I started wearing the hijab at the age of seven, and before you make any rapid assumptions, I was not forced, nor coaxed into wearing it. I wore it because most of my female relatives wore it. I thought it looked rather elegant, and since I could never manage to keep my hair neat or clean, I decided that wearing the hijab would prove rather advantageous for me.
I experimented with wearing netted hijabs, adorned with colourful brooches and pins. My hijab didn’t change who I was. I still loved to play football and take part in maths competitions. A piece of material wasn’t going to alter my personality, and besides, my headscarf quickly became a central component of my appearance. Hijab, jeans, checker shirt and Converses. That was my signature style.
Now I’m fifteen. I’ve been wearing the hijab for nine years. I’ve got major social anxiety, primarily because of the stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding my hijab. People have shouted “terrorist” and “ISIS” at me, and I try not to let it bother me, but in truth, I’m petrified of being a victim of these confrontations. Once, when I was nine, I went on a riverboat cruise with my family, and a group of fisherman threw cans at us, yelling “throw yourselves in the lake! EDL! EDL!” Being the argumentative little girl I was, I stood up and challenged those men, but deep down, that incidence affected me significantly.
So why don’t I just remove my hijab, you may ask? Well, first of all, I enjoy wearing my hijab as a symbol of pride in my religious and cultural identity. Contrary to popular belief, the garment is not inherently misogynistic, nor does it subtract from the rights of non-hijab-wearers. I feel comfortable wearing a headscarf, and I firmly believe that liberty lies in choice. Women deserve respect, regardless of how they choose to dress.
Even though I was born and brought up here in London, I feel very uneasy when it comes to going out. I always receive an inordinate number of hostile stares- nay, glares- from people who are undoubtedly asking themselves internally, “Why is she wearing that thing on her head? Is she the daughter of a terrorist? Can she even speak English? Did someone force her to wear that?”
I know for a fact, largely due to the many fascist imbeciles on Twitter, that I am perceived as a parasite and a threat. The said trolls complain about British Muslims ‘refusing to integrate’, then degrade us, and tell us to “go back to our own countries” if we insist on wearing religious garments.
I always feel like I have to make an extra effort to show people that I’m more than just my headscarf- I am an intelligent, polite, eccentric, eloquent teenage Brit. In many respects, I am no different to other British teenagers. My headscarf does not render me an alien, but that’s precisely how I am made to feel- in my own home country. And yes, Britain is, and will always be, my home.
My anxiety is not irrational. Islamophobia is on the rise, and I can’t escape that truth. A few days ago, my family and I went to Victoria Park for a day out. I tried my very best to enjoy the day there, but it was hard to: thanks to social media, I know about how a group of men recently went around spitting at all the “filthy Muslims” during one of the weekly debates that take place there. Moreover, when I went to sit down on a bench to read my book, a little girl (who was passing by) said to her mother (whom she was hiding behind) “I don’t want to offend her, but Muslims make me nervous”. I suddenly wanted to cry. This little girl didn’t mean any harm, and what with all the recent terror attacks, I can’t exactly blame her for her views.
Terrorism (or so-called Islamic Jihadism) simultaneously confuses, scares and angers me. I hate those fools for everything that they have done, and I wish I could have a sign on my forehead to clarify that I am not a terrorist sympathizer.
I just want to live my life in peace. I want to make others happy. I want to stop feeling apologetic for existing as I am. I want to be able to sit on the bus or go to an airport without people feeling uneasy around me. I want to make my parents proud; I want to study at Cambridge University, and I want to change the world, without my hijab impeding how people view or treat me.
Is that too much to ask?