The image above is a still from a highly successful Bollywood movie called Veer Zaara and in this particular shot, Preity Zinta accurately depicts my mood whilst wearing the hijab.
One Ramadan, back when I was in year 7, I decided that it was time that I started wearing the hijab. I believed that it was the right time for me because year by year, my belief in Allah just strengthened as my knowledge of Islam increased. I wanted to wear it to please Allah, which I felt was exactly the right intention for wearing it.
A couple years prior to this, we had moved out from the overcrowded Southall, to a tiny village in Berkshire. I had no Asian friends since we moved because there were no Asians here, forget about having a Muslim friend who I could relate to. I never discussed my religion or culture at school. I always felt very different because if my religion or culture ever did come up, the other kids would look at me funny. I just felt like an alien. A fat alien.
The decision had been made – on the first day of Ramadan, I would go to school proudly wearing my two-piece hijab. Muslim friends or not, I didn’t need support – I was doing it for myself and for Allah. There was an extraordinary amount of courage within me. I was excited to go into school, showing everybody that yes I was different and I was proud of that fact. When mummaji dropped me off outside the school gates, I looked back to wave and I had the biggest grin on my face. It was exhilarating to make what I felt was such a big decision that would only benefit me.
“Nobody wants you here you paki”
“Why are you wearing a towel on your head for?”
“It’s only a matter of time before you realise your dad is a terrorist.”
All of these insults seem almost amusing now that I think about it but at the time, when 11 year old me walked in to school full of pride wearing her hijab only to face all of this unexpected hate, it was awful. Especially because I thought a lot of these people were my friends. I felt humiliated. I was almost embarrassed at myself for thinking that wearing the hijab would be a good idea. A packet of crisps was emptied out on to my hijab and the boys who did it ran off calling me names I hadn’t even heard of before. Through all of this I didn’t cry. I didn’t shout. I just stayed silent. This was mostly due to the shock of it all. I didn’t even know what racism was until I moved to this area but the people here helped me learn all about it.
I think it was up there with of one of my worst days at school. The worst two weeks if I’m honest because that is how long I managed to endure wearing the hijab before I ripped it off my head in rage, tears rolling down my face. I remember the day I decided I wasn’t going to wear it only very vaguely. I felt guilt – that is definitely one thing I remember clearly. But I also felt anger. I was trying to do something good. Did I deserve to go through this?
My mum rang the school to complain about how much I was being bullied for wearing hijab. I was the only one who was wearing hijab in the entire school but that didn’t mean that everyone who didn’t understand why I was wearing it had the right to make me miserable.
The school didn’t do a thing. They didn’t care.
I know for sure that something changed that Ramadan. Everything I had felt about my religion up until that point, my love for my religion, my faith in Allah… all of it was just clouded by rage. I was angry that I went to do something positive and that I was harassed for making that choice. I was angry and confused at why Allah didn’t shield me from this hate. And unsurprisingly, this triggered the phase in my life where I began to distance myself from Islam.
A very big shout out to all the Muslim girls and women wearing hijab regardless of what they may have to deal with when wearing it. To me, you are inspiring.
Ladies, I’d love to hear your experience with hijab – whether you’ve been wearing it a day or a decade. Comment below or tweet me!