You are spit at,
ripped off,
flown and lit.

But when I
advocate
for you,
shout out
the world
for you,

they treat me
like you.

I am spit at,
ripped apart,
torn and lit.

I remember
sixth grade: Are you
bald? cancerous? dangerous?
Pulled off
once,
twice,
three times.

I stayed,
seventh grade I had
no friends,

eighth grade,
I was a terrorist-
to them,

ninth grade,
they stared at me,
dissected me,
debated me like I
was a massacre,
because I advocated
for you.

French, German,
western tongues
that try to ban me
from public display
because I advocated
for you.

They ask me who
oppressed me,
thinking that I could
not have possibly
done this to myself,

but they don’t see
the way I felt brave,
representative
of freedom,

when I read the book
of a girl
who made my choice.

What they see,
is not a choice,
they think I cannot
run,
dance,
cry,
sing,

but they don’t see
that I can
run, if only from them,
who believe we’re un-American,
dance, if only to disconnect
from the world turned against us,
cry, if only because they
have turned against us,
sing, if only to protest
the oppression they had put on
us.

They are blind,
because I advocated
for you,

and they are deaf,
because I proclaimed
your freedoms,

and they are mute,
because I am not
a nun,
who still covers
as I do,
but who never advocated
for you.

Because
you,
the symbol
of oppression
in their eyes,
are made into
the symbol
of oppression
in my eyes,
until no longer
am I brave enough
to advocate
for you,

because,
when we are lit,
we eventually all
burn out.


Author’s Note: This poem is about my feelings regarding the negative perception of hijab in the west. It is a letter speaking directly to my hijab, but at the same time, speaking to the audience as well. I wanted to show the personal hopelessness and fear created by others in me that I sometimes feel at my low points. Most significantly, my poem speaks to how the hijab is not a symbol of oppression, but rather it is the people who proclaim that it is oppressing us, the people who misunderstand and hate us for our religion, the people who try to rip it off our heads, that are the ones oppressing us. Despite knowing all of this, fighting back against this false belief and feeling is increasingly difficult, and sometimes feels too difficult, because “we eventually / all burn out.”

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3 Responses to "To A Mere Headscarf"

  1. Nicole says:

    I sympathize with you and feel embarrassed by the cruel and immature actions of my fellow citizens of the US. I lived in North Africa for 3 years, among local people…not hiding in any ivory towers of foreigners. My husband is muslim man from Morocco and am close to his family and consider them my own family. I speak several dialects of Arabic. You shouldn’t be treated cruelly based on what you choose to wear. Discrimination based on clothes is completely against the principles that most Americans would tout as their ideals of freedom. While many Americans don’t have the skills to explain where their anger, frustration and fear come from when they see a fellow American wearing hijab, I will attempt to explain to you my own position. I understand you are choosing to veil but I’m worried that you’re being ideologically manipulated into making that decision by someone or some party who is trying to trick you for their own gain. That may be upsetting to hear but please know that I personally have also been ideologically manipulated many times in my life and I’m 100% sure that I still am being ideologically manipulated in many ways every day. If I am being manipulated, I prefer that other people who can see it when I can’t to tell me about it, which is my motivation for explaining this to you now. I’m worried that you have been convinced of a falsehood which is that Allah favors your choice to cover your skin while in public. I don’t know if God exists, but I believe that if God does exist that God could not communicate his preferences to humans. I don’t believe that there are any “special” or “wise” humans who can ever really know the preferences of God. I believe that if any people claim or have told you they have special insight into what God likes or dislikes… such as Islamic authorities of centuries past or present, that they are either lying or mentally ill, but in either case they simply stand to gain by the fact that many many people will come to rely on them for information about that “invisible” domain of what pleases or displeases God. I believe that you or I can’t trust this kind of information. I also know from personal experience that it feels really good to believe in the ideas that your religious community claims are true. But I personally believe that a lot of these ideas in each and every religious community are wrong and poisonous. I think the essence of the rift between women who veil and those who are made to feel uncomfortable by women who veil is the acceptance of the premise that Allah prefers women who do. I don’t think God would want women who cover their skin. I don’t think God exists, but if God does exist, I don’t think God would care about this or evaluate women on it. I certainly don’t think that God would ever prefer different clothes or skin-covering responsibilities for men & women. I think the Islamic authorities, who have been largely men since it’s conception, have likely systematically placed undue responsibilities upon women to restrict themselves and imagine that they are to blame for the personal choices and behaviors and even thoughts of men in their lives. I think whoever claims and perpetuates or even looks the other way about these falsehoods is hurting women. I’m really sorry if these ideas make you sad or uncomfortable to consider however, I think hearing these ideas will help you understand the fear and discomfort that those who have lashed out at you were feeling at the time. You might suggest, and I’d agree, that women who have a problem with the way you dress mind their own business and worry about the ways that they are duped into sacrificing more or shouldering guilt or undue restriction by their own group’s ideologies. In my opinion that focus on introspection would lead to a more positive end then harassing women who wear the hijab.

    • Eman says:

      I am very sorry to say this, but people with your views is partly the reason I wrote this poem. “Manipulation” is just another word for “oppression.” For some reason, it is impossible to make you and so many others understand that wearing the hijab is my choice and will always be my choice. I could just as easily remove it. It’s my choice. You assume I wear this only by so called religious law. This is false. No one is manipulating me. My own mother doesn’t wear the hijab and many other close relatives don’t either. I chose the wear the hijab from such a young age because I was inspired by the role models of those around me who wear the hijab and aspire to change the perspective of people who falsely believe that we are being oppressed. I was inspired to wear the hijab because I read a novel about the story of an Australian Muslim, who decided to wear the hijab on her own accord. When I started to wear the hijab, my family actually suggested that I didn’t because of all the pressure I would face living in the West. Even as I knew that these struggles would occur, it still amazed me how hard it was just to wear a piece of fabric around my head. But of course you wouldn’t know that. you just assume that some men who have established the “Islamic authorities” have forced me to wear the hijab. Hah! It’s actually even more amazing to me that you couldn’t understand the message of my poem, even as it was clearly written.
      I am not saying however, that not all Muslim women are not oppressed or manipulated. I’m just saying that not all Muslim women ARE oppressed and manipulated.

    • Sumaiyah Khan says:

      Hey Nicole,

      Thank you for reading and for your comment. While the concern that we are being manipulated is appreciated, and I understand that you went through an experience with your religion that made you see things in this way, what we believe is that our rules have not been set by any man, even the Prophet, peace be upon him. Our book, the Holy Quran, for example, was not written by our Prophet. We believe it to be the literal word of God, and it’s stayed exactly the same and unchanged since it was first revealed. There’s an old one discovered on display in a museum and each word is exactly the same! There are many reasons why we believe wholeheartedly that it was not written by the Prophet, one of them being that by all accounts, he was illiterate. He didn’t know how to read or write, and all of a sudden being able to write an entire book in perfect poetry isn’t something that usually happens to people. In addition to this, people who study the Arabic language will testify that the way the Quran is written is not like any poetry written at the time it was revealed, or at any point afterward. There have been poets who have tried, and none of them have written anything even close to it.

      ” I think the essence of the rift between women who veil and those who are made to feel uncomfortable by women who veil is the acceptance of the premise that Allah prefers women who do. I don’t think God would want women who cover their skin. I don’t think God exists, but if God does exist, I don’t think God would care about this or evaluate women on it. I certainly don’t think that God would ever prefer different clothes or skin-covering responsibilities for men & women.”

      The premise set in Islam is not that God prefers women who cover, or that he evaluates the goodness of a person based on whether they wear it or not. Allah wants us to believe in him and do good deeds and that’s what we’re judged upon. The hijab (or head covering) is simply an act of worship. We do it because Allah asked us to, and it shows our devotion and dedication to God. And for those who don’t do it, God isn’t a vengeful being just looking to put people into categories of who has done it and who hasn’t and that’s it.

      Islam has a lot of rules and guidelines, but that’s because it’s not just an organized religion for us, it’s a way of life. For both women and men, it teaches us how to deal with people, how to go about our day to day activities, everything really. And the rules weren’t set by men, or any people on the Earth. I believe, completely, that they were set by a God who knows better, and who has a lot more wisdom than we do. I believe God gives us everything that we have, and any good that I do, I do for God. And I also believe that God is merciful beyond anything we can possibly imagine, and is Merciful is excusing us when we DO fall short. I don’t follow Islam or wear hijab because it is something that was “ideologically manipulated” into me. I am a curious person, with a million questions about everything. I have asked those questions, and I have studied and continue to study my religion, and that is how I know that it is a just and fair religion, where not only is oppression not part of the structure, it is considered a sin. (A huge one)

      I could go on all day but I won’t do that to you, and I’m sorry about this being such a long and wordy response. Hope all is well with you =)