BY AMMARA CHALKI
“You wear a hijab? Is it because you are oppressed?”
“Do you have bombs under that thing?”
“YOU UGLY TERRORIST!”
These are just some of the disrespectful, discourteous, and demeaning comments that I have heard in my life, simply because of the way that I dress. From a different perspective, you might think that I am frightened to wear the hijab or the abaya because Muslim females are constantly being bashed on social media. They are also relentlessly getting stared at, yelled at, assaulted, and even oppressed by members of our societies. Despite all this, I am not afraid. On the contrary, I take pride in what I wear. However, this wasn’t always the case. It took me a long time to fall in love with the hijab and abaya. This is my story, and it starts 11 years ago.
September 8, 2010, was my first day as a first-grader. I started my day off like any 5-year old: enjoying my hot bowl of cinnamon apple porridge and immersed in Arthur. My mom came up to me with a white piece of cloth. The fabric she held was pretty; it had frilly lacework on the bottom and the top was covered in a brown speckled pattern. She tugged on my hair and pulled at my scalp, finally taming my hair into a slick ponytail. She then reached for the cloth and told me, “Ammara, this is a hijab. From now on you have to wear it whenever you go out.” She pulled the hijab over my head and kissed my forehead with her warm lips. I could smell the cinnamon on her from when she made my porridge.
She called me beautiful and said I looked like a princess, but when I looked in the mirror I only saw a revolting image. The lace was itchy and had long wonky strings coming out from the bottom. The brown speckled pattern looked like I was wearing the skin of a hideous animal. Skin that had been wrinkled, stretched, and mangled.
I hated the hijab.
The first few days of wearing the hijab and going to school were difficult. I was paranoid that my hijab would be the reason that no one would associate themselves with me. But looking back, I wasted my time being worried, because I found some incredible friends. For the next four years, I would wear my hijab happily, that is until I learned about 9/11.
In grade 4, I learned about the tragedy known as 9/11, the event that changed the world's view about Muslims forever. Osama Bin Laden, a wretched, disgusting piece of sh**, ran a group called Al-Qaeda, hijacked several planes, and flew them straight into the World Trade Centre, killing almost 3,000 people. But that isn't the worst part. The media took this opportunity and labelled every Muslim as a terrorist. The media broadcasted a barrage of hate towards Muslims. As my teacher was talking, I could feel my peers staring at me. Their stares were burning spikes that pierced my back. I could feel their hate towards me. When I wasn’t looking, the words they muttered under their breath about my hijab had teeth--no, fangs--that dug into my heart.
“Why does she wear that? She looks so weird.” “Who do you think she’s going to kill next?” “Stay away from her she has guns in her hijab.” These were my friends, but now they started treating me like an outsider, as if they forgot who I was.
I wanted to run, I wanted to hide and I wanted to cry. At recess, my classmates said I was a terrorist, they said I didn’t belong here, they said to go back to my own country, they tried to pull my hijab off. How does a group of imbeciles who claim to believe in the same thing as me define who I am? Just because I wore a hijab, did that mean that I was a terrorist? Am I a terrorist? Are my clothes a symbol of hate? I was just 9 years old and when I went home, I cried in my mom's arms and with hiccups interrupting each word, I asked “Are we terrorists?”
Because my hijab made it obvious that I was Muslim, it made it easy for people to pick me out and harass me. At that moment, I wanted to burn my hijab and never wear it again. But I just couldn’t part ways with it. I just couldn’t. It was part of my connection to my mom, and to my faith, and to my identity.
Since that traumatic day, I still wear the hijab and on top, I wear an abaya, a long black glamorous “robe” of sorts covering my entire body from head to toe. When I look back, I am sad for my younger self, and angry, too. Society and the media made me question my identity--was I really responsible for what some extremist decided to do? Was I supposed to suffer this way because the world fit all Muslims into just one category of terrorists? And the answer to those questions is NO! Absolutely not. I am me, I wear the hijab as a symbol of modesty and dignity, and when I wear it is when I love myself the most.
So to everyone who will come in my way and ask me those ignorant questions, let me tell you now; NO I am not oppressed. NO, I do not have bombs under my abaya. NO, I AM NOT A TERRORIST. This is MY story, and only I get to write it.