On Display

by jdeena

I was off work today, so I was out and about on this gorgeous but windy day running errands. I stopped by Walgreens (sorry, Jeebah, no CVS here) and two old ladies were walking out. The one was walking fine, but the other one was using a cane and had trouble walking especially with the wind blowing so hard so I hurried over to help her get to her car. She smiled at me and joked that we would both get blown away by the wind and after she was safely inside her car she thanked me for helping her out. I walked into the store and the girl who works there commented on the wind and how nice it was of me to walk the old lady to her car. I smiled and went to go grab what I came in for, and then proceeded to check out.

The woman who checked me out made small talk as she rang up my items and then she said “Can I ask you a personal question?” Now, anytime someone says that I expect a question about where I come from or why I wear the hijab. But she said “You seem to be a modern Muslim woman from the way you dress and you are very approachable, but why aren’t all Muslim women as friendly as you are?”

It’s a simple enough question. This employee saw my random act of kindness and automatically associated it with my religion because I wear hijab. Truth is, we are all human, and so our natures differ. Just like there are ignorant and uncaring white, black, Hispanic, and Asian people, Arabs and Muslims fall into the same category. The difference is that after 9-11, we have had to be extra cautious of what we do and where we go because our looks have defined the type of person we are supposed to be.

Some days I want my road rage to get the best of me, but as a hijabi, I am aware that I am always on display so I try to be on my best behavior. It is definitely not fun to have to watch everything I do every day for fear of being categorized as one of the aggressive terrorists that people think we are, but in a way it also helps me realize what an honor and privilege it is to wear the hijab. Every day when I step into this world, people are looking at me as a real, live example of an American Muslim. From the way I dress, to how I speak, to what I do- my whole being is watched and scrutinized. Anything I do out of my free will that would normally be natural to me may be construed as a bad “Muslim” trait, and so I watch myself and try to give the best example possible. I smile at people walking by, I answer questions without frustration (even though some people can be very ignorant), and I try as much as I can to balance the perception and reality.

I know it’s not easy being  Muslim after 9-11, especially for the hijabis. We are out there, and in one glance people can automatically stereotype us and we have to spend the rest of the time after that trying to dispel that stereotype. It isn’t fair that we are judged by how we look, especially since the hijab is meant to represent the opposite. We want people to look at us for who we are, not what we look like while respecting our bodies and showing modesty and humility. I give us props! That is a lot to carry on our backs, especially for you young ones out there. Trying to balance who we want to be while maintaining the image that we were molded into is tough, but as hijabis we knew the minute we wore the hijab it was not going to be easy. It is a huge responsibility, and I don’t think that any girl should wear it without realizing how much weight it carries.

Every day I wake up and put on my hijab and prepare myself for the day ahead. I know there will be moments where I wish I didn’t wear it, moments when I want to do something but won’t for fear of being judged, and moments where I will have taught someone something about hijab simply by just wearing it and being myself. And it is those moments, though few, that give me the strength to step out onto the stage in what we call life, not caring who sees me on display.