Peeling Away

So a few weeks ago, Donald Trump was voted in as President of the United States. (It was going to be Hillary Clinton-everyone was pretty sure about that- but somehow, right after our first black president, we elected our first buffoon president.) And with him, hate was elected. Fear was elected.Blame and ignorance were elected. And especially for Muslims (because obviously if you come from a different country and are Muslim something must be goin’ on with you.)

To a Muslim woman, this came as bad news. In those comparatively few days, fresh reports of hate crimes and hate speech towards Muslims has poured in, and with it the fear-fear of walking alone outside, fear of the guy in the baseball cap who seems to be staring at you funny as you walk to your car, fear of being hated and blamed; the same fears you face everyday as a woman and a Muslim, but suddenly magnified. You fear for yourself as a woman, as a Muslim, and in another subcategory, as a hijabi. It’s not groundless fears either- it’s thinking about the woman whose hijab was set on fire, the girl who was grabbed by her hijab and choked, the girl who might have been- you. There must be a solution, even a short term solution, something to help you feel less afraid and less conspicuous.

The answer that came back was quick. Maybe you all should take off your hijab for a while. Tone it down. Twist it into something more acceptable. Hide. Maybe we should just stay inside. Maybe we should start wearing hats instead. Maybe we should start being afraid enough to hide now; desperate times call for desperate measures, right?

Or maybe not. Maybe we should start smaller- walking with a friend as often as possible. Staying as close to groups when possible. Avoiding confrontation, slipping around the aisle to skip bumping into the guy in the Trump T-shirt. Maybe that will be enough, that with the pepper spray and self-defense moves you already know; it’s not like you haven’t been afraid until now.

I haven’t had to walk alone. I haven’t been vulnerable to much other than the hissed insults at our group as a whole, the dirty looks and flashed signs. I don’t have to interact with people I should possibly be afraid of daily; a few times a week, in class or at the checkout, is exhausting enough. I do live in a Trump area, at the edge of the Ozark foothills and perilously close to Hillbilly Haven. My teacher and classmates supported Trump. Our landlady did, and our neighbors. But these were the kind people who lent us cars when ours broke down, sent us fresh eggs, offered to come into town with us, reached out sometimes before we did.

And that brings the confusion. How could they, people who have welcomed us, reached out to us, been kind to us (and still are) vote for someone so obviously standing for hatred of us? It’s a question that so far has only been answered with excuses.

We have learned to push politics aside, as best as we can, but it’s hard to push aside something that is suddenly affecting you so personally. It’s important, that just as you respect their position on certain things, you don’t let anyone disregard yours. It’s important to stand up, here and now, to refuse to give in to the intimidation, to defy fear and reject secrecy. It’s important to speak up for the right things and do your best to right the wrong things. It’s important to keep friends and make connections.

And I feel it is most important of all to be the change you want to see, instead of peeling away my identity and waiting for someone else to do it for me while I wait in the shadows.

Little Strengths

“What bothers you most when we go out?”

I turned from stirring to look over at my eleven-year-old sister. She was sorting out plates for lunch, seemingly calm, but I couldn’t help wondering if someone had bothered her.

“People following us around,” I said mischievously, referring to a neighbor of ours who practically follows us everywhere we go.

“I mean, rude things.”

“I think that counts as rude. To some of us.”

“Like, people making nasty comments and stuff. Staring.” (She wasn’t about to be deflected from a deep conversation.)

I had to consider this for a moment, but before I go on, let me tell you how sad it is that my little sisters and brother have to worry about this. That it’s honestly something they think about, and worry about sometimes, when we go out- not kid-on-kid abuse, but grownups saying these things to them. They don’t go to public school and worry about being picked on. For them, it’s as simple as going shopping and having the woman across the aisle make a ‘nasty comment.’

My little sister- this particular little sister- is sensitive. She broods over things she hears. During times of disturbance or emotional distress, she washes her hands compulsively, again and again until they’re chapped and cracked, as painful as her soul.

Even my five-year-old sister has silently absorbed- without being told- that some people, people we walk past in the grocery store and have little girls like her, hate us for being Muslim. She knows, but as far as I know it is just part of her world, a little inconvenience like a rainstorm on grocery day. She plays every day with her friend- a blond little girl who goes to a Baptist church and said once we were ‘kind of like we’re cousins’. She puts on her little peach silk beaded khimar and pink cowboy boots and sashays out to face the world. She doesn’t absorb the snatches of alarming conversation yet, and often, I like to think, is a little ambassador in bright small scarves.

They’re on different planes, and I am on yet another.

I hear the comments. Catch the stares. I have been told to get out of the way before I am shot, heard the hurled whispers, the incredulous, meaningfully painful exclamations.

But for each ‘holy cow!’ and each threat, and each muttering of insults, I get a little stronger. Like another veneer of strength, and by now I feel like I’ve heard it all- threats, insults, rude questions, the hurled words to break our souls, and each time I hold up my head and keep walking. I have to let it go, forget it, not only for myself but for my little brother and sisters who take it from me. And for some of them, they forget too; for one of them, she remembers and grows nervous, unable to let it go, already wounded.

It comes hard to realize that this hostility is shaping this second generation- the future. I don’t want her to grow up afraid to walk out of the house, to repeat the hurt herself after someone has already wounded her. Like any big sister, I want to spare her the pain- but I know she’ll come through, the way she did since she was little and loyally believed that zucchini was chicken because under siege in Yemen we had no chicken, and ate it. She made the best of the bad then and I hope she always will. And I hope I’ll be there to help her, but if I’m far away she’ll still hold on, because I have learned a lesson from this.

The littlest people can still be very strong, and hold on even when we assume they won’t. We can learn from them if we let ourselves. Yesterday she decided to start wearing her abayah out in public. ‘Since I know I have to wear it in a little while, I thought I can start now so I don’t have to do it all at once suddenly, you know?’

Even though she worries.

Let us all be that strong.

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.

Cracked

In face of my apprehension of the outside world because of Islamophobia
after the recent events. I’d come to America in a more stable period ( Or maybe it was me, and something changed)  and was surprised to see the dirt come to the surface as soon as something jarred it free. Add this to the fact that I was in a period of intense curiosity and discovery but I wasn’t ready for the ugly reality-of how the way I lived my life could connect to something that I felt utterly separate from,and feared, how that could impact my world.Maybe then you can understand, maybe, how it felt to hear of Donald Trump’s
popularity rates and the rise of a lot of intensely ugly Islamophobia.
Do you talk and make a fuss? Defend yourself to the point of exhaustion to deaf
ears??????

confusion
like an unexpected
dizzying slap
a fracture
of stability
i thought was tight
a measure
of ability
to stay upright.
the opening
of a world
left too long shut
the jerking of my orbit
the cracking of a nut.
stand up?
talk fast?
leave well enough alone?
the shatter of a window
a sharp hurled stone….

Hot Coals

There’s a hadith in which the prophet salallahu alayhi wa sallam says-
“There will come a day when holding onto your religion will be like holding onto hot coals.”Not so long ago I read an article detailing the demographic of the victims of anti Muslim hate attacks.’ Female, visibly Muslim, between the ages of fourteen and forty five.’One of those thing you look at a moment to be sure of what just occurred to you, then
you turn around and say it.
I turned to my mother and said- “That’s us.”

Hot Coals

holding onto hot coals.
onto hot coals,
he said.
those hot coals
red
of life
stepping out your door
a target.
seventeen mixed-race female
visibly muslim
oh yeah,
a breathing target.
-almost like i’m asking for it.
demographic of an
easy fragile victim at your blinding angers whim
if i were just-
alone.

but i won’t show you fear
i won’t dip my head
hunching covered shoulders
to avoid your gaze,no,
i look you in the eye
i walk with confidence
the moment hazel pause when i fix my eyes on yours
and you always look away.