Yesterday I went down to Kitchener to be part of the Coalition of Muslim Women of Kitchener event.

Did some storytelling a few years ago for them, and they were so sweet! And they asked so nicely, that even though I’m pretty tired and feel a bit burned out by the hectic schedule I’ve been running, I said yes.

It was a rainy day!

They had done something very interesting! Inside the Kitchener city hall, in the foyer, where I had presented last time, they had a live theatre event where local amateur actresses were in character as some accomplished Muslim women of history. They had one lady, dressed in a white ghararah (it’s a type of dress), portraying Fatima Jinnah, the wife of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of modern day Pakistan. And they had others too. Interesting concept.

So a lot of the bazaar and my storytelling was set up outside in the courtyard.

Started raining in the middle of my stories. Had to pull the sofa and cushions in under the tent but things were still getting wet.

And then I was supposed to sit at the “Meet the Author” table for the rest of the event, about four hours.

I think I should have told the planning committee that was too long.

But still, with the weather and everything it was really surprising how good the turnout was!

Loads of people, and not just Muslims, came out for the event!

And one of the most interesting and innovative booths these women had put up was a ‘hijab’ booth, where any woman could come and try on a hijab, put it on in a stylish way, and they’d get to keep the pretty scarf they chose.

I was sitting at the table and this lady in a sort of white suit was walking past, and I guess I was staring because the hijab just looked so nice on her. She smiled at me and said, “Doesn’t it look lovely?”

I nodded enthusiastically! Then realized she was probably not Muslim.

It was funny because after a while you couldn’t even tell, which women were Muslim and which weren’t because some of the Muslim women weren’t wearing it and some of the non Muslim women were.

It felt, hmmm, this might sound kind of corny, but it kind of felt like a sisterhood of solidarity.

And then I wandered into the council chambers where there was a lecture going on by a prominent scholar Ingrid Matteson. She’s a convert to Islam who lives in the Kitchener Waterloo area and who’s had the distinction of leading the Islamic Society of North America (the organization). In her role she’s met presidents and all kinds of dignitaries. She talked about being invited to go on Bill Maher’s program but she thought it wasn’t the right venue to have a civil discussion.

Well she was talking and I came in on the tail end of the discussion, during the question and answer period and inevitably, the topic had turned to hijab!


A middle aged gentleman asked a question. He said, “If that lady over there were to wear a t-shirt that said she supported the conservative agenda and…” here he mentioned a controversial conservative politician but somehow I can’t remember who it was, and then he continued, “…and if her t-shirt said she supported getting rid of all public education or something like that, she would be inviting comments and discussion because of it. How is the hijab any different?”

And Ingrid answered beautifully! She said how non-Muslims and some government entities like Quebec and France, saw the hijab as a ‘symbol’. But that most Muslim women, the vast majority, didn’t think of the hijab in that way whatsoever. We see it as clothing!

Yes, the colors you wear and the styles you wear are an expression of yourself, but the hijab is really just part of a woman’s clothing, and to us it is inappropriate to comment on it, just as it would be inappropriate to comment on the length of a woman’s skirt.

Then Ingrid said how a young girl might be wearing shorts for various reasons. Maybe it’s hot and she wants to be comfortable, but she’s not wearing them so that people will make comments about her legs. And it’s the same thing for Muslim women. And she was absolutely right!

And so there is a dichotomy there.

Muslim women don’t wear hijab to have strangers comment on it. They just wear it to cover themselves and as a form of modesty. Then she asked the audience how many Muslim women had received comments or questions about their hijab, and like the rest of the Muslim women there, I put up my hand.

But something clicked right then.

It might seem obvious to other people, but it never occurred to me. Of course Ingrid was right. They think the hijab is some sort of symbol or provocative political/religious in-your-face sort of SYMBOL!

No wonder they’re so hostile to it!

They think it’s superfluous!

And maybe we’re being obnoxious by wearing it.


Just wow!

It doesn’t help that Muslims as a community are so inconsistent about it. Both my sisters didn’t and never do wear it (except to pray).

So they must think it’s optional.

Well, in some ways it is optional in that there isn’t supposed to be any sort of compulsion in religious matters. You’re supposed to obey/submit voluntarily. You’re still a Muslim if you don’t wear hijab, but you’re not obeying God’s command, so how well you’re practicing Islam is debatable.

I wear hijab because I absolutely believe that God, not any man, has asked me to.

It is one of my garments. As essential as my pants or dress for me to feel clothed.

It’s not anything political.

It’s not a symbol.

It’s a piece of cloth.

That’s all.

Just ignore it.

Listen to my words when I’m telling a story or doing a presentation.

That’s all.

And the great thing is, I can tell, that after a while, the kids and even adults, are often so into what I’m saying that yes, they do indeed forget about it.