Respect Required

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Guest writer Amna Hasan touches on a very important lesson she learned from a childhood experience.

I started wearing the headscarf, Hijab, when I was nine. I wasn’t forced into it, but rather decided to wear it one day as a silly stunt when I was dressing up for school. I had no idea what would follow and nobody warned me, but the event that did follow had an immediate and profound effect on me. That “silly stunt” also turned out to be a permanent part of my life and inshaAllah will continue to remain a permanent part of me.

Let me narrate the story which changed my views –and this was actually the story that helped me with my later conflict and struggle when I decided to step ahead and adorn the Abaya and then finally the Niqab.

Once, while hurriedly dressing up for school, my eyes caught a small hijab peeking from the closet. Suddenly in a daring mood, I grabbed it from my closet and quickly put it on. My mother was rather surprised to see my new dress up and congratulated me on my choice and soon I was on my way to school, unaware of what was in store for me.

I remained totally oblivious of the surprised glances from my teacher and other students until it was time for recess. It was then that the other students began to approach me asking about the new change. It was going well and most of my nine year old mates were rather interested in my new stunt, when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to find a senior girl standing with a frown on her face. I knew her as she lived close to my house and was aware of the fact that she was also from my home country. “You know how hideous you look?” she asked through her teeth. “Take that off… everybody is laughing at you.”

I was shocked at her words and looked around me but didn’t find anyone even looking my way. Everyone seemed to be totally fine with it, but then suddenly my friends jumped to my defense: “Don’t be mean!” they cried to the senior girl. “She is very brave to wear it to school and looks very pretty too! So stop bothering us or we’ll go and tell the teacher.” The girl shook her head, “You don’t understand. Look I am older and I know more. You look ridiculous so take it off NOW!” I was taken aback but her orders made me more defensive and I stubbornly refused, enraging her more. “Fine,” she huffed, “If you won’t take it off then I will!” Before I knew it she snatched at my Hijab, tearing it free from my head, and ran.

I ran after her screaming, my friends running after me, all in the vain pursuit of the girl; but she had already reached the big garbage bin in the middle of the school field, and threw my Hijab in. I stopped running and stared wide-eyed at the fate of my Hijab. Then I noticed many senior students were standing around laughing at me, quite amused at having witnessed the bullying of a nine year old. I lost my wits completely after being publicly humiliated and began to cry.

Immediately I had many sympathetic students around me consoling me, while my angry friends led me to the school building. Before I knew it, they were narrating the event to my dumbstruck teacher. He looked the most upset at my sobbing figure and immediately consoled me and took me to the principal’s office. I remember him arguing fiercely with the principal, “That isn’t right. It was her religious garment and we shouldn’t consider whether she wore it for fun or not. Those kids bullied her because of her religion and I want you to take a strict action.”

I was always a peace-loving kid and stayed out of complicated matters. I never enjoyed getting into fights and would refrain from conflict as much as I could. Only that day, I stared fearfully at the commotion caused in the principal’s office because of my case. I forgot about my Hijab at the bottom of the garbage bin, my disheveled hair on my face, concerned classmates peeking from the door of the office; moreover, I totally forgot to cry as I watched the rebellious kids from the senior class being made to stand in the principal’s office.

I watched in shock as the parents of those kids were called and the principal dealt with them. She warned them that this act would be filed under discrimination on the basis of religion and severe consequences would follow. The kids were put under detention and their sport classes were taken away from them. My principal made sure she had each and everyone of them who laughed at me to apologize before they left for their classes.

I was still dumbfounded. This was not the reaction I was expecting here in the West, where I had heard that Muslims were the target of discrimination, especially those who chose to wear their Islamic symbols publicly. Smiling at my confused face, my teacher explained, “When you choose to step out with your religious symbols, then expect silly people to make fun of you. But if you respect your own identity then you will be amazed to see that from somewhere in the crowd, someone will respect you and your religion even if they are not from your religion. While most people are treating Muslims and their identity unjustly, there are some who still respect those brave Muslims who, despite the oppression, continue to stick to their beliefs.” And then allowing me to leave the office, he offered me one parting advice, “Don’t give up.”

That senior girl was quite badly in trouble after that and refused to talk to me, but I didn’t care. What saddened me most was that she was, I am ashamed to say, my sister in Islam; she was from my home country, yet she was still against my Hijab while strangers were by my side.

It was after pondering over the events of that day that I came to realize, if I respect something about myself then others are bound to respect me the same way, though they may initially try not to. I have received opposition in many decisions in the matter of religion, but in those decisions that I put my foot down firmly and declared, ‘Do whatever you wish, I won’t change my mind,’ I ended up earning respect from the very people who were against me in the beginning.

That is one thing the Muslims of today are not doing, which is respecting their religion and standing up for it in a civil manner. It is because we are not respecting our religion ourselves that we become more susceptible to lack of respect from others, and consequently we are not able to properly defend our religion either. Most of the time we have no proof to back us up when we try to defend our religion from the accusations of the enemies of Islam, hence we remain helpless.

But why? Why don’t most of us have proofs? The answer to that again is simple: even though we are Muslims we have little or no knowledge of our own religion. We finish our lives by chasing the knowledge of this world, the knowledge of science or literature (which, don’t get me wrong is important too) but fail to ever step out to acquire the knowledge of our religion. What does that show about us? Simple… we don’t respect our religion as we should. So if we don’t respect it ourselves then why do we complain and accuse the West and media for not doing it? Are we any better?

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