Stereotypical assumptions are very common, and I’ve had the luxury of knowing some of the ones people have had about me pre and post hijab. I actually quite like knowing what someone’s first impression of me was.
(I wonder what impression my blog gives off?) More often than not, they’re incorrect but definitely amicable statements that always make me smile. This post, however, also includes some of the more irksome misconceptions that have come up repeatedly which I thought I would share with you all today.
- I’m an Arab Muslim
I don’t know if this is because I’m a hijabi living in an Arab country, but everyone assumes I’m Arab. Hijab is worn by so many South Asians and African women here as well, but that isn’t the first thing that crosses anyone’s mind. Once, while I was paying for my groceries, the cashier told me the amount I had to pay in Arabic. Another time, a woman came up to me in a panic and started speaking in Arabic – and stopped midsentence after registering my blank expression, after which she proceeded to say in a snobbish manner “Oh you no speak Arabic?” as though it was a fundamental flaw and before I could complete “No I’m sor-“, she threw her fingers up in the air in exasperation and paced away. My siblings couldn’t stop laughing.
- I shake hands with non-mahrams
A customary handshake is the norm for greeting. I did not realise how common it was before I stopped doing it. People assume you’re 50 degrees of conservative when you’re modestly dressed, but when it comes to a handshake, it’s something I’m expected to conform to. Why do people think that my wide smile, bright disposition and a polite verbal greeting are not enough?
- If I take my hijab off, I can shake hands with non-mahrams
By far the hardest thing I’ve ever had to explain to people, is that my hijab does not dictate my actions. There are hijabis who do whatever they like, and there are also women who dress modestly without a headscarf, but choose not to physically interact with men. It is my choice to don a headscarf and not give you a congratulatory fist-bump. Even if I decide to remove my headscarf one day, I’m not going to start giving you hugs because my scarf doesn’t decide my actions for me, I do. Learn to separate the two.
- I’m going to disregard my hijab on my nikkah, because, whoever heard of a hijabi bride?
Weddings are a special event where everyone wants to look their best. Why is it assumed that a woman who has diligently honoured her choice for a number of years is suddenly going to consciously neglect it on her wedding day, and not look as pretty? And why is it expected of her to? Funnily enough, one person actually expressed disappointment to my face (in a very non-offensive way) when they found out I wished to keep it on. “Aw, really? Come onnn, it’s your wedding.” It struck me then just how linear society’s definition of beauty can be. I hope they read my reply amidst the simultaneous sputter of laughter and eye roll – How beautiful is it that a woman chooses courage and commitment to Allah (swt) over the norms of this dunya?
- If I can read Arabic, I can speak and understand it too.
I know this is a bit tricky to wrap your head around, but it’s really quite simple. Look at it this way: You can spell and pronounce “stupid”, but it’s not necessary that you know its meaning, right?
(Image: Aquila Style/Fotolia)