Written by Candee Rue.
“I’m actually a Christian, but if I weren’t, is that really how you would treat me as a Muslim?”
This sentence would be the catalyst to my journey in seeing and understanding Islam and Muslim women and men in a different, more accurate way.
In 2013, I put on hijab for the very first time. I had been going to a local coffee shop to write entries for my blog, which was about modesty. I repeatedly saw a man named Ahmed during my visits and eventually, we began having a religious dialogue. I told him that I was a modesty blogger and he asked if I ever heard of the hijab. I replied, “Um, yeah, that thingy Muslim girls wear on their heads because they have to?” He corrected me and made sure I knew that most Muslim women who wear hijab choose to wear hijab of their own accord, while a very small percentage are unfortunately forced to wear it via family coercions and strict cultures. We spent the next three months conversing about our faiths — their similarities and the differences. I didn’t know it then, but this was the first step as God worked on turning my heart toward Islam and Muslims.
In 2016, I decided to do start a YouTube channel after I decided that I had every right to wear my headscarf in the way I deemed most beautiful; this so happened to be the style that is most associated with Islam in the west. So, I began wearing hijab to church every Sunday and out in public whenever I felt like it. Most modern-day Christians do not wear hijab for an array of different reasons. However, I was convinced that I should wear it at church despite the pushback and work into wearing it full-time. This led me to essentially being all but kicked out of a church. I believe the exact words were, “You have the option of studying and coming into agreement with what we believe, (hijab is not for today) or you can find someplace else to worship.”
He corrected me and made sure I knew that most Muslim women who wear hijab choose to wear hijab of their own accord, while a very small percentage are unfortunately forced to wear it via family coercions and strict cultures.
Well, my husband and I both do not do well with ultimatums, so we bounced (we removed our membership from the church.) It took a little while for me to want to give it another shot but eventually, we did and again I was the only veiled woman at our new church. This church I noticed was multiracial, multicultural, mutli-class and was accepting of others. It was a wonderful place to be, but it was still a place where I felt different and not entirely understood. I was lonely. It was then that I began to understand just a little of what many Muslim girls and women go through as the only hijabis in their schools, workplaces and sometimes entire towns!
My first negative encounter while wearing hijab was at Panera of all places! Like, come on, who can be rude at the mother of all good things in the form of carbs? As I was walking into the bakery, I noticed a rather loud woman sharing her takeaways from a Bible study to another woman. All I was thinking at the time was, “Hmm I wonder which study that is?” As I reached about two feet away from the door, I heard her say some derogatory things about Muslims and the afterlife. I didn’t know she was talking to me until she made it painfully obvious. I chose not to engage in conflict that day, but instead told her that in the end we’ll all be judged for every word we speak and smile. That was the nicest thing I had to say at the moment. I will add here, that I am 25, Black, and currently wearing hijab in Kentucky. So yeah, there’s that dynamic going on too.
I live in the Bible belt where it’s cool to fly the confederate flag. Free speech is great if you aren’t the wrong type of Black person, a liberal or a Muslim. I’d say this woman spoke to me the way she did because she felt like she could. No one that was her perceived equal was going to say anything to her about it. I was, to her, a Black, Muslim, oppressed and uneducated person. It’s the only reason she would speak to me that way. That day changed my life. I was to her and to most, one of “them.” A simple piece of cloth on my head was my catalyst from decently privileged Black American evangelical Christian to oppressed, Black, foreign, Muslim, problematic person. I was enraged. I then took to asking every single Muslim woman I met about her experiences. What I learned was that my experience wasn’t a stand-alone one. It was the norm. Something that Muslim women have been experienced for quite a while.
You’d think I’d be very used to facing discrimination and prejudice, but truth be told, I’m not. It wasn’t until I put a scarf on my head and identified as Muslim that I felt truly discriminated against. As a Black American woman from the Chicago area, I never felt different than my White peers. I grew up in the suburbs, was raised as a part of the middle-class and went to college in a tiny Kentucky town. As a Black evangelical Christian, I was accepted, though there were a few instances that I felt I needed to speak up about some of the prejudices I faced.
To be totally honest, I was the one who was prejudiced toward Muslims. Our faith preached that Muslims were going to hell in a hand basket because Muslims worshiped a different God. Everyone around me believed that and no one spoke anything of it. Muslims were terrorists and if they weren’t terrorists themselves, they were somehow supportive of terrorism. They were either evil or ignorant of how evil their religion was. This was the mindset that I and all my Christian college friends had. I never questioned it because it didn’t affect me and I had a grand total of zero Muslim friends.
I chose to veil in a style that was most commonly seen as Islamic because I thought it was the most beautiful style. I wear turbans too. Wearing hijab around my Christian peers has forced me to confront my own prejudice against Muslims and to actually look into Islam and its teachings. What I’ve found is that 1) I’m an ex-bigot, 2) Islam is beautiful, and 3) Muslims are not perfect and they’re just like me and all other humans walking this planet.
Looking into Islam has caused me to reflect a lot on what I deem to be the “right” way to believe. Wearing hijab in some weird way has thrust me into being a sister to other Muslim hijabi women. So now I defend Muslims and hijabi women like I’m defending myself and my daughters. It’s taught me that hijabi/Muslim rights and safety are human rights and safety! I will never be able to sit in a room and listen to derogatory speech about Islam and Muslims without speaking up for what I know to be true going forward. For that, I am thankful. It took me wearing hijab to remove the blinders from my privileged Christian self. To realize that being a Black hijabi is scary in today’s America, but that we women are a stronger together than we could ever be separate. I plan to help bridge the gap between Muslim hijabis and Christian veiling women hoping that will be the beginning to closing the huge chasm between these two groups in America. We all have a similar struggle and for those of us who wear hijab and are women of color, we know that the struggle is deep. May God continue to guide us all!
These are six ways that I became an ally to the Muslim American community and I hope these six easy suggestions prove to dismantle the prejudice I know many American non-Muslims harbor.
1. Actually talk to a Muslim.
Never in my experience of wearing hijab or randomly striking up a conversation has a Muslim man or woman been offended. Just think, if someone was going to come up to me asking me about my faith, how would I want them to approach me? It’s simple: treat others how you would want to be treated.
2. Become good friends with a Muslim.
No, I don’t mean in the uber weird, “befriend a Muslim so you can convert them” way. I mean, actually build a friendship with a muslim man or woman. Ask them to help you understand their faith and culture and perhaps even share yours. I have come to see so many things differently simply by asking my Muslim friends questions and listening intently to their answers. In college, if I thought someone was Muslim, I would ask them if they were and then tell them that I wanted to learn more about Islam. I was always welcomed into conversation and invited to prayer.
3. Go to a mosque.
If you have no one to ask about going to a mosque I suggest you go online and google “Mosque near me” or “Islamic center near me.” You can then type in the name of the mosque or Islamic center on Facebook for more information. I always call before I visit to let the leaders know that I want to come and sit in on prayer or a class and that I’m non-Muslim. (If you feel the need you can mention that you are not interested in converting, but that you are curious.) They should give you a time to come on a Friday. Dress modestly and be sure to ask about anything you should not bring into the mosque.
4. Actually read the Quran for yourself if you are going to be commenting on the religion of Islam.
A good friend of mine, who is a Muslim, pointed me in the direction of a good Quran translation in English. You can order this translation here. It is important to note that a Quran is only an actual Quran when it is in Arabic. Anything else is simply a translation of the Quran, but not believed to be the very recitation from God.
5. SPEAK UP when you see injustice.
This is so incredibly important. To stand up to racism, Islamophobia, bigotry and discrimination, you don’t need to be entirely educated in Islam or have any Muslim friends. All you need to do is to use your voice, perhaps, even, your privilege, to stop hate, rudeness, assault, discrimination and anything else that you wouldn’t want done to anyone you loved. Visit A-Z Guide on How to be a Muslim Ally for more tips!