Advanced Essay #1: Unapologetically, Me

Through writing this essay, I explored and reflected upon an event that happened to me in a part of my life, when I was starting to wear the hijab, and how the environment I was in, was not supporting me. My goals for this essay is to help others understand me and my situation, so that in the future, they are wary not to make others feel the same way and to open their minds to situations that they might not go through but still should try and understand. I am proud that this essay allowed me to explore and discover old feelings that I forgot over the years. I realized more now that I am older and viewing the situation from a different mindset. In the future, I would maybe tell part of this event from a different perspective, so that I could understand the whole situation a bit better and be able to develop more ideas that are not from my point of view.

Advanced Essay: As a child, I relied on other people’s opinions. I let them control what I said, what I did, what I wore and what I didn’t wear, my hijab being one of them. The hijab is a sacred thing in a Muslim girl’s life. It guards her and symbolizes modesty. At the start of an adolescent Muslim girl’s life, she must start wearing her headscarf and dressing modestly. I love the hijab and everything it symbolizes, but that didn’t stop the torment of my peers to make me be afraid of wearing it. It was my eighth grade year of middle school, also time for me to start wearing my hijab. All my other Sudanese-Muslim friends had starting wearing their hijab, some without a doubt, and some with hesitation. And then there was me, with fear, and reluctance, and a million other emotions my 13 year old self couldn’t conjure into one single word. One question that is always at the tip of another person’s tongue when looking at my hijab is, “Were you forced?” they would ask with arched brows. The first time this happened I was in shock, how could something so sacred to me be forced up on me, but I later realized the people asking that, gave no value to it, they thought that something, that in their minds, restricted you, must be forced up on you, not voluntarily worn. This has a lot to do with the ignorance people have about Islam. My response to them now is a bored and dazed look, because my experience was anything but the opposite. My mother and father never forced me to wear the hijab. I always knew growing up that I would wear it, eventually. When I did start wearing it, it had been my choice, and as I explained this to the many confused faces who stood in front of me, they started to become more puzzled that I would put it on voluntarily. My parents, never asked me to wear it, I wore it on my own, it was the love for my religion and support from my family that drove me here. However, it took me awhile to get to this place of confidence and acceptance of my hijab. Middle school was a tough time for a kid who struggled with an identity crisis; who was trying to make a drastic change in her life, but too afraid of the response from her peers. Islamophobic remarks were common for me during that time. Although I didn’t wear my hijab at the time, people still knew I was Muslim by my very obvious last name, Mohammed. Thinking back to a time when our 6th grade class was discussing Islam, and someone explained about how their family members were Muslim. “My aunt and her three daughters are Muslim, they all wear the headscarf thingy.” The boy said, and without any consideration to my vulnerability asked, “Israh, how come you don’t wear it?” All of their tormenting eyes turned to me, my hands started to shake a little, so I sat on them to hide it, I wish I could hide the fearful look on my face. I looked down at my grey and dark blue plaid skirt that was part of our uniform. This keeps us from making fun of each other if one person’s clothes weren’t as nice as their peers. In those moments I imagined a bold Israh who was quick with her tongue that could make 12 year old boy’s silence their mouths forever, but I was a scared girl with shaking hands that she hid underneath her gray and dark blue plaid skirt, getting asked a question she had no idea how to answer. “I’m too young to wear it” was all I could manage. He replied with a dazed and confused look on his face, mouth halfway open in confusion as the room seemed to be getting smaller and smaller. “Well, my cousin is three years old, and she wears it” he replied eagerly with a smirk. The entire class stared at me some with quizzical looks, others with a sort of ‘this isn’t my business but I’m gonna make it mine’ look and one kid in the back of the room with a pen doodling on the desk, he was my favorite classmate from then on. Now, I realize that even though I looked like them, it was as if they were waiting for me to put it on, so they could finally begin their bullying even further. I don’t blame them for being islamophobic at the time, after all a kid listens to their elders. And I know the media wasn’t giving my religion such a positive connotation. It’s like they had their defenses up and ready, waiting for me to wrap the cloth around my head, shielding my hair, so they could fire their bullets. I wasn’t afraid to wear hijab, just how my friends would treat me differently. My most known feature in middle school was my hair. Girls would always undo my braid and redo it for sport. Other girls would always joke as we stood in the lunch line, “Girl, if you ever cut your hair off please give it to me!” “Are you even black?” “I’m sure that’s not your REAL hair.” “Can I braid it for you?” I should have been flattered all this positive attention should have made me some overconfident egotistical girl who could rule the halls of middle school. But I thought that wearing hijab would mean covering up the girl that was favored and liked, that the moment I put it on I would be a target for more humiliation. I was scared. I didn’t want to hide myself because of the opinions of others. But words hurt, and I chose rather than be myself, to succumb to their torment and be hijabless. It took some time, for me to be comfortable in the scarf I wear. To be able to shield myself from their bullets without a flinch. To be able to go deaf to their Islamophobic remarks. And to be unfazed by their childish and pointless torment, that I hope they outgrew by now. Though it was a tough experience for a middle schooler to endure, it shaped me to be an unapologetic, hijab-wearing girl, who isn’t afraid to show the world, who makes her own decisions of what she wears.