At a time when all the girls are taking their hijab off out of fear, you’re putting it on,” the stranger told me. I giggled nervously. I was just delivered a reality check from a woman who probably thought she was empowering me. I spent the rest of the day doubting my choice. I am putting on the hijab during a time where Islamophobia is alive and thriving. Could I handle this? Was I strong enough? Putting the hijab on is difficult as is, but doing it while you’re in the public eye adds a different flavor of stress to the situation. I wondered how those around me would react. I feared judgement and misunderstanding. Finally after two months of mental preparation, I decided to make the commitment. I can do this.
The staring is the first thing you notice. You try to read the person in the one second you spent making eye contact with them as they continue to stare when you break away. Then in an attempt to ease my discomfort, I justify the action. Hijab seems like such a foreign thing in the western world, which insights attentive eyes. The problem lies in not knowing what the intention is behind the gaze. With so many hijabis being verbally and physically attacked, one cannot help but to fear the attention.
The xenophobia was also a brand new experience. Within the second day of wearing it, a man followed me calling me “ISIS” and “burqa bitch”. I ignored the first and giggled at the latter. I even complimented the man for his originality as I’ve never heard “burqa bitch” before. I quickly learned the humor is the best remedy for situations like this. If the ignorant bring you down, then you’ve allowed them to succeed. I also receive a plethora of backhanded compliments.
“You would be way better looking if you didn’t have that thing on your head”
You are absolutely right, irrelevant stranger. Thank you for reminding me exactly why I wear hijab. I have no interest in being desired by someone who prioritizes the aesthetic of a woman, instead of her inner characteristics.
On the other hand, hijab has been the biggest blessing in my life so far. I have never experienced something so empowering before. There is nothing more liberating than being able to enter a room and merit respect without relying on your outer beauty. There is nothing more liberating than knowing that who you are on the inside is powerful enough to move masses. I always thought that hijab would limit my potential, but the exact opposite happened. Thanks to misrepresentation, hijabi women are often judged as weak or incapable. So when you do achieve something great, it comes off as doubly impressive. Your potential increases when you learn to use people’s subconscious ignorance against them. I see my potential as infinite. Because of hijab, I have now realized where the real strength exists, within myself.
By Marwa Balkar
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