Unapologetically Muslim, I know, I know another article telling you what you should and shouldn’t be doing as a Muslim, about how important it is to embrace hijab as a Muslim woman. Well, this article is not about telling women whether they should wear the hijab or not; it is. however. about empowering women to embrace their full identity as Muslims so they can live out the truest expression of themselves. In today’s Islamophobic society, Muslim women often feel they have to diminish or denounce their beliefs in order to be successful, that somehow if they practice their faith less, if they model their hijab or clothing to mirror that of non-Muslims, they will somehow be more accepted in society. It doesn’t work that way. If anything, when Muslim women do this, they create confusion about what hijab actually means and what is its overall purpose. As a Muslim woman born to Muslim parents, I must say I struggled with hijab for a time. I struggled with observing a physical hijab–yes hijab is defined as being visual, physical and ethical—and as an adolescent, I felt that hijab prohibited me from having the friends, experiences, job and ultimately the free, fun-loving life I wanted to lead. Until I had started attending college, I considered myself a devout follower of Islam, someone who attended the weekly Muslim Jumah religious worship every single Friday except when I had major examinations at college. I also proudly stood up for my faith at every opportunity; whenever someone had questions, I would put on my cape and swoop down to offer up how non-threatening Islam was, answer their question or address their concern. But at that time, I wasn’t wearing the hijab for me, I was wearing it because my parents had told me this was what was prescribed in the Quran.
As I alluded to earlier, by the time I reached senior year in high school, I was exhausted being the face of Islam and carrying the weight of everything Islamic on my shoulders. While I don’t have experience with what it was like to grow up as a teen post 9/11, I do know what it’s like to grow up pre- and post-Persian Gulf War (1990-1991). I recall one incident when I was in my sophomore year, I was riding the train to get to school. That day was my first experience with blatant religious discrimination on the 45-minute ride to school on the 1-Train. I remember feeling uneasy as the doors closed behind me that morning. I took my usual perch by the door as there were usually no seats on the train. It didn’t take me long to notice a middle-aged Caucasian woman, from behind her spectacles, she fixated her eyes on me in disgust. I’m not sure what about me or which part of my outfit set her off, whether it my all-black hijab that swooped in the front, draped over my mustard yellow coat, or my black Henley top that peeked slightly from under my waist-length coat. Or, was it possibly my blue jeans that were slightly tucked into my black Dr. Marten boots that all the kids were rocking at the time? Whatever triggered her, she let her intentions for her disapproving stare be known as soon as we locked eyes. “This is what’s wrong with this country”, she said. Part of me wanted to look away, but another part of me wanted to hear what she had to say. “My son is over fighting for this country because of you,” she said in disgust. I looked behind me, confused. I thought to myself she was possibly talking to someone else. As a 14-year old high school