It's Just a Scarf?
I have been wanting to write this post for a few weeks but have two reservations. Firstly I always wonder how many people run for the hills at a post about being a Muslim but actually if you do... then bugger off as you're not wanted here (on my blog) anyway. Secondly it's a pretty emotive subject for me at the moment and I don't know if I will do it justice. Oh well, it's now or never.
I have been Muslim since 2006 but only started wearing a headscarf (hijab) in January this year. Hijab is not just about wearing a piece of material over your head - it's about dressing and behaving modestly too, a scarf is just the icing on the cake. In a non Muslim country like the UK wearing hijab is something that immediately sets you apart and idenitifes you as being Muslim. It's been something I've wanted to do for a year or so but there was always something holding me back. After having Baby A something just kind of clicked into place and it felt right. I was not prepared however for what an emotional rollercoaster it would be. I expected to start wearing it, feel all worthy and happy with myself and then just kind of get on with my life. Whoah, was I wrong!
For about a week I was sort of in my own little bubble and went out to Rusholme in Manchester which is a predominantly Muslim area, known as Curry Mile. I then went to John Lewis in Cheadle and that's when the reality of things hit. I was not prepared for the stares. I was not prepared for the looks of contempt. At first I thought I was being paranoid but my husband kindly confirmed that yes people were staring at me. I guess this was to be expected but it felt quite strange especially as one of my reasons for wearing hijab is to be modest and not draw too much attention to myself. The looks of contempt don't really bother me but they do annoy me, I find it rude. I try to make an effort not to stare at people, even if they're wearing something absolutely ridiculous but it would appear that other people don't always extend the same courtesy. I understand that perhaps people are interested to see a white, English girl in a headscarf and that's fine but don't look at me as though I'm something you just scraped off your shoe. Or even worse, please don't look at me with sympathy. I have chosen to be Muslim, I have chosen to wear hijab and have not been beaten into submission by my oppressive, fundamentalist (don't get me started on that word) husband.
The thing that I have found the most difficult to deal with is being spoken to as though I'm a little bit slow. I have really noticed a marked difference in the way that I am spoken to sometimes in shops, cafes or just generally in public. The initial reaction is the squint of the eye and incline of the head in anticipation of a thick foreign accent. Then there is usually the look of slight surprise when I talk English. This is then followed either by the look of sympathy, contempt or interest. I love it when people ask me questions. I would never be offended by somebody asking me a question unless the question is asked in a mocking or patronising way and when the answer has no interest to them. I am proud to be Muslim and I am so eager to show people that just because I am Muslim and wear hijab that I still have a fulfilling life, I laugh like everyone else, I have hobbies and interest, I have a personality and an education and pretty much all the same choices and opportunities that non Muslim women have. Ok, no I don't go out drinking which can perhaps limit socialising somewhat but that is my choice and I am most happy spending time with my family and going out as a little foursome. Don't get me wrong, I love spending time with my friends too, it's just we tend to go to each others' houses or meet in coffee shops or restaurants instead of the pub.
The vast majority of people I meet and speak to do treat me "normally" in the end and if I can help dispel just one teeny, tiny little myth about Islam or Muslim women then that can only be a good thing. Even better, if I can help paint a good picture of Muslims and Islam in general by being kind and "normal" then I'm a happy girl! I have heard some horrendous stories from both real life friends and online friends about being attacked or getting verbal abuse on the street, simply because they are wearing a head scarf. I think that the media is to blame and Muslims are portrayed as a threat to the "British way of life". I don't feel like I'm a threat and I hope that anybody who has met me didn't feel that I threatened their way of life. If I did then you sure as hell should tell me about it! I'm just a normal girl; a wife, a mum, a daughter, a sister and I wear a scarf on my head. I sometimes think to myself "it's just a scarf" but the reality is it's actually so much more than a scarf for me. But to you, surely it's just a scarf? Please don't judge me before speaking to me. If you speak to me and then think I'm idiot, well that's your perogative but please judge me on my personality and not on some misguided judgement on what Muslim women are like.