Why I Wear the Hijab

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A dear friend and I were studying in our hospital cafeteria, but couldn't help getting distracted by the television screens around us. Violence in the name of Islam was all over the news. Beheadings by ISIS, shootings of cartoonists -- the stories seemed to get more and more disturbing. My friend eventually looked back at me and asked earnestly why I still choose to wear the hijab, or Islamic headscarf, when these horrific events make it challenging to be a public Muslim.

This is a question I've been asking myself for years, and more so recently since Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha were murdered in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Their story brought intense grief and fear to the American Muslim community. I hear it in the advice I'm getting from concerned relatives and friends. Don't take the bus alone, they say, because I'm an easy target for hate. Wear a hat, I'm told, because it'll help me blend in.

These statements make me reflect on our state as a multi-national community. Violence from radical Muslims is met with hate from Islamophobes running Muni ads to stop aid to Muslim countries. The result, as I see it, is that it has become harder to empathize with innocent lives in the background, and easier to take them as collateral, as we saw in Chapel Hill.

So this brings me back to my friend's question: when faced with animosity, why do I continue with the hijab? My answer is that in times of rampant despair and hate, it makes no sense to retreat. I believe my fellow human beings deserve more credit -- that they have the capacity to see me as part of the fabric of their community. My right to expression of faith is protected in this country, so I refuse to give in to the fear that leads to so much stereotyping and violence in the first place. I want to believe that Yusor was right in saying, "Growing up in America has been such a blessing. It doesn't matter where you come from...Here, we're all one."

I hope we find the means within us to prove her statement true. And for me, at least, hiding in the shadows won't help me in that mission.


With a Perspective, I'm Nausheen Mahmood.

Nausheen Mahmood is a medical student at UCSF and a Bay Area native.