Unlabeled

by jdeena

I have been away for a while….so sorry! My break from school has been filled with work, holiday gatherings, work, a snowpocalypse, and more work. So glad to be able to have a chance to sit and just BREATHE.

Today’s topic is one I deal with regularly with the guys in my culture. It seems that as a girl who wears hijab (a hijabi, if you will), guys view us differently than Muslim girls who do not wear it. Hmmm. Ok. This can be good or bad. I have had a lot of guys that I’ve met over the years tell me that I’m the first hijabi they’ve talked to or hung out with, and they are uncomfortable at first. Then they realize that- gasp!- I’m an actual PERSON underneath the hijab and they forget all the discomfort. But here is what I don’t get: WHY do guys feel that way? Why is it that hijabis are seen differently and therefore are unapproachable?

Well, I asked a guy recently that same question when he admitted that he wasn’t being himself in our conversations because I was a hijabi and there were “limits” to what we could discuss. I met this guy a couple months ago and we’ve been getting to know each other slowly. He lives in Canada and so we usually text more than anything. The other day we were texting back and forth and at one point the conversation stalled. I asked him what the problem was and he said that since I was a hijabi he couldn’t say what was on his mind.

Is it wrong that I felt offended? In his defense, he said that he was taught that hijabis are more devout and so he had to be reserved around them. His whole life, that was what he was told and so he grew up with that mentality. He didn’t feel uncomfortable talking to me overall, but just couldn’t be his complete self. So I told him that I was not offended by much and to be open with me, as this is the only way we can move forward. It took some convincing but he finally opened up.

Yet after our conversation ended, I stayed up thinking about what he said. How hijabis are more devout. And while you can argue that wearing a scarf is a big, public step in announcing your faith, it needs to be said that how devout a person may or may not be is not determined by a piece of cloth covering their hair. I was offended initially by his comment- not because of his generalization about me- but because he categorized all non-hijabis as being less devout by process of elimination. And that upset me because I know many women who do not cover and are actually more devout than I am.

So again, what is it with the image of hijabis always being tied into the perfect image of a Muslim woman? It is so unfair to place that burden on someone. We are all human, and we all make mistakes. To label a woman more devout because she wears hijab will automatically make her seem like a terrible person if she- God forbid!- makes a mistake once in a while. Wearing hijab does not give room for assumptions, such as we are less fun, deserve more respect than a non-hijabi, or that we are unapproachable. I am Jinan. I am a Muslim American woman who happens to wear hijab. At this point in my life, it is NOT for religious reasons. I started wearing it for that purpose, but over the years it has evolved into a part of my identity. It is who I am.

Put me next to one of my many friends who do not wear hijab, and you will see no personality differences. In fact, I am a lot more outgoing and risky than my non-hijabi friends. It’s just ME. Wearing the hijab does not mean that I need to fit myself into a mold so that everyone else is comfortable. I used to think that a long time ago which is why I was always conflicted about who I was. The beauty of our religion is that it allows us to be individuals and God sees our faith within our hearts. We don’t have to prove it to anyone else but Him.

So, the next time you see a hijabi, please don’t treat her like a leper. We are not less of a person because we cover, nor are we MORE of a person. We are just like everyone else in this world; trying to find a way to be ourselves amidst a society set on labels.

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