother me. My sisters were trying to advise me to wear abaya at school, but I was apprehensive to do so. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to, but I was afraid of what people would think/their reactions.
  I had school from 7am to 3pm, then right after school my family went to this sister’s house for a study group. There we were learning about Allaah. I had never learned about Him like that before. Allaah was spoken about, yes, at the masjid, but the focus was the Messenger (sallaahu alayhi wa salam). We were learning about Allaah’s rights, his attributes, tawheed, etc. I learned more about how a woman is supposed to be dressed. Knowing more about Allaah and His religion gave me the confidence to differentiate myself from the khawarij that everyone asked me about at school. (I’m going to skip to graduation lol)…
  It took me finishing high school to be able to start covering. I still wore dresses and jeans after high school, but my need to change was there. I didn’t want anyone to know that I wanted to wear niqab because I was afraid of everyone’s opinion. I didn’t want anyone thinking they had a right to give their opinion on something I felt so strongly about. I used to practise in front of my mirror, saying to myself “This is how everyone is going to see you….this is how you will look.”
  When I finally decided to put it on I was 19, and it was Ramadan. I knew I needed and wanted to start soon. Every night before iftar I would put my head down and make duaa asking Allaah to give me the strength to be confident and to take my fear away. I asked Allaah to ease the anxiety I had towards it. Your mom once advised that if you want something really badly then you should cry to Allaah for it, so I cried. I got dressed and walked quickly to my dad’s van, sat down, and waited. I was afraid still. I closed my eyes and starting (lol) talking to myself, “Why do you want to do this? What is your reason?… Allaah. Allaah will be pleased with you if you do this. Don’t worry about anyone. Allaah will be pleased with you. People will stare, but that didn’t stop them before. Allaah will be pleased with you.”  I had tears in my eyes at that point because I suddenly felt relieved, free. I think, I overcame the fear of what people thought about me because I was no longer concerned about what pleased them.
(delicatescarlet)-Your story brings tears to my eyes. I know it was the same thing with me. Allah’s pleasure mattered so much more, and because I was so sure of that I could walk proudly.
(Shagoofa)-Masha Allaah yes! I think that’s the problem with our fashionista hijabis. They think that covering is more for the self than the creator. They’re told that hijab is to cover the beauty, which is not untrue, but it’s not the sole reason for why it is legislated. It’s a commandment, but they understand it as a stepping stone for betterment only.
Shagoofa is an artist and free-spirited niqabi sister. She lives in Oklahoma.

Talk Talk

One of the huge furors over the niqab is that it ‘impedes communication’. No one can see our faces, thus communication is nil. They can’t talk to us, right? Of course you can’t talk to someone who walks up to you and speaks to you if you can’t see their nose and mouth! Your tongue refuses to work unless you can see theirs. That’s too well known to dispute. It doesn’t matter if they can see your eyes and hear your voice. They just. Can’t. Talk!

So. You, the offender, must back down. If you want to talk, take it off. Take it from everyone who has ever talked to a niqabi. (Crossed arms.)

Maybe you should take it from those of us who have worn it for years. Maybe you should ask our sisters who are teachers and mothers and doctors and speak to people every day. Maybe you should ask us, who go shopping and work and teach in the niqab. Maybe you should ask our friends who have gone out with us, watched us interact. Maybe, instead of asking people who have taken it off or have never worn it, you should ask us. Who actually wear it.

But it scares people off, right? They see a woman in niqab and flee, positive that she’s coming to put them in a zone of bomb danger! They know that she doesn’t want to see you or talk to you. They know that it’s scary to look her in the eyes and give her your attention, listen to what she’s saying or ask a question!

Come on, give people more credit. (Even those who dislike the niqab are hardly going to be scared to death.) Only people who make fun of you are going to pretend to be frightened.     But discomfort, right? It can cause discomfort!

Yes, in a culture where people don’t generally cover this way, yes. And discomfort won’t immediately alienate people. We often have to reach the extra way out and connect. Smile. People can catch a smile, a gesture, the greeting, and it’s a far better option than to sacrifice your standing with Allah to someone’s discomfort. Talk to them; if they really don’t want to connect, they won’t. But we try. And maybe that’s more than we can say for people who don’t want to accommodate us. Maybe the time we take to talk to the people we meet is better da’wah and a better impression than to give up a part of your religious convictions.

Maybe we need to stop making excuses; and in the extra effort to both the people and our religion, be the winners.