In my short foray into the corporate world, where people of all ethnicities and religions attempt to co-exist, I discovered the various impressions an outsider (a non Muslim) holds of a hijabi.* This is my personal experience and I’m sure it differs for all, depending on the environment we surround ourselves with. One of the things is that you are automatically viewed as a more conservative person. (no issues with that one, thanks). There are several questions that people have asked me about my “unusual” actions, which was both expected and slightly terrifying for me at the same time, because I’ve not really ever had to explain why I do what I do. My experience put the hijab in a new light for me. The significance of it for me had been magnified.
I live in Dubai, which is primarily a Muslim place. It is a very welcoming and open emirate to all religions. The specific workplace environment that I was exposed to, however, was multi-cultural and I have yet to see a hijabi there. That being said, everyone in this country is well aware of the general custom and respect given to any woman wearing a hijab – Emirati or otherwise.
However, I encountered some different reactions (for lack of a better word). On a number of occasions, I hadn’t shook hands with my male colleagues and usually they understand and apologise. Some were either puzzled or took offence, which can be understood from silly remarks and facial expressions.
And I’m like –
I find that extremely odd, because shouldn’t I be the one being offended that you cannot make the assumption based on the scarf on my head? Politeness can be more than indicated without a customary handshake.
Snippets from similar conversations are something like this:
“But do all women with the *points to head* don’t shake hands?”
“Oh, so what about chastity for men?”
“What?! Men can’t shake hands with women either? Omg.” *eyes wide*
“Do you go to parties? Do you dance? I’m just trying to picture you *goes into a dance move*”
“But she hi-fives! *points to a fellow Muslim colleague* Why don’t you?”
And so on and so forth.
Another thing I have come to realise is that everyone judges you by the cover. By the way you dress, your manners, your actions, your etiquettes. And you should. I do it too. These things show your character.
Which is why I realised my hijab comes with a responsibility. It’s the first thing people will notice about me wherever I go. That’s why it terrified me a bit, because I always want to show that my choice is a liberation for me, and whatever I do, I do it out of my own will and that makes me happy.
Our words and actions represent Islam, which is why there are a multitude of people with incorrect perceptions of Muslim women, due to all the differences they see in us. The judgement of a religion based on it’s representation by the masses is inevitable. People can’t seem to separate the religion from the person itself, especially when it’s a hijabi. It’s like you’re automatically under greater scrutiny. We can only play our part in trying to stay calm under exasperating circumstances and awkward situations when people expect you to behave as is the norm.
*hijabi- Hijab is an Arabic word that literally translates into a barrier/partition. It is commonly used to denote the headscarf that Muslim women choose to wear, however it does not literally mean a scarf. A “hijabi”, thus, is a woman who dresses modestly with the headscarf.