The question I get asked most by non-Muslims, after “how long is your hair?” is “why did you decide to wear the hijab?”. And I always answer in the same way:
“I don’t know”
Then I tell them that in the summer of 2015 I woke up one day after Ramadan and thought: “well if all these women and girls can wear the hijab, so can I”. Of course, there are variables that swayed my decision. The women in my family being one. One by one they made the decision to put it on, I got inspired. I got the feeling that if these girls (who are younger than me) can put it on, then what’s stopping me?
Another reason (and it pains me to admit) is social media. I live in a place where there isn’t much diversity. So when I go out it’s always a game of spot the hijabi. But on social media I was seeing it everywhere. And the girls/women, who wore the hijab, were all different types of interesting and influential people.
I became a teacher at 21. I followed the generic route of going to school, getting my GCSE’s and A-levels and then going to university. When I started my first job, I didn’t wear my hijab. It wasn’t until the first few months of being employed had passed before I began wearing it. I often wonder if I would have still gotten the job if I wore it to the interview. After wearing this piece of cloth on my head for a while now, I have noticed how people see me. I put them in two different groups: Those who see the hijab and those who don’t.
The people who see the hijab do exactly that. I notice it more with strangers. The seem too preoccupied with my hijab it seems they forget that I am a person. Small talk becomes centred on it. “How long is your hair?” or “don’t you get hot in your hijab?”. It’s awkward questioning. The implication is that I don’t have a choice: “ooh you poor thing, you must be so boiling, it’s terrible that you are forced to wear this”. When I talk about my hijab I refer to it as a scarf to these people.
Then there are those who don’t see the hijab. But they see the woman wearing it. They treat me the same as they would treat anyone else and are still interested to hear about my culture and religion but are not shocked or disgusted when the inevitable ‘arranged marriage’ or ‘Ramadan’ conversation comes up. They are the people I say I am wearing the hijab to and know I won’t get puzzled or perplexed looks.
I have to accept the reality that I will not get certain job offers because of my hijab. A friend was telling me that certain companies will only employ people who look British because of the clients they have. For example, I was reading some forums of people who were employed by an international school. A parent complained and asked for her child to be moved to another teacher just because she was black. The only thing that made her different was the colour of her skin. The international school was not just providing a qualified teacher, but a preconceived notion of what being “British” looks like.
I know being a woman of colour has given me two disadvantages in a society which favours white patriarchs. I just hope there are more people who don’t see the hijab than do. Before writing this post, I was in the post office when I saw a lady at the checkout speaking to her husband in Gujarati. There was a woman with her son who was laughing at the lady speaking a different language. I felt sick that instead of explaining to her child that there is nothing funny about her speaking her own language she just laughed with her child. If we don’t teach our children to be accepting of different cultures and we have no hope for the future.
Wearing the hijab has had its ups and downs. I won’t say that it has always been easy but equally it has become natural for me to wear it now. It is part of my identity. I think that if I manage to change one person’s mind about how they view Muslims, I know that the hardships that come with wearing the hijab will be worth it.
Written By Amara
Picture Taken By Amara