Years ago, when I first told a family member I was interested in a guy from Pakistan, they told me how they heard Muslim women are treated like dogs. Little did they know I was seriously considering embracing Islam as my own faith.
That was such a long time ago that I seriously almost forgot about the dog comparison — until the other day. I was on my way to work on a commuter bus when a woman walking down the aisle looked over at me and said, “Sit. Stay.” Maybe it was the shock. Or maybe it was the fact that I don’t like confrontation. The only thing I know is that I acted like I didn’t hear her.
While her attempt at humiliating me didn’t bother me that much at first, the more I let it brew in my mind, the more I became bothered. The woman referred to me as a dog!
Does restraint make me a dog? Does modesty make me an animal? Does not wanting to acknowledge her intimidating remark make me less human?
Did the woman who told me to “sit and stay” feel empowered? If I’m not human, is she a liberated woman? Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, but why criticize another woman for wearing hijab?
Here’s a little secret that I’ve come to realize as I’ve grown as a person — women like the one who barked orders at me aren’t feminists. They aren’t empowering anyone to be “less submissive” or “more expressive” because most Muslim women I know are already strong. Real strong women uplift their sisters because we’ve already been subjected to enough glass ceilings and stone walls in our life.
I don’t want to give anyone a lecture on how referring to Muslim women is discriminatory — because quite frankly, the only thing you should be referring to as a dog… is a dog. I also don’t need to refer you to Google in order to research how Islam has some really strong Muslim women in history in order to prove anything. I’ve have thought about the incident on the bus a lot though. And even now I find it hard to come up with the perfect response to what she said to me.
Maybe the best response would have been to acknowledge I knew she was talking to me in the first place — to give her a chance to look at me in my eyes when she thought it was cute to tell me to “Sit. Stay!” Maybe I would stop whatever I was doing and look her in her eyes and say, “Excuse me?” And although I realize it’s not much of a response, I do want the opportunity to let her see me for who I am — a strong, resilient Muslim woman.