I’m Not Oppressed, I’m Free.

Fatin Abdullah is a recent history graduate from SOAS. She loves all things creative, whether that’s drawing, singing or writing. She also loves Jazz music, reading and Disney movies and stands for equality. Equality between men and women, black and white and everything in between. People just need to be a little more compassionate, a little more understanding and a little less ignorant.

[Featured image: The image shows the author, Fatin, sitting on a lawn.]

‘The piece of cloth on my head is my identity,

it is my serenity. 

You can have your observation and perception but it’s my perfection,

who am I without my protection.

You scold a girl for wearing too little, 

yet when they wear too much you call them oppressed.

What is it with life and all its contradictions concerning Muslims?

Why can’t we live together in unity without any problems?

But I know one thing about me…. 

I’m not oppressed. I’m free!’

Poem by Fatin

(read more of her work here).

When I first wore the headscarf – at around 14 – I didn’t really understand what would come with wearing it. I thought that life would just resume as normal; maybe that was why I found it very difficult to keep it on. I underestimated the effect it would have on my life choices and future and so when I realized that people didn’t see me the same as they did without the headscarf, it hit me hard. I’m not going to lie and say that it doesn’t still hurt when an employer looks at you with dismissal before you even open your mouth to show them who you really are. Or the dirty look you get when you walk down the street. It happens. Unfortunately, Islamophobia is real; but the real test is not wearing the headscarf, but how you deal with what comes with it.

What affects me the most is the realization that I won’t have the same privileges as a woman who doesn’t cover her hair and the fact that I may not be able to achieve my dreams. 

It doesn’t help that every time there’s a terrorist attack, Islam is the main topic of discussion, making it even harder for hijabis to succeed and to live life normally. Till this day I get nervous when applying for a job or attending an interview. It is really difficult to overcome, but when I do I laugh at myself because it’s never as bad as you make it out to be in your head.

You might be put off wearing a headscarf now but the point I’m trying to make is why do we have to deal with the issues that society throws at us for wearing a headscarf? Why do we have the deal with prejudice and discrimination because of a life choice we make? It’s unfair that many girls wearing the headscarf have to abandon their life goals and dreams because of the fear they will never be accepted or even considered.

Not only do we have to face such struggles on a daily basis, but we then have to hear the very same people’s opinions on the headscarf; “the headscarf oppresses women, I’m sure you’re forced to wear it”. However, what they seem to neglect is free will. Some women might decide to wear the headscarf because they just want to. There isn’t always an underlying reason that stem from islamophobia and racism and people don’t have to keep looking for one. No-one decides to call nuns oppressed because they cover their hair and body in the name of Christianity. So why is it that Muslims are constantly being targeted?

Instead of throwing the word around and assuming the reason, how about you ask the very people you accuse of being oppressed why they choose to wear the headscarf. I know why I do. I chose to wear the headscarf because It’s a way of showing my faith and belief in my religion. It makes me feel safe, protected by a higher force, stronger and it reminds me that I’m not living for this world but for the next.

Let me give you an example, why do you charge your phone? Because it runs out of battery and it needs to charge to work, right? Well my headscarf is like a charger, it charges me up and gives me a new surge of energy and strength which then enables me to face a new day.

So why does it seem to be such a big deal? If I love wearing the headscarf and so many others love it too, why does it bother so many people? I’m sure some of you might even be wondering what could you possibly love about the headscarf? Well, let me enlighten you on the many benefits of it, I’m sure you’ll reconsider once you’ve read them:

1. You know those days when your hair just isn’t going right. It’s either too frizzy, too flat, too knotty or maybe too greasy and you’ve tried about a trillion ways to at least make it look decent? Ladies, I know you know what I’m talking about. Well you can forget about all of that with the headscarf, all you got to do is wrap one around and no one would ever know. 99 problems but a bad hair day ain’t one!  

2. I’m sure you’ve all seen your fellow hijabi classmate show you her neat trick of hiding her earphones underneath her headscarf in class right? So whilst you’re listening to your teacher droning on and on I’m sure Ayesha is sitting in the back of the class listening to City Girls. 

3. What about a tight jar lid? Yep, we’ve all experienced that but instead of relying on men to open it, all you got to do is wrap the headscarf around the lid and twist. Not only are you saving time by using your headscarf instead of looking for something else to use, but you did it without calling a man to help you, #feminist!

4. There are some health benefits of wearing the headscarf also as medical experts actually advise people to cover their head from the harmful sun rays that can potentially cause skin cancer due to UV radiation. How about that huh?

5. And finally, no London weather can defeat you with a headscarf on. Come wind, rain or hailstones, the headscarf stays perfectly intact, not much can be said about your hairstyle though.

So my advice for those who wear the headscarf or those who are thinking about it is, be unapologetically you and don’t ever let people tell you otherwise. 

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