By: Nour Touti
Dear Williamsville East,
As much as we can say that the opinions others perceive of us don’t have an effect or create any long-term impact, they do. This does not apply to any one race, ethnicity, or religion; it applies to any and everyone. Although the impacts that it can have on races, ethnicities and religions can be detrimental, there are levels to it. We, the hijabis of Williamsville East High School, would like to share our personal experiences when wearing the hijab in a public school environment. Please keep in mind that this is not always subjective and that not every experience is negative.
What exactly is the hijab? The hijab is a veil worn by Muslim women in the presence of any male outside of their immediate family or their spouses. The hijab does not only cover the head but the actual definition of it promotes modesty, which is the covering of the entire body. The way that hijabis go about achieving this is different for each one, not every Muslim woman wears the hijab the same way.
A lot of questions arise based on the age women begin wearing the hijab and whether or not they are forced to wear it. No, Muslim women are not forced to wear the hijab. It is a choice. It is mandatory, but it is a choice. For example, drinking is a choice: We know the consequences of drinking, but we choose whether or not to do so. Secondly, most Muslim women begin wearing the hijab once they reach puberty although some wait till college or even marriage. Ayat Ahmad, a senior at East, started wearing the hijab at a much younger age than most hijabis. She started wearing it at the age of seven. She expresses that this was because her “environment was pretty comfortable and it has always been a big part of my [her] views when it came to my [her] religion, my [her] mom also wears it so I [she] did not feel out of place.” A handful of other hijabis had similar answers. Mariam, a 10th grader at East, was always influenced by the hijab because she wore it all the time during Islamic school, which furthers the claim that wearing the hijab is fairly impacted by your environment, which is also why it is harder for some women to start wearing it.
Negative and positive experiences in school while wearing the hijab can differ based on multiple components such as age and education. A handful of the hijabis interviewed agreed that although they’ve had countless negative experiences outside of school, their experiences in school so far have been acceptable with a few immature comments here and there. Three students who wear the hijab in the 9th and 10th grade have expressed that they have not had any negative experiences in high school thus far, although another hijabi student and I have had negative experiences in school. It could be due to the maturity and levels of understanding between the age groups, but it could also be due to the fact that along with age comes knowledge and as we grow, we learn. Some refuse to educate themselves, while a majority of others are respectful and educated. One hijabi, Ruby Elmoudi, a freshman, recalled an experience when she had her hijab draped on one shoulder and it fell, a friend lifted it and put it back on her shoulder. Another hijabi, Rouaa Elmoudi, a sophomore, expressed how a majority of her friends always let her know when her hair is showing or any possible immodest thing. Although these actions might seem minor, they are not insignificant. They show us that we are respected and understood to a certain extent.
A specific message my fellow hijabis and I would like to share is to not hesitate to approach us and ask questions. We know certain people feel this way because once we became friends with them, they expressed to us how they wanted to ask something but did not know how to. There is a big difference between asking an immature question simply to try to be funny (when it clearly isn’t) or asking a serious question about something that one can be genuinely curious about. Trust me, we notice the difference. For instance, questions such as “Do you shower in that?”, “Do you sleep in that?”, or “Do you have hair?” are all immature, and those are the kind of questions that irritate us. I mean of course we enjoy showering with our hijab on, it really lets us soak in the shampoo very well. Has anyone heard of “Hijab and Shoulders”? It gets all the lint out with just one wash! Basically, please don’t ask those questions. Here is some advice: if one needs to think about whether a question is respectful or not, it probably isn’t.
This portion could be helpful to some, but honestly this paragraph mainly goes out to the Muslim women who have not started wearing the hijab yet. Here is some genuine advice from our hijabis at East. Sophomore Dina Ahmed says “Don’t really think about what people think because it is not going to matter in the near future.” Ayat Ahmad says, “Take your time, you really have to be sure when you want to wear the hijab because, at least for me, I was not really close with my deen (religion) and stuff so I constantly questioned it. No matter what anyone says do not listen to them because there is going to be a lot of people who will downgrade you about it, you cannot take what they say into consideration because you’re doing it for yourself you’re not doing it for anyone else, no one can force you or tell you what to do, it is your choice at the end of the day.” Freshman Yusra Touti says, “Every journey takes some time for you to achieve your final goal, and every journey has choices that are yours to make, even if the journey is hard it will all surpass when you finally choose to love yourself.” Lastly, some advice from Nour Touti, an 11th grader. If you spend the rest of your life waiting, nothing will happen. You have to seize the moment in which you feel you are ready, quite frankly you might never be ready, but if you can take an opportunity where you get an ounce of confidence, take it. You will not regret your decision; you have an entire community cheering you on.
I would like to conclude by saying this letter is important to us as we want to continue to bring awareness about issues not only facing Muslim women but women all around the world. There are countless issues that need to be spoken about and taken into consideration, we hope that this letter will bring a sense of understanding and education to those who are yet to achieve it. We hope that this letter gives everyone a glimpse into our lives and what it is like, at school, to wear the hijab.
“The sun doesn’t lose its beauty when covered by the clouds. The same way your beauty doesn’t fade when being covered by the hijab.” – Angelina Jolie.
The Hijabis of Williamsville East