Welcome to my blog!

This blog is an honest look at what life is like for this particular American convert to Islam. We're taught in Islam to cover our sins, to not air them, for fear of lessening the severity of sinning. In this blog, I may relate past indiscretions from time to time. This isn't to make light of them, but in the interest of educating Muslims and non-Muslims alike as to the realities of life as an American convert, I present my mistakes honestly. I make no excuses for them, nor do I claim that they were okay to make. I am not perfect, and I make no pretenses as to that. If others can learn from my past, know that Islam, and religion in general, is open for people no matter what mistakes they've made, then I will gladly air my sins when needed.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The trials and tribulations of an American hijabi

My Jezebel friend Effie definitely helped me out with this one, so she gets co-server credit!

What, another post about Muslim women wearing hijab? I've already talked about it here, here, here, and most heart-wrenchingly (trust me, my heart was wrenched as I wrote it), here.

I've talked about my problems with loved ones not being able to come to terms with my hijab (which I believe has since happened, as there haven't been any more confrontations or talk about it from either of us), about how special and secure and comfortable hijab makes me feel, about how it's helped me to spread awareness about Islam, about how people automatically think I'm not American because of it, and about how I love that hijab makes me visibly Muslim.

But there's another side to this, a far more frustrating side, and that's what I want to discuss candidly here: how difficult it is to be a visibly Muslim woman in America.

First off, being visibly Muslim, and visibly female and Muslim (not that I had a choice with the girl genes), is something that I chose to be, and something that I do not want to not be. The thought of having to take my hijab off in public makes me sick to my stomach. Hijab is something that I chose for myself, over the protestations of some friends, some family members, and a lot of strangers.

I love wearing hijab and being visibly Muslim.

But. It. Is. Hard.

A lot of non-covering Muslim women, a majority of Muslim men, and the vast majority of non-Muslims who don't see covering any part of themselves as a religious obligation don't understand how frustrating, how difficult, it is to be, quite often, the only visible Muslim that people come in contact with. Hijabis are subjected to invasive, personal questions from complete strangers, our private lives and beliefs are suddenly part of the public discourse, and our privacy takes an abrupt back seat to a stranger's curiosity.

All of this. Every day. Over and over and over again. God grant us all patience, but dear God, it gets really old, really fast. And the kicker is, we Muslim women can't really do anything about it, because as possibly the only Muslims these strangers will ever meet, we have a duty to always be on our best behaviour, to show everyone our best face. If I'm abrupt with someone because I'm having a bad day, it will get blamed on Islam. "That Muslim at the store was rude to me," rather than "Some lady snapped at me today." And it's the "Muslim" part that people will remember and comment on.

And so I want to talk about this issue, about how being so visibly Muslim makes - forces - me to have to try to be the perfect model of a Muslim. Muslim women take the brunt of people's attacks. We are forced to endure invasive questions. We can rarely fight back without Islam being perceived as bad.

But who do we let off steam to? If I tell a friend or family member about all of this, all I'll get is, "Well, why don't you take it off if it's that much of a hassle?" Or even, "You invite those sorts of questions when you wear the scarf."

But it's not just people asking questions, and it's not just me whining. It gets to the point of honest-to-God verbal harassment, if not abuse. When a customer asks me if I can have sex, and then tells me it's too bad I can't because sex is awesome, that's harassment. When I'm asked at work, in a position of subordination to my customers, if I converted because I got married, or when a customer reaches out to touch me after I've asked them not to and explained that it's a religious thing, that's harassment. That's someone using their position of authority over me ("the customer is always right," remember?) in order to ask invasive, personal questions, in order to put their hands on me when it's entirely inappropriate to touch me. These are questions and actions that should not be happening, and most of all, I should not be blamed for people using my attire as an excuse to be rude.

Thank God that most of the anger over Islam and Muslims and Muslim women is anger I face online, and not in person. But for a lot of covering Muslim women, people feel free to express their anger at us being employed, being covered, and being Muslim (and sometimes, for us being all of these and a "Western" woman to boot) to our faces. We get yelled at. We get argued with. We get pulled into angry debates just because we're there, we exist. Sometimes, we get physically assaulted.

I am a feminist. I'm for the equality of women to men. I'm for equality and equity between the genders, all of them. I'm for equal rights to education, health, relationships, and religions for all people. But, while it's a role I (mostly) cherish, it is often infuriating to have to constantly portray the image of a positive, upbeat, and unflappable Muslim woman living in the West, being both Western and Muslim (because seriously, there can't be a contradiction between a religious affiliation and a geographical location; there just can't be, that's comparing apples and pulsars, it is).

Muslim men, uncovered Muslim women, I love you for the sake of God and I hope that I never, ever feel superior to anyone because of how I dress, believe, or behave. But you, especially my brothers in Islam, don't know. You can shave your beards. You can take off your kufis. You can wear jeans and t-shirts. And for some of you, you can put on a cowboy hat and cowboy boots and people will think you're Mexican. You can pass as non-Muslim.

At the risk of sounding whiny, I can't do that. I am always in the spotlight, no matter what I do. I can't not colour people's perceptions of Islam and Muslims, no matter how right or wrong it is to do that. People will approach the woman in a headscarf before they approach you. People, men and women alike, will ask me about my sex life, tell me that I need to "show [my body] off" before they talk to you, unless you tell them that you're Muslim. Because I can't help but look the part, and you don't have to.

Now, people will and do come back at me when I mention any of this. It's a test, a trial, God rewards hardships, blah blah blah. That's cheap talk. I know full well that God rewards us for going through hardships. But that doesn't mean that we have to go through hardships. It doesn't mean we have to seek them out. It doesn't mean we have to tolerate them. It doesn't mean we have to enjoy them. And it. Gets. Old. Really quickly. Especially when one's job is suddenly on the line for it. For the record, I've lost my job as a waitress because of customer lies and exaggerations, which I believe were religiously motivated but I can't prove.

God rewards us for going through hardships for His sake. That's fine to tell someone, but that's how people leave it. I've heard that so many times, but what I don't hear is what to do next. I'll put my faith in God, but what do I do to combat the stares and the questions? What other practical steps do I take? Other than trusting in God, what mortal support do I have?

Oftentimes, I don't feel like I have any. If a friend of the family whose stepfather is serving another tour in Iraq feels uncomfortable with me wearing hijab and my Mom asks me to take it off for the party, I have some people tell me, "Well, she's 16, she's old enough to get over it." And this from another convert, to boot. But that's not practical advice. Practical advice might have been, "Try calling her and discussing it with her." Or, "wrap it so you can wear a cowboy hat and see how things go." Both of which I ended up doing after hours of worrying about it, with very little real help.

Thank God that situation worked out well, but my point is, being a hijabi in America is difficult and we, at least we converts who don't have the support of a Muslim family and those hijabis who have Muslim family who don't support them wearing hijab, don't seem to have a how-to guide for navigating this all.

I really wish we did.

Again, Effie has been your co-server this posting. Thank you for reading!


  1. Aww! You didn't have to give me credit! Thank you for letting me vent to you and for venting back at me. (also, my blog is sucktastic because I started it with great intentions and then got a job and never followed through, but I don't have any other accounts I can use to post a comment here.

    Thanks for articulating this so well and sharing it. It is a blessing to be able to be an ambassador of our faith, but it is also so very, very exhausting. There are only so many times you can answer stupid questions politely before sarcasm starts slipping out (ie, "Oh, do you wear that because you're Muslim?" "No, I'm actually Jewish, and I was missing being everyone's go to scapegoat." or "Muslim men can beat their wives! Does your husband beat you?" "Only in bed and not often enough." I'm sure it doesnt do much for Islam's public image, but the shocked looks on people's faces does WONDERS for my sanity!

  2. Yes, I did, because quite a few of these words are yours, and I'm no plagiarist.

    Also, your blog name is the most amazing thing I've ever read. :D

    I also want to thank YOU for articulating our frustrations so well, and for sharing them. I don't ever want to reinforce the bad without constructive ways to end it, but it is SO nice to KNOW that other people share the same problems that you do. It's nice to have that connection, to know that there are people who understand when no one else does.

    Also, OMG I need to use that last line sometime! :D I can't help but be sarcastic at times. I've a whole post on how sarcastic my replies to people get. :)

  3. This is exactly why I prefer to hide my religious identity in a country with 97% Catholics, vast majority of them perceiving Islam and Muslims in a stereotypical way... I personally feel frustration over one thing, that the people on the streets looking at me, in the first place see a Muslim woman, but they don't see a human being in that Muslim woman. They only see my religion, but they don't see other aspects of my identity or personality. They will be prejudiced and perceive me through the stereotypical view on Islam and Muslims. They will think: She's a Muslim. And they will imagine everything that the people tend to associate with being Muslim in their minds. They will not be likely to think: She's a human being. They will ask me about my life and opinions, then if they find out I am a normal person like everyone else, just practising a different religion, they will tell me that I can't be a good Muslim, if I even can - according to them - if I live as I live, because, they will argue, a ''TRUE'' Muslim hates non-Muslims and if a woman - she must be quiet and submitted to their husbands... ;/- I am so fed up with such situations, I have faced them so many times, that indeed, I find it quite problematic to be visibly Muslim in my own country. I have also suffered a worldly hell of persecution shortly after my conversion many years ago, when I was verbally, emotionally and physically abused by non-Muslims for my religious beliefs and they tried hardly to make my life impossible... I was only 15 years old that time and I was alone, I did not have a support of family or friends, I did not know any Muslims in person at all. The only I could do, was to go through it patiently, without fighting back, receiving humiliation and bad treatment from everyone around me, feeling priviledged for being martyrized alive - but when the oportunity came for me to escape the hell I was living in, I eventually did so and I thanked God for libertaing me from the true oppression...

  4. Then, after some time, I got married which is a different story, but the important thing is that after 4 years of marriage I have returned to my country. After 4 years living in England in a Muslim environment, I came back to Poland I noticed that I am no longer comfortable walking around in hijab here - which was different before, when I was in the high school, living on my own and wearing hijab full time in Poland, I didn't really care about how the people perceive me and I didn't even think of being an 'ambassador of my faith', rather, I was just trying to be an exemplary Muslim - not for the people to see, but for myself and for Allah, first of all - and the rest did not matter at all, because I knew that no matter what I do or say, people will have their own theories on Islam and Muslims. In the best case, they will consider me 'an exception' from 'the rule', if I am a Muslim AND a good human being... But I believe to be a good Muslim, it is essential to first be a good human being, because an evil person can't actually believe sincerely. So, I lived in my sweet innocence for quite a long time. And then, I got married, I got to see the world, I've travelled to Pakistan, France, Spain... I've learnt new languages, I've known new cultures, new mentalities, I understood more of the human nature and I have gained life experience that has taught me more in those last 4 years, than I could have ever learnt in my whole life... And I eventually understood better WHO I AM and WHAT I WANT in this life, WHAT POINT OF VIEW I REPRESENT and I understood my motivations... The things that were unclear to me before, now I can understand and I see that my way of thinking has been defined.

  5. So, I want the world to know me for my values, my personality etc., to see a human being in me - with all its flaws - and although I have never ever thought to stop wearing hijab, I do not really want to stand out in the crowd, I value higher remaining anonymous when I go out on the street. I just want to blend in the crowd and preserve certain personal space in my life... I can be a practising Muslim - fine, but that is not to show off, to make a display, screaming: hey, people! I'm a Muslim! Look at me, for I wear hijab!... - I am not that type of person. I practise Islam for God's sake, not for the people, not to be seen as a Muslim. So, I prefer to practise in secret. Not only for my safety and security, but also to avoid any possible temptations to act out of religious hypocrisy which I despise, because my belief has a strong foundation which I want to cultivate for my own benefit. Not that I'm afraid of loosing it because it would imply a weakness. But I simply want to keep my faith to myself. I feel personal about what I believe in.
    Of course, being a Muslim requires me to wear hijab in public, which I do. I can't even imagine not wearing it. It has become an essential part of me. I would feel naked without it. I do it out of strong conviction. The only thing is to try to wear it in the most discreet manner possible, so that it was not clearly visible that I am wearing it for religious purposes - I would for example, wear a hooded overgarment in winter, so that I could use the hood of my jacket of coat to hide the hijab underneath... As to the clothing, when it's cold, everyone is covered from head to toe, so it is easy to blend in... It is much more difficult in hot weather, especially in summer, when people walk around half-naked, because I will actually stand out, even if I wore a large sunhat on the top of my headscarf and a high neck shirt over the hijab, so at first impression, it wouldn't be so clear that I am wearing religious headgear - but anyway, I would stand out because of long sleeves and flor-sweepping skirts...
    But there is no other way... ;/-

  6. I don't think so hijab is any symbol at all. I don't like when people say it is a religious symbol because it is not a symbol at all. It is merely a religious requirement to cover up, but without any other implications than being modest and not even being religious - because a woman might be modest in her very nature and simply not want to show off her beauties to the world, but it does not yet mean she's religious. I don't know why people tend to associate headscarf wearing Muslim women with being very religious. Almost an ideal of the believer, living strictly in accordance with every single fatwah, no matter where that fatwah comes from - I just don't get it... Because a hijab wearing Muslim woman can simply be an imperfect human being who's trying her best to be a good Muslim - but it doesn't mean she's a saint at all... She doesn't have to be perfect, she can actually be far from perfection - but she might have pure intentions at least... At least, she might be merely a practising Muslim who lives what she professes - but it doesn't mean she is a perfect Muslim just because she wears hijab... This is the point that I would like to stress out, because people often forget about it.
    So, this is my experience while wearing hijab for 8 years now... :-)

    Peace to you and - Eid Mubarak! :-)

    Aisha from Poland ;-)

  7. yak shay mush? (How are U AISHA)? DOBZAY (good)?

    *****Hijaab or no hijaab, main thing is honesty and having heart for others, feel for others, and no cheating in any thing at all-- this the way of life given by Islam. The Quran is a complete code of life covering social, religious, political, economic issues but saying salaat is a little part of worship.
    God bless you with courage and good health and all good things in the worldly life and in the HEREAFTER as well--AAMEEN!

  8. Praise the Lord. I was just watching this and thought of you. Enjoy!


    1. O_O I ... I think that that might be the most beautiful thing I've ever witnessed. I really wish something like that had happened to me while I was waitressing.

  9. BlueHost is ultimately the best web-hosting provider with plans for any hosting needs.