Today I’m going to be writing about something personal, yet universal. But first, a little background story.
I was sitting at the airport, waiting for my flight that was to take me to see my parents. I had arrived a few hours early so I had quite some time to kill before boarding. Anyways, I co-incidentally found myself sitting next to this very adorable old couple, very inviting they seemed. After introducing myself I habitually started conversing with them. Thankfully they too, were interested in talking to me. Now the man was a Pakistani but his wife was from England and they had spent most of their lives outside of Pakistan so we were only using English with each other. They were telling me stories about their cat and their house and how they met. It was all fun and lovely.
Soon after, the man said something that made me feel and think a lot of things, and also is inspiring this post:
You know, you wear a hijab and an abaya and we are usually told to stay away from people who dress like this; they’re considered dangerous because of the circumstances these days. But you are a very nice girl. You are a good girl.
Yes I was covered with my hijab and abaya and honestly, that sudden comment had caught me off guard. I smiled really wide and said thank you. We kept talking until the two of them were taken away, wheeled away rather, they were too old to be able to easily walk to their plane. We said our goodbyes and said we hoped to meet again someday. Which by the way, I would love. They were so amazing! Only after they had gone, did I find time to actually reflect on what he had been nice enough to say to me.
It is a reality isn’t it? If somebody sees me doing whatever I’m doing, good or bad, they won’t say “Oh I saw this girl misbehaving with the waiter” or “giving candy to a little kid she doesn’t know” Instead they would use the word “Muslim”.
You know people wear shirts that say “Feminist”. People wear basketball jerseys and hoodies. People wear badges in the army. I wear my hijab and abaya. (I mean I also like wearing badges and jerseys and shirts, haha) Point is, everybody loves representing what they believe in, and I do too. But it is also really, really terrifying.
Because I’m not representing a football club, or a team, or a country even. I’m representing an entire branch of human population, around 1.6 BILLION people.
Now I’m not saying that everybody I meet judges me with this definition in mind, I’m just saying that people generally, usually do. This wasn’t the first time I heard a comment like this. Maybe it was the most straightforward one though. And I mean, I loved it. I absolutely loved changing a wrong perception of a person who doesn’t know much about “people like me.” Especially when the perception has been engraved in people’s minds, by a body that does not even know the ABC of Islam, let alone its extensive teachings. Yes I am talking about the many different “Islamist” parties that have recently sprung up out of nowhere claiming to be leaders to all of us. We’re all very much aware of what they are doing in the world every single day, polluting the belief we stand for. It makes me sad when people are hesitant or scared of us, or let’s say me, just because of a belief of mine.
I say to everyone who does not share my personal beliefs, dress the same way as me, no matter if you’re Muslim or non-Muslim: When you see a girl wearing a hijab or a guy with a beard, do not be uncomfortable. Simply because it’s ridiculous. I would be laughed at if I were to go around being afraid of supporters of the New York Knicks, or nuns, wouldn’t I? I would just be narrowing my own mind and the amount and quality of information that could find it’s way into it, making me wiser. It’s pretty easy, I understand, in our world today. Of course you’re hesitant. But I’m asking you to merely try once or twice. Begin with your classmates, your neighbors, a salesman at a store you shop at. Give them a chance. Begin with me if you will, just please begin. I want you to know that there’s absolutely no reason to be dubious or scared.
To every Muslim who is a Hijabi, or keeps a beard in case of males, publicly carrying around a permanent symbol of your religion, I say: Please take responsibility. WAKE UP. What’s happening in the world is in front of you. You know how much of a target of propaganda we have been made. Wouldn’t you like to change that? Wouldn’t you like people to know who we really are and what we really stand for? Sorry to break it to you but we have to work a bit harder than we are doing right now. We cannot simply sit around while all sorts of wrong perceptions and narrations of bad experiences are passed around, about us. Please, stand up and try, in your own little or big way, to do something good and prove someone naive wrong. Spread kindness, help strangers, smile at everyone, actively participate in this struggle for change. Do not hate anybody who doesn’t understand you. Give them reasons to want to know you better. Try to refrain from wrong doings and emphasize on your ability of nice gestures. You might not have realized the enormity of what you represent each day, but let me tell you,
You are not just you, you are all of us. And we need you now.