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Confessions of a Hijabi

Published in dawn blogs: http://blog.dawn.com/2010/03/22/confessions-of-a-hijabi/

Confessions of a hijabi

Confessions of a hijabi

I watched the much talked about My Name is Khan the other day. The brilliant depiction of an autistic person by Shah Rukh Khan and Karan Johar’s surprisingly taut direction made for a good film. I had been warned by friends to keep tissues handy, as many friends had their eyeliners washed away as they sniffled through the film.

I have never been emotionally vulnerable and usually don’t cry in public, so although the film was stirring, it did not send me scrambling through my handbag for those back-up tissues. That is, except for one scene. And in that one scene, I felt a lump form in my throat as I reached for that tissue paper. On screen, actress Sonya Jehan – who plays Khan’s sister-in-law, a working woman who wears a hijab while living on the West Coast of the United States – is walking down a hallway when her hijab is pulled off. This is yet another expression of resentment against Muslims in the wake of the 9/11 attacks that the film portrays. After the insult, Jehan’s character decides to no longer cover her head in public.

Thankfully, at a later point, Jehan opts to put her hijab back on, no matter what the consequences, because she feels incomplete without it. “It’s me,” she says. That scene struck a chord and inspired this blog, for it reminded me about my own journey of starting to wear the hijab.

I discovered my spirituality as I reached my teens. My parents were not the coercive type, and they gave us the right to disagree, question, and think for ourselves. Innately curious, I soon found myself reading the Quran in translation, in an effort to better understand its meaning. A few persuasive teachers and friends guided me through this process. As I read, a new world opened up to me.

At this stage in my life, I was an average kid. Like most teenaged girls, I believed my hairstyle was my asset. Looking good was one of the prime goals in my life. One toss of my crowning glory made my heart soar with confidence. Bad hair days, meanwhile, were a nightmare.

As the years passed, I started to seriously consider doing hijab. After what felt like a personal tug-of-war, I clumsily covered my hair for the first time with no idea what I was doing, or whether I would be able to keep it up. For someone whose hairstyle was her signature trademark, this wasn’t an easy step. And on a practical level, it wasn’t easy because the dupatta kept slipping off.

Back then, the hijab was less common than it is now, and people were less accepting. Friends and colleagues said that I was “looking so old,” or looking like a “maasi.” As someone who was used to receiving compliments, I found these asides difficult to handle. I soon gave up.

That move was an ordeal in itself. Everywhere I went, I heard comments such as, “See? This is why I don’t do it. People start to wear hijab, then take it off. They’ve made a joke of it.” Inwardly, I kicked myself because I knew they were right; I was ashamed of my inconsistency. But the truth is that I needed more time.

Different phases followed. I had feel-good-about-it phases, and then there were the shaky phases. At that time, I knew I was not at peace unless I wore the hijab. And so I started wearing it again, and this time it was a more conscious decision. On the one hand, I felt respected, protected, and true to what my heart and mind said was the right thing to do. This was my choice, without force. On the other hand, there were still days when I felt lost without my hair over my shoulders.

As I continued wearing the hijab, some would praise me encouragingly, saying I looked beautiful with my head covered. Others called me all those terms recently added to the dictionary such as Ninja, Fundo, Taliban. A few would tell me to go do “Allah Allah” at home with the oldies, and not spoil the fun of others by coming to weddings and functions. Others gave me apologetic smiles, fumbled with their dupattas, or perched them on their heads as soon as they saw me.

Amongst all these reactions, what I wanted was fairly simple. I just wanted everyone to treat me as they always had, like a normal person. Just let me be. I wasn’t abnormal. I was just a non-conformist who wanted to follow her religion. I was a woman making a choice, which is normally perceived as a sign of emancipation. It was strange to me that my dressing differently was seen by some as a sign of oppression, and worse, extremism.

As the years have passed, life is better. Today, due to globalisation and a more open-minded approach towards life, people, and especially the youth, are more accepting of who people are. My daughter’s teenaged friends are less judgmental than their counterparts in my college days.

Yet even now, I have to fight the stereotypical image of a hijabi every day. I have to smile a little extra to show people that I have not donned the hijab owing to a depressive phase or a mental breakdown. Until I utter a few intelligent sentences, people who meet me for the first time assume I am conservative, and worse, a brain-washed or unintelligent person. I find my male counterparts have to go through the same thing because they have a beard or wear their pants above their ankles.

Through it all, amazingly, I have remained the same person. I want to look and feel good, achieve my goals, and enjoy life, but within the framework I believe has been defined by my faith. And thankfully, I am not angry or bitter. I understand where people are coming from. I only wish they understood where I am coming from!

I have also been fortunate enough to meet those – and there are many – who are genuine liberals: they accept the right of every individual to use their freedom of choice. And if someone uses that freedom of choice, like me, to dress a certain way, these true liberals accept that. They do not see me in the context of what I wear, but gauge me in light of what I do and who I am.

farah80 Farah Zahidi Moazzam is the Features Editor at Women’s Own Magazine and writes about social issues, particularly those relating to women.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Killed For Wearing Hijaab???

Look at this face. This is Shaima AlAwadi. Killed. Reason? She was a Muslim woman who chose to wear the hijaab.

She was an average harmless homemaker. A mother of 5, whose children will forever wonder why their 32 year old mother’s life was snuffed out. An Iraqi refugee living in the Land of Liberty, in USA, this resident of California was assaulted in her house on the 21st of March. She was beaten with a tire iron. When her daughter 17 year old Fatima AlHimidi found her covered in blood, unconscious, in their living room, she also found a note next to her mother that said “Go back to your country, terrorist”. Shaima died on the 25th of March 2012. She had been getting threatening hate notes before she was assaulted.

While investigations are still underway, evidence is largely pointing in the direction that Shaima was a victim of a hate crime. If that is true, then Shaima was killed for no other crime but the fact that she was a Muslim woman who chose to don her hijaab which is a mark of a Muslim woman’s faith. It is her identity. It is her choice. A Muslim woman does not wear it because she wants to necessarily make a statement to antagonize anyone. This is her act of worship for her Allah. Just as peaceful an act of worship as reading the Torah or ringing a bell in a temple or singing hymns in a church. Just as peaceful as a nun choosing to cover herself or an Indian ascetic choosing to wear an orange robe. Why must then she be killed for it? And even when they are not killed for it, Muslim women are often subjected to judgment, to marginalization, to discrimination and to prejudice because of an act that she does purely for herself. Yes, there is a growing acceptability, but the perpetrators of hate crimes against Muslims still see the hijaab as a threat.

It is the same psyche of non-tolerant and hateful behaviour that was behind the shooting of the young African American boy, 17 year old Travyon Martin, in Florida, on 26th February 2012. The killer is believed to have had racist motivations behind killing Travyon who was wearing a “hoodie”, a mark of being an African American kid.

Travyon Martin - Killed for being an African American. For wearing a "hoodie"

Parallels are rightfully being drawn in the two cases. Important parallels. It is a person’s fundamental human right to wear what he likes, and make a statement with it peacefully if he/she likes. Such crimes hint in the direction that people belonging to certain races, skin colours, religions, ethnic backgrounds, and specially if they are migrants, are “lesser” and as such can be shoved around, bullied, mistreated, called names, judged, and as in these two cases, even be subject to violence.

The “Million Hoodie March” was inspired by the killing of Travyon. In another act of solidarity, activists world over are working on a “One Million Hijaabs” march for AlAwadi. Students at the University of North Carolina in Asheville are organizing a ‘hoodies and hijab’ rally on March 29 to “stand up against hatred and racism”.

"Hoodies and Hijabs: Uncovering Injustice"
Wake Forest and Salem Students, organized by Muslim peers, came together to show solidarity with Trayvonn Martin and Shaima Al Awadhi. Students are calling on our community leaders to condemn hate crimes and make sure our community is a safe place for everyone.
Please re-post this picture to raise awareness about these atrocities!

It’s a supremacist world out there. If a Jew or a Christian is beaten to death by a Muslim, it’s termed an act of terrorism, and I believe rightly so. But when an unarmed Muslim woman is killed in her home, it is also an act of terrorism. Loss of human life is always a huge loss, whether it is the loss of innocent civilian life somewhere in Europe or in Waziristan in Northern Pakistan.

Coming back to Shaima’s case, it has triggered an outrage that has begun to cause a ripple effect globally. Human rights proponents, activists, and even common people from all religions and continents are sitting up and talking about it. Because while there are supremacists out there, there also fair-minded and just people out there who know in their hearts when something is wrong, and dare to stand up and voice their protest against it.

This blog is not an attempt at venting mere pro-Muslim and anti-Islamophobic sentiment. It is pro-human rights and anti-hate crimes…..crimes committed against any human being, any where, belonging to any caste or creed.

So to the killer of Shaima AlAawadi, I would like to say that you don’t even know what you’ve started. In killing one hijaabi, you may have created millions.

And this hate crime is just going to make all those women out there who wear the hijaab even stronger in their resolve to do it, whether they are in the USA or France. It is a mark of liberty that one is allowed to practice what one believes in. It is a right no one must take away.

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