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!
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.