Proud to be a Hijabi

 

“Hey, I wanted to ask you something for a long time. Are you Rezwana from Grade 10 English class?” Priya asked me as I was going to the French office after first period.


It was the second semester of Grade 11 and I hadn’t seen Priya since summer. She was one of my closest friends in Grade 10 when she sat beside me in English class.


“Of course it’s me Priya, I don’t know how you forgot about me so easily but I still remember you,” I smiled.


“Honestly, I didn’t recognize you at all. I guess it’s because of that hijab. I swear you look really different,” she said laughing.


Priya’s not my only friend who didn’t recognize me after I started wearing my hijab last summer when I turned 16.


To me, my hijab’s not just a piece of cloth that covers my hair. It’s the most visible symbol of being a Muslim. One of the reasons Muslim women wear the hijab is to protect them from unwanted attention from men.


And it was my choice to wear one.


It bothers me that people think I’m different, now that I wear a hijab. Yes, it changes my appearance a little – it covers my hair and makes me look like I’m 12 instead of 17.


But caring more about my appearance than my culture would disrespect the honour of wearing it.


So when my friends didn’t recognize me, and made absurd labels like “one of the hijabis,” I really felt hurt.


For example, last December, my friends and I gathered around the sign up sheet for an upcoming annual talent show in our community centre. We usually did the performances together, but this time it was different.


I was at the back of the line, and when my friends were nearly done signing up, a friend asked me, “Rez, you’re not going to do any more performances right? ‘Specially now that you’re one of the hijabis.”


A roar of laughter followed her comment. It was discouraging and disappointing, especially because I wanted to participate in the show.


There are stereotypes of hijabis being nerds and asocial people, but wearing a hijab doesn’t forbid me from having fun and neither does it change my hobbies.


Unfortunately, I care about what people say to me and I am a sensitive person. So I didn’t perform because I didn’t want to risk more comments like that.


People treated me differently after I started wearing my hijab, even though I was still friendly, fun loving and enthusiastic. And I didn’t understand the label of “one of the hijabis - what did it mean exactly?


Even though my friends seemed to think I’d changed, I tried to be cheerful and assure myself I’d get over this feeling. But, every day, I felt worse.


Surprisingly my friend circle was narrowing down to only Muslims. I didn’t have enough courage to participate in sports or extracurricular activities. I was afraid people would make more bizarre comments about me and I would feel left out.


Finally, I told my mom about my feelings.


She said I should try to see the positive in the situation. I should confront my friends and tell them their assumptions aren’t true. And, she asked me, what’s wrong with looking different?


“Don’t you think you should have more confidence in your self? Being a hijabi is something you should be proud of. If that’s what some people want to call you, then let them. Try to be more optimistic. Take things lightly instead of getting offended.”


She was right. She made me realize I shouldn’t underestimate myself and I became more confident of my appearance.


I didn’t need to confront anyone, but if anyone asked me about my hijab, I would explain why I wear it. Otherwise, I decided it was no big deal. In fact, seeing me wear the hijab with pride, inspired some of my friends to wear it too.


Later on, a few of my other friends who wore hijabs organized a Muslim Students’ Association committee. They arrange the Jumma prayers every Friday after school, arrange guest speakers to give speeches on Islam, plan Eid parties and organize weekly video shows.


They answer questions and explain concerns about Islam. As an active member, it feels good to reach out to other teens and discuss our religious concerns and love towards Allah


When school sports started, I joined the soccer and tennis teams. My hijab didn’t get in the way. A lot of Muslim people play on our soccer team and the players greet me happily. The tennis group showed me some helpful tricks and encouraged me all the way. The heavy tennis rackets gave me more trouble than anything else.


The best thing is no one calls me a hijabi anymore. It’s a meaningless label that made me doubt my decision to wear the symbol of my faith and modesty.


Though it was hard sticking to my beliefs, the experience has proven to me that wearing my hijab and tuning out people’s negativity made me feel dignified and so I shall continue to wear it with pride.

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