Writer’s Note: The “hijab” is a headscarf worn by some Muslim women throughout the world as a symbol of modesty. In this piece, I offer a perspective on the hijab that is void of a religious point of view. Hope you enjoy!- Naima
Ask Me About My Hijab
People ask me questions about my hijab all the time. “Why don’t you wear your hair out?” “Does it get hot in the summertime?” “Why do you wear it, but your sister doesn’t?” I appreciate when others ask me about my religious practices and beliefs, and I would like to encourage you to do the same. I live in a very diverse environment and attend one of the most culturally inclusive schools in the county. Meeting members of the community whose cultural and religious practices differ from my own is something I have always appreciated. With this post, I want to talk about what the hijab means to me in a way that is as void of a religious perspective as possible.
Think of anything you are deeply committed to, whether it’s a sport, academic club, or hobby. For instance, I am passionate about the sport of running; to stop running would be to stop enjoying life in one of the best ways I know possible. Even though I would rather go home and take a nap on some days than go to practice, the satisfaction of completing a workout is greater than the feeling of getting some rest. In other words, overcoming obstacles is far more powerful than the obstacle itself, from fatigue and muscle soreness to mental exhaustion. Similarly, wearing the hijab represents something greater to me than just wearing a scarf on my head. It is a symbol of my devotion to all my values, religious and moral. It represents my ability to be resilient even in the face of adversities. It is the way that I have defined myself for four years during which I’ve undergone a great deal of personal growth. It has taught me that being patient throughout low points in life is more rewarding than giving in to social or political pressure.
As a woman who proudly wears the hijab, I understand that not everyone will agree with my perspective. That’s fine. I’m not asking you to agree. All I’m asking is for you to expose yourself to a new point of view. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, so inevitably, you are going to encounter Muslims, but more importantly, you are going to meet people who are different from you.
Wearing the hijab expresses my desire to be judged not on my external appearance, but on my character and intellect. As mentioned earlier, I’m often asked, “Why don’t you wear your hair out?” I’ll be completely open and honest with you. I love the way my hair looks, every strand of it. But my commitment to my religious and moral values is more important to me than my appearance. My teachers, peers, and other members of my community used to describe me based on how I look. Now, they describe me based on the quality of my character. “Naima is intelligent,” they’ll say, or, “Naima is mature.” I want to be remembered and valued for who I am, not what I look like.
It’s clear that the media and clothing manufacturers don’t entirely agree with my opinion. Before I delve any deeper into this subject, I want to remind you that I strive to honor diverse perspectives. Let me ask you this: when viewing advertisements that depict women in revealing clothing, do you wonder what those women are like? Their career aspirations, their values, who they are? It seems that we reduce these figures to no more than beautiful bodies behind a T.V. screen. I know that it may sound shallow to judge others based on what they are wearing or what they look like, but it is an innate and subconscious tendency. It simply makes us human. You wouldn’t get hired if you went to an interview in your pajamas. I want to make it clear that I do not look down on those who dress less conservatively than I do. I just want to inform you that although the hijab may distinguish me from my peers, I am still able to connect with those who dress in various fashions, follow different belief systems, and come from unique cultural backgrounds.
The hijab has instilled the value of coexistence within me. I work with students of various nationalities and faiths in my school’s writing center, run alongside a diverse group of students on my cross-country and track teams, and befriend people of various cultural backgrounds. My headscarf is a reminder to me that no matter how “different,” I may seem, I am able to coexist with those whose religious beliefs don’t align with my own. We put our differences aside so that we can find a way to connect with each other on a personal level. And that has to be one of the most valuable aspects of being part of such a diverse community. We close cultural, religious, and social divides by choosing to coexist, to accept one another regardless of our differences.
Recently, I was filled with nostalgia while looking at a picture of me and my teammates. As my eyes peered from left to right, I took the time to acknowledge what a diverse group I partake of. In the photo, five members of the team are giving someone a piggy-back ride, including myself. The girl that I’m carrying on my back is part Caucasian and part Japanese. The others are either Italian, French, German, or Mexican. Spending several moments viewing the image, I noticed that my teammates and I are physically supporting each other, despite our differences. Once again, we coexist, just as we have during countless cross-country meets, long bus rides on the way home from races, and even today.
So go on. Ask me about my hijab. Ask me why I would never remove it from a part of myself. But keep in mind that there is so much more to someone than their external appearance or clothing. Learn to value and honor other points of view and understand that exposing yourself to different perspectives doesn’t necessarily mean you have to adopt them.