Unclear voices, murmuring, intense stares. I cannot understand them. You keep your distance from me and I wonder why. How do you feel about me? What comes to your mind when you see my clothes, my hijab?
Every time I observe people closely, I discover new things. People look at me in a weird way. Differently. I don’t understand your language, but I can look deep in your eyes. The language of the eyes and the face is the same everywhere. I can see compassion and sympathy in some eyes and hatred in others. When you try to keep away from me, I feel as if I have a contagious disease. It is painful to be treated as a sick person when you are not sick.
Some of you hold your handbags tightly when you see me and I wonder if you think that I’m a thief because of how I am dressed. When I see this, I am scared to get on the bus or on the subway. When I’m on the bus, I try to show my hands to you. I keep my hands busy, to reassure you that I’m not a thief but a simple human being wearing hijab.
When I get off the bus, I take a deep breath and walk away with tired hands and a broken heart. Sometimes you look at me with curiosity just because of my scarf and clothing. I’m sure you like your clothes and you feel good in them. I feel the same with my robe and hijab, so you should accept the way I am and respect my choice of clothing. You should appreciate people and their choice of attire without asking them to look like you.
Some of you smile when you see me and this smile changes everything for me. It goes deep into my soul and takes all the negative thoughts away. Sometimes your little girl in the stroller looks at me and you stand in front of her to block her view of me. Perhaps you think that she will have nightmares because of my appearance.
I remember once a big, tall man who looked very angry. He was screaming and shouting on a small group of Muslim refugee women wearing a hijab. I don’t know what he was saying but I guess he was cursing at them, using every insult he knew. I was shocked. I didn’t know what to do, I was trying to think what I should do if he was to attack us. I froze and didn’t even dare to move. I felt scared because he looked deranged. You read the fear in my eyes, you ran to me and stood in front of me like a shield and you saved me. I am thankful for your help.
The only free seat in the bus is beside me. Your three-year-old son is looking at me. He also feels that I look different. You put him beside me, he starts crying immediately and squeezes himself towards you. You take him in your arms and you calm him, you lift him up and you seat beside me with a beautiful smile. Your child feels safe seating beside me on your knees and I feel relieved and at peace because I have been treated like one of you.
Some of you treat us so nicely and I admire you for that. Once, I was shopping in a supermarket. I took a piece of pork meat by mistake and I put it in my basket. You came to me with a friendly smile and you pointed out to me that it was pork. It makes me so happy that you know about my religion, that you are aware I must abstain from certain kinds of food because of my beliefs, and that you care about me.
I appreciate your behavior and I hope some people who think we are not human beings like you, will read this piece and change their minds and views towards us, Muslim women.
*This article has been published in issue #1 of “Migratory Birds” newspaper, which was released as an annex with “Efimerida ton Syntakton” newspaper (Newspaper of the Editors) on April 14th – 17th 2017.