I had constantly received questions 'why do you wear the hijab?', 'don't you feel warm with the hijab on?', 'were you forced to wear the hijab?
Each time I get to answer these questions I feel liberated and gives me strength that I am able to give a chance for others to understand my religion, culture and who I am. Before giving an opportunity for any stereotype, fear and judgements upon me and the hijab. An opportunity to explain that it is not an oppression on me or that it was forced. An opportunity to explain that it is not a symbol or sign that gives anyone the opportunity to fear me donning it and to call me a terrorist.
I for one particularly understood why Islamophobia - a neologism that I often hear that conforms prejudice, hatred against Muslims and ethnic groups who are Muslims even existed. I studied International Law for 3 years in University of New South Wales, Sydney Australia. Where I realise that in 2009, this term was widely used in newspapers, public spaces and online media often to relate news regarding terrorists acts. I constantly had to discuss issues regarding 9/11 and terrorism was a topic that was discussed for weeks if not mentioned in class and acts of Al Qaeda would relate to muslim, and Islamist terrorist.
I still remember vividly the word Islamist terrorist were used 26 times in just a page of 3 pages journal to prove the point that the terrorist was muslim and they were a group that should be feared. And naturally I constantly felt a little defensive once it is mentioned or discussed in the lecture. I would say I was also a little emotional that my religion was discussed in such a way that was linked to these sort of acts and were oriented in such a way that these acts were permissible by a few verses in the Holy Quran. That to me were misinterpreted and were taken entirely out of context at that point of time. Not that I was justifying or condoning the acts of the terrorists. It was just unfair to categorise a muslim and Islam in the same context. Whereas Muslim is the individual and Islam is the religion and one of peace. When an individual Muslim commit his/her sins or doings it is upon his choosing not the religion that I believe teaches forgiveness and compassion on others.
There was a YouTube video I watched of Queen Rania speaking on this topic >the link here > Arab = Terrorist = Islam = War. She explains why this equation is entirely wrong and she tackled this issue consistently since. Truly she is my personal hero for giving me some strength to continue my responses regarding terrorism, Arab-Israeli conflict and Muslim women empowerment. (This topic calls for another post. I shall focus on the main topic regarding my hijab journey).
I started donning the hijab permanently since Ramadan (fasting month) of 2009. It was the first year I arrived Sydney and I was only 18 years old then. Many have also asked, how did I come to the decision to start in Sydney not since I was back in Malaysia. My simple answer - I realise that it was time for me to change myself. Obviously, it was more than just that. It was a time when I start looking at the world in a different perspective, I realise how humble my life would be if I had only thought about myself and be modest in my thinking, my words, my actions and what were the purpose of life.
It was a year of self discovery, as I had also lost a few close family members to me in the same year. It was a year of questioning my identity and who I am as a human being and why do I call myself a Muslim when yet with much embarrassment ( I did not pray 5 times a day it was sometimes only 3 or 4, I did not know why we eat Halal food, I did not know why we can't drink alcohol). Not until I was asked these questions when I lived in Sydney and rediscovered my religion and my love for my life as a Muslim. Sadly it was all taken for granted before. I was told what to do, go to religious classes and failed to understand it by heart when I thought I did and finally in 2009 where I had embraced this beautiful religion whole heartedly. I had a solstice moment for myself.
It was not an easy journey in the last 7 years - I was once called a terrorist as I walked on the streets of Taipei yet I had only hoped for some directions around the city, I was looked upon with fear as I entered in the stores, I was yet again called a terrorist as I walked out from a shopping mall in Sydney as a few young boys did, and was also once thrown bad eggs towards my direction at a Kingsford bus stop in Ramadan 2011 (luckily I was with a friend standing behind the bus stop stand and only a little splash on my shoulder). Yet again, I held it on strong as it was truly my decision to show my identity as a Muslim lady in these places that I believed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was not shaken by these acts but it strengthened my beliefs even more.
What came to my surprise most of the time I have received much respect and recognition for being a Muslim and my hijab as my identity to that belief. When I go to restaurants they know I am looking for halal food, no alcoholic cakes / beverages. And that it is not a question when I ask for a small space to pray in the corner of the restaurant. Or in fitting rooms. My beliefs were to some becoming a little familiar in cities where people understood Islam and with no judgements just respect. Syukur alhamdulillah.
Yet in my own country,there are still issues regarding women and hijab. There were also news that some women were not able to get a part time/full time job at retailers and offices because they were donning the hijab. This prejudice made me realise that it is time that more women with hijab on should share their stories and prove how valuable they are. Even with the hijab on it does affect any ability, skills or knowledge of a person. (Obviously this is an issue I have to write another post for).
I was also called to write on this post due to a Telegraph UK newspaper article that there are talks about Banning Muslim Women from wearing veils in School and Public places. This got to me with a shock and in this country UK that embraces multiculturalism and most certainly obvious in the city that I live in now, London. I have not received any prejudice or fear upon anyone in the public space or had I also instigated any fear upon the public. Had I gone outside for a run to the London Bridge and walked to school near Chancery Lane minding my own business with my hijab on. Honestly, what part of choosing to hide away parts of the body is deemed inappropriate. I may need to seek answers on this.
I hope that this post this not instigate any fear or prejudice upon me as I had only intended to share a piece of my humble thoughts onto my writing space. I have also not intended to hurt anyone's feelings. If I did, apologies for it. I may not be the best Muslim women or a role model with hijab. However, I am constantly trying to be a better Muslim, daughter, sister, friend, human in our human race. Here is a movement of #WorldHijabDay of a Muslim sister I am truly proud of. She is sharing the knowledge and spreading love, compassion of what Islam truly encompasses with the World Hijab Day.
In summary, with the hijab it did not only hid my hair and parts of my body, it also changed me as a person and wanting to be better each day with positive thoughts and helping to inspire others. Looking at life in a bigger picture, while it did not made me feel constrain or limited yet inspired me to achieve more in life. Had it not made me feel warmer with the hijab especially Malaysia is a tropical country with 32 celcius. It made me feel cooler since the direct sun was not directly upon my body. It had not only changed my inner thoughts but it surely did give me more meaning and purpose of life.
That is it for now. Till the next post!
Muchos love and salam,
Khalisa your one and only Msorangelisa
Here are also a few Muslim headscarves illustration worn differently and explained :