I’ve always thought that being a Hijabi is like walking around with a ginormous billboard on
my head announcing to the world that I’m Muslim. That the piece of fabric on my head is the first thing people notice about me and base their opinions on.
I carry this billboard with pride and try to live up to it, for being Muslim is my first identity and it influences my decisions, thinking and actions on everything I do. Yes I am my own person, but I don’t mind being associated with my religion first. It’s a chance to show and portray the “normalness “of being Muslim, contrary to what’s seen on the media.
However, it’s seems I may have been showcasing too much normal, so normal that the idea of me being Muslim can actually baffle someone.
I was at a social setting mingling with a diverse crowd whereby the majority were Non-Muslims. Finally managing to accumulate a number of people I was comfortable being around with, bits and pieces of my personality were popping out. I was actually enjoying myself. Conversation was normal and pleasant. While at it, I don’t know how or when but topics changed, and the fact that I was Muslim was brought to light —either by me or another it bothered me not, nor did I feel pressured being in the spotlight — after all, I do carry a billboard on my head.
Interestingly this piece of (new) information seemed to surprise a lady whose company I had grown to enjoy. Colour me surprised for I had thought the gathering was conscious of the Muslim in the room. I wasn’t exactly going about hiding it!
Obviously I had to prod as to the reason for her surprise, pointing out the Hijab on my head. A fashion statement it surely wasn’t. She admitted that she was aware of many Muslims wearing it, it was just that “You don’t look Muslim.” That ladies and gentlemen shook my world, and not by a slight tremor either. I don’t “look” Muslim? What does that even mean? Is there a trademark look I’m not aware of? A dress code? Some badge? Not only didn’t I look the part but it so happened I didn’t act it either. Her words didn’t necessarily offend me, but caused me to contemplate.
If the Hijab on my head, a recognised global symbol of the Muslim woman wasn’t enough identification what more did I need? What could have caused her to think that way? Two factors came to mind; my mannerisms and the colour of my skin.
It shouldn’t always come down to race but alas, it usually does.
Unfortunately, the docile Muslim woman is still an image imprinted in the mentality of many. That our religion constraints us from leading fulfilling lives as average human beings,lives which are governed by the men in them. Granted, being Muslim does place certain rules of conduct for both men and women but, in no way what’s so ever does it prevent you from being you. Your personality is a part of your human identity; religion has little or nothing to do with it.
“You don’t act Muslim” that was her reasoning. I tried to relive the events of that night, focusing on my actions and words. What had I done that was “un-Muslim “of me? Held conversations with males? Laughed at and made jokes of my own, ordered a peach flavoured tea? Are those actions inconceivable for Muslims to do?
There is enough pressure from within the Muslim community to behave a certain way, especially when you’re easily identified as Muslim (a Hijab, sporting a beard, or simply called Muhammad). That your actions are not just your own, they directly reflect on the Muslim community. I wonder what this community would say to this remark that I don’t “act” Muslim. Perhaps I need to up my game a bit, shout out random “Allahu Akbars” wherever I go, utterly refuse conversing with guys or just end it all by wearing a niqab, perhaps then I would be “Muslim” enough..
Here’s to “looking” Muslim. According to research 62% of Muslims are of Asian ethnicities i.e. the Arabs, South and East Asians. These are the Muslims mostly represented in the media. The Salmans, Abdullahs and Irfans. Could that be the “look” that I’m missing? As an African could the colour of my skin lead one to deny me my faith. Religion isn’t race but belief, that’s why missionaries existed; to preach and spread religion. MJ said it, “it doesn’t really matter if you’re black or white”.
Faith isn’t a matter of race or nationality, it’s your beliefs. The colour of your skin does not correlate to it.
Now, this is all based on one woman’s thinking but, who’s to say that there aren’t others who share her thoughts. Others who still have a backward outlook of Muslims and equate race to faith. I wish I could probe their minds and see how they function. Is it simply ignorance or something facile? Alhamdulillah. We have Muslims out there changing the public’s perception of us —bloggers, vloggers, fashion icons, intellectuals, athletes – who also serve as inspiration for others. These Muslims help break these stereotypes. They showcase to the world that there isn’t just one “look” a Muslim can have. We come in all shapes and sizes, packaged differently and blend beautifully together.
To this friend of mine —don’t worry for she still is— I didn’t just blank out or withdraw from the conversation, I educated. Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful tool which you can use to change the world”. Granted, she’s just one individual but who’s to know what difference she’ll make? After all, “Educate a woman; you educate the world”.
Consider yourselves educated. You’re welcome, world.