Hi there. I’m Jess, I’m 21, and I’m a non-Muslim. However, as you can see, I am wearing a headscarf or hijab as it is more commonly known. The reason I am wearing a hijab is simple - a friend of mine asked me to. Not because she wanted me to look stupid, but because World Hijab Day is on Feb 1st 2013 and she was asking all of her non-Muslim friends to join her in wearing the hijab.
I've wanted to wear a hijab for some time now, but have always shied away from it because I wasn't sure that I could since I am not Muslim. However, my friend assures me that the hijab is mostly about modesty, although it does obviously have ties to Islam as well. So today I thought "Why not?" and did my best to create a hijab with my scarf. I have ordered two hijabs and some pins, so until they arrive I will be wearing a scarf wrapped around my head.
However, my optimism wasn't quite shared with the rest of the world. On my walk to university today I saw over 60 people. Of those people, 16 of them looked me in the eyes and only 3 of them smiled back at me. Everybody else either studiously ignored me or looked at me and then hastily looked away. It was surprisingly upsetting for me, as I'm not used to being avoided in the street. Even my partner noticed that we were being avoided, almost as if we had the lurgy.
This made me realise that people are often casually racist without realising. By looking at someone and then looking away, you make them feel as if they should be ashamed. I certainly felt that way - I felt as if I should be looking down at the floor in shame, although I couldn't quite work out why I should be ashamed, or indeed what I should be ashamed of.
The people who looked at me seemed to have a surprised and curious look on their face, as if they couldn't work out why a white girl would be wearing a hijab. A lot of people expect those who wear the hijab to be of African or Middle Eastern origin, so to see me wandering about wearing a hijab might have been a suprise. However, I do wonder why it's such a surprise - England is, after all, a free and democratic society and one would think that anybody could wear whatever they wanted.
I also felt very angry as person after person avoided my gaze whilst I wore the hijab. To test my theory, I lowered my hijab and walked down a street bareheaded ... and the difference was immense! People returned my gaze and smiled back at me, but the minute I returned to wearing the hijab I also returned to being invisible and someone who shouldn't be looked at. One man even crossed the street the moment he realised that I was wearing a hijab!
It really disgusted me to see such judgment and rudeness from people who would normally have returned my gaze and possibly smiled back at me. I have always prided myself on being likeable and approachable, and to think that the simple wearing of a hijab would change the way people saw me was a real kick in the teeth. I almost felt betrayed in a way, and felt ashamed of my own people. To think that just 16 people had the decency to look me in the eyes and not care what I was wearing was really saddening, especially as I expected more people to look at me.
One thing that cheered me up was someone in a workshop that I'm taking part in. She said she thought that people like me who wore the hijab were "brave" because of the statement we were making and even made the point that "it's not something like a cross that you can hide in your shirt, it's something you wear on your head", which was a really pertinent point. Muslim women cannot hide the fact that they are Muslim - it's out there for the world to see, especially if they wear the hijab - and nor should they!
So that was my first day of wearing the hijab. I'd say I hope that things will improve, but don't hold your breath.
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