Ps: Kindly note that I do not intend to disregard the struggles of other muslim women around the world, but rather, I want to place emphasis on some happenings that are quite specific to West Africa, Nigeria especially.
Islam is fast becoming the most controversial topic in the global world. With very recent attacks carried out by the terrorist group, Boko Haram, in Nigeria, being visibly muslim isn’t as normalized as it used to be. Many Nigerian women who use the hijab or identify as muslim, are asked series of questions in their day-to-day lives and it can get exhausting answering the same questions over and over again. As a young muslim girl, I intend to highlight a few of those daily struggles and I hope that it would help reduce our constant Q&A sessions.
- All Muslim women are referred to as Alhaja : You immediately hear this word, when you step into a room full of people and you happen to appear Muslim, especially when you use the Hijab. Alhaja is a word used to describe a female (usually elderly) who has successfully completed their pilgrimage to Makkah . We can initially attribute this to lack of knowledge of your name but subsequently , some people would remain adamant in the use of the word . It is as though who you are as a person doesn’t really matter and so referring to you by your name does not count. Some might argue that, considering the meaning of the word, it should really be a good thing, but frankly, most of us feel like our narrative are lost when this word is used. We are more than the headscarf.
- All Muslim Females get married once they hit puberty: NO! This couldn’t have been more wrong. Yes, early marriage is highly encouraged and practiced in some part of the country (especially the north) but summing us all in a box is wrong on all levels. We consider it rude and invasive when we are asked ” how come you’re not married?”. Underneath whatever explanation we might have given, we usually just mean “Hell My parents will die of shock if I get married before finding stability in this life of struggle”
- “Are you sure you can hear me?”: Sighs, I assure you that sound travels through all media except vacuums (that’s what the physics teacher taught). We can hear you, regardless of the headscarf. Don’t take the weak stand and use this phrase anytime you find something amiss with our appearance, hijabi or not.
- Swagger Alhaja: In all honesty, I really dislike this assumption. When you don’t conform with people’s notion of how a typical muslim woman would appear, you are, most of the time, referred to as a Swagger Alhaja. This is another phrase whose effect people are oblivious to (or chose to ignore). On several occasions, I have felt really bad when I was referred to with this phrase. It can ultimately imply that one places more emphasis on ‘looking cool’ rather than an act of worship (as was intended). I know that one shouldn’t let people’s negativity get to them but when you constantly hear phrases that attack your personal struggles, chances are that you’d have written this piece long before I thought of it.
- “Why beautify yourself when no one will see?”: Boy! does this give me a headache?? Muslim women, globally, are constantly asked why they beautify themselves when no one will see. What comes to mind when this question is asked, is the identity of ‘no one’. How wouldn’t others see your adorned self if you don’t use your veil within your home or amongst your home girls? Or did I misinterpret the meaning of ‘no one’? Does ‘no one’, in this question, refer to men to whom we have been programmed to fluent our beauty to? Anyone sees how misogynistic this view is?
- Hijabis are holier than most: Apart from the huge spiritual responsibility placed on hijabis by this narrative, implying that hijabis should be holier than most is very offensive to non-hijabis and non-muslims. We are all flawed and thus, struggle to attain perfection but placing moral and spiritual burden on women whose chose to do this via their clothing, is damaging. Disregarding the efforts of women who don’t show their struggles through their clothing, is even more backwards.
- “Aren’t you hot in that?”: I am quite certain that this is a question most muslim women, who observe the hijab, are familiar with. Be rest assured that if this question is asked in a way that shows concern, we would gladly explain to you how ‘ not-so-hot’ we feel. But, as you’ve guessed, it’s usually asked in condescending tones and as an attack to our person. You shouldn’t advocate for freedom of speech when you fail to give others freedom of choosing their clothing. Yes, some of us are forced to use the veil and this is very wrong but disregarding the choice of those who want to use it, is equally wrong. So for the umpteenth time, it’s not ‘ so hot’ in there (except when its really sunny).
It is safe to say that I have stated only a few of the daily struggles individual muslim women face. However, I hope that with this, people become more sensitive to the feelings of these women. More importantly, it is useful to remember that every person sees and goes through life differently and lumping their struggles up will not solve a stereotype. We are more than the group we ascribe to and our individuality ensures that.