by Reem Faruqi June 8, 2014, 1:48 p.m.
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I remember getting the question mostly from girls and aunties. They would get a wistful look in their eyes and then timidly ask, 'Wasn't it hard getting a job…in hijab?'
I would assure them that it had been okay and that most of my clients loved my hijab. Luckily, I got this question after I had gotten a job; otherwise, perhaps I too would have started to doubt myself. I knew that yes, a hijab does make you look different, but I hadn't dwelled about it too much.
My clients' reaction to my hijabs has been positive. Only a few though have requested that I remove my head-cover. You see, my clients are very special and interesting people, ranging from the age of 6 to 9 years old.
I worked for 4 years in Fulton County's education system at a public elementary school in College Park, Georgia. I remember on my second day of school, a bright, inquisitive student of mine interrupted my lesson by shouting, 'Mrs. Faruqi! You are wearing a different color scarf today!' I smilingly responded that yes, I had LOTS of different colored scarves. Needless to say, this student was a fan of my different colored hijabs, and often requested me to wear certain colored hijabs. One day he asked, 'Mrs. Faruqi, can you wear your pink scarf tomorrow?' Choosing what to wear the next day became easy!
I did have a few students though who just couldn't seem to understand why I wore hijab, asking sometimes: 'Mrs. Faruqi, can you wear your hair to school tomorrow?' I would have to break it down to the hopeful student, that no, I would not wear my hair to school tomorrow, that I wear my hair at home. To explain hijab to a second grader in a public school setting can be challenging, so sometimes I adopt an answer I learned on Disney's 'The Proud Family,' where they featured a Muslim girl answer, 'I wear hijab so that I can be appreciated for who I am, not just what I look like.' Or I would sometimes say, 'I'm Muslim and this is how I choose to dress.' Both answers worked.
Some of my students' parents were excited to have a hijabi teach their children because they thought it was good exposure to a different culture. But I think it's important to teach students about many cultures; not just mine. Teaching through read-alouds is an easy way to talk about cultures. For example, there are many Cinderella tales from all around the world. My students really enjoyed Cinderella from China (Yeh-Shen retold by Ai-Ling Louie), Cinderella from the Middle East (Maha – a hijabi – in The Golden Sandal by Rebecca Hickox), and more!
As a Muslim woman, hijab does define you. However, I feel the way you perceive your hijab will set the tone for the reactions that you will get. So in response to the girls and aunties, if you feel embarrassed of your hijab, you may believe that others are perceiving you negatively. But if you act like your hijab is normal, you will feel totally normal. Confidence is key. If the Middle Eastern Cinderella - aka the hijabi Maha from The Golden Sandal - could deal with the challenges of Cinderella, meet a prince in the process, and get a job as a Princess, then we too can do those things in hijab. (Marrying a prince: optional.)
I am a freelance writer and photographer who loves to doodle, write about, and capture the little unnoticeable things in life. Through my art medium of pencils, paint, potting soil, and pixels, I thrive. I am also a teacher and have taught 2nd grade in Fulton County Schools in Atlanta, Georgia for 4 years. I am currently a Stay-At-Home-Mom to a _ month old toddler(she was born in June 2010---you can do the math!) who is exploring my creative outlet via the aforementioned 4 P's on www.reemfaruqi.com.