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Out of the hijab, into the fire

Opting to stop wearing the traditional headscarf has brought less suspicion, more freedom and awkward comments

I feel naked as the breeze brushes through my curls for the first time in years, and I stop to ponder life. I don’t stop for long because I realize I am in the middle of the street, but that is not important.

I set off to school and my stomach churns with an acidic combination of fear and courage. It’s my first day without my hijab (the Islamic headscarf), and I am scared of people’s reaction. I am not empowered by the act of removing the hijab, but I feel powerful in making the choice to remove it myself. I was expected by my culture to comply with sexist gender norms (forcing the hijab on women both physically and mentally instead of giving them the choice to wear it) and I chose not to conform.

I keep thinking about the pros and cons of removing the hijab. Pros: maybe I will be ID’ed less by university security? I mean, down came the hijab and out came the cleavage! Maybe I will hear fewer racist remarks, because without the hijab I look like any other Israeli, and my American accent can get me by anywhere. When guys stare at me in the streets, I won’t have to wonder if they’re staring at me because they think I’m pretty or they think I’m a terrorist. Cons, other than going to hell obviously, I will not be able to spot myself easily in group pictures. Also people keep asking me where I learned to speak Arabic so well, and they don’t believe me when I say I’m from Shuafat!

As I go to classes I am greeted with the awkward but very funny “Congrats!…Oh wait sorry I don’t mean the hijab is oppressive,” or “is it right to say congrats?” People and their awkward lack of cultural understanding: Gotta love them.

I lost some friends after removing the hijab, but I gained many new ones. I don’t really like pointing out ethnicity and race, however in this case it warms my heart. I had Jews, Arabs and Israelis stand by my side. I even had some French people support me, which let me tell you, doesn’t happen often!

About the Author
Elham Nasser Eddin is a small girl from Shuafat. This year she did ‘Mechina’ at the Hebrew University. She still doesn't know where she is heading off to study after this year.