WASHINGTON: For many Muslim girls in the United States, the hijab is not an obstacle, but rather a source of strength, pride and a tool to spread correct information about much-stereotyped Islam.
I’ve been wearing my hijab for more than five years; since I was a fifth grader, and I believe nothing has changed between me and my friends or classmates after I covered my hair, Huda Rabia, a Californian high school student, said.
In the beginning they were all curious to know what this scarf is and why I am wearing it. They had tens of questions but after I answered all of them, they never asked me about it again.
During the few recent years, a debate has been raging in the West about Muslim women s right to wear hijab in public.
Describing it as a religious symbol and not an obligatory dress code as Muslims believe, France triggered the controversy in 2004 by adopting a bill banning the hair veil in state schools.
Shortly afterwards, other European countries, chiefly Germany, followed the French lead.
But in the United States, it is a different story.
I do what most people my age do, said Salsabil Alwazzi, an 18-year-old and a freshman at Oklahoma City Community College. I hang out with friends, watch movies and go out to restaurants.
I spend a lot of time with my friends we go for dinners and throw parties for each other, added Mariam Khalid, a 16-year old and an 11th grader at El Camino Real Senior High.
We do what almost every teenage girl in America does, shopping and movies. I also go out with my family and family friends, she added.
Nabilah Safa, an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Michigan-Dearborn also wears a hijab and feels good about herself.
Here in Dearborn, MI, with such a big Muslim population I feel very comfortable practicing my religion. Also I am very proud of who I am, she said.
There are between six to seven million Muslims in the United States, making up less than three percent of the country s 300-million population.
For many among hijab-donned Muslim girls, wearing a hijab is a responsibility that requires them to check their actions.
Muslim girls wearing hijab are immediately recognized anywhere they go, without the need for us to say ‘I am Muslim.’ The hijab speaks for us, and I believe this helps to serve as a check on our actions, because anything we do is not just reflective on us, but on Islam as well, said Nour Habib, a 17-year-old and a freshman at Oklahoma State University.
Even for younger Muslim girls, wearing hijab at public middle schools enhances their self-confidence and makes them feel distinguished among their peers.
I feel that I am special between all the people I hang out with because I have enough courage to do that, said Alia Maghawri, a 12-year-old and a sixth grader at Las Colinas Middle School.
I am also proud because I am different from all my Muslim friends. They are too shy to wear the hijab, added Maghawri.
For Maghawri, her hijab brings her more respect among her friends.
My friends started to like me more because they know I have the courage to stand in front of the whole school and do something different, said Maghawri proudly.
Most of the hijab-donned girls agree that they did not feel isolated by their attire.
Sometimes I feel different, but never isolated or left out, said Safa.
Sarah Habib, a 15-year-old and a tenth grader, agrees with Safa.
Different: yes. But never isolated or left out, she said.
Of course I feel different, because I am. But there is no reason for me to feel isolated or left out. There are things I stay away from, as a Muslim. But it is not because I am excluded; it is because I choose to stay away, Habib added.
Rabia wonders why a Muslim girl should feel isolated for wearing her hijab.
I was Huda Rabia before wearing my hijab and I am still the same Huda Rabia after wearing it. The only change is that I covered my hair with this scarf. So why should my friends refuse or distance themselves from me because of my scarf? asked Rabia surprisingly.
I have a different belief system than most here in the US. However I was born and raised here so why should I feel any different? added Alwazzi.
Habib believes that it is one’s actions that could isolate him/her from others.
I believe that isolation is a choice. And if you do not choose to be isolated, then you won’t be. And the question is, left out from what? Again, it is a matter of choice. You choose whether or not to join in something, and in this way, I don’t think it’s being left out.
She said wearing hijab or being a Muslims is more like staying out.
There is nothing wrong with staying out of things that you feel are wrong. This is actually proof that you are above the influence. By not letting someone pressure you into doing something, you are showing strength of character, she said.
The girls derive their strength from strong family bonds and Muslim advocacy groups to face challenges that they might go through.
Of course when you see other teenagers going to parties and hanging out you feel left out. But I think it is very important to have a strong family background that you know you can always go back to, said Khalid.
I am very thankful that in my community we have youth group for Muslim teenagers at the local Masjid.
We have events and girls only parties so that we don’t feel left out in today’s society. For example, in the summer we go camping, and during the winter’s we have snow day. During the month we have activities like going bowling and game’s night, but we also have classes on Sunday to learn more about Islam, she said.
I think it’s a perfect balance. Even though I know I am different, I don’t feel; left out or isolated because of this youth group and my family, Khalid said.
The girls also use their hijabs to spread correct information about much-stereotyped Islam.
In High School, many people are very ignorant about Islam but they are also very curious, said Khalid.
A lot of people come and ask me why I wear a scarf and I explain to them that the hair is the symbol of sensuality and beauty, and that I try to hide that. They are astounded when they discover that wearing the hijab was my choice. I also have a few classmates who are Muslim but not very religious, and they ask me questions to learn about their religion, she added.
I believe people are getting used to seeing Muslims all around them, said Habib.
The Muslim community is growing, and non-Muslims are growing more accustomed to them. This does not prevent the stares I receive, but I am accustomed to these as well. Not all non-Muslims look at me in the same way. I think it all depends on the level of knowledge they have about Islam.
For Sarah, people differ in their reactions, but she agrees that Muslims should be approachable to encourage others learning about Islam.
Of course people react in different ways. I get stares all the time, some showing interest, some curiosity, some admiration/respect, and some, unfortunately, fear, Sarah told IOL.
I try to look as approachable as possible, giving people a chance to ask what they want.
Ala Gebarin, 17, also takes into stride stares and remarks she might come across.
I am aware that my hijab can be intimidating, but it is only a layer of clothing, said Gebarin, a 12th grade student at Oak Forest High School.
Once people get to know me, and how I act, their views change and really non-Muslims are very open and kind. They are often more curious than ignorant; as they are often portrayed.
This article was previously published on Islamonline.net. It has been reprinted with permission.