Freedom in the Folds of My Hijab

by Ayat Altamimi

The invention of the automobile changed the trajectory of the world. Being from the Detroit Metropolitan Area, I can claim to know that much.

Planes, however, are an uncharted territory for me. The most I can say about airplanes is that they are now synonymous with the sins of a crime that I have grown up baring.

When I was three years old, blood was smeared on my hands, and the hands of everyone who came before me, everyone who came after me. See, Osama bin Laden and I, we had something in common. Something I didn’t even know we had in common until I had it beaten into my skull, over, and over, and over again.

“Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslim.”

The first time I heard this, it was like having scalding water poured on my face. A mixture of anger, shame, sadness. I became a cocktail of racial slurs, perpetuated stereotypes, and dirty glances.

I was ten.

I attended Islamic school.

I excelled in Islamics and Arabic, and I relished every moment of it.

As a child, Islam was a beacon of hope. Arabs were a community of warmth. Iraqis were my people. Having my hope weaponized was having every vision of glory I had turn to darkness. I wore my hijab with pride. I did not understand want it meant to wear it with shame. To wear it with fear. To wear it with apprehension.

During my youth, I wished I could flaunt my hair like other little girls I saw. It wasn’t that I hated my hijab. It was that I was insecure. Afraid of the world, and afraid of myself. Of my untapped potential, and of the mind running rampant underneath my hijab. I had been taught conformity, and it wasn’t until my individuality was threatened that I snapped out of my trance. I stepped off the conveyor belt, and reclaimed my identity.

Learning other people’s misconceptions about me led to me clinging to my hijab. Wearing it became an act of resistance, of politics. It was no longer an issue of religion, or of fashion. Gone were the days of matching my hijab to my outfit. Gone were the days where my hijab simply meant that I prayed five times a day, and fasted during the month of Ramadan.

Instead, my hijab became my fist, raised in the sky.

Wearing the hijab means I am a spokesperson. A representative for people who often have no representation.

At ten, I had to explain that putting on my hijab was my choice.

At thirteen, that no, it wasn’t hot. At fifteen, that Osama bin Laden’s violence was not a representation of the 1.2 billion and then some Muslims on the earth.

At seventeen, that ISIS is not Islam.

At eighteen, that yes, I fear Donald Trump’s ideology, but that my fear is not complacency.

While Islam is not the whole of my identity, I have come to terms with the fact that I must clear the air before I may introduce myself as a human being. That I must disarm myself, lay myself bare for all to see, before I am allowed to resume my existence. As a daughter, as a student, as a writer. I must explain myself, before I am allowed to be myself.

On September 11, 2001, I was too young to remember what I was doing. However, I was not too young to forget the searches at the airport that my mother was forced to undergo. That my parents couldn’t go to the grocery store after 9/11. That my aunts, Canadian citizens, are held up at the border, every time they attempt to cross it. At the woman who spit the words, “terrorist bitch,” at my mother. At the innocent lives lost in Chapel Hill. At the droves of women, children, and families, being denied entry into the country.

I remember these slights. And I move forward with strength. I speak with resilience. My perceived oppression is the flame of my inspiration. And I take care to remember that.


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