Until I wore the Hijab, I had no idea of how it feels to be a victim of prejudice. When I covered my head, I opened my mind. I’m Malak Nawfal and currently in high school. I’ve always been a cool person. I’m bubbly, smart and pretty. I was welcomed and accepted everywhere.
Looking back, I always mourn the years I spent in complete ignorance of who I was. I was a born Muslim but not a practicing one. And I did not want to practice. I thought Islam basically told you to stop doing anything fun and spend your life in worship. Hey, I wanted to live my life. I didn’t like people, who were too religious, because then it would be a “You’ll go to hell!” lecture.
The Hijab signifies the identity of a Muslim woman, but the examples the Hijabi girls set for me were far from ideal. I saw them with boyfriends, tight clothes and heavy makeup. After all, if they did such things, then why care for an extra piece of cloth on one’s head? I thought so, until I heard those two men conversing.
It was Sunday and I was at the mall with my friends. It was just four of us: Sarah, Justin, Mikael and I. By two o’clock, we were feeling hungry. The three went off to order pizza, while I sat at the table, lest someone take it. As I looked around, I became aware of two men talking. Through the noise, I could barely hear them. Eavesdropping is rude, but when you’re left alone, what do you do? Anyway, the men were talking about girls that pretty much got my attention.
“Man I tell ya I could eat ‘em girls in one bite’, I heard one say.
“Darn right. Ya talk to them all nice ‘n they’ll fall all over ya. Then ya ditch ‘em an’ get a new one.” answered the other.
I sat still. They were talking of girls, as if they were objects! Toys!
“Yep most of ‘em swooning girls’re ugly anyway. They slap on lots ‘a cream but can’t hide that black skin.” They started laughing and I wondered, if that was what most men thought of girls?
In books and movies the men loved their women, and every girl hoped for her Prince Charming someday. I dived into their conversation again.
“You ever gonna marry man?”
“Me? No. It’d never work. Ya marry one, love her fer a few days. By the end ‘a the year ya wanna strangle her. Women’re vicious. Ya marry one ’coz ‘a her looks and she turns out to be a monster. If I marry it’ll be ‘coz she’s a good person inside.”
I was cold and sweaty. I ate my pizza in silence. I kept thinking: “Do Justin and Mikael feel like that? Are we just toys?”’
“Hey, Malak, what’s wrong? You’re real silent.”
I replied that I was not fine. I just heard men discussing girls like trash. My world had been shaken for God’s sake. As we made our way out the door, I glanced warily at every man I passed. I just wanted to go home and think about this.
After returning home, I made my way upstairs. I ignored the greetings of Salman, my brother, and Nayla, my sister. My father is an Arab, but he studied in America. My mom is American, born and bred. I took a shower and went to sleep.
Next day, school felt like a prison that I couldn’t escape. I listened to nothing during class and failed every pop-quiz the teacher pulled. That night, I went out with my friend Khadijah. She wore Hijab but put on heavier makeup than I. I liked her a lot. Today, with those men on my mind, I asked her: “Khadijah, what’s the Hijab for?” She shrugged. “I think it’s for hiding your hair and to cover your beauty, but I just wear it, because my mum makes me do it.” That didn’t make sense. I knew even with the Hijab you could look beautiful. Your hair was just one of those features that made you pretty. I didn’t want a guy to judge me by my appearance, but by my heart.
From that day on, I stopped trying to look glamorous. I wanted to see, whether people still adored me. They didn’t. My mom did not like it. She told me: “Nowadays people don’t care about personality. You just have to have a good body.” I was so angry. “Then I don’t care about them either! I can live without them!” I bursted. I was right, but I still felt incomplete.
Salman came to my rescue. He said, “You said the Hijab didn’t make any sense. Let’s see, if it does.” So for the next few weeks that’s what we did – research about the Hijab. A converted Muslim talked about it on YouTube as it being an identity clarifier – a sign that this woman was to be respected. She said it represents our uniqueness from other women. There were millions of women out there on display. The ones, who are covered, were secrets and mysteries. Only after marriage their lucky husbands would uncover the mystery. It was like any other prince charming story I’d ever thought of, though it was more exciting. I read somewhere, “A pearl is pure and precious. It does not float in the sea but is hidden away in its shell, opened by only the fortunate. You, my dear sister, are the pearl, too.”
It made sense. Covering meant hiding your beauty. At the same time, Islam urges us to look clean and presentable. To our husband, we can be much more than that. My lucky husband – I smiled. It felt nice to be the pearl. “I’ve made up my mind,” I said to Salman, “I’m going to start the Hijab. It makes sense.” Salman hugged me. Dad was fine with it. Mom was not. We argued and argued. I wanted my place in the world; she said I wouldn’t get one with that cloth on my head. So I didn’t go anywhere. Not to the mall or school or anywhere else. Dad thought it had gone too far. He said mom was being paranoid. I agreed.
On a bright, sunny Monday morning I pinned up my hijab and smiled. I was the pearl now and nothing could stop me from shining. No insult, prejudice or any amount of reasoning could stop me from shining. I was pearl with a shell and that was something none could break. Not now, not ever. Insha’Allah.