Columnist explains her journey finding her identity as a Muslim

Maya Mattan, ’20

“Why don’t you wear that thing around your head?” everyone asks me often, as if it’s the only thing that would identify me as a Muslim. Seventh grade came and eighth flew by. Ninth was a hustle, and my aunt continued to ask me why.

So why don’t I wear that scarf that wraps my hair? How could 12-year-old me answer a question I myself didn’t know the answer to?

I would carefully glance as my mother shaped her face with the cloth that covered her hair, waiting for an answer as to why. I thank her for realizing the answer before I did. Her words of encouragement kept playing in the back of my head: Whenever you are ready, Maya. It is your choice.

I asked myself: “Will I ever be ready? What does ‘ready’ really mean?”

Four years later, and I am still fiddling with those thoughts in my head as to why my hair remains uncovered.

Growing up in a community that doesn’t look similar to me partly played a role in my decision. I have dealt with racial discrimination before, whether its being asked if I’m the terrorist who outlined the Paris attacks, or if I’m planning to bomb the school. These incidents have occurred within the walls of this school without even having a visible feature screaming “I’m Muslim.”

If I decided to wear the hijab, I would represent my entire religion in every step I walked, every glance I took and every word I spoke.

If I decided to wear the hijab, I would represent my entire religion in every step I walked, every glance I took and every word I spoke. Everyone would create their first impressions of me in just 7 seconds solely around my religious identity. Anyone seeing me in a hijab would automatically label me as Muslim.

I am very proud of my religious identity, regardless of whether or not I choose to visibly label myself with a hijab. But, I ask myself, would I be strong enough to handle the glares and prejudiced comments? More importantly, would I be able to represent my entire Muslim community? Living where Muslims are stereotyped as terrorists automatically makes hijabis a target. I ask myself if I would be able to handle society’s weight on my shoulders. Not only do I need to leave a good image, but I would also need to erase every stereotype created against me. One wrong move or mistake, and I’ve defined every other Muslim out there.

Of course, racist comments are not the only reasons holding me back. I was holding myself back. I didn’t realize that this covering was much more than a piece of cloth enveloping my hair. Rather, it is a lifestyle that I never truly understood. The only reason I knew to wear it was that it is obligatory for Muslim women to be modest and wear the hijab in Islam.

That reason was not enough for me. I wanted more reason, more inspiration, more understanding as to why I wanted to wear a scarf that would become a life-changing representation of myself. I needed to know more. So throughout my high school years, I have discovered, that the hijab is more than a physical change. It’s a mentality change, a devotion to God. It is not only about dressing modestly but speaking modestly, acting modestly and carrying yourself modestly. It’s for people to focus on your inner beauty and intelligence, rather than external characteristics. It’s about representing what Islam actually stands for: integrity, trustworthiness, honesty, respect and dignity. It is more than a physical shield. It is a spiritual covering. It is God’s way of protecting you from any harm.

Although it has taken me longer to understand the deeper meaning of this obligatory practice, I have no regrets in the journey I’ve taken thus far. I definitely needed to find my own way rather than having someone else find it for me. That’s the beauty of the hijab. No one forces you. Everyone encourages you to wear it when you are ready.