By Gabrielle Deonath
Because I started wearing my hijab in the beginning of this past summer, a thought that was always in the back of my mind was how people in school would react to the change I’d made. How would acquaintances and friends treat me? Would the people I had previously had problems with mock me?
All summer while I was wearing my hijab, I felt comfortable and confident. I would have conversations with co-workers or classmates about Islam or religion in general. I felt so happy and free to be myself. As much as I tried to analyze what people would think, for the most part, I thought I would be confident and have a different perspective, socially, this year.
After two months of being away, the first day of school came and went. I remember seeing some friends I hadn’t seen all summer who were very supportive of my hijab. I remember my health teacher telling me how pretty I was (She’s a female. Don’t freak out!). No one stared, no one asked any questions, no one seemed to care about my change. I was happy, but some part of me didn’t feel completely comfortable either.
Before, I was always a loner. I just enjoyed being with my own thoughts, rather than getting caught up in high school drama that I’d had enough of and wanted to take no part in. This time, it somehow felt different. Over the summer, I had become friends with people who were in college. They seemed more in my headspace. They were thinking about their future and they were more mature in socialization skills; we just had much more in common than I’d ever had with anyone in my own grade. I went from feeling very connected and confident to feeling very detached, alone, and insecure.
I also had what I would describe as paranoia. If someone was laughing with a friend and they were looking at me, I would assume they were mocking my hijab and/or Islam. I somehow felt people were treating me differently, even though in actuality, everyone was treating me pretty much the same. I cried the first Friday I spent in school. I was overwhelmed by my feelings and I didn’t have anyone to turn to. Being a practicing Muslim was new to my life, so it was hard for me to believe that I didn’t need anyone else, except Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He).
After I calmed down and a few adults and an old friend soothed my feelings, life began to change. I gained that confidence back, little by little. I realized that yes, I look different than I did before, but that’s all that changed. I always had the morals of Islam in my heart; I just never outwardly showed it. I soon began to get into the grind of school, and the workload began to take over that empty time I had.
I started a club about religious awareness and tolerance, which kept me busy and gave me something to be passionate about that involved Islam. My idea for the club came to me this past school year when I was still deciding about whether to wear the hijab. I wanted a way to connect to others on this journey so I thought starting an MSA would be a good idea, but unfortunately, there aren’t many Muslim students in my school. Plus, those that are there are interested in other things besides Islam. I, then, thought about a club about religious tolerance and acceptance. I believed this would be a great way to spread Islam’s message and squash the misconceptions that many Americans have about it. We’ve had some really interesting conversations in the club. People want to learn about Islam and understand our religion. We’re also able to see many of the similarities between the major religions. The turnout wavers meeting to meeting, which is expected with any new club, but for the most part, it has been an uplifting, encouraging experience.
Going back to school has been a normal experience. Much of the anxiety I’ve had stemmed from my own insecurities and paranoia. It’s like going into school with a broken limb: in the beginning, it’s a big deal and everyone wants to help, but eventually, you’re left on your own and people don’t really care. If you are worried about what people are going to think, whether it’s your co-workers, or your classmates, don’t let it hold you back. You never know when your last day will be. People are generally very open-minded and encouraging. This decision is for you and Allah (swt) alone. Remember that Allah is always watching over you and He never gives you more than you can handle.
The author is sixteen years old and is a new hijabi. She is of Indian and Guyanese decent. She is a student in high school. She strives to learn about new things about Islam every day, and implement what she learns in her life as best as she can. She hopes her story can help other sisters who are in the spot she once was.