Taken by surprise

Behind the Screen

Last week I wrote about how I get questioned by Muslims on whether I’m Muslim or not, despite wearing hijab.

Well as soon as I wrote about it a few more things happened. Maybe I’m just noticing these things more than I usually do because I’m writing about it. It’s kind of like when you buy something new and then notice everyone around you has the same thing, but if you hadn’t bought it you never would have noticed.

So, I was in a cab riding to an audition and the guy inside says, “So I noticed you’re wearing the veil. Is that because you’re Muslim?”

“Yep”, I answered.

At the time I was like “You have got to be kidding me.. I just went through this a few days ago!” lol. But then he started to tell me about himself and how his mother was from Spain and his father from Morrocco. I listened and we chatted for a few minutes about his visits to Spain and how he loved it there. I guess he was just trying to find a way to start a conversation.

A few hours later I met up with my husband and the kids and went for a walk downtown. As I’m telling him this story about the cab driver, this random tourist-looking guy stops us.

“Excuse me, can I ask you a question?”

I had a feeling the question was going to be about hijab.

“Why does she have to dress like that and you don’t have to?” The guy asked looking at my husband and not me.

He was directing his question at my husband which caught me off guard.

My husband was not amused and glared at the tourist-looking guy”Do you have time?”

The man looked at him and was speechless. Apparently he wasn’t really looking for a response. “Umm.”

My husband continued, “Because I don’t have time.”

And then we kept on walking.

I could tell my husband was a little shaken up from the experience, but I told him that I was not surprised at all. It’s typical to have someone harrass you when you walk around with a scarf on your head. I wonder if people from other backgrounds have this happen to them to? For example a nun, or a Budhist or even a Sikh. Then there are those that wear mowhawks or dye their hair in crazy colors. Do they get stopped on the street and asked why they dress the way they do?

This article has 15 comments

  1. Mariam Sobh

    Wow thank you for all the responses! 🙂
    I guess to start off with I should clarify that the gentleman who approached us was obviously trying to make drama. You can almost always tell who is really curious and who is trying to be a jerk.

    The reaction he got when my husband asked him if he had time, was that he didn’t even expect us to respond. He wanted to just throw that statement at us and keep walking.

    I welcome questions from people and love when I’m approached from folks who are genuinely interested.

    But for those who’s only intent is to hurt you with their words, I don’t have time or patience. And sometimes I try to give them benefit of the doubt and stop to talk only to realize they A: could care less about my answer and laugh in my face or B: give me a Jesus loves you pamphlet lol.

    I thank you all for the friendly reminder that I should just take it in stride and roll with it 🙂 I’m going to do my best to smile and move on regardless of whether someone is asking me because they care or if it’s just to be rude.

  2. Rania

    Even in country such as Indonesia where it’s very common to see hijabis here. Sometimes people ask you (especially when the first time you wear hijab), why do you decide to wear hijab? or, why do you want to wear it?, or did your husband ask you to wear that? Few people are just so curious to know about the reason behind something we’ve done.
    And I agree with Anum. Just take advantage of this opportunity. If you do have patience and time, it’s a perfect chance to have a conversation with them about Islam and about your principles of life. Perhaps it can turn them out to admire Islam and you… 🙂

  3. Valerie

    That’s insane. Honestly, it’s a big reason why I am so scared to wear it. I just don’t have the courage. I think it’s not just a Muslim thing.. I think people who perceive someone to be unusual will act rude. I’d been looking for my place in the world for a really long time now. I’ve worn several different necklaces or rings signifying my current beliefs, and I’ve hidden them all, because I’m scared of people’s reactions. It’s rather unfair that unless you fit into a certain category, you have to worry about the reactions of others. And, sadly, the people that I worry the most about are the people who aren’t interested in educating themselves but are the first to jump down your throat.

    So frustrating. Anyways, after that rant I just want to say, I support ladies that wear the scarves. If any one of them catches me staring, I’ll smile, but I’m only looking because I admire them 🙂

  4. Sher

    I’ve been wearing hijab a long time. Honestly, I think all this attention comes as part of the territory. It’s like being perpetually pregnant or carrying around a parrot on your shoulder or having neon pink hair! When I was pregnant- and I KNOW this is a common scenario-strangers would come up to me and ask if I knew the gender, how far along i was, all that kind of stuff. It could be seen as nosy and invasive or just an ice-breaker? I think human beings have an inherent need to connect with each other. The media is bombarding everyone with images of Muslims as terrorists, oppressed women in Afghanistan with slits for eyes. I am guessing you are the kind of person who looks approachable , maybe you have a friendly smile or something! Non- Muslims are simply curious about the hijab because they just don’t really understand it. I mean even Muslims have a variety of explanations for it.

    Plus there are still very few hijabis in positions of power or in entertainment or just in the mainstream. It is difficult to always have to look positive and give that Dawah-esque response but it’s kind of part and parcel of the path we’ve chosen. The most effective way to convey that Muslim women are not oppressed is to smile pleasantly when asked about our appearance! You may be the only Muslim they get to talk to.

  5. AK

    Last winter, I was at an outdoor food stand in this mountain town, and it was cold and snowing. I didn’t have a hat with me, so I wrapped a scarf around my head to keep my ears from freezing off.

    Yikes, did my man and I (he’s brown and I’m white as the moon) get some nasty stares from people. Even he was a little freaked out by it, and he’s not the type to care what anyone thinks.

    So, I’m not saying that discrimination doesn’t happen. It does – it’s just that, when faced with questions, I feel like it’s a better bet to be open, friendly, and honest about why you wear hijab.

  6. Umm Ibrahim

    Well, ive learnt that while for me, being asked random and insane questions was really typical for my husband, it was NOT…I remember the first few years we were married (years and years ago…LOL)…sometimes when we’d go out, the hubbster would suddenly get really ticked off-like OUT of the blue or something and afterwards i’d be like…what happened and he’s say… those people were staring us down like we were aliens or something…LOL>..meanwhile I didnt even notice. I just took it in stride.

    But the once or twice that has happened we usually try to explain to the person, that no..its my choice (dh doesn’t care 1 way or the other) and that its for modesty/religious reasons although being that dh is less practiced at it than I am, I had more “rote” answers I could spew out. LOL (like a wind up doll…LOL)…but I do know sometimes it upsets him that people percieve him as “forcing” me to dress like this…but usually once said people meet me that thought goes outta their brain as i’m quite a forceful personality…LOL

    BUT, on a side note…years and years ago I was on a public bus and we passed this niqabi and her hubby (both Egyptian) which I knew the wife, and behind me I heard these HS girls snickering saying “dang, he like owns his wife!” and that kind of shocked me, like…wow…people really think that? And these were URBAN high schoolers…not rural, white bread, not used to diversity kids…these were hardcore, urban, diversity all around kids…and they are thinking that a woman in niqab is OWNED by her husband.

    That tripped me out.
    I wanted to turn around and say something, but sometimes those HS’ers could be real jerkettes on the bus and I just didnt want the hassle as I was going to class.

  7. AK

    Ugh, SPORTED, not sporting. Grammar, Ann.

  8. AK

    As someone who has sporting some crazy hair colors, I can testify that people do, in fact, stop you and ask you why you would die your hair, say, brilliant pink. I know it’s annoying to have people stop you and ask you about stuff, but honestly, most people are curious. We tend to take Americans to task for this stuff, because we assume that they are all going to be anit-Islam, but if you take the time to engage with a curious stranger openly, you’ll often find that they simply have no idea about your beliefs.

    If you don’t have the patience or time to engage in covnersation with them, it can behoove you to say something like, “I’d love to talk to you about this, but I am in a hurry: can I recommend a book or web site that would explain it?” You’re obviously not obliged to do anything of the sort, because it’s your life, but sometimes, a little bemused patience goes a long way.

  9. Nana

    What I am really interested in hearing is how your husband felt about it. Sure as women we get lets of comments and questions, but how did your husband feel, both in being confrunted in how you choose to dress, and in realizing that you get treated quite differently because of your religious decisions than he does. Thanks so much for all your insights!

  10. Elizabeth

    Actually, people who dye their hair wild colors and have a lot of piercing do get asked a lot of the same questions even though probably not as often (I used to be one of these people but, I have since converted even though I still have all of my ear piercings that no one ever sees outside of family). But yes, you get stopped and asked all the time, “Are you goth?” I think it’s just because dressing different is something that makes people curious. No matter if they see it everyday or not, they just want to know the reason why even if it is not a question they should be asking.

  11. Anum

    Well honestly I think we need to stop getting so offended and take advantage of the opportunity. If someone asks us questions, even if it is out of ignorance, it is the perfect chance for dawah. Our mere reactions and tones of voice we use represent Muslims and Islam and sometimes these people may never have been exposed to any islam before and you may be the first exposure they ever had, hence their ignorance. But by us smiling back and giving them a good response, maybe that’ll change their perception forever. What would our messenger (pbuh) do if someone ignorantly asked them about our deen?

    I would explain to that man that men have a code of hijab as well; they must lower their gaze, exemplify modest behavior, and grow beards. And ultimately, women dress like that because Allah commanded us to do so, who are we to question. I’m sure that’s a response who never heard before.

  12. Kelly

    There are nosey people everywhere.

    One time I was told by a Muslim sister that I “didn’t look Muslim” whatev.

    I think if I ever had a question like you got from the tourist I’d just say “because I felt like it.” lol. Or put it right back at him. “It’s so barbaric that you make your wife wear a shirt outside the home when you can go bare chested.”

    Seriously some people don’t even realize how rude they really are.

    BTW, I took the kids swimming at our hotel Sunday morning and there was a family there that was trying to look, yet not look at the same time lol. At least they were nice though.

    One time my friend (American convert hijabi) was at a gas station on a highway and some person made a remark that she should go back to where she came from. She turned around, looked them in the eye and says in her thick southern drawl “where do ya’all suggest I go, Kentucky, or West Virginia.” I love that woman.

  13. Miriam

    you’re so right Jodi, I was just reading about Cyprus the other day and it said that several years ago all the women wore veil, but only half were muslims, the other half are catholic orthodox, but we have our head wired to think veil=muslim.

    Mariam, your last remark is right to the bullseye. A friend of mine was recently making a similar comment, she wears hijab and abaya and in Mexico that’s very rare, but she said that some mexicans dress really weird with platforms and pink hair, so why should muslims be the ones getting all the attention??

    I guess when i start wearing the hijab fulltime i’ll experience things like that, though with my latino looks i surely look mid-eastern!!

  14. Jodi

    Ignorantly people still seem to regard the wearing of hijab as oppression forced on women by men whether they ask you or not…they assume. I’m guessing all because of the stereotypical views of Islam by the West, the media, the ‘American’ lifestyle and so forth. Perhaps even some Muslims get caught up in the stereotypical thinking if they were raised in the West. I’ve seen that even women wearing a scarf, any type of scarf or head covering, and worn any way whatsoever on their head, regardless of their religion or ethnic background that they get asked if they are Muslim! I know many women who cover or wear a veil and they are not Muslim but because it’s such a small percentage in the country, or in a certain area that it’s looked at as unfamiliar or odd. If they had a bigger world view, as well as positive media coverage then it would not be looked at as odd and be more accepting I feel.

  15. sara

    Mariam, I enjoy reading these posts about being approached by strangers because of the hijab…you are not alone. I am a convert to Islam, and I began wearing hijab when I moved to the east coast from the midwest. Everyone (muslims more than nonmuslims) was asking me where I was from, and I kept answering, “Nebraska.” I was met with confused looks or blank stares. My husband finally clued me in that people meant, “What COUNTRY are you from?” Haha. As a pale, freckled Irish-American, it’s been funny to be asked if I am from Morocco or Pakistan by a fellow teacher and a brother working the drivethru at Wendys.
    My big pet peeve is with fellow muslims (men and non-hijabis) who ask if I am muslim, and when I say yes (obvious, since I wear hijab), they don’t greet me with salaams. But then they are offended when I ask if they are muslim.

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