Monday, February 25, 2008

Confessions of a Hijabi trying to beat her Quadrapop score.

I am on the subway, head lowered staring intently at my cell phone screen (I am attempting to beat my already ridiculously high score on Quadrapop - akin to tetris). My mind is completely engrossed in perplexing thoughts of which piece to place where when I briefly lose focus and suffer those heart breaking words: Game Over. Sigh, well there's always tomorrow on the bus.

I glance up to survey my surroundings, and find about 4 to 5 people looking at me, some are confused, some belligerent (these are more rare), and some staring blankly as though to signal I am simply the most interesting entity on the subway car. I am suddenly annoyed, even angry that they should stare so freely and without shame at me while I'm just trying to get from one place to another in the city, just like them.

My reactions vary. Sometimes I stare back long enough for them to abashedly look away and pretend not to have been discomfited with my gaze. Sometimes I smile at them, making them either smile back (this is rare), or just tug their lips in awkward angles, their facial expression denoting confusion.

And some days I'm just tired, and I end up looking away first, dejected at not being able to make their stomachs churn or eyelids nervously flutter. Yes, I will admit to the joy of making people step back for a moment and realize that I'm a human being with a small sense of humour, too. Sometimes I tell men I won't shake their hands just to see the look of mild bewilderment on their faces (another secret pleasure).

And you can't blame me. People have their ignorant fun with me (like random strangers asking, "do you speak English?" as a prelude to "do you have the time?") Because heaven forbid I give them the incorrect time due to the fact that I am English impaired.

Another one of my favourites is in the summer when people ask "aren't you hot in that?" I promptly reply "yes, but I'm from the desert. All I know how to be is hot." I was asked that by my employer once in September and this reply made her step back a moment and laugh. Needless to say, she never asked again (success!)

Now some will say this may not be the greatest way to reach out to non-Muslims and come to common understandings and such. But try looking different for your entire life, and constantly being reminded that you are not like us. It's stressful knowing that no matter what you achieve, or how much education you have, some people will always view you through a lens of pity as a common religiously deluded girl. That makes me sad.

This is all I've known: being pushed into the world looking and feeling unlike coworkers, classmates, and the general public. And I won't lie, sometimes I wonder what it would be like to just blend in for one day, to breathe a sigh of relief that your guard can actually be let down for a moment.

But it has never come to that because without hijab, I am the same as everyone else. I'd be drowning in a sea of sameness. And that, more than being misunderstood or scoffed at, I cannot bear.

Plus, it's too damn fun to mess with people. (If any others would like to share their reactions and/or responses to questions they get about hijab, go for it!)


Khalidah said...

I was just thinking today how hard it is sometimes to maintain the courage to be different. As hijaabis, we face the pressures of our capitalist culture that preaches to us that being 'sexy' is the highest ideal for a woman, and the political culture that is antagonistic to Islam. I thought about what it might feel like to just let go, to just be 'normal'...and then I prayed to Allah to give us all the strength to continue to be brave enough to be different.

Anonymous said...

Assalamu alaikom,
Sometimes middle aged or older men have given me really intimidating stares, which actually make me nervous. But I make myself as icy cold and hard looking as possible and glare right back at them. My friends tell me I shouldn't, because we are spokespeople for Islam (we hijabis) and it won't do to have me glaring at people, but I only do it to this group of men who are trying to intimidate me... The women, I give them my sweetest smile and try to put a content, satisfied look on my face so it will make them wonder why I am so happy with my life.

Anonymous said...

wearing hijab is so fraught with drama sometimes - it's fun.
"But it has never come to that because without hijab, I am the same as everyone else. I'd be drowning in a sea of sameness. And that, more than being misunderstood or scoffed at, I cannot bear." Too true.
and as for stories, we need to collect these and anthologize them as a set of humorous essays. hmmm, new funny blog idea, anyone?
- commonplacer

Anonymous said...

I wear hijab. I've had some mad stories while I have. I like wearing it, I was asked to by my parents. I'd say forced, but at the end of the day even if that's what it was, I'm still wearing it 4 years later. That, I suppose, is what is making me feel like taking it off more and more, recently.

It's funny.. cos I'm beginning to think if something so small as a piece of material causes such a stir - at the end, when the things people wear won't matter, and the shoes and the colour of your material flowing round our heads, or the diesel jeans, or the nice perfume, or the pretty dresses, at the end of the day when none of that matters, ultimately the only thing that DOES matter is the state of the relationship you have between yourself and Allah. What matters is your heart, and its purity. Not what or how you dress.. I'm beginning to feel more and more that since Islam is so attacked, people almost feel impelled to make even more of a stand by wearing things that obviously cause a reaction.

I have alot to learn, but I feel very trapped recently. I haven't always felt this way, and not only that but I've felt quite vulnerable at times while I've worn my hijab. I've felt like it makes me feel unneccesarily awkward, especially living in London. Men have chased me home, men have followed me, and men continue to stare. It wouldn't matter if I wore hijab or not, and sometimes I think they'd stare less if I didn't wear it. Which kinda defeats the purpose of dressing in such a way so as to not draw attention to yourself.

See the issue? The colour of your heart can't be shown through the colour of your hijab, which is ultimately just a symbol that only creates reaction from the society and people around you, just as a long beard is, just as a cross round your neck is, just as a goth punk is. I don't really get it anymore, and although I love wearing my hijab, I question it more and more, when I think of the way the world is at the moment. I flinch when I see veiled figures in wandering around London. I actually say out loud, Pleease take it off.. it's not neccessary.. It even makes me angry. Wearing a scarf round your head is one thing, just like wearing a hat or a hoody or a cross round your neck - but dressing in such a way in a society that is openly angry about such things is silly to me.

Don't get me wrong, I feel a real part of something by wearing hijab, I feel I've been guided only positively since I've worn it, but at the end of the day, it's just hair dude. Who are the people around you to judge whether you're sincere or not?

Reply to me hijabis, I need some kind of confirmation/response/just another opinion..

I love your blog, it's so interesting. I only discovered it recently, but its fabulous.

-nala. xxx

Asmaa said...

Khalidah, ameen. It is difficult to be different. But at the same time it enriches us as individuals and a community.

Anon, hehe icy glares. I like it. I think it all depends on how the person is reacting to you. Some people are just curious, in which case, I wouldn't be mean like I wrote in my post :P but I think we can tell when someone is trying to intimidate us. In which case, go for the icy stare!

Commonplacer, I think you should go for that blog idea! hehe

anon #2, you're right. That piece of cloth doesn't determine whether or not you're pious. But it certainly colours your every day with small interesting experiences. And it also makes you look at yourself in a different way.

I think at the end it's not about it being "just hair." I mean, sometimes people have horrible hair and are more attractive WITH hijab, haha. But really, it's about your reasons for wearing it, and how it changes the way you interact with yourself and God.

Syra said...

"aren't you hot in that?" I promptly reply "yes, but I'm from the desert. All I know how to be is hot."

that was too good. =) (Y)
I'll keep it in mind ;)

I came across these 21 heartening points on how to become close to Allah. Posting a relevant point here:

"When people criticize your actions and effort, revise your actions and see if they please Allah or not. If they do; then ignore and remember how the Holy Prophet (Sall Allaho alaihe wasallam) and the Sahabah (Radhi Allaho anhum) were criticized, made fun of and even physically harmed, so have patience."

more points on the link below

May Allah give you patience and make hijab easy for you and for all the sisters. Ameen =)