Since the age of ten, she has worn a scarf over her head. At 16, she had an image in her head of how she would dress when she was “grown up.” She’d be hugging books to her chest and wearing a light blue, floral, ankle length skirt, a blue long sleeve blouse, and of course a headscarf. That was who she was supposed to be, what she thought she’d become.
A phrase she’s heard all of her life, but only now has she realized it’s true meaning. What she thought referred to her body and hair, meant to cover her “self.” Her identity, her feelings, her voice. The fabric around her head, the loose clothing on her body taught her that she should be quiet, reserved. Otherwise she would lose respect. The constant fidgeting to make sure everything was covered was always in the back of her mind.
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The cloth started to make her itch, digging into the soft skin under her chin. She was told her hair and body were a thing of beauty that would attract lustful stares from the eyes of unwanted men. She was a jewel and a jewel must remain hidden and protected.
The only man who would be allowed to appreciate her was her future husband. She was protecting her body for him. She realized her body was no longer her own. It was being covered until a man deemed her worthy to be his wife. This is what is expected of her as a woman according to Islamic law. She admires the women who can remain covered and have successful careers. But now, the scarf she put over her head with pride at the young age of ten no longer held the same meaning.
Now the cloth and loose clothes that were supposed to protect her only brought more stares from both men and women. Stares of confusion, of pity, of hate.
There were days when she pinned her scarf into place wishing she could break free, but knowing to do so would bring shame. What once represented freedom, respect, and pride to her, now only made her want to scream.
She was tired. Tired of pretending to be this girl. Tired of pretending to represent a faith she wasn’t sure she even believed. What was so wrong about showing her hair?
There was the day when she was brave and ventured with her head uncovered. She waited for something to happen. For someone to notice. But no man stared at her. No man tried to even speak to her. Women passed by her without giving a glance. In fact, she passed by as though invisible, because she looked just like them.
It was as though the person she’d been hiding was able to come out. She felt no need to hide her opinions, to conform to a certain idea that the world had of what a proper Muslim woman should be. Instead, she could be anyone, she could simply be.
She felt the wind on her neck and the rain in her hair. She felt a sense of belonging. She felt freedom.