Eman Naga: Thorn In My Side

I remember always watching hairstyle tutorials when I was younger, absolutely fascinated with how I could express myself through curls or pigtail braids. That’s why when I faced with wearing a hijab, I was petrified, and the decision was an excruciatingly tough one. Hijab was a symbol of modesty that screamed of horrifying uniqueness and the fact that I could no longer look like everyone else taunted me. It was quite the daunting lifestyle to take on, especially at a young age. But that’s what I did and from that moment, it has been a quite a search for external and internal acceptance.

The journey to start accepting myself and my hijab started in sixth grade. I had been wearing my hijab for only three months when I had experienced the most brutally excruciating moment in my life. I had just changed into my gym clothes in the locker room and was ready to start another day of grueling “physical education.” We were supposed to be playing baseball when my friend and I decided to distance ourselves from the smelly boys who had not quite figured out deodorant’s magical prowess and the girls who hadn’t quite figured themselves out, their insecurity stemming from their snide remarks. Once we reached the bleachers, one of my classmates had decided to come to join us. I distinctly remember his cockiness, with his so-called “swag” and his palpable inability to flirt with my friend. After about ten minutes of rejection, he finally came to the realization that my friend wasn’t interested. Yet, he was annoyingly persistent. He attempted one last time to impress her and little did I know, I was part of his idiotic pursuit.

The genius had stealthily come onto my side of the bleachers and asked me, “Do you even have hair?” and before I could even utter one of my trademarked witty replies, he pulled down my hijab to show my hair. Quickly, I sprinted to the bathroom so that I could wallow in my grief and fix my hijab in peace. That instant held a lasting impact on me all throughout middle school and the beginning of high school, to the point where I was contemplating my own identity.

Looking back, it did not help that people eager to bully me would always attack my “baldness” and called me a terrorist and I, a typically confused adolescent, used to take it to heart. It got so bad that I considered taking it off, an incomprehensible thought to me now. Moreover, it reached a point where I even considered pulling off my hijab and throwing it in my tormenter’s face. It took me a while to realize that it would do it nothing but satisfy him and any other bullies. It was that thought that led me to wear my hijab as a retaliation to their hate and not just as a representation of my faith. Now while that has changed now, the struggle I went through to try and validify myself to everyone and essentially, myself was agonizing.

Even though I started wearing my hijab in sixth grade, figured out my hijab style in eighth grade, it wasn’t until five years of wearing my hijab during sophomore year that I actually wore my hijab proudly and for the right reasons. Now after eight years of being a hijabi, my confidence emanates from it despite its many struggles.

My confidence in my hijab still doesn’t ease the difficulty of wearing a hijab. What people do not seem to understand is that wearing a hijab is not an easy task- it’s hot all the time, in the summer the wretched hijab tan shows up, also known as the “Oompa Loompa” syndrome, and the dreaded misguided racism and rampant islamophobia that manifested from the horrific 9/11 attacks is never-ending. But it is a difficulty that I am now proud of facing daily and ironically contributes to my admiration of the hijab. Believe it or not, I cherish that moment. The experience taught me a lot because I have grown thicker skin and I now recognize that my hijab is my armor.

It is unbelievable that I used to believe that my hijab was a thorn in my side, because now, looking back, I believe that my hijab was what made me a rose in the first place.

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