Friday, July 11, 2008

Not just a peice of cloth

I started wearing hijaab in college, it was Ramadan 1424 (2004). I don't know what came over me...I simply woke up in the morning and put on my hijaab. The mere act of wearing the hijaab was not challenging at all, and the drive to school was okay as well, but it was when I actually got to class when the difficult part began. I could just here everyone's thoughts "Homegirl woke up and decided to turn all Holy on us!" My classmates stared, and when I looked in their direction to see what that burning sensation on the side of my face was they'd quickly divert their gaze as if I wouldn't notice. I kept telling myself I didn't care, and well, I really didn't but its a bit disconcerting when EVERYONE is looking at you like you just landed from a different planet. It wasn't necessarily rude staring, I'm sure it was simply because they were curious.

At work people asked questions as to why I decided to wear the hijaab, so I made something up because I myself didn't know why I wore it, I simply woke up and put it on. There really was no particular reason as to why.

At home, my father had the same question, "why now?" it wasn't the support I was looking for. My father was more concerned for my safety in this country rather than my obedience to my Lord. However, his unhappiness at the situation somehow made me stronger, it was some sort of a rebellion, only this time I knew that I was 110% correct! I'll tell you, that was an amazing feeling!

I give a talk in one of the Religious Studies classes at my University on my experience being a Muslim woman in America. In that talk, whenever I get to the subject of my hijaab I start of by saying "I don't know why I started to wear hijaab, but I can't tell you why I continue to wear it" and then I proceed to tell them that its the best thing that has ever happened to me. You see, when I started wearing hijaab I instantly noticed the difference in the way men looked at me. Before the hijaab there were a number of occasions where men would roll down their car windows to whistle at me, walk by me and flirt with me and other immature things that men do. After the hijaab men would give this sort of nod of approval, kind of like a bow of respect, they would open doors for me, I once had a man offer to give up his seat for me. I got into a conversation with someone once, about my hijaab and Muslim women in general. What he said touched me, he told me that he had a high regard for Muslim women because we value our bodies so much so that we don't flaunt it for the whole world to see.

I believe the bad responses I get are more motivating though. In the past I've been pretty active with my MSA and have been attacked by radical Christians while sitting out at the Dawah table in the University's quad. I've been told to go back home, the funny thing is I was born here, raised here, I never left here, so where would they like me to go? I've been told that my religion treats me a second class citizen, I think its amazing how a non-Muslim man can tell a practicing Muslim woman that she is being oppressed, when non-Muslim women are walking around half-naked parading their bodies for everyone to stare at like a piece of that is oppression!

I've been told that my garb is rather ancient. Granted, it may look that way to the untrained eye. I've been asked, by my professor, mind you if I would ever consider assimilating into American society. So I looked at her with this blank look and basically tell her that assimilating does not include letting go of one's beleifs. I mean, I go to school, I have a job, I drive a car, I speak English, Spanish, some Arabic, I wear jeans (under my abaya) and I speak my mind, what part of assimilation did I miss? Perhaps its the hijaab, but that's just appart of my American right to the Freedom of Religion.

I think the most amazing aspect of my hijaab is the random "Assalamualaikum" I get when I'm at the library, in my car, at the mall. What makes me happier than the adults that say salam to me is the children. After a long shift at the hospital when everything possible went wrong, I was heading out through the Emergency Room doors with tears at the verge of dropping from my eyes, I stared striaght ahead, not interested in making eye contact with anyone when I felt these tiny arms around my legs, as I looked down, there was this little boy with a huge grin on his face "Assalamualaikum!" he said and suddenly I forgot the reason for my tear-filled eyes. The other day I was Forever 21 with a friend of mine and I feel this small boy tug on my abaya, so naturally I look down, "Assalamualaikum, Kayfa Halek?" Its an amazing feeling I tell you.

I love my hijaab!

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