Wrap Battle: Discrimination Against Hijabis Happens in the Muslim Community Too

After reading World Hijab Day’s prompt about “Times I’ve been discriminated against in hijab,” I thought back to the most recent incident. Sadly, one of the last times I’d been discriminated against was at my favorite theme park, Universal Studios Hollywood. Park attendees repeatedly rebuffed me, but ironically would then engage with the people around me — including my white companions! The blatant discrimination — ignoring one person, but engaging with another — is what bothers me the most.

At the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I complimented a white male wizard’s cosplay, and although he had been joking with others and taking photos, he barely nodded at me, and then walked away. Then, in line to meet Max, the Grinch’s dog, I cheerfully answered a lady’s question about him, but she looked away. But when my (blonde) friend turned around, she chatted animatedly with her.

This reminded me of a similar instance three years ago at the Houston airport: A white lady glared at me, but smiled and put her arm around an Asian girl. Inwardly, I laughed to myself that she was probably complimenting herself on being a welcoming person, as Southerners credit themselves, even though she arbitrarily rejected me.

These incidents made me wonder: Can a person be considered friendly if they are only nice to certain people of color?

Does “Southern Hospitality” still exist if people are literally screaming out car windows at Muslims?

(To be fair, I recently returned to Houston and only encountered the most polite people.)

These incidents made me wonder: Can a person be considered friendly if they are only nice to certain people of color? When I posted the question on Facebook, a colleague replied that maybe that person felt victimized by someone from the excluded group. But no, that is unacceptable, because that is the definition of racism, not mention collective punishment.

A few months ago, I was harassed by a worker by my house. For a few weeks afterwards, I was suspicious of all workers. Then I forced myself to recognize that the incident was one person, that it was an isolated incident, and that most workers are friendly and innocent. If I continued that wary behavior, I’d be guilty of what others do to hijabis and Muslims.

Ironically, perhaps the most disturbing hijab discrimination I’ve experienced, and heard about, is by fellow Muslims. Sometimes I feel as uncomfortable — if not more so — wearing and talking about hijab in front of some Muslims than I do with non-Muslims. And actually, non- Muslims praise and compliment my hijab more than Muslims. Contrary to common Western belief, many Muslim women do not wear hijab nor do they want to wear it. (I’m the only hijabi in my immediate and extended family.) Actually, Muslims have often questioned and/or attacked my hijab, just like ignorant non-Muslims do. So why are we calling out prejudice from outside groups, and not from our own people? We need total tolerance from within the Muslim community if we are truly going to combat discrimination against hijabis.

On several occasions, I’ve been told by relatives to remove my hijab to find a husband.

On several occasions, I’ve been told by relatives to remove my hijab to find a husband. Similarly, a girl wanted to wear hijab after learning about it in college, but her mom stopped her. Another acquaintance avoided public family parties because her mom wouldn’t let her wear hijab. Yet another acquaintance was constantly bombarded in her room without hijab by male cousins because her family outright disliked hijab. (On a personal note, my parents suggested I take off my hijab for medical school interviews; I didn’t and got accepted anyway.) I’ve literally had three Pakistani people mock me for looking “Arab,” or question my non-Arab ethnicity while wearing hijab

So to play shaytan’s advocate, can Muslims complain about racism when we practice it against one another? Muslims are not physically assaulting hijabis as a few Westerners have been recently, but are Muslims always welcoming hijabis with open arms? We cannot expect non-Muslims to respect hijab (and niqab) when our own community sometimes does not do so.  

Moving forward, I think that World Hijab Day should include non-hijab wearing Muslim women in the conversation, and invite them to wear hijab that day as well. In that conversation, they can explore reasons they don’t wear hijab, which could include family pressure, political ideologies (i.e. hijab is for Arabs, not South Asians), or a lack of understanding and exposure. (Growing up, I did not know anyone who wore hijab, so I thought it was an archaic practice; in college I met many normal women who wore it, so I learned about it and started wearing it.) Even if the women choose not to wear hijab for World Hijab Day, it would be beneficial to have a conversation between hijabis and non-hijabis, to facilitate understanding and harmony between the groups, and lessen any discomfort or mistrust.

Because nudges and pulls from strangers may break my bones, but discriminating words from family will hurt me.