Opinion: To Be A Black Woman In Hijab Is How I Break Barriers Around The World
“Be in the world, as if you were a stranger or a traveler along a path”, is a quote that was narrated by one of our most beloved prophets of Islam and a doctrine that I carry as a Muslim woman and world traveler. It reinforces my belief that the physicality of this life will leave and the importance to seize different opportunities to make the journey worthwhile.
Having lived on four continents and traveled to countless other areas of the world, I am always in awe of people’s reaction to my actions as a woman in a visible hijab that dares to live out loud without restriction on the places I’d go. But, to be a Black Muslim woman makes me a triple threat that is not bound by any one corner of the globe and an automatic learning tool for anyone who might need a quick lesson.
These lessons have been given to Arab women in Egypt who’ve seen me in visible hijab and still ask if I am Muslim. I can retort by asking them what would make them think differently of me wearing hijab if I am to automatically see them as women of the faith by simply seeing theirs? My traveling in hijab gives a history of the Muslim women who fought to keep their modesty as a result of being enslaved in the America’s and a dose of the reality that Islam existed there way before other groups, willfully, made their way onto those shores.
Similarly, these gems have sparked conversations, globally, when asked what part of Africa I am from? That question is never suggestive of the fact that I probably have lineage on this vast continent, but the misconception that only white people can be American. It is the same energy of ignorance that made a Turkish man brazenly tell me that I did not “sound African American”, to which I asked him, “what does an African American sound like, then?” As people from around the world frequently narrate stories of their favorite forms of entertainment that depicts Black people as a shuck and jive, I turn these into opportunities to show them the same disparities of the marginalized people in their very backyards.
It is then the lightbulb hits, shedding light that everyone does not have the same access to wealth, education, and opportunity and although I am blessed to represent a segment of Black people who do I must speak to the latter. It is for this reason that when I’ve gone to places like Thailand or China, where street vendors are typically people who live a very modest lifestyle or travel from afar to sell their goods that I patronize them. And although haggling is still a debatable tactic when trying to negotiate a fair price for overseas goods, what’s actually fair when you compare your home country’s currency to theirs and you still remain the one holding the wealth?
As a Muslim, I have also encountered people who know exactly the caliber of care to give based on the standard my faith sets forth for women. After giving birth to my son, in Poland, our midwife told me that the priest from the local church wanted to come by, however would not come into the apartment until he knew I gave the “okay”. Upon his entrance, he greeted us and did not reach to shake my hand, which is a customary act upon men and women. He allowed me to say what boundaries were okay and not okay by simply waiting for me to either extend a hand or say “hello”. It was a moment that stood to break away all of the rhetoric that says women in Islam do not have any power when, in fact, we have it all and men are to go with our flow.
However, I still identify as a woman and due to this have not been completely safe from the unwanted and unwarranted advances from perverts that exist in the world. I have had, on more than one occasion, been followed by men who thought that “get out of my face” was gibberish for “continue your advances”. I can also recall being in a shop in the Middle East, that sells abayas (Islamic dresses) and having to yell. As I proceeded to put one up to myself, in the mirror, the shopkeeper thought it’d be okay to “help” me by shaping the dress to my frame using his hands to press up against my waist.
I yelled, “Bas! Matelmesneesh!” (Stop! Don’t touch me!)
Unfortunately, I believe that my knowledge of Arabic was what scared him more than my dislike for him even having the thought of putting his crusty palms on me, in the first place. But, I continue to take the barriers no Black people, women, or Muslims asked for and make the decision to live authentically while exposing people to versions of humanity they would probably never get a chance to see.
The most important part for me is that I am not explaining away my identity, I am as my mother would so eloquently say, bringing people to my home!