I had an interesting exchange on the internet the other day, on that politics forum that I frequent.

Basically this elderly man from Winnipeg suggested that Muslim women wear hijab basically to stand out. To distinguish themselves, and if all the women in Canada started wearing the hijab, then we would instead go bare-headed.

I’m not sure why he said that. He’s the type of guy who likes to bait people, and perhaps he was baiting me, in fact, come to think of it I’m pretty sure he was baiting me.

I’m so dense when it comes to being baited. I’ll answer like it’s a legitimate question.

And yet, I can see why he might think that. I’ve seen some Muslim women wear hijab in such a way that it’s actually more attractive than if they didn’t.

Some of them wear a kind of, geez, not even mesh, it’s so see through. You can clearly see their hair and the outline of their features underneath. I tend to cut these types of women a lot of slack. I remember when I first started wearing it, my hijab consisted of just a kerchief tied on my head in a knot at the back of my neck. I wore a high collared neck but the front area was open.

Even then I knew I set myself apart.

I started wearing it in 1979, about two months after I got married. It was one of the hardest decisions in my life.

And ironically I’d first found out about Muslim women having to wear it when I was sixteen. I wanted to put it on right there and then but my father would not allow it.

But after I got married my father said that I wasn’t his responsibility any more and I was free to wear it now as long as my husband didn’t mind. Didn’t mind!? My husband would never have stopped me. In fact he encouraged me in my decision. He knew I wanted to wear it, I was just waiting till I moved to Toronto to be with him.

When we got married he was still finishing up his college diploma and hadn’t got a job yet. He was living with his aunt and I was still living at home to finish up my grade eleven. We saw each other on weekends.

We found an apartment with very cheap rent but it wasn’t available until August, so for a number of months I was at home. 

When I found out that I could now wear the hijab I was actually torn. To walk into my high school with it on, after being with people who’d seen me practically all my life without it… it’s not easy.

And I was still bullied. There was a particular jerk who liked to call me names and I could just imagine what he’d come up with once I started wearing the hijab.

I thought, let me just wait a few more weeks, I’ll start fresh when I move to Toronto.

But the days wore on, and the guilt ate at me. I’ve always believed in God and always felt that I could die at any time. What if I died before I could start wearing it? Especially now that I knew I was Islamically supposed to? What would I say to God when I stood before Him and He asked if I feared the people at school more than I feared displeasing Him?

I couldn’t wait to get out of Dundas and away from the people at that school. Oh there were a few nice people, but for the most part, I hated them.

One day, only two weeks before school was ending, I looked at the chocolate brown scarf that was sitting on my beside table and thought, why not? But when I got to school my main bully called it a turban and I whipped it off. All day I called myself names: coward, idiot, spineless, you name it, because I’d caved.

A few days later, I got to a point where I just didn’t care any more, and I put it on. This time that same bully called me ‘lice mobile’ (which doesn’t even make sense!). He said I wore the scarf to keep the lice in.

But somehow this time, his words just brushed off me. I didn’t care. I’d tried all my life to fit in and it hadn’t worked. I might as well be myself and I was Muslim, and according to Islam I was supposed to wear this.

For the first few days he was the only one who said anything, then I think the others realized I wasn’t taking it off.  

My old gym teacher came up to me and asked me why I’d started wearing it. I told her it was part of my religion. Then she asked, “Well why didn’t you wear it before?”

I looked her straight in the eye and said, “Because I cared too much what people thought.”

She left me alone after that.

It took several years before I started wearing it properly. It took the coaxing and cajoling of well meaning soft-spoken older ladies, ladies whose face shone with ‘noor’, that’s light, kind of a faithfulness.

Even now, I know for certain that doors have closed for me career-wise because of the way I dress.

So for some old fart in Winnipeg to say that I wear it to distinguish myself, and not as an act of faith, just sticks in my craw.

I don’t think I know any Muslim woman who wears it for any reason other than to please God. Women, for the most part, are pretty vain. And covering up your hair is really hard. Hair care isn’t a multi-billion dollar business for nothing!