A few days ago, I was at dinner with a couple of friends when one suddenly asked, “Are you afraid to be in public with your hijab?”
It was the first time someone ever asked me that question in the decade that I’ve adorned a hijab. I paused, thinking for a few minutes about the implications of the question itself, and how we’re living in a political climate where such a question is arguably justified.
“No,” I responded a little reluctantly, looking around nervously. “No, I’m not afraid,” I repeated more firmly after giving it more thought. I don’t let fear dictate my actions.
I concluded that while there are valid reasons to be afraid, allowing fear to overcome would cripple me and force me to distance myself from my religious practices, which would only fortify the objectives of Islamophobes, who want to expunge Islam and Muslim identities.
I reflected for a short time afterward on the recent attacks against Muslims in Oregon, London, and Virginia, which presumably inspired her question. Each attack startled me, especially the brutal death of Nabra Hassanen in Fairfax County, Va., which happened several miles from where I was that same night.
Her death rattled the Muslim American community and reinforced the gravity and increasing prevalence of Islamophobia, especially against women who are visibly Muslim.
It left me numb. For days after I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I couldn’t — and still can’t — stop thinking of her devastated parents, who will never celebrate another Ramadan or Eid with their eldest daughter.
Sura Mallouh, a Canadian documentary filmmaker, curated a short video using footage from a vigil for Nabra in New York City to honor her and to highlight the disquieting reality of visibly Muslim women in the West. The video follows Mallouh as she navigates through NYC streets and the subway as a hijabi.
Several Muslim women are featured in the video expressing their concerns, one proclaims, “Wearing a hijab is really like wearing a target on your back every single day.”
This resonating statement holds so much truth. The hijab has become more than just a religious symbol or a modest manifestation. Among several other deviants engineered by conservatives, liberals, political pundits, and commentators to fulfill their own ends, it’s become an unwelcome invitation for bigots to act on their hate and to instill fear.
Despite the hate, Muslim women have continued to practice their faith for over a thousand and four hundred years. Islam has experienced adversity and active political resistance since Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) received revelation. Yet, the number of Muslims continues to grow. This demonstrates the resilience of Muslims, particularly Muslim women, who are most vulnerable to hate crimes.
One girl in the video emphasized the courage and unity Muslim women should exemplify in the face of adversity, declaring, “We as individuals, who are wearing a hijab, we need to stand together and we need to show the world that we are not afraid and we’re still going to be here and we’re not going to remove our identity.”