Hijab is my Choice: Zahra
I was introduced to Zahra through a woman at the Afghan Women's Writing Project, and she began sending images and writing to me in the summer of 2016. Her voice is clear, and her story important.
I have been lived in three different countries and have experienced many hard times, especially in the past 4 years. I was a refugee in Pakistan and lived there about two years. I was supposed to cover all of my body while going to school. It was not my choice and I was feeling so down because although I covered myself enough, men still looked at me so badly. Some of them tried to touch me few times.
The Burqa or long dress will not protect anybody from harassment. I was always considering the Burqa as part of my culture. I never believed it was something related to Islam but if there are people who believe it is part of Islam, I respect that. Before I move to USA, I researched about Hijab and what is really about? After researching I decided to keep my scarf on. It is not only because I am a Muslim, but also feeling comfortable in it.
When I started my life in USA, not only men this time but women also make me feel uncomfortable by staring at me in metro, school, malls, and many other places that I go because I am wearing my scarf. Maybe they want to make sure that I am not terrorist or they just want to tell me that I do not have the right to wear it. Some people believe that wearing scarf/Hijab to cover my head is making me a terrorist and not wearing it makes me nice and open minded. We are supposed to judge each other based on what is in our head, not on our head. But this is not about ALL, there are some good people as well (in Islamic countries and USA).
Hijab is my choice. My family and two of my aunts are in USA. I am the only one who is wearing Hijab. My younger sister was wearing Hijab until last year. She stopped wearing it when students judged her and she believed some teachers discriminated against her. Discrimination is giving away my human right and if that continues to happen, I may no longer be able to wear Hijab and then there would be no difference between Pakistan, Afghanistan, and USA from my perspective. I did not only come here to be safe and have good education, but also because I heard the people respect each other.
There is huge difference between religion and culture. Unfortunately, our generation does not have enough information about Islamic countries, their culture, and religion, which is Islam. We usually are mistaken because of what is happing in countries like Afghanistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. When some of my teachers talk about these countries, instead of pointing at their government and culture, they call it Islam and Muslims.
In my country’s culture, a woman cannot show her beautiful face for many reasons. If a daughter is born, she should cover herself from age of 7. I did not start to fully cover myself until I turned 12 and that was the time I found out that my neighbor's women were talking behind my back. I did not know the meaning of Hijab until the last September 2015. Men thinks that women should cover themselves because their beauty astray men. Those who have beautiful faces are getting married sooner than others because their families are scared that their girls might be kidnapped or be raped by someone.
Most of the girls in my country never understand how beautiful they are and how they should enjoy their childhood. Once they born as a girl, they are expected to behave like a woman and they will start to learn how to clean and cook. So, in one sentence to describe this picture: beauty is when you understand it, when you enjoy your life and are not scared of anything. When your parents allow you to live like other children and respect you. When they do not give you big responsibilities to do when you are a kid and daughter.
I came from Afghanistan where fewer girls can get an education. Going to school and being educated is still a dream for many girls. Beauty in this picture is when you try to achieve your dreams with facing many problems and accepting any challenges. When you have right to choose, to go to school and to be educated.
Many girls cannot go to school just because they were born girls and their families believe that girls education is not important and will not benefit the family. Many girls cannot go to school because of poverty. They have to work at home with their mothers. Some girls even don’t have schools to go, or their schools are too far from them or are burned down by the insurgents or people who are against girls’ education. War and insecurity also prevents girls from getting an education. Some girls are scared to be kidnaped or raped on the way to school, so they give up their dream to get an education. Taliban closed schools for Afghan girls for six years and even today they prevent girls from getting an education in many parts of the world. One way to help girls get an education and help them to achieve their goals is to end discrimination, regardless of who they are and what they wear. We need to respect each other’s choice and accept our differences.
All humans have one thing in common, and that is being different. I cannot represent all Muslims. I wrote this based on my own experiences and point of view. Other Muslims that went through other things may have different things to say.