SHAFAQNA- My uneven curls towered over my head every morning throughout my childhood. A little bit of baby powder and a lot of hair ironing was my secret at the time.
Until one day I ditched the baby powder and simply started ironing my hijab instead.
July 1, 2007 was the first time I placed a sparkly red hijab flat on the ironing board. I was so proud of my decision that I had to make my debut on our national day. Nothing could wipe the smirk off my face when I tightly wrapped my hijab and walked out the door to parade my new look.
They asked me what it was and I said it was a hijab. They thought it was cool and I never went into detail, and that was that. I was 12.
Now, I find it ironic that my faith had to shine alongside my patriotism. I grew up singing “God keep our land glorious and free” and I guess I took it seriously. Silly me.
I was young but I grew to appreciate my decision. The hijab was my guardian angel. It was my safe haven. It reminded me of my roots. I never doubted myself.
But things quickly changed.
Soon, they told me I already look white and if I took off my hijab, I would pass as one of them. I said I would feel naked and they said it was meant as a compliment, and that was that. I was 15.
I was in high school. I made irrational decisions. I dyed my eyebrows red. I wore highlighter colours. I just wanted to talk about school; but, I loosened my hijab instead.
It was becoming difficult to associate my hijab with beauty or happiness.
Later, I began to pave my way into what I thought was a promising career but they came back.
They told me I wouldn’t to be able to anchor their evening news because I wasn’t the right fit and reassured me I didn’t have a face for radio but it was simply the cloth that was in the way and that was that. I was 18.
That cloth was the reason I was so hungry to work harder but they’re right. Indeed my screen would flood with images of women who looked like me, but not for the same aspirations. And I was reminded again by the man on the bus because, “a terrorist can’t talk about other terrorists. It’s a conflict of interest.”
I used to be so confident but my hijab loosened as things grew more and more difficult.
Nothing was balanced anymore. My scale was weighing heavy from the hatred. My key to lasting happiness was lost. My formula for a happy life was misplaced. I no longer felt strongly about my beliefs. I wanted to be like them and that was that. I was 19.
Then their hate speech grew. It grew rapidly, at a scary rate. Their words became actions and their actions were deadly. I am not motivated anymore. It’s hate that induces hate. My faith wasn’t turning me into a monster, they were.
I’m lost… and that’s all. I am 20.
But I will wrap my hijab tightly because I am used to this mental and physical battle.
Although I am strong, I am not invincible. I am affected by the images on their screens and the harshness of their glares.
Although I am strong, I am not indestructible. Questioning the reason for my existence is a pit-less fall that I only wish to land softly on.
Anti-Islamic rhetoric is lingering heavily in the air and I am scared. Sure, there is a needle in every haystack but these people seem to be sitting on a stack of swords.
This needs to stop.
Thousands of Muslims are putting out initiatives to break down the barriers set by hate speech worldwide. Islam awareness events are flooding campuses nationwide, including our own Muslim Students’ Association holding educational events every day next week. I challenge you to sit through a panel discussion on the current political issues, spend an evening with Muslim artists and explore the countries Islam is rooted in.
Get talking. Get educated.
It is the least I can ask you to do. Not for me, but for my unveiled 13-year-old baby sister who recently asked me to dig up an old, sparkly red hijab.