MUSLIM FOR A DAY
In a post 9/11 America where a person can be accused of being a terrorist solely based on their appearance I find myself taking the challenge of being “Muslim” for a day. Although I have always considered myself to be “culturally catholic”, the idea of wearing a head scarf or “hijab” has lingered in my mind for quite some time. As a student of Anthropology it has always been an interest of mine to understand how Muslims, particularly women, perceive themselves in America and how other’s perceive them. I knew that by putting on a hijab I would further categorize myself as a minority. Not only would I be non-white, but I would be Muslim and more importantly a woman. Being fully aware of this and understanding the anti-Islamic sentiment within the U.S, I decided it was something I needed to do.Today, thanks to the MSA at UCLA, I had the opportunity to do just that. It was Muslim awareness week and female students were invited to wear a hijab today for as long as they felt comfortable. At around 12 pm this afternoon I went to the booth and was given a hijab to wear. Interested in the reaction that I would get from strangers I tried paying close attention to people in and around my environment. What I immediately noticed was that it became hard for me to make eye contact. People would quickly divert their gaze to anywhere that was not my direction. I figured that they were trying to be “polite” and not stare but being accustomed to making eye contact I felt a little see-through. I went on with my day even making a 20 minute presentation in my linguistics class on Cuban Spanish wearing my hijab. By 4 pm I had gotten so used to the hijab that I forgot I had it on. Nothing too eventful happened at school besides not being able to make eye contact with strangers (which became really annoying after a while). It was not until I left school grounds that I got a “real” reaction from someone. I was at a restaurant just outside of Westwood when I decided to go up to the counter. There was a woman in front of me who didn’t seem to mind when I stepped up a little closer to her, that is until she turned around and saw my hijab. As soon as she saw me she took a huge side step and stared me down. Forgetting I had on the hijab I quickly apologized thinking I had simply startled her. But when I saw the look she gave me after staring at my head I soon realized that it was my appearance that she was uncomfortable with. Suddenly I felt like I wanted to take back my apology because I had just apologized for looking “Muslim” and I don’t think anyone should ever have to apologize for their appearance or their faith. The only thing I could think of was, “If only she knew I was Christian”. This woman knew nothing of my life, how I grew up, my morals, or anything that has to do with my person and despite that she was quick to make a judgement on me for being “Muslim”. I may not agree with many things the Qur’an has to say and although I personally would never convert to Islam I think people have to respect a persons choice in practicing the religion nonetheless. Tomorrow I will wear my hair down and go on with my life probably never thinking back on this incident. But wearing a hijab for one day is nothing compared to being a practicing Muslim woman who does not simply decide to not wear a hijab for one or two days because it is inconvenient. These women, despite what many Americans believe, are strong and brave for heading out in public on a daily basis even after running the risk of being put under scrutiny. What I experienced today was nothing in comparison to what these women have lived through and will continue living through and for that I think they are a true inspiration.