I made the decision to wear the hijab when I was 13. It was never an easy journey. This was especially true in high school, as I was always a little too aware of the fact that my classmates would notice my hijab before they would see me. This anxiety culminated to one day after gym class, I had taken off my hijab in the girl’s locker room to wash up. When I returned to it, I found that it had been stolen. I was forced to walk out of the locker room hijab-less; feeling bare, exposed, and incredibly small. Some teachers frantically tried to find something with which to cover my head, while others loftily attempted to convince me that my hair was beautiful and that I looked better without the scarf. In the end, I went home early, defeated.
As low and awful as I felt during this episode in my life, I could see within it the manifestations of why I had put on the hijab in the first place. My hijab-less walk down the halls of my school reminded me of what the hijab really meant to me: It was never just a piece of cloth. It was never just a manner of behaving. It was a daily reminder, a daily decision, to be a Muslim in all meanings of the word. To be submissive to God in moments of contentment and hardship. To be resilient in the face of struggle. To be brave in the face of hatred. To be unapologetic in moments of ostracism. And to seek community when it’s too hard to be unapologetic alone.
Every damn day it seems like i need to prove myself of being worthy of whatever I was trying to accomplish and it just sucks. Trying to prove you're human to others who could even be lesser than you because our society told them we're “evil.” I myself have too many stories to tell and honestly I just laugh at them now. A lot of minority's do this to shake away the pain and it breaks my heart every time.
I love Islam, I really do. I think it's a beautiful and peaceful religion that's just poorly portrayed. But man, do Muslims make it hard. And I don't mean in like this societal acknowledgment of terrorism, but rather the community itself and within itself. We're so hard on one another. We're unforgiving to one another when we’re taught that Allah is the most forgiving. And we're racist, which drives me crazy because in Islam no person should ever be judges or discriminated against. it's all in the hands of Allah, and I fully believe that. I believe we should all live our best lives, obey the religion as much as we can, and know there is a God that looks down on us and we should only fear him and not people. We, as a Muslim community, forget this all the time. We shun people who are not on the same “level” as the rest, we're openly hateful to one another and it makes me mad. A religion that's so beautiful and so peaceful is dragged through the ground because people think they get to decide who someone is and where this someone falls on the community spectrum.
My biggest internal struggle was basically choosing to stop identifying as Muslim.
I grew up under a very conservative Arab mother and a fairly liberal Malay father, both muslim, so identity was pretty fluid for me growing up. However, the more I began to shape my individuality and grow into myself, the more conflict I encountered with the Arab side of the family.
They had a very rigid ideal of what a woman should be. The status quo was pretty much to look pretty, smile and shut up while the men did the more important things, and I contradicted that enough times for the relatives to start talking about how I was too “Westernized” and how my mother hadn’t raised me right.
I never felt like I could really be myself. It felt like every aspect of me was constantly being criticized and forced out of myself. My outfits were frowned upon for being too Westernized and unwomanly ( we’re talking basic t-shirts and jeans), the music I liked was “sinful”, dyeing my hair was equated to being a slut, I was too opinionated and asked too many uncomfortable questions, too ambitious and not submissive enough, and therefore I wasn’t a “good Muslim girl” by their standards.
If it wasn’t for my father’s constant influence, I might have succumbed to all that pressure and done away with basically my entire individuality. Thinking about it still makes me uncomfortable.
As a Muslim woman, a lot is expected of me in society, which makes talking about some of my personal struggles openly more difficult. This experience has allowed me to stand up for my beliefs and my identity with confidence. Throughout my life, I’ve always allowed others to speak for me and walk all over me. Over time though, I’ve grown tremendously and am happy to see how far I’ve come. One of the biggest challenges for me in the past has been self-love and acceptance. I have always been unforgiving of myself and kept the things I was struggling with locked away. No one likes to admit or talk about issues like this. It’s looked extremely down upon. I’ve learned over the years that women everywhere struggle with the same issues and have to constantly remind myself that I am human and allowed to make mistakes. No one is perfect and no one ever will be. Over time, I’ve started to be kinder to myself and hope that one day I can uplift and be a light for women who struggle with similar issues, especially those in my community. All we can do is aim for reaching our fullest potential and be the best versions our ourselves, but this can only be done if we as women are there for each other. The most important lesson I’ve learned about myself and that I would also give as advice to other women is that being your authentic self brings out the best version of who you are, as well as your best work. Accepting who I am and holding onto my faith tightly has allowed me to achieve my fullest potential day by day. It has allowed me to be a mentor, sister and a friend who is uplifting those around me. I know when I’ve accomplished something meaningful in life when I am of service to others, and I hope that I can continue encouraging other women to fight their inner struggles, focus on self-love, and support one another.
When I first started wearing hijab, I was most worried about the reaction I would get from non-Muslims, and I thought that if anything would make it hard for me to keep my hijab on, it would be that; the looks, rude comments, or flat out discrimination. But in reality, this hasn’t been an issue for me. Instead, I was surprised at how unsupportive and critical other Muslims can be of hijabis, especially those who don’t fit the traditional image of what hijab should be. Instead of supporting and uplifting women who have made the decision to wear hijab, there are unfortunately too many Muslims who are more interested in policing the choices that hijabis make, from our clothing to our makeup to the way we speak. It’s still unbelievable to me that anyone would think it’s a good idea to tell someone that if they’re not wearing hijab “correctly,” then they’re making a mockery of it and should “just take it off.” This kind of judgement used to affect me quite a bit, as it pushed me away from other Muslims and made me lose touch with my own Muslim identity. On the other hand, I knew very few other Iranians who wore hijab, and I felt as if it isolated me from that facet of my identity as well. I even began to doubt my decision to wear hijab; if I wasn’t representing it properly, why was I even wearing it? Was I trying to be something that I really wasn’t? But I soon came to appreciate how personal of a decision hijab is; it is a choice between me and God and literally no one else. The expectations that others may place on you are irrelevant if you know what you are doing and why you’re doing it.
Being a black Muslim woman has definitely given me the resilience that has shaped who I am today. I was raised in a family that has always been unapologetic about our identities and I have been taught to be proud of my heritage and religion. Nevertheless, growing up, I felt attacked on two fronts. Everyday on the news or on several social media platforms, black people or Muslims are being stereotyped and dehumanized. While I watched a video of people burning the Quran on one news channel, the other channel would show pictures and videos of dead black kids. Seeing those types of images and the hateful rhetoric towards my communities forced me to take a hard look at the kind of world I lived in at a young age.
I feel like I’m in a constant battle with myself about if I should live my life based on who I want to be or who I am expected to be. It likely stems from the fear that I might disappoint my family if I don’t live up to their expectations. My collectivist Bengali culture taught me the importance of reputation and that family goals trump individual desires. It’s because of this that I think carefully about anything that I do and how it might reflect on my parents. It is challenging to be a part of a community that wants to tell me how to dress, how to behave, what to do with my career, who to associate with; everything that allows me to express who I am feels like it is being decided for me. From being brought up in America, I can see how individualism is infused into every aspect of society; it is American culture that says to me, “be unapologetically you”. My biggest cultural influences contradict each other and this is where internal struggle come from.
Wearing the hijab has consisted of the some of the best, hardest, frustrating, fun, and empowering experiences of my life. These feelings to spilled into other parts of my being and identity, too.
It all started when I chose to observe it at nine years old where I received a lot of questions from my non-Muslim friends, like: "was your choice", "do you like wearing it", "is it hot", or "does your dad make you wear it". Not only friends but peers at school and teachers would ask me these questions or variations of them. Because of the questions, I spent the majority of my early years wearing it constantly reassuring others that it was my choice and it is something that I have full autonomy over. In that time I spent making sure everyone around me was somewhat comfortable with it I left out focusing on my own feelings about the hijab. Once I really started thinking about it came the feelings of insecurity, uncertainty, and frustration. I realized it wasn't only the reassurance about hijab that I constantly lived with but I often put on a front of, "everything is great and dandy" because I didn't want people to associate any negative feelings with the hijab or Islam.
This realization made me rediscover my faith and myself. I don't think there was one specific moment that solidified my choice to continue to wear the hijab but rather multiple. In a way, it was becoming aware of what I was doing and stopping that which was most freeing. Regaining that control of the choice and how I act due to it was incredible. I was no longer wearing the hijab and acting to accommodate everyone's feelings around me, and instead of reassuring people of my own autonomy, I began to embody my autonomy.
Being a black immigrant Muslim woman in this day and age in America, there isn't a moment when all of my identities aren’t being threatened. Being black means having to deal with the anti-blackness and racism that comes from all cultures and all non-black people. From white people to the Arab and brown/Asian muslim community and other non-black POC, anti-blackness is global. And then there’s also the internal anti-blackness and colorism we deal with in our own black communities, both the African immigrant community and the African-American community. Being Muslim means having to deal with the xenophobia and islamophobia that is so rampant today. Being a woman means having to deal with the constant sexism, misogyny, and violence from the male population, including the Muslim men who use culture and their biased misinterpretations of the religion to their advantaged. Being black and a woman means facing a specific kind of misogyny where racism and sexism meet (i.e. misogynoir).
One of the only things I know to be true, is that no matter what, you will never be able to please everyone. Whether I am surrounded by Muslims or non-Muslims, the degree of my religiousness is always being judged. Being deemed “not Muslim enough” is common in gatherings of Muslims, with people judging you the instant they see you. Their eyes immediately search for a hijab they won’t find and often, the questions start. People you may barely know feel entitled to ask you why you dress the way you dress as if the question itself will be able to snap you into a pious wardrobe. I am assumed to be less religious than my hijabi peers, like a scarf is the indicant of your faith in Allah rather than what you carry in your heart. In non-Muslim spaces, my faith has also caused a similar ostracization. Friends are more cautious around you and often in the attempt to not offend you, make you feel so much more different. They ask invasive questions at the wrong times and unknowingly place pressure on you to do things that they consider completely normal. The double bind of being an American Muslim is one we are all familiar with.
I have felt that my identity is being threatened or questioned on many occasions. I have chosen to wear hijab and I feel as though because of this choice i've had some experiences that I might not have had if I wasn't covering. There are microaggressions that happen everyday that make me feel questioned or as the “other.” In my opinion the small interacts between a teacher or a non muslim friend where a ignorant comment is made is more hurtful and threatening than aggressive person who makes it clear they dislike me for my religion, race etc. Casual comments from a friend who's eaten dinner at my house saying “ Oh don't you worship a god of war? And aren't you supposed to kill people?” has affected me far more than an angry person driving by yelling to take that rag off my head.
I am a Black Muslim Woman, the most hated in this country. My black identity is violated and disrespected wherever I go. I could be living halfway across the world and I would still deal with anti-blackness and racism. My Muslim identity is a constant battle. For some because I am black I can't also be a Muslim, as if my blackness stops me from praying five times a day. Then there's also the woman identity, one that is very visible. Misogyny is everywhere, you can't escape it. My intersectionality makes me a vulnerable person in this nation and in this world. I have came to accept the fact that no place in this world is a safe space for me. I will always deal with problem regarding my three identities. I can't escape it and no place in this giant planet can provide me what I need.
I think my entire being is constantly threatened, it just morphs and shows up in different ways. As a young girl growing up in Pakistan I always heard how important it was to straighten my hair, not tan my skin and, most (unfortunately) of all, how I should drop a few pounds. Growing up in a society embedded in body shaming I always blamed myself. Statements like “Who will marry a fat girl?” were commonplace. Still are sadly. I was made to believe no one would like me if I stayed the way I was and growing up, it managed to cling to me like a demon that I still struggle with. I was nowhere close to a weight that would complicate my health yet I grew up trying to avoid pounds like the plague.
Growing up in the Seattle area, my family and I were heavily involved in the Pakistani community and the masjid we went to was predominantly Pakistanis. I’m realizing now that this may not have been the most ideal environment for someone like me to grow up in because of it being so one sided and everyone almost having this hive mind mentality. I grew up seeing that you had to be a muslim one way and if you veered from that, you were not practicing correctly. Because I didn’t wear the hijab and because I was dark skinned, I didn’t really see myself represented very well in the community; I felt othered. So this resulted in me distancing myself from the people, from the masjid, and basically from the religion itself. Beginning in middle school I assimilated like no other. I wanted to take part in every American trend. I let the kids make terrorist jokes about me because I wanted to belong so badly. Having a group of all white friends who never said anything about me being a bad muslim or mention the color of my skin was new to me. The girls in the community would mention things about how white washed I was and how I didn’t like to go to the masjid and I began to identify as these things resulting in me feeling no connection with my culture and almost no connection with my religion. I would still pray and fast and try to dress modestly but there was little to none spiritual connection. In my junior year of high school, I did running start and started going to community college. This was where I realized that the world was a little bigger than I thought. I started seeing muslims from different backgrounds who practiced their faiths, and not just Islam, in so many different ways. This was sort of the beginning of my awakening, I guess.
There are many instances where my identity and individuality was threatened however, I want to still point out that as a non-black Muslim, I hold a lot of privilege and my oppressions do not resemble the oppressions of others. I am a Muslim Woman of Color who comes from a single parent household. I wear the hijab and I am visibly Muslim. I am also a first generation refugee and the eldest among my siblings, meaning that I often had to help my family navigate and survive in this country. I carry a lot of untold truth but I try to exist unapologetically, especially in a society that denies people who look like me or share similar characteristics of my identity (or then some) any sort of individuality. I can’t detail every occasion where my identity has been threatened, but in every instance, there was an attempt to invalidate my truth.
Having intersecting identities often means that others will attempt to invalidate your truth by rewriting it, rejecting your feelings, thoughts, and recounts of real lived experiences, and replacing your truth with their individual sense of what is right or wrong. It sometimes means that you invalidate your own truth by denying yourself a space that rightfully belongs to you.
Oh man okay. Wearing the hijab was probably the greatest decision of my life. When I started middle school mid-way through the year I was like yo I'm about to start wearing Hijab. I had tried in sixth grade and everyone would ask my how my hair looked, and I was like wow damn attention, so I'd straighten my hair the next day and everyone would look at me like I was out of this world and it was great because I got attention and my classmates said I looked pretty. I did this all the time in sixth grade. Finally there came a time when I was like enough of this shit, let's do this full time in middle school. I succeeded for a few months, but honestly after that I was back to straightening my hair trying to get attention and taking my hijab off at school. I had a friend on the bus who would sit next to me and we'd talk about God, and she didn't believe in god, and then I started to think and I realized that I don't either. I believed in nothing. It's funny cause I didn't pray, I didn't read the Quran, I was literally as far away from Islam as America is from North Korea hahahah. I think the part that was the worst was in I would sit on the way back home and I had my hair open and then it would be 5 minutes away from my house, and I'd be going through my backpack looking for my ponytails and then putting my hijab back on so my parents wouldn't know. That was an interesting time hahahah.
Living in a society where you are taught that everything about you is wrong is tough. I find myself constantly trying to reassure myself of my worth. It is almost as if I am creating an impermeable force field around my feelings. Being a Muslim women in 2017, although there are more Muslims in the limelight recently, is not easy. For me in particular, intersectionality has never been something I could escape. Being of a darker skin shade, it was
(and still is) hard for me to come into my own. As a child I experienced shame and was singled out for being the darkest in whatever setting is was in. When you are singled out because of your religion at school that is one thing, but being singled out because of your skin color by your religious community is another. There are a lot of issues in the Muslim community that we do not address and racism is undeniably one of them. Although people are aware that Muslims are treated unfairly, black muslims are excluded further from conversations, gatherings, and events. It is almost to say you are too black for the society and too black for the religious community. These issues persist into adulthood and manifest themselves in many ways. One of these could be self esteem. As a young girl, you want to feel pretty. But as an adult, you realize you do not need validation to feel beautiful you were born into it. So where does that leave a girl like me to find where she fits in? Maybe nowhere. Maybe everywhere.
Muslim guys and girls are so awkward. No one talks about how socially awkward the dynamic between guys and girls is. Because when you’re growing up, everyone’s like “...don’t… You can’t look at them, see them, talk to them.” There’s this huge, like, no-no. Like if you talk to that boy, you will die. So that’s why when you grow up, there becomes a group of guys and a group of girls that hate each other because we’re not allowed to talk to each other, to become friends. We always talk to each other from afar, which creates a whole lot of problems for miscommunication. That’s why we grow up thinking “I hate all the guys from the community” because we were never allowed to talk to each other. You have all these non-Muslim friends that are girls or boys but when you talk to a Muslim guy or girl it becomes so awkward and they’re so weirded out.
When I first started my Instagram blog and website, lifeofaani.com, I thought of it as nothing more than an outlet to share my thoughts on the things that excited me the most: beauty, fashion, and life in Seattle. However, pretty soon, it became very clear that being a blogging as a brown woman is not easy.
When I started blogging, my family was very supportive of it until random people in the community starting talking about how my pictures were “all over the internet.” The pictures I post are and have always been very appropriate and modest so I never saw why people always find the need to make a big deal about them. My intention behind posting pictures of myself is never to showcase myself, but rather help other girls like me.
I love standing out, and I think I’m really good at it. However, it’s very easy to feel left out when you’re the only girl at an event who isn’t blonde. I love how diverse the Seattle blogging community can be, but sometimes it’s hard not to think of and see that most bloggers are indeed white, blonde, and spray tanned to the 9’s. This is especially true when working with brands. Brands either want to feature you as the golden diverse girl of their company or don’t want to have anything to do with you because you don’t fit the true girl-next-door vibes.