Written by Sahar Arekat
Hear me out though…. Although there is an immense pressure for women who wear hijab; the stares the rude comments the misconceived notion that they are aren’t independent or liberated is crazy. I can not imagine what that must be like, or the toll it takes on – the confidence and potentially eroding perseverance atop the immense responsibility of representing the Muslim women as a whole is overwhelming.
What about those of us who do not (or have not) worn the hijab yet? Although the spotlight isn’t directly on us, we still have a responsibility and moral obligation (yes, morals still exist..hopefully) to illustrate the diversity, character and strength of Muslim women.
I sometimes feel that it is easier for me to engage in conversation with people because I do not cover my hair. And so I want to use this to my advantage to break down the barriers and show another side of the Muslim women of our country. Whether it be on my train commute to New York City from Paterson, New Jersey (also known as little Palestine) or at the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit this past year in Boston, or on the four hour bus ride to the Women’s March in Washington D.C this past January, or even with my coworkers. We end up talking about life, philosophy, dogs and how I’m trying to convince them to adopt not shop – or the inevitable political spectacle that is the current leader of the free world. (Obama is still President in my mind.)
By this point I’ve engaged them in thought provoking conversations and showed them endless instagram pics of my dog rescue volunteer work at the Husky House, and even numerous mountains I’ve hiked along the East and West coast. I like hearing people’s stories, their backgrounds, their line of work, but most importantly their struggles. The art of conversation is lost, and by engaging in dialogue we pave the way for human to human connection. So, I’m sure they appreciate my adorable intrigue or curious nuisance – I’m almost certain it’s the nuisance that lures them into the conversation #sarcasticwinkyface.
Here comes the fine line where I need to feverishly probe for my semi-permeable filter, because political discourse ensues and of course everyone has an opinion on Trump and his Twitter fingers. I politely and passionately convey my stance on the acting president while interjecting some not so subtle sarcastic and ever so cunning conspiracy statements that make people think twice about their stance.
I personally foresee the following New York Times headline “President Pence” within the next two years. Then I say, “As a Muslim person myself…” and that’s when, for the most part, they realize they’ve been speaking to a Muslim person. By then I’ve been told I’ve broken down some stereotypes and notions they’ve had of Muslim women. I’m a strong, opinionated, sharp, sarcastic, free thinker; an animal activist, a Robert Redford and Clint Eastwood admirier, a nature loving, dog rescuing, mountain climbing junkie who endlessly quotes the likes of Dostoyevsky and every Guy Ritchie film.
I’ve been told I’m ethnically ambiguous by nearly every person I’ve ever met, which for me has served as my Muslim mask. Yes, as ridiculous as this may sound, me and my hair flowing – my ethnically ambiguous face – its unknowingly served as my mask to the non Muslim world.
It allows me to convey the multifaceted characteristics of my Arab self to people who may otherwise not have entertained a conversation with me based on media stigmas of Muslims. I’m not saying that most people still have these stereotypes of what it is to be a Muslim woman in today’s society. I see myself as an American with some old school traditional morals and values that bumps to Biggie and the Wu Tang Clan while still making time to read Surat Al Kahf on Friday’s.
At the end of the day people are going to see you for who you portray yourself to be, whether that’s in the way you carry yourself, the way you dress, the way you speak, the way you make other people feel – that’s what changes and shifts perspective in the end.
All it takes is some self confidence and engaging conversation. Do not let other people’s views of you stop you from being awesome, from dominating and overcoming personal challenges, from taking the corporate and fashion industry by storm. I’m so elated to see Muslim women come to the forefront of the corporate, fashion, business and art industries. Let us pave the path for our fellow sisters by opening the floor for conversation. You don’t need to discuss politics if you’re not fully knowledgeable on current events. Just be yourself, let your character and mannerisms be a good representation of your faith, culture and your upbringing. These are all things people notice. Let’s unite to breakdown the stereotype and misconceptions one conversation at a time.