by Sundas Khan
“I want to wear the hijab (headscarf) from Monday, Mum.”
And I did.
I could barely contemplate the words coming out of my mouth that day: Sunday, the thirteenth of June. I was, originally, planning to hold off donning the Muslim headscarf until at least seventh grade. However, I had really been thinking about it for the past few days. I read an amazing article about a girl who had a Muslim father and a non-Muslim mother, who had begun wearing the hijab. I’d also seen a touching video on YouTube about a girl who wasn’t even Muslim, but was experimenting with wearing the hijab and refused to take it off. It got me. That girl, wearing her hijab, wasn’t even a Muslim. I am a Muslim. If she could do it – why in the world couldn’t I? And that was just it, wasn’t it? I could. And so…
I honestly didn’t know what to expect my first day. As it happened, I got a variety of different reactions. Some people simply settled for muttering behind my back. When I got out of the car and bade my father goodbye that day, I was immediately aware of intensified murmurings from the kind of people who normally kept well out of my way. There were stares as well, as was natural I suppose. Not nearly as many as I expected. As I turned the corner toward my locker, there was a trio of boys hanging around the hall, only one of whom I knew (and I was not exactly on friendly basis with him). I noticed one of them, whom I’d never even seen before in my life, eying me as if to say, “Are you insane?” I made brief eye contact and raised my eyebrows slightly, as if to say, “If I am, I’m proud of it.”
The rest of the day passed in similar fashion, different people reacting in different ways. On the way to my English class, I greeted my friend in the hallway. She hesitated slightly at saying my name, as if not quite sure who I was. I grinned and shrugged, then moved on. In my English class, my friend who enjoyed tapping me on the head, this time, tapped me on the hand.
“I’m scared to tap your head,” she confessed with a guilty smile.
“You don’t have to be,” I said, holding back laughter. “It’s just cloth, you know.”
“Oh!” she said, looking impressed. She touched it. “Are you going to wear it every day?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I replied nonchalantly.
“Cool! Does it come in different colors?”
It was clear some people missed the general idea. Another instance, with almost amusing behavior, was at lunch. One of the boys at my lunch table sat down, looked at me, and said knowingly, “Classic Arabian.”
“Er, not exactly,” I replied, beginning to feel amused. “I’m not actually Arabian, y’know. I’m Pakistani.”
He looked slightly confused. “Classic Pakistani?” he guessed.
I forced myself not to laugh. “Not really. I’m a Muslim, see.” And that was that.
These two weren’t the only ones not to understand of course. In French class, a girl came up to me and questioned -in what appeared to be a completely serious manner- if I’d shaved my head. Almost everyone told me smugly, “No hats in school”, to which I replied cheerfully, “Except for religious purposes.” More people seemed to think I was wearing the hijab for cultural purposes. When they learned I wasn’t Arabian, they were most confused. Some people, like one of my Catholic best friends, simply could not understand what would happen if I took it off.
“So, is it bad luck?” she asked after I’d explained to her why I was wearing it.
“No, you’re just not allowed to show your hair in public….or any part of your body, really,” I replied.
“Oh..but what happens if you do?”
“Nothing, I guess.” I said carefully, “it’s just…it’s a requirement, you have to wear it. It’s a sin not to.”
“Oh..so is it bad luck?”
(This interrogation on her behalf went on for the rest of the week.)
Generally, people seemed to think it was “cool” that I was so religious. However, there was some negative feedback. The second day I came in, one of my friends expressed some regret that I wasn’t showing my hair. I gently explained why I was doing it, and she’d respected my decision to which I was grateful and happy for. However, there were people who weren’t at all respectful of my decision. No one came right out and said anything bad, but I could tell what was going through their heads. Some of the questions of “Why are you wearing that?” or “What’s on your head?” had a delicately snide edge to them. This truly bothered me. After I’d been asked for the thousandth time by someone I had sensed was just doing it to get an irate reaction out of me, my patience had definitely been worn thin. I didn’t explode, miraculously enough. I held myself together. If anyone asked in a manner that I could tell was snide, I would simply answer, “Because. I’m a Muslim.” They may have questioned me further, in a way that was definitely not harmless curiosity, but I would simply ignore them. Some more people looked at me like perhaps I was crazy, or in a way that indicated disgust. I learned to ignore them. Still more people felt sorry for me in a way that truly bothered me. Strangely enough, most of the people who fell into this category were my friends. A soft spoken girl in my gym class, who I was on semi-regular terms with, suggested that I take it off because of the heat. I responded like I did to everyone: with the truth. “No, I do not feel hot.” And amazingly enough I never felt hot at all, which I concluded to be more of God watching over me.
The response to my wearing a hijab was pretty much to be expected. There were people who were impressed, people who weren’t, people who sympathized, people who looked disgusted, and people who thought it was humorous to question me again and again. And some days, as I said, I really did get tired of it. But if I got even the inkling of regret, it would wash away quickly. Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) watched over me, he protected me. And my advice, to any girl who can’t quite make up her mind to wear hijab: go through with it. God will protect you. And in the end of the day, you’ll feel wonderful about your decision. I speak from experience!