The Muslim Women of Maryland invited my group, Sisterhood of Unity and Love (SOUL), along with the female student body of the University of Maryland to wear a hijab or headscarf for a day. Their focus was to relieve the misconstrued beliefs that people may have about being of the Islamic faith and fully understanding the choice that Muslim women make to wear the hijab. Remember that “choice” is the keyword here.
I looked through my email the night before and saw that this event was offered. Of course, I saw this as an opportunity to try something new. I looked at Youtube videos, to see how this thing would fit and stay on top of my head. I grabbed my favourite scarf, cut up some leggings and a handful of pins. I can’t imagine going through that every morning. I would have to say that this was my first appreciation that I noted. I posted a photo and wanted to see what kind of reactions I would get. Knowing that everyone knew who I was online, from friends to family, I got more positive responses than I had anticipated. Some of them had stated how beautiful I looked and were proud of what I was doing. Others took the liberty to crack some stereotypical jokes, which I took no offence with and charged it to them being comfortable with me enough to say those things. Like the bean pie joke? Hell, I’m the wrong person to speak against any dehumanizing joke. Common sense would tell you, you would never say those things to a real Muslim right?
However, it is a common misconception to think everyone has common sense. So it made me think about how many Muslims go through degradation and ridicule in America? Especially post 9/11? I believe what struck me the most was my cousin. I love my cousin, he knows that but what he said first stung a little then confused me. He stated, “Go learn that lesson then take it off ASAP. And make sure they ain’t teaching you how to wrap explosives in that head wrap”. If this was anybody else, I would have been on their ass! So I just asked if it was a joke and assured him that everything being done was of good merit. He replied that it was a joke but he had a friend that was blown up by a Muslim woman who had a bomb under her garments. I didn’t know how to feel or think. How could you convince someone that that terrible act was not Islam? Or tell that to the child who lost their father on 9/11? I know he knows that, but for anyone else, how could I convince them, especially when I don’t practice this religion? As my cousin stated, “there is good and bad in every religious community”. So it boggled me for a moment.
It was time to step foot out the door and my first stop was my boyfriend’s job. He had forgotten his cell phone at home, so I decided to bring it to him so I could keep tabs on him like any great and wonderful girlfriend would do. As soon as I went to the security desk, the guard treated me as normal and led me in the right direction where I met the secretary. Sweet old lady, she called me ma’am and again treated me with respect. Then when I said who the phone was for, she had to pause before saying okay.
Now the disclaimer: I am merely just stating the actions and reactions that I received, no speculation and I am not reading into it any further than what I saw “just the facts ma’am” kind of thing. Now I will say this, the look on her face was priceless and I wanted to laugh really hard. Just the thoughts running through her head I can only imagine. If it was me, I would have been like, what does this Muslim chick have to do with a Spanish dude? How does that work? For those of you who don’t know, my boyfriend has a very Hispanic name, like I can plant your garden and have 5 jobs kind of name. So seeing her reaction was funny to me.
I then left to go shopping and everything proceeded as normal. I am used to dressing up a certain way that gives me attention. Whether or not my face or hair is done, I get the attention of guys looking at me or hollering at me for my attention. The only attention I received on this day, however, was from the women surprisingly, asking with a friendly stare whether I needed help or striking a small conversation here and there. They were very courteous and respectful. I then went to ShopRite, looking for a few things and trying to avoid the pork products lol. Just the thought of someone looking at me picking up a pack of bacon made me feel on edge for a bit. One incident that stood out, (and again I am not going to read too much into it; just stating the facts) happened when I was waiting to cross the street to get to my car along with another person standing beside me. A car had stopped for us to cross. The person to my side had a 5 ft lead but as I was walking, they skid their tires pass me. You can draw your own opinions from that.
After that I just decided to go home and reflect on the day, waiting on the time to meet up with the rest of the people that participated. Alone with my thoughts, I began to wonder how easy it was that I didn’t have to worry about my hair, my makeup, judgments from other jealous women (yes I said it, what?). I felt like a burden had been lifted, that I did not have to worry about upholding an image, a façade. I was really enjoying it yet I still did not understand what it meant to wear this.
Later at the dinner, I was overwhelmed by how many people that showed up. There were 90 girls that participated in the event and a handful of guys too! That was most impressive. Hearing their stories and backgrounds just filled my soul with inspiration. It wasn’t just white American women giving this a try; there were young women who were from Blacks to Asians to Iranians themselves. I feel bad because I did not get their names but the few stories that stuck to me gave me a sense of true purpose. One of the girls was from the Muslim faith and that was the first time in a long time that she wore the hijab since 9/11. She used to be teased to the point that students would yank the hijab off her head and even once threw it in the toilet. There was also a young Korean Japanese-American gentleman who decided to wear a coofie. Along with that responsibility, he couldn’t look at women with lust, it was then that he realized “how much of a creep” he was. (his words not mine). There were women from an Islamic and Christian family that decided to wear the hijab. Just so much different experiences I wish I could write about them all.
Then I was privileged to speak with our guest, the Honorable Judge Zakia Mahasa of Baltimore. She was appointed the first Muslim female judge to preside over an American court. She stayed true to herself and wore the hijab to work every day no matter what people thought of her. She even consulted women of every profession who wanted to wear the hijab but were too embarrassed to wear one to an interview because they thought they wouldn’t be able to get a job.
Wearing the hijab means many things, but above all, modesty. In a video we watched, the question came up; “What does modesty mean?” It literally means to be free from vanity. Freedom, so that one can focus on the task at hand and more important issues other than yourself. Moreover, not only women but men as well are guilty of this. We sit there and gawk at reality shows, magazines, music videos of unrealistic images of what is socially deemed as beautiful and this is what moves and drives us as a country. Really think about that for a second. But another most intriguing question that was posed in the video was “If the whole world was blind, how many people would you impress?”
Franchesca Benzant is a writer turned cybersecurity technologist turned writer (again). She is seeking freedom from the 9 to 5 through words.