6 Things You Learn as a Hijabi in America

Before anything else, if you clicked on this article because you have no clue what a Hijab is, congratulations, you’re a (presumably) human adult with an intact curiosity. If you clicked on this article because you already know what it is, or you are a person who wears the Hijab then I’m about to drop some truth bombs you’ve all been waiting to hear. And just to clarify, yes, that was a tantalizing use of comedy, underscored humorously with the fact that I’m a Muslim American. Deal with it.
Anyway, if you’re part of the former group, a Hijab is the traditional dress code worn by Muslim women, most commonly referred to as “that thing on your head.” “Towel head,” is also sometimes used, though not preferred. Here’s a picture if you’re of the visual variety:

Disclaimer: Not all hijabis look this cool/threatening

So, here are some statements I have come to realize will persist throughout my lifetime in the US of A, so long as I keep “that thing on my head” on my head.

1. People will assume you know the latest political happenings of the middle east

Go ahead and take a guess at how often I get asked my opinion on complex geo-political/socio-economic/bullshit trends in the current middle east…
I’ll wait…
What number did you come up with? Once a month? Twice? Three billion times? I’d be able to answer you if I kept count, but I have since stopped. Mostly because my phalanges AND little piggies can’t keep up.

They tried

Point is: ridiculously often. And I get it… walking around with a Hijab is basically the equivalent of carrying a flashing neon sign suspended 9 inches above my head that reads “Muslim right here!” Most of the time, I don’t mind answering questions when I know the answer to them, because no one likes to feel like an idiot. But when a “What do you think of the BLAH BLAH BLAH THING that happened in BLAH BLAH BLAH PLACE and its implications on the current dynamics of BLAH BLAH BLAH REGION…and why?” gets hurled at you when you thought the conversation was heading towards the inevitable conclusion that cereal is awesome, it can get irritating.

2. There is no age, race, or profession to ignorance

I was once having a very serene, upscale dinner with some older colleagues (they’re like, already 35), and suddenly I was being asked “Do you take that off when you take a shower?” by a very wide-eyed, curious 40 year old woman, who before then, had seemed to me to be of the very finely educated American population. After answering her as simply as I can, and after processing that I was asked the same question by a 10 year old a week earlier, I began to realize that some people live their whole lives not knowing the very basics about the second largest religion in the world. Mind = blown.

Oh wait… “mind Blown” is on my Do-Not-Say list

Although it is true that certain criteria might make it more likely for some individuals to be more educated than others, and therefore, less frustrating to converse with, it is not always the case. And quite frankly, I can’t even begin to name those criteria for you, because as I’m sure most of you have already figured out, stupid comes in many shapes and sizes.
Therefore, because I’m somewhat civilized and can’t straight up tell wide-eyed, curious 40 year olds who I also work for that they are stupid, eventually…

3. Your speaking skills become impeccable

How many of you can say that you like public speaking? You chickens, I bet you all soiled your pants just thinking about it.
Yeah, well, you’d like public speaking if you had to do it on a daily basis. I can guarantee you my full 25-piece Hijab collection that every Muslim woman has to deal with the same things I deal with, and therefore, every Muslim woman has a prepared 30-second explanation speech for a minimum of 50 frequently asked questions.

“Ah, the classic… Am I bald….”

What more, there’s versions depending on what kind of ignorant she happens to be dealing with at the particular time. Because sometimes, speaking at a pace of 30 syllables per minute is still not slow enough for some particular individuals to understand that it’s about mooooooddddeeeestyyyyyyyy and rrrreeeeeeespeeeeeecccttttt….
Which is why when someone offers a not-too-shabby previous explanation of why the Hijab is actually worn I’m 100% sure I automatically look like I’ve just seen a rare breed of unicorn mutt that both sparkles AND neighs in nursery rhymes.
Consequently, when you’ve spoken the same sentences so often, you become the rock star of the ignorance fighting league (which totally exists, btw), thereby filling you with ignorance-fighting-induced pride. Which, in turn, makes speaking in front of a crowd as pleasing as a line of crack.

4. The assumptions are not always negative

Deep in the 30-ft, mt. everest challenging, stinky pile of assumptions that people make about Muslims lies the hidden treasure marked “Do I still hate it if it’s a positive assumption?” Amongst this collection are some gems such as that Hijabis are:
socially conscious
etc. etc.
At first, it was perplexing that people would assume this about me. This was before I realized that much in the same way that Gretchen Weiner’s hair is full of secrets, apparently, my hijab is so big because it’s full of knowledge. Hmm… who knew.

5. People will be surprised you’re a human being

“I didn’t know you went out!”
“OMG you used the world ‘hell’ I can’t believe you cursed.”
“Wow! Your parents let you match prints?!”

Although they really shouldn’t

No, these weren’t phrases exclaimed at an individual that has escaped Stockholm-syndrome-free into the real world from the clutches of a merciless dictator-controlled household. These are the likes of some things I have heard as an American citizen that lives and eats and poops as normally as all American citizens, but happens to don an extra piece of clothing in public.
The conclusion I have come to in order to process this phenomenon is that the image of a Hijabi conjures up the idea of “oppression,” which is absolutely utter BS that says this about our modern western society: the privatization of a woman’s sexuality oppresses her because (get this) the only way a woman can be a powerful, non-oppressed individual is if she is sexy… in public. You read that right. Read it again and tell me it isn’t true. I DARE YOU.

6. You can be a huge influence and not even know it

Perhaps one moment I’m never going to forget is when, as a senior in high school, I was approached by a girl who stated that she had been inspired by my sheer existence to convert to Islam. As if that wasn’t humbling enough, she proceeded to actually do that shit over the next month.
When you don’t look as normal as other people do, and when you make the perplexing choice to cover your hair (when in reality, no one knows that the reason you do it is perpetual bad hair days), people tend to keep a close watch on you. Some wait for you to mess up so they can fire their hate cannons freely. Some just watch in constant adorable curiosity.

This is what some of you look like to me. Minus the adorableness.

Others, it seems, develop a genuine interest that transforms into an attraction for whatever you do that’s making you so happy, confident, and kind. And who the heck doesn’t love being perceived that way?

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