Lately I’ve noticed a new face around the building (a small building consisting of four laboratories and a few professors’ offices). Maybe in her mid to late thirties, I had never met this woman nor been introduced, but heard she is working in one of the neighboring labs down the hall from ours. Today she stopped me in the hall to compliment my henna/kina that I had done on my hand yesterday, just for fun. I smiled and thanked her, and she also complimented my scarf and how I always look so nice. I smiled and thanked her again, and then she said-
I’m sorry you have to do that, but it really does look nice.
Uh, what? Hold on. What did you just say? The earnest smile dropped from my face and was replaced with an incredulous smirk. “What are you sorry for?” I asked with a bit of cattiness in my voice.
You know, I’m sorry you have to cover your pretty hair.
At this moment a divine wave of patience washed over me and I paused. If you know me, you know that this is incredible. I am the first person to shoot off my mouth when someone offends me or someone I care about. But this time, I waited a moment before responding with a smile, “I’m not sorry. I spent 23 years being a regular old American girl, and I am very happy with how I am now.” This elicited a sympathetic (or perhaps embarrassed?) smile from the woman and she proceeded to ask me about my family, if they are religious, etc. She validated her point of view by telling me about a world philosophy class she took once, and that she isn’t trying to be rude but she has a lot of questions. I encouraged her questions, saying it is better to get the facts from the source. She even asked me how I deal with people approaching me about terrorism in the name of my faith (at least she asked first if I was muslim) and that all religions have weird and disturbing parts (actually I’m very pleased with mine, thank you). At this point my non-american, non-muslim friend who was going to eat lunch with me arrived and pointedly stated we had to go. Even she was offended for me. “She doesn’t even know you.” She exclaimed hotly after we left.
There are so many other ways it could have gone as soon as that unfortunately ignorant statement flew out of her mouth. First off, I know I’m fabulous, all day every day. Also, I don’t have to do anything. I mean, religiously hijab is required (majority opinion), but no one is threatening my life if I don’t wear it (this is America, people. I’m sure that it happens sometimes, in some places, but don’t assume you know all about my experiences based on my scarf.). To me, that statement is as ridiculous as “I’m sorry you have to put on clothes and not walk around butt naked in the street.” Maybe I don’t want to show my hair and skin? Is it not possible that this is a choice I made all by myself- between me and Allah? It is my privilege and honor to don the hijab and be recognized as a Muslimah, even with the current climate of Islamophobia. And asking about how I deal with other people’s questions about terrorism? Well- no one else really asks me, because they have enough sense in their head to know that 0.0019% of “Muslims” being terrorists (I quote Muslims because Islam is a peaceful religion, despite the many battles at its onset due to people trying to KILL THEM [Muslims] and CHASE THEM FROM THEIR HOMES) doesn’t mean the rest of us use our faith as a way to mask our political aspirations. And the “not trying to be offensive” boat already left the harbor when you apologized for my life decision for me.
And here I was thinking that ignorance about Islam and Muslims was a thing of the past, despite all of the stories I’ve read, and that it wasn’t so bad everywhere. I have never been approached in a judgmental or apologetic way about how I dress or what I believe. I mean, colleagues have asked me politely about why I wear what I wear, and other Muslims have asked about my experiences that brought me to Islam since I was raised Christian in America… but I have never been approached by a perfect stranger. I’m not sure if I should be flattered that I seem welcoming enough to speak to, or angry that someone tried to force their ideals on me.
Either way, I hope my responses and patience have given this woman some insight about Muslims and Islam.