“Why is she wearing so many clothes when it’s 95 degrees outside?” “Why is she covered from top to bottom and the man that she is shopping with is in shorts and a t-shirt?” “Why is she not in all black like the women I saw on Fox News yesterday? Isn’t that the way they should all dress?” These are the logical questions that run through the minds of every day folk when I pass by.
It is odd, don’t you think? If everyone around me here in Florida is in shorts and t-shirts on a daily basis, and I am walking around with only my hands and face showing out of my 5’8” self? Questions, questions, questions…
I just recently moved to Florida from an area where everyone believes it is winter all year round; Canada. It’s always funny when I tell Floridians that I am Canadian because confusion and curiosity immediately take over their facial expressions. “So, what is it like to go from extremely cold weather to scorching heat all year round?” Hmm, may I state that we had snowy winters 3 or 4 months out of the year? It is not as brutal as everyone think it is. “Do you like Florida, would you ever move back to Canada?” Of course not, I love it here; however, there is a culture shock when it comes to Muslim attire, for obvious reasons.
Being born and raised in Canada, I was surrounded by roughly the same group of Muslims my entire life; almost all of which wore hijabs (the proper name for a headscarf). My public school, scouts group, Arabic school, and even regular community members were seen wearing hijabs since there was a huge Muslim population in that city. It became a regular part of city life; I never felt like I looked different when I went shopping or even if I went to the beach and swam completely clothed. It had become the norm up there, since there was such a large concentration of Muslims in a small land mass.
Upon my move to Florida, I immediately saw a difference in the way people perceived me. I would find people oddly staring at me, even when I made eye contact, they continued to stare, some of which even began glaring. If I was shopping for groceries at the nearest Publix, I would find people watching me, as if I was some sort of shoplifter waiting for the perfect moment to put something in my purse. It was very odd to me; the complete opposite of what I was used to in Canada. Time after time, the glares and watchful eyes increased, to the point when my husband starting receiving glares just because he was with me. Some were stares of confusion, disgust, and curiosity; and I never understood why. I began to think that every person looking at me was negatively stereotyping me. “She’s oppressed, she’s so backward, she is covering her insecurities, she is definitely a foreigner”. No one ever approached me saying these things, or even hinting them, but more often then not, it was my consciousness and my anger fueling such thoughts.
One weekend, my husband and I went to a baseball game, and a relatively older lady near the food stands calls me out, “Excuse me young lady, do you mind if I ask you a question about your headscarf?” Eagerly, I said yes, hoping for a question of curiosity, but also afraid of a negative comment. She asked, “I have seen many women wearing hijabs in Germany where I spent most of my life, but your style is so beautiful! How do you put all those colours together and the different wraps; and why do other hijab-wearing women dress differently than you?” This was the first positive comment about my dress that I had ever received, and boy was I excited and relieved! My expectation was far from this, just due to my public experience being so negative. I answered, “We are allowed to wear different colours and styles. Just like there are different hair styles, there are different “hijab” styles. Everyone has the freedom to wear what they want, even if women decide not to wear a hijab, then that is their choice; it lies between them and God.” I began to explain further about how we wear it and where I purchase them. Keep in mind that I was super excited; this was my first positive experience in Florida!
I find it interesting how there is always this debate about the East and West, how the Western mentality of dress is “the less clothes, the better”; whereas, in most areas in the East, it is the opposite. I believe we fail to realize that even in the West, there is also a clash between these concepts. I was born and raised in the West, never visiting my hometown or even interacting with the East and its cultural expectations. So even from the North-Western Hemisphere (Ontario, Canada) to the Southern Hemisphere (Florida, U.S.A.), this clash exists. As multicultural as Canada and the U.S. claim to be, we still have stereotypical thoughts about what is deemed appropriate to a city or country in the eyes of the general public.
I identify as a Canadian-American and a Lebanese- Muslim Hijabi. My self-concept is not attributed to one cultural denomination; rather, it is a mosaic of identities. I am just one of many in this mosaic, and I am sure my experiences as a Western Hijabi will continue to be both positive and negative. However, I do not want to be a regular citizen and it is important for all of us to maintain a sense of originality. I am Khadija, and I will always be content with that.
Please stop by my Podcast page and look at the other projects I am working on. A Muslim Pearl In A Western Shell focuses on bridging the gap between Eastern Islamic and Western cultures; fostering an understanding of different peoples through self-study and conversation.
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