Keeping Our Hijab

Keeping my Hijab

I’ve never really struggled with my hijab the way some of my fellow Muslim sisters have, mostly because I’m generally quite comfortable in my self-identity, and it also strongly helps that I live in such a diverse multicultural society. I have heard plenty from fellow sisters though – stories of girls who feel that they have lost their identity once wearing the hijab, girls who want to prevent harassment they get because of it, even those who were made to feel like they had to wear it as young girls and feel a lot of anger and resentment towards it. Personally, I’ve been fortunate enough to have enough support around me to never make me feel that there was anything that I lacked or which made me less of a person than anyone else around me. If you’ve read my hijab story, you may understand why I chose to wear it – it was a symbolic act for me as well as a form of progression, and it definitely signalled a stage of life where I looked forward to the person I wanted to be.

In the last few months, or even perhaps year or so, I have felt a little unease – not with my own self-image or internal struggles, but with the external pressures – world events which have increasingly put the spotlight on us, the attitudes of people around us and even the growing islamophobia and fears a lot of us have begun to come across.

For me personally, it’s not so much the big things, but the little things which have made a difference. I remember my sister telling me about attitudes after the 7/7 attack ten years ago, when a few Muslim women in London were spat on, attacked or had a lot of racial abuse – there were some instances of this but on the whole, a lot of London rallied around and refused to call their fellow citizens terrorists. Certainly, myself, I didn’t feel excluded or as if I was treated differently, although perhaps it was a little different for me as I was in university at the time and was surrounded by peers who understood I was just a simple east London girl, and not a terrorist.

These days, I’m feeling a little differently. I think the recent Paris attacks, the ‘Charlie Hebdo’ incident and various terror incidents around the world have caused some sensational headlines and reactions, which is understandable but also a little scary. I’ve noticed it, as I have said, in the small things – the rude comments when going home on the train from white, male strangers, the dirty looks from an older couple who don’t know who I am or what kind of person I am, even the younger generation who have perhaps heard their parents talk about ‘Pakis’ and what we ‘do’, and feel that it is okay to call someone a name. It doesn’t happen a lot, but it has happened. I think my sister described it best – sometimes these people think that it is okay to treat someone like this because they don’t know how to express themselves, and they don’t know how to say to someone ‘I am scared of you because you are different.’ Perhaps too many of them have read dramatic headlines from The Sun and think that because it is printed, it must be right, and perhaps, some of them just need an excuse to channel their frustrations.

And of course, this isn’t just restricted to hijab scarves worn on the head – it’s any form of hijab. I’ve had sisters tell me it’s so much harder projecting a positive image, whether it’s from the turban hijab, the burqa or the niqaab (face-covering veil). All of these have an influence on people’s first impressions of us, and it can be a little depressing that some people may revert to negatives when seeing it.

It puts me in mind of a colleague of mine, who I have known for a few years – she joined my team from another department a while ago, and it fell to me to train her. This was a sister who wore not just the hijab, but niqaab (face-covering veil), although she opted not to wear it in the office until she went out, partly because of office-policy. It was easy for me to treat her normally because the niqaab is not a scary thing to me, and I have grown up understanding it. But when it was time for her to go out for lunch, or make routine visits which required going outside, and she would stand up to fix her hijab and put on her niqaab on top, there’d be a slight drop in conversation, a lull where people in the team tried not to notice. Speaking to team members on separate occasions, I heard a lot of comments about why she chose to wear it, about how it was a little off-putting, and the assertion/reassurance that ‘oh but you’re alright, I like you’ because I was more relatable and less scary than someone who wore a niqaab and covered her face. It made me see that although there isn’t a deliberate intention in this attitude, there is a little ignorance, and it’s too easy for those who don’t understand to resort to rude comments or hostility.

I had a conversation recently with a colleague of mine, an older man with two daughters in their late teens. He said that his eldest daughter wore a hijab and had chosen to do so herself, and it was something she didn’t have any issues with either. However, as a parent he was concerned about her safety travelling around London after the Paris attacks, and suggested to her that it would be okay if she wanted to take it off.

“I told her that if she wanted to, if she thought it would make her feel safer, she should remove her hijab. I know why she wears it, but as a parent it’s also worrying that she may face harassment because of it, we all want our children to be protected. Of course, she straightaway answered ‘Dad I’m not taking it off, don’t be silly, I would never do it’. She doesn’t understand that I just want her to be safe. But in my heart, when I heard her say that, it made me feel so proud. I was so proud of her because of her strength and her faith, even though I do still worry.”

This isn’t an unfamiliar sentiment, and it’s also not the first time I’ve heard from fellow Muslims about the idea of taking it off – even my husband tentatively suggested to me once that perhaps for safety, I shouldn’t wear my hijab it to a European holiday we went on earlier this year. I answered that the best way to educate someone would be to stick to your beliefs and show that Muslims are people too, and can have fun on holidays, rather than conform to someone else’s fears and feel restricted. He’s never asked me since whether I would do this (perhaps he knows how stubborn I am), but I know I am certainly not alone in this feeling.

I won’t deny it is worrying – my eldest niece has worn a hijab at a pretty young age, and as fierce as she is, she is still a young girl. She has her own influences – hijabi bloggers, her mother, Youtube tutorials, friends at school that she shares her hijab tips with – and while I know she is too strong to be put off the hijab, I hate the idea that a stranger can treat her differently because of it. It makes me angry and it makes me upset that a first impression can be almost callously created like that – but it also makes me more determined.

Determined because I know that we can do our best to prove the opposite, so that our fellow Londoners can see the best of us, and because for every ugly, ignorant person I can met, I have encountered dozens of kind-hearted, open people. Perhaps I love London so much (I did do my University dissertation about the city, after all!) and because I have lived here my whole life, it makes me believe that it really is a multi-cultural society which embraces our quirks and differences and makes us proud to have them.

I’m waiting to see how things change in this new year – perhaps I’ll see more patience from people who are willing to see us and not the skin colour, hijab or ethnicity we have. Certainly I’ve met enough bloggers, fashionistas, artists, chefs and charity-runners recently who have done everything they can to make a difference. I point you to Maha, a friend of mine who not only went out to Turkey and Greece last summer to meet Syrian refugees and raise money for them, but also went out to Calais during her Christmas holidays to visit more of the displaced and homeless, in order to give them food and clothing. I point to someone I met a few days ago, Nabila, who ran an event to raise money to sponsor orphans. A long-standing acquaintance of mine Rahima, who has endlessly been running a charity to help minority groups such as the Rohingya over the last decade. Farrah, a radio presenter who holds charity events to raise awareness and money for little-talked about issues such as Asian women with depression, or suicide.

In the end, I’m hoping that the anger and anxiety around us gives way to a more sensible mentality. While there have been ignorant views and unkind words from some, it does cheer me to see a lot of people defend us hijabis as well, and show their common sense and compassion. I hope my (not-so-little) rant makes sense to you, and I’m definitely hoping there’s readers out there who see my concerns. Perhaps one day I’ll be proved wrong, heck, I’m hoping my nieces and those of the younger generations will wonder on on earth I’m thinking about because it’s never cross their minds : )

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Flashback Fridays: Fruitpot Fruityness

Something from a special day this time last year – fruit pots from my wedding day! Can you believe it’s been nearly a year since that day? There’s a lot of little details that didn’t quite register with me on the day, but this was one of the most popular things we had. We always do fruit and a sweet bar, but my sisters went all out with our fruit bar for my wedding and got a lot of compliments, not to mention all the fruit getting devoured – even our professional caterers were pretty impressed.

And I must say, they had reason to be, don’t these look lovely all lined up together?

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That Moment When…

…you’re at a wedding and you still managed to get distracted by nearby gardens and take a quick snap. My sisters and I went to a family wedding this weekend, and inevitably the self-described photographers (me and she of everyphototunity) escaped for a few minutes to do shaadi-dot-com poses (me) and look for flowers (her).

Here’s one I took of her while she wasn’t looking – she was all decked out in a gorgeous outfit, crouched under a flower bush to get the right angle!

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Our Eid!

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We had a lovely Eid weekend (which was a 3 day affair for me) starting with dinner at the sisters, then dinner at my mum’s, and ending with an Eid Fair at a local park (with lots of screaming on the rides!). Here’s a few shots of what we did this Eid, you can see a little more here  as well, but the general theme was lots of good food, energetic toddlers and yummy cupcakes!

An Epic Chart of 162 Young Adult Retellings

I’ve mentioned before how much I love fairy-tales/myths re-tellings, there’s something fascinating about seeing a new angle on a classic story we already know, and I love to discover new books with a different view.

This is a chart created by the cleverbots at EpidReads, who compiled a list of books and grouped them by similarities.

You can find the full chart list here by epicreads – it’s not a complete list of what’s out there of course, but it’s a decent place to start!

Have you read any of these? I’ve added a few of these to my book list already!

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And The Mountains Echoed

Our brothers and sisters are there with us from the dawn of our personal stories to the inevitable dusk. ~Susan Scarf Merrell

And The Mountains Echoed, much like Khalid Hosseini’s earlier novels The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Sun begins, and draws its roots from Afghanistan and its tumultuous history, following on from the upheaval of the country in the 70s to emigration to America. Unlike his other two novels, however,  there is also a layering of characters from other cultures – Markos, a Greek surgeon, photographer and philanthropist, Nila, a part-French, part-Afghan artist who embodies the glamorous, detached Parisienne lifestyle, and Iqbal and his family, who have come home from emigration to Pakistan to find his family are unable to claim their home, or even Amra, a Bosnian nurse caring for the wounded in war-torn Kabul.

Although there is plenty of diversity in this story, at the heart of it all is the focus on the two primary characters, Abdullah and Pari, siblings whose close bond is ripped apart when they are separated at childhood, sold by a desperate father. So begins a ripple which resounds over the next 60 years, in which each sibling feeling incomplete without the other, affecting their families and friends around them.

There are several themes throughout the novel, which reverberate through each generation of siblings, lovers and friends – each of them having their own forms of abandonment and reconciliation, and each of them finding the true meaning of love and relationships over the years.

Normally a large number characters in a novel may overwhelm the story, but in this case, each character contributes, reinforcing a theme which subtly leads back to Abdullah and Pari. Each sibling carrying their own sense of incompleteness and abandonment; Abdullah growing up in Afghanistan and having his own family, emigrating to America in an attempt to find stability, and Pari, taken to France by her adoptive Mother, learning French culture and never understanding her identity and what is missing.

While this story is a little depressing in it’s telling, it’s beautifully written – there are parts of it which read like an old story being told, and indeed each character does tell his tale in order to contribute to this strange myth-like story.

If you’re looking for something full of culture, history and beauty, this has plenty of all three, and gives more besides. While it does show the characters and their yearning – to be elsewhere, to be with family or to be simply accepted – the characters are beautifully rendered, invoking a feeling of amity and the idea that you can step forward, and be a part of their lives.

A Day Out at Willen Lake

We decided to have a day out this weekend, making the most of the Bank Holiday and not having to go work the next day (yaay!) by taking a picnic and surprising my sister with a day out at Willen Lake.

So we took the kids, made some snacks and nibbles, took some badminton rackets, balls and a cricket bat, and headed up to the park and hid. Meanwhile, my sister’s husband dragged her to to the park with their little daughter and went around in circles in the same part of the park, to her bafflement, while we all hid (I came late so didn’t hide) behind bushes and shushed the kids.

Finally she spotted us and the look of disbelief on her face was something to see – although it was less of a surprise after the toddlers ran towards her instead of hiding!

We had a great day though, and managed to take in the sights (and the kids managed to hijack the children’s play area which made their day). My husband and I wanted to try some boating, but it as too cold and windy so we promised to come back in the summer when it’s hotter to give it a try (that way he won’t mind when I push him in the water!)

Here’s a few snaps of the day, I didn’t take many photos as we were too busy playing games and eating, or chasing little toddlers around – but I do love these shots. The ones of the swans are one of my favourite, there’s something dreamy about them all gathering together : )

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That Time I Made Cookies

And they came out perfect. I like doing a little baking every now and then, and usually get the recipes from people I know, like one of my sisters who excels at baking.

These are double chocolate chip cookies that I made a batch of, and which I was pleased with because not only did they only take about 10 minutes to bake, they were beautifully soft and chewy and very chocolatey!

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I’m sure I’ll be making more of these again, they got eaten way too fast (I also took a few into the office, but there wasn’t enough for everybody!) – I’m pretty sure there’s a hijabi Betty Crocker in me somewhere!

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Appetisers

Sometimes simplicity is the way to go – I can’t take the credit for this though (I took the picture but I didn’t make this!).

My eldest sister invited my husband and I for dinner, and set out a beautifully laid meal with starters, appetisers and salads followed the main courses (or feast, shall I say), and about three different desserts. We were stuff at the end of the meal and there were plenty of beautiful food on a plate (which we zoomed into our mouths), but I like this condiments/appetiser plate best; simple, bright and healthy.

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World Hijab Day 2015

February 1st marks the annual World Hijab Day, which celebrates not just the cloth which covers women’s faces or hair, but the idea of modesty, and the concept of liberation through covering yourself.

You can read my hijab story here, but I love that hijab is becoming more and more prominent in today’s times, and that women are feeling more confident in expressing not only what it means, but how it can influence others positively. I also love the fact that it encourages non-Muslims to experience hijab for a day and see what it means.

Since recent events such as the Paris attacks, the Sydney attacks and the Peshawar school attacks, it is hard to show Islam being portrayed as a peaceful religion, and I feel more wary that there is more hostility towards the hijab and what it symbolises. Echoing my sister’s words, this is not my faith, it is hard to separate some people’s perceptions of hijab, modesty and Islam and equating them with violence and terrorism.

Having said that, just as we do not want all Muslims to be tarred with the ‘terrorist’ brush, nor do we want all speakers to be considered as ‘ignorance’ or ‘bigoted’. I have heard the views from a few Jewish friends that they have started to feel that there is some anti-Semitism being directed towards them, that Britain is becoming less tolerant to non-secular faiths, and that they don’t feel entirely comfortable with how they are being portrayed. I can understand the feeling, it is easy to be prejudiced without knowing both parts of the story, and I feel that there is an increasing amount of censorship in the media which doesn’t help.

There have been some beautiful stories, however, which shows that there’s plenty of hope yet. After the Sydney attacks, for example, the trending hashtag #Illridewithyou has started a beautiful series of gestures from non-Muslims who have offered to accompany hijabi women and prevent attacks. I’ve seen it since, being used in various countries, tweeted out, shared on Instagram, Facebook, and showing a united front and understanding for women in hijab. It gives me a huge smile, to see that there are plenty of people out there who don’t judge a woman for her beliefs or what’s on her head.

If all else fails, here’s understanding Hijab for Dummies, although I’m sure you just need to look outside the window and see a passing Muslimah in hijab. If you do see one, give her a smile and look past the cloth, underneath will be a beautiful woman whose biggest attribute will be her modesty and her kind heart.

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