My Hijab Story, AKA Game Changer #1

April 1, 2011

I resolved not to be flaky with this blog, so my lengthening absence has been maddening. I was preoccupied (travel and illness) and since I’m traveling next week too, I’m going to lazily seize the opportunity to plagiarize my former self.

This is a slightly redacted excerpt from a personal statement I wrote for an application last fall. I might not put the same words to it now, but the story remains.

People always ask me whether, back when I began wearing my hijab, my parents or some other authority forced me to do it. No, I say; I’ve always been proud of having made the decision myself, and am eager to prove that I didn’t come from that type of culture, from that type of family.

The truth is, though, that while I wasn’t coerced into doing anything, I certainly would not have ended up at that particular destination all on my own. I came from a family and a culture that were, in fact, enormous influences in my upbringing, and to remove them from my continuous process of decision-making would be inconceivable.

[some extraneous details about my upbringing and where my parents came from…]

Most importantly, my parents were – are – both Muslim, and they did their best to raise me accordingly. I learned short surahs (chapters of the Qur’an) at the same time as nursery rhymes; I was trained to thank Allah after I finished consuming the food I’d seen the kids on Barney eat the day before. From the age of three to 13, I attended an Islamic day school, learning all the normal subjects – math, reading, science, social studies – plus taking classes for Arabic, Qur’an memorization, and Islamic Religion. We broke from classes at 1 o’clock every day for mid-day prayer, and fasted, when we were old enough, for the month of Ramadan.

The other kids who attended my school were like me: children of immigrants, the first generation born in the U.S. and all avid subscribers to Sesame Street, then Full House, then Friends. We were children of the ‘90s, which is to say that we were children subjected specifically to the bombardment of American ‘90s-era media, from television shows to fashion magazines to neoliberal foreign policies to presidential extramarital affairs. All along, however, we felt that they were a little on the outside, distant from our real world: we were the Muslims, and they were “the Americans.” We liked to act like them when we were mad at our parents, and gasp in horror at the things we sometimes saw they did. (Muslims absolutely never smoked cigarettes, I believed for a very long time.)

It was important to my parents for me to receive a religious education, and so, through my time at that school, it became important for me to fulfill my responsibilities as a Muslim girl. When I was in the seventh grade, one evening in November, I casually mentioned to my parents that I was going to start wearing a hijab, “for real.” Doing this would entail covering my head, and all parts of my body except my face, hands and feet, in front of men outside my close family. It was something I had been thinking about for a while, undoubtedly because other girls in my class had already begun. Needless to say, my parents and teachers were all pleasantly surprised to hear it.

Wearing a headscarf was already a part of the uniform for middle school; it already felt normal, comfortable on my head and regimented in my morning routine. So, when I started wearing it like a full-time job, nothing felt all too different: I’d go grocery shopping with my mother and get a few more stares than usual, maybe, but it was only in addition to the ones she got for hers.

Admittedly: I feel somewhat detached from this piece now because it doesn’t really say anything about why I continue to wear hijab, and it misrepresents some of my general notions of identity today. It lays out the honest chronicled details, though—stuff I’m now bored of thinking about—and that’s why I posted it here.

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