Identity vs Invisibility

When I chose to start wearing the Hijab, I had one clear goal in mind: to identify visibly as a Muslim. My friends and family had one concern though, that I would lose my voice as a woman, that I would become invisible as a person. I would love to tell them that my Hijab has made me more visible than ever, that people notice me more and that I cannot be ignored any longer… but I would be lying.

Unfortunately, the Hijab has changed people’s perspective of me. Not my friends, not even the Muslim community, but the non-Muslim world now wants to make me disappear. I know it sounds silly, but how many people do I meet that know me but don’t see me. They look at me square in the face, and don’t smile, don’t react at all, I am a complete stranger to them: until I wave, or say hi, in which case they laugh nervously and tell me they didn’t recognize me. I can’t help but wonder: if I wore a tuque or a baseball cap, would they have “recognized me”?

Truth be told, people see my hijab and assume they don’t know me because “they don’t know any Muslims/Hijabis”, they stop there. They don’t look any further and thinking of the possibility of someone they know converting or even at getting to know one, they stop at the Muslim/Hijab and think: not someone I know or would like to associate with.

I’m not sure that’s the fear my friends and family had; they were probably scared of my Muslim boyfriend or the Muslim community silencing me, but the truth is, it is my friends and family, my acquaintances who are silencing me. Not everyone, of course. The majority of my friends are welcoming and supporting me, glad to engage me in dialogue about faith or any other topic. They treat me the same and see no difference.

There are still few, however, who make it a point to treat me differently. To make sure I know that my decision is worthy of a change in attitudes and behaviours towards me. That choosing a religion other than their own, if they have one at all, is synonymous to disowning them or stabbing them in the back. That’s not how I would like to see myself or my faith.

I wonder, why is it so comforting for some people, to see Muslim women as oppressed? To see Muslims as oppresors and against human rights? Why is it that when a progressive Muslim woman comes around, the non-Muslim community is so quick to dismiss it? People are so quick to point out the ass-backward logic of Saudi Arabia’s government that forces women to wear the burqa, but refuse to discuss the just as oppressing logic of France’s government that forbids wearing it. No one has any business in my wardrobe, that’s my thoughts. Yes, many Muslim countries are male-dominated, patriarch, mysoginistic cultures and no, that’s not right. But how much better are “we” in the West, controlled by our corporations, the one percent, and biased governments? If you are going to point out the extremists of my faith, I can point out to you the KKK or other extremists groups which qualify themselves as “christians”.

Oh but they’re “different”, you say? Well, stop and think for a moment, perhaps terrorists and other extremists Muslims are “different” from me. They’re the majority, you say? No, they’re the more vocal! They make the news! When have you ever turned on CNN to listen to the story about the Muslim mom who went to work, came back, fed her kids and put them to sleep, then had some quality time with her husband? Which news channel airs that story?

So next time you meet a Muslim woman or a muslim man, smile. They’re people, we’re people and we deserve the same respect you would give anyone else. Make sure it isn’t a friend, a coworker, a family member. Look closely! You never know who could have found their faith and really, just want to feel like a person! Give us the visibility we deserve!

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