I remember sitting on my parents’ bed as a kid and trying to wrap one of my mom’s headscarves around my head. Standing on the bed, looking into the mirror that sat atop their dresser, I saw myself take the square piece of cloth and trying miserably to tie it in a knot like I had seen my mother and all her friends do time and time again. It was a red piece of fabric. Totally transparent—until you folded it at the corners; then it became the opaque shield that covered my mother’s hair from the world.
For me, dressing up like a “big girl” didn’t mean putting on heels, pearls and lipstick. It meant putting on the hijab—the Muslim head covering. Yeah, we imitated our parents like every other kid. But the performances we’d enact weren’t pulled from the typical American script. We were Muslims …
… Muslims who prayed five times a day.
When I would mimic my mother and father as they completed their prayers, my siblings and I would stand behind them and mumble what we pretended were the prayers we knew we’d have to memorize.
As my parents would bow their heads in prostration, my siblings and I, too young to be reprimanded, would stand on our heads instead and giggle as we flipped over. I imagined even God had to laugh sometimes so why not give Him something to laugh about.
I knew we were different from the way people would stare at my mother when we stepped out of Dearborn, Michigan (a city which boasts the highest number of Middle-Easterners outside of the Middle East).
She’d wear her head coverings along with her henna-tattooed hands and feet, long flowing dresses and speak in broken English when she was pushed to communicate. In Dearborn, she wasn’t an anomaly—she was like everyone else. She could go to the local fruit market and find her native Arab spices, speak her mother tongue and walk to the homes of her other Yemeni friends while her husband along with their husbands worked the line at either Ford or Chrysler.
So it should come as no surprise that to fit in to what became my world—the insular community of Dearborn— I put on the hijab. It was the morning of my first day of fourth grade; I was nine-years-old. As my mother was brushing my hair, I told her I wanted to wear the hijab today.
“No. You’re too young. Next year,” my mother replied.
“No. I want to!”
“You know if you put it on, you can’t take it off. And remember the summer? It gets really hot. And your t-shirts? No more. You’ll have to cover your arms.”
No matter the warnings, I walked out of the house with my head held high, wrapped in my first white hijab.
My younger sister, eight-years-old, not to be outdone demanded she put hers on as well. As we both strutted our way down the block with my mother, our two best friends—twin sisters, Miryam and Khadigah—saw us coming from down the block.
Their mother applauded us on our mature decision. Sure enough, 24 hours later, seven-year-old Khadigah and Miryam, joined our gang of hijabis and put on the headscarf as well.
And it was then we LITERALLY became banners for Islam—walking our blocks, homes and hallways with our scarves flapping in the wind. On bikes, rollerblades, skateboards, sneakers, car sunroofs—our banners over the years wrapped tighter around our heads as we struggled to define ourselves as the world tried to define us for us.
Photo credit: diloz