As I board the plane, I look out the window, getting ready for the ride of a lifetime. I know there is something different about this time. For some reason everyone is looking at me, thinking I am different, thinking that I am “the weird one”. I have a window seat; the seat gives a full view of the wing. The wing is elegantly painted in red, with black letters. Letters that spell out the name, Terry. The name brings back memories, memories that are unique, and make me who I am today. Flying in this airplane today reminds me of when I was flying through high school. Flying, while Muslim.
It all began the day that I walked into high school. That summer I had made a decision, a decision that would single me out of all of the girls at school. The decision to begin wearing hijab. When I walked into the building with that scarf on my head, and my long shirt and pants, the entire school seemed to come to a screeching halt. The entire school fixed its eyes on me, wondering, “What happened to this girl over the summer?” This was just the beginning, little did I know, there was more to come. The days seemed to fly by; I had my normal friends, and did everything with them. But slowly, I began to change. I began to research my religion, and find out a new meaning to hijab.
When I first walked into that high school, both I and the rest of the students thought I was simply putting a scarf on my head, but I was far from right. I began to realize that hijab was much more than simply a scarf on my head. Hijab implied modesty, hijab implied humility, and that was something I really had to work on. Slowly as the months flew by, my actions began to change. My dress began to change to fit my personality. Although I had entered Terry High as a girl with pants and a shirt, I ended up as a girl dressed in a long Islamic dress, known as jilbab.
This change was hard for me, but I think it was harder on others. My friends were not friends for long. As soon as I began to stray away from being ‘hip’ and ‘cool’ I realized that my friends were straying away from me. Things such as, leaving guys, and only taking girls as my friends, seemed absurd and backwards to them. My unique, individualistic, ways began to attract a different crowd. The crowd who did not judge you based on what you wore or how you wore it. This exclusive group would remain my friends until my graduation.
To the staff at my school, I was a new project. Some one they wanted to mold, and shape, until I became the “perfect student.” I caught the eye of the senior school official; let’s call him ‘Mr. Smith’. He was both intrigued by my ways, and worried at the same time. He felt that I was oppressed, and had no problem voicing his opinion. Slowly, as I began to love my religion more, he began to work harder to “protect” me. He finally could not handle it anymore when I let him know that I would no longer be shaking his hand. I tried to have him understand the concept behind my decision, but he was not open minded to my ideas. Despite the fact that I told him, it’s a religious thing, how not shaking hands was preserving my modesty, and that no man would ever touch me, except for my husband, and close relatives, his mind stayed sealed. He felt that, as my principal, he had the right to shake my hand and show his pride to me, but he was no where near right. I stood my ground and watched him complain. He even contacted my mother to try to get her to change my mind, but to his despair, this did not work. His efforts persisted, until the day of my graduation, but that’s something that I shall save for later.
As the days flew by, I continued to change. A change that was, what I saw to be, for the better. My most vivid memory of those fast paced days was when the high school’s most religious boy, let’s call him ‘Mike’, decided I was his project. He decided that he was going to make me Christian, no matter what it took. After he made this decision, he began to pop up in random places-just waiting for me. His persistence was quite admirable, but to his agony, it did not work. He began to get impatient, not understanding why I would not become Christian, and took a permanent seat at my lunch table. Day after day – for weeks – he would come and sit at that table, until finally he couldn’t take it any longer. He began to get angry, and yell, when his efforts would not work. He had decided that I was going to hell, and everyone in the cafeteria should know it. I finally could not take it any more, one day at lunch, after he had his biggest fit, ever. He began to yell about how “hell would be [my] final abode” and nothing would save me except following him to his religion. I knew I had to deal with him, for he was making too big of a scene, and I chose the method which I thought would work best. It was the method of calmness. After his rant, I had him sit down. I let him know that if he wanted anyone to convert to Christianity he would have to get some new tactics. I let him know that I was fully convinced with my religion and that if he really wanted someone to convert, he should find a new project, because that person was not going to be me. He realized that his screaming and yelling only pushed people farther away from Christianity. After that day, he never spoke to me again, not even once.
The days continued to fly by, in front of my eyes, until finally the day of my graduation came. I decided this was going to be done my way, or not done at all. I had rules that I wanted to implement and wanted to see that they were done. I arrived at the stadium, and walked straight into the faculty room. I let them know that, with all my heart, I did not want to shake any guys’ hand on that stage, much less give them hugs. After the stage of shock that they went through disappeared, they began to work. They came up with a plan, which would not only fit my needs, but make them happy as well. My senior official was a little reluctant, but he had to agree. As I walked across the stage, I passed supervisor after supervisor and assistant principal after assistant principal, without touching one hand. ‘Mr. Smith’ put it in his last effort when I reached the picture station. He reached out for my hand, but strongly, I shook my head. As I reached my final destination, the end of that stage, I knew that I had done it. I had made my statement, and graduated on my terms.
As I look around the plane now, I realize that everyone is looking at me, waiting for something. As it turns out, while I was reminiscing in old memories, about my transformation, some one had asked the question “Why do you wear that thing on your head?” So as I begin to explain my hijab, I smile, knowing that I would have never been able to answer this question properly, had I flown in any direction, other than high school.