My hijab became the most significantly important article of clothing and element of my deen (religion) in my life.
To put things in perspective, my birthday is on July 10th.
I started wearing the hijab about a month after I turned 13, right before I started 8th grade. I started wearing the hijab in a moment of spontaneity. Looking back, I don't think I was prepared for what it meant or what it would mean to me in the future.
I was born in a Muslim family, and understood my obligations and responsibilities. However, I also lived in a community where my family is the only Muslim family in the area. At home, I was Muslim. At school, and practically everywhere else, I was just any other American. My friends, peers and teachers couldn't even tell what my background was, until they saw my mom who wore the headscarf and covered.
I was, and still am, never ashamed of my parents or family. I was an independent, feisty child growing up and still kissed my parents on both cheeks and hugged my parents publicly all the way through high school and into college. I wasn't popular at school or well known (before my hijab) but I was pretty active and a hardworking, straight A student. Basically, I wasn't the girl that everyone watched constantly nor was I ever ignored or bullied. I just did my own thing... until September 11, 2001.
Like every American who is old enough to remember the exact events of 9/11, that morning is captured vividly in my mind.
While getting dressed, our home phone rang. It was my dad's brothers from Palestine. My mom and I stood around my father, in our pristinely organized townhouse living room. My dad's family only called from overseas on Eid (holiday) or in tragedy. My uncle's words were rushed and scared as he asked my dad repeatedly if he and his family were okay and safe.
"We don't live in New York. We live on the other side of the country... Wait, hold on, let me turn on the news. I can't understand you." My dad’s voice boomed into the telephone receiver.
Horror filled the screen. I had never heard the word Muslim said in such anger. Nothing made sense but I knew my religion well enough to not be able to wrap my head around the scene. I had attended Islamic school every Saturday at the Islamic Center of San Diego for as long as I could remember. I clearly understood the difference between halal (permissible) and haraam (forbidden).
The images couldn't be real. I live in the United States, the safest place on the earth. I was terrified. My hands shook as I ran upstairs to fix my hijab. I was going to be late for school. It was my last year of middle school and I wasn't going to mess up my clean record.
I opened the door so that I could wait for my dad in the car.
"No! Close the door. You will not go out dressed like that!" My mom pulled me back from the door, yet the door still hung open.
"But I'm late, yalla (come on)!"
"Take off your hijab, now." She ordered.
I felt as if someone had knocked the wind out of me. Instantly, I found it hard to breath. I was so confused. My mom, the woman standing in front of me who wore the scarf when she was 19, despite sneers from her family, friends, and professors, wanted me to remove my hijab. After a moment, I finally found my voice and it came back stronger that I thought it would.
"You're joking right? She's kidding right." I looked to my dad for confirmation.
"Your mom is right. I don't think you understand how tense the situation is right now." The news still played in the background.
"Ok," I looked at my mom. "If you take off your hijab, I'll take off mine." I knew her answer.
"You know I can't. I have worn this for years. It's dangerous for you! You're still young! You have plenty of time to wear it! You can't leave this house with it on!"
"I will not take it off. Allah will protect me." I think my parents were shocked at my response. I had used a strong argument in our religion, tawakul (to place complete faith or confidence in Allah swt).
My dad turned to my mom, "Let her keep it on. InshaAllah, she will be okay. Tonight we will all sit down as a family and discuss this. This is her decision."
I hugged my mom and left realizing the fear in her and feeling her intensified heart beats.
As my dad talked on in the car of taking care of myself and going to an adult if I felt I was in danger, I was too busy finally letting the situation sink in. When had I become this person? Was this considered a higher level of religiosity? Am I, what they call now, conservative? I knew how tough it was to go to school on regular days with the hijab. I could take it off. I could put it back on after high school even. I could have a normal high school experience, where students didn't look at me weird and teachers weren't scared of having me as a student. Where people didn't think it offended me if they asked abut my background and why I wore the piece of cloth on my head. I was sure of one thing, if I took it off, I might have never worn it again. I had nothing to apologize for. Muslims were among those whose lives were also taken. There were Muslims working in the World Trade Center, Muslim firefighters, Muslim doctors and medical responders on the scene, Muslim Americans were just like anyone else in United States.
School was a blur. I could feel the hot and humid September air get cold as I walked through campus. The looks I was getting. The whispers that no one was pretending to hide. I expected the worst.
"Haneen!" I turned to find one of the most popular boys in school approaching. I had known him all through middle school and sat next to him in all our classes because of our last names. I tensed up.
"How are you?" He walked up to me in a hurry.
"If anyone tries to hurt you or says anything stupid to you, seriously anything, let me know right away and I’ll kick their a** for you, okay?"
Taken back, I smiled, "Yea, thanks. Seriously."
He smiled, "People are stupid. They don't know what's going on. Fear, you know. We're going to be late for class."
My teachers checked in on me. My principal called me into his office to make sure I wasn't being bullied or attacked. My counselor told me her door was always open. My friends stayed near but that didn't stop the quiet remarks and looks from students I had known since first grade. I HAVEN'T CHANGED! I wanted to yell. It was my first day with hijab at HMS all over again. Except this time, I saw more than confusion. I saw fear, hatred, generalizations and misunderstanding.
At home, I got calls from family members from all over.
"Don't be stupid. Take off your hijab. You're too young! What are you trying to prove??? You will get hurt!"
The list goes on. Everyone's concerns became one. I was more worried about the talk I would have with my parents.
Very simply, my dad asked me why I chose to wear the scarf, warned me of the new intense consequences, and asked me if I was ready. It's my choice, I told him. I have not taken it off and will never take it off. My decision is mine and stands firm.
I was always known as the sweet, ultra quiet, hardworking student. The hijab brought out another side of my character. I became known as the confident, out spoken, highly involved in extra curricular clubs and activities, determined student. As the only Muslim at my high school, my name was known by everyone. I was very noticeable and knew that I was judged for every word and action I took. I took it upon myself to prove the ignorant, negative, racist views of Fox news- that started to shape American views of Muslims- as wrong. I educated myself on the Quran and hadiths (sayings) of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH – peace be upon him) so that I was prepared for any question. If I couldn't answer, I continued to research.
I wish I could say that the hate has softened but just as racism still exists in America, Islamophobia has risen. It's really in the hands of Muslims and the educated, intelligent proud Americans to have forward conversations with others and eliminate ignorance and misconceptions.
Five years later, on my way to my first MSA (Muslim Student Association) UCSD bonfire, my new friend Noha - surprised at finding how early I began to wear the hijab - asked how I felt, especially since I had chosen to live on-campus and not with the MSA sisters in their off-campus apartments. I told her I loved my hijab. It is the first way I choose to define myself. I smiled as I realized that in Noha's car was the first time I felt calm and at ease with my hijab on. There was always that bit of doubt in high school but I knew that it was an order from God that I was ready to obey. I was 100% sure that it was my hijab that kept me safe and confident to be who I am and serve Allah swt in the best way possible. It had taken me 5 years to come to a full state of acceptance for the action I took when I was 13.
I'm not perfect. That would defeat the purpose of a human being. I still have so much to learn about my beautiful religion. The challenges and struggles that I am faced with daily keep my life interesting. I wouldn't be me without it.
To top off this incredibly long post (inshaAllah the rest won't be as heavy in material), these are a few links of how Muslim American lives have been affected since 9/11. I hope you take the time to check them out.
The Unwritten Codes Muslims Live by After 9/11
For Muslim family, faith complicates grief for loved one lost on 9/11
My Take: Muslims should stop apologizing for 9/11 (Opinion piece)
CAIR '9/11 Happened to Us All' PSA, Firefighter (60-Second)
CAIR '9/11 Happened to Us All' PSA, Medical responder (30-Second)
Despite the heightened obstacles that Muslims, and especially hijabis, face each year around 9/11, my younger cousin, Rawan - who I consider to be my little sister and best friend - just boarded her flight from San Francisco heading to Beirut inshaAllah. She will be spending 3 months studying abroad and experiencing life in Beirut, Lebanon and getting the opportunity to visit Palestine inshaAllah. I am so incredibly proud of her! She is a beautiful, confident Muslimah who is set out to change the world for the better. I love her for the sake of Allah swt. May Allah swt bless her travels and make them beneficial for her.
As my friends so perfectly put it:
Today is in remembrance of the fallen 9/11 victims as well as the Muslims, South Asians, Arabs, and others in the U.S. who were murdered, beaten, discriminated against, illegally detained, deported & subjected to racial profiling, and humiliation that came with the "War on Terror". R.I.P. to the 2,976 American people that lost their lives on 9/11; R.I.P. to the 48,644 Afghan and 1,690,903 Iraqi people that paid the ultimate price for a crime they didn't commit; R.I.P. to every single American soldier who has given his/her life to defend our country and its freedoms & the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who experience this everyday.