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At the Crossroads

This month in our teen column, Barâa Arar shares her own hijab story of growing up in the middle of nowhere.

Collect moments such as this one, which  remind  you why you wear hijab and why it is  important for yourself, and for representing your religion.

 

 

After I had spent six years receiving an Islamic school education in a big city, my mother announced that she had accepted a job that would catapult our family half way across the country, to a small town in the middle of nowhere. It turns out “the middle of nowhere” is not a place where Canadian Muslims want to reside. So upon our arrival, we discovered there was no Islamic school, and what was even more unbelievable to our metropolitan ears was that the Muslim community was limited to just a few families. In these less than ideal circumstances, I started wearing the hijab.

 

My mother approached me with the idea of wearing the hijab because she believed that a new city, er town, would make the transition easier; no one would know the pre-hijab-wearing-me. I accepted the wearing of hijab not because it was the logical course of action Islamically or because I was blindly obedient to my mother, but because to me, wearing the hijab seemed a natural thing to do. I wore it as part of my Islamic school’s dress code, the women in my life wore it, and I wore it while I prayed. Why wouldn’t I wear it?

 

My grandmother, a generous woman and talented seamstress, crafted flowy skirts and floral blouses for me to wear. Armed with a new (rather vibrant) modest wardrobe and a mildly naïve personality, I started my grade five year. After some initial inquiries from my peers such as “Are you an alien?” or “Why don’t you celebrate Christmas?” I was wholeheartedly accepted into their games of foursquare and endeavours to capture the swing set from the younger students.

 

My innocence and oblivion, and that of my peers, gave me the space to adjust to wearing the hijab, without any prejudice. I believe that the absence of Muslims stimulated me to create an identity, be a dynamic ambassador for my religion and learn to respond to sincere curiosity.

 

I wish I can say when I first wore the hijab it was from a place of complete conviction and spirituality. Similarly, I wish I could say that I wake up knowing unreservedly why I continue to wear it. On the days when my faith is weak, or on the days when a strange man on the bus makes what he thinks is a witty terrorist remark, I ask myself why I continue to wear something that is believed to be a sign of oppression. Those days are challenging. However, once we overcome them, we fortify our faith in Allah (SWT) and our intentions.

 

On the other hand, on my strongest days, it empowers me. The hijab serves as a reminder that I posses a tool that allows me to represent my religion in the best way I possibly can. In a sense, it acts as a personal method of accountability. If I commit an act of justice, be it volunteering at the shelter or picking up litter, it will become associated with my religion. It is my personal form of indirect daw’ah. This piece of fabric, which never seems to sit right, makes me an ambassador for my religion, which encourages me to do good wherever I am.

 

I used to rely on a generic explanation for why I sport the hijab. Essentially, I used to explain that the hijab was a way for me to be seen as more than just a sexual entity. This is undoubtedly a part of wearing the hijab, but, I believe, it is crucial for every hijab-wearing, Muslim woman to craft her own definition of the hijab. Personally, wearing the hijab has shifted my focus from my appearance to my actions, talents and skills. It allowed me to create myself and build my self-confidence by focusing my energy inwards. Needless to say, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take care of our physical appearance; however, we should invest a larger portion of our energy bettering our character, honing our skills and fostering our talents.

 

During our short lived residency in this town, a substitute teacher took me aside after class and told me that through her 40 year teaching career, she’d never encountered a girl wearing a hijab. She told me that I was strong for doing so. I don’t remember feeling strong, but I remember I felt special. I remember I was eager to tell my mom what this near stranger had said to me because she saw my hijab as a sign of audacity and strength instead of inferiority, as many people usually do. I hope for every young Muslim woman to find that strength whether through herself, or through the guidance of another, be it friend, acquaintance, or stranger alike. Collect moments such as this one, which remind you why you wear hijab and why it is important for yourself, and for representing your religion. Let that strength blossom inside you, and let it be the force that drives you to wake up every morning, wrap your scarf around your head – not too tightly – and show the world the ‘you’ that you really are.

 

 
As a toddler Barâa created and told stories to her parents and Barbie dolls. Since, she has become a spoken word artist and emcee, performing at local slams and fundraisers for charitable organisations. When Barâa isn’t writing or performing, she can typically be found wandering the coffee dens of her city or raiding the fridge.