“A girl is like a rose—everyone wants to smell it.” That’s what my mom would tell me every time I refused to wear the veil. “Ammu, I promise I’ll wear it tomorrow,” I would reply, though we both knew that tomorrow would never come.
I hated the fact that, being a Muslim girl, people expected me to wear a veil to cover my head for religious purposes. I refused to wear it until one day when I faced the worst situation of my life. After that moment, the veil seemed to be my only option, and I wore it like a shield. Now, however, after so many years, that feeling of not wanting to wear the veil is coming back to me, and I am struggling with the decision of whether to wear it anymore.
As a young girl in Bangladesh, I always learned things the hard way. My friend Moriom told me, “You will realize the value of the veil when something really bad happens to you.” Moriom, a very religious Muslim girl in my sixth grade math class, thought women should keep themselves covered. She was someone that Ammu always told me to follow, but I thought girls who wore the veil were ugly. Who knew that the girl I thought was ugly would one day lend me a hand when I was in deep trouble?
It was at a birthday party for Halima, another girl from my sixth grade class. My parents dropped me off at her place and told her mom not to let me go home on my own. I was so happy that I finally got to wear the maroon dress my father had bought me from the market. It was glittery and sparkly, and the white and golden stones of my earrings made me look even flashier. After the party, I decided to leave…alone! I assured Halima’s parents that I would be fine. I told them that Moriom’s parents, who were leaving the party at the same time as I was, would drop me off on their way home. But when we got out of the house, I told Moriom’s parents that I lived nearby and could get home on my own. I thought I was grown enough to handle passing through the five blocks between my house and me. I was wrong. The street looked creepier than it usually did. I saw a broken streetlight in front of me. I looked back and saw a shadow. I turned around and there were two men standing in front of me. Another one appeared behind me. They looked at me as if they had been hungry for many days and finally found some food. I remember one of them saying, “Want us to escort you home?” I shook my head no. As they surrounded me like a bunch of hawks, I heard footsteps. I looked up and saw Moriom and her dad standing in front of me, and when I looked around, there was no trace of the three men. I ran into Moriom’s arms. Moriom told me she had come back because her dad called my house to make sure I got home safe, but obviously I hadn’t.
I remember feeling as though I had escaped a terrible outcome and needed to learn my lesson. After the incident, I decided to always wear the veil as a kind of a shield to protect me and keep me safe. I made myself believe, as I knew I was supposed to believe, that the veil was the definition of beauty; and in the years afterward, I grew to find my own beauty within the veil.
Years later, as a high school senior living in Brooklyn, I still choose to wear the veil. But since I arrived here, everything I understood about the function of the veil has been turned upside down. Now, instead of the veil making me feeling safe, I often feel guilty and ashamed. Now, the veil immediately marks me as different, and separates me from my peers and adults.
I remember my freshmen year at Freedom Academy High School, when a group of students tried to snatch my veil off my head. It was passing time, and I was on my way to my locker. A group of loud boys behind me all of a sudden got very quiet, and out of curiosity, I looked back. I felt one of their hands near my shoulder, about to grab my veil. I was so embarrassed. I ran into the nearest classroom I could found.
In my eleventh grade Spanish class at the Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies there was another young Muslim woman from Bangladesh who didn’t wear the veil. I remember the day, soon after I had transferred to the school, when another student named Andrew said, “Why do you have to wear that thing and not her?” At first I didn’t know what to say. But then I replied, “It’s her choice not to wear it, just as it’s my choice to wear it.” He gave me a weird look. I felt as if I was being put on a trial. Why should I have to answer others about why I must wear the veil? Isn’t it my choice? I felt as though some right had been snatched away from me.
I remember the day my younger sister cried our whole walk home from school, because her peers had accused her of being a terrorist during gym class.
I catch people staring at me on the subway almost every day.
I wear the veil because I want to make my parents happy. I wear the veil to show respect for my religion and culture. I wear the veil to protect my dignity as a human being. But there are moments I wish the veil never existed, when I really feel like destroying it, because of the things that I have had to go through every day. Here, unlike in Bangladesh, I am targeted because I wear a veil. And yet it has made me stronger. I wear the veil because it communicates to the world that I am an independent woman, that I can practice my religion like any other citizen of this country, that I have the right to make choices about my own life. By wearing the veil, I am portraying my self-dignity and my right to self-determination.Shafat Azmi
Age 19, Grade 12