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August 1, 2015


Growing up, I had seen my mother go from not wearing a hijab to wearing one. I was ten years old when she chose to cover her hair and we had just been to Hajj. At sixteen, I decided that one day, when I am ready, I will wear the hijab...but not now. 


One would think that in a country like USA, where there are about 2.6 million Muslims and growing, it should be easy to take up the scarf, shawl or ‘hijab.’ With the peer pressure of pop culture, feeling the need to ‘look cool’ and the urge to ‘fit in,’ it is not easy for any Muslim girl. Even though I was in the Muslim Students Association at William Paterson University where some of the girls wore hijabs and some, like myself, did not, I could not bring myself to cover up. 


I mean, the whole concept of picking up a piece of cloth or shawl and wrapping it around my head seems easy enough! What is not so easy is going out in public, covered up.


I was not ashamed of being a Muslim or embarrassed that I would not fit in with the ’in-crowd of USA’ if I wore a hijab. I was, rather...afraid of being misjudged and not quite sure if I could do justice to the meaning of the hijab. 


Living in a world where the normal human being’s mentality is to stereotype and judge on a regular basis, verbally and/or mentally, the last thing I dared to do was to wear the hijab.


Wearing the hijab meant stares and whispers. It meant an instant judgment from someone who would relate it to 9/11. It meant that someone would look at my hijab and feel sorry for me instead of asking me whether or not it was really my choice to wear it. 


Even more, wearing the hijab meant understanding and accepting the reasons behind it. Was I ready? Should I have just known when I was ready? Did I know Islam well enough to cover up? Could I do justice to the meaning of the hijab? Wearing a hijab is a huge decision in a Muslim girl’s life because once it is on, it is meant to stay on in the presence of men with the exception as follows:


Tell the believing women not to reveal their adornments except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husband’s sons, their brothers or their brother’s sons, or their sister’s sons...old male servants who lack vigor, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex (Al NUR 31).


Misconception about Islam was a topic I gave a lot of coverage to throughout my years of working for the University newspaper, The Beacon Newspaper. Misconception of Islam was a highlighted topic in my speech competitions, written works and high schoolnewspaper throughout my youth. I thought that Islam needed to be clarified or purified in the eyes of those who did not ask and therefore, did not come to know. 


Ask and you will know. Contrary to popular belief, Muslims love being asked questions about their religion. I know I loved it when someone wanted to know more about Islam or my hijab! It was my opportunity to say, I am a Muslim and I am a normal person just like you.


I chose to wear the hijab in 2008 when I lived in London. It took a lot of courage to accept that I was ready for it and could walk outside of the house, covered up. The hijab is big fashion in London so I felt more comfortable than ever to take it up there. You could call me a coward for needing the reassurance of a large assembly of covered women in one city in order for me to publicly wear the hijab. But, you cannot call me a ‘coward’ after knowing the amount of courage I had to build up to accept my readiness to cover up and stay covered the rest of my life. Wearing the hijab is a huge commitment. I consider myself dilligent for keeping it on. Now, it is like another part of my body!


I remember the first time I walked down Times Square, Manhattan, in my hijab, in 2009. I got a lot of stares, was seen as a tourist and only spotted one other woman in a hijab whowas a tourist! The response was interesting and it did not bother me. It did not phase me that different people saw me through different eyes. I felt special and proud to be seen as someone unusual. 


Today, I am an English teacher at a high school in Stockholm, Sweden. I teach at a school where there are only two hijabi girls...one who is my student. She is in the eighth grade and has come from Afghanistan. A fellow colleague of mine told me that she had eaten lunch with this covered student. 


Following her lunch, this colleague said to me, in Swedish, ‘You have no idea how happy this student is to have you as her teacher! She enjoys your class very much and likes the fact that you wear a hijab, just like her.’