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Wearing the Muslim veil in America: What it's like

Wearing the Muslim veil in America may cause awkward moments, but this hijabi finds more positive than negative in her choice.

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Husna Haq, a Boston University graduate student and Monitor intern, chose to wear hijab in ninth grade. Born and raised in the United States, she says that she has many more positive encounters over the veil than discouraging ones.

Mary Knox Merrill/Staff

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I knew I was in trouble the moment I sat down. I’d just taken a seat next to an elderly Asian woman on the D-line train, on my way to a college class last year. She immediately stiffened. I began reading a book. She started twitching and looking around the train. We passed the first stop. She took out her pocket Bible, reading rapidly aloud as she rocked back and forth, clearly agitated. I felt awful, but I didn’t know how to calm her. Before we reached the next stop, she gathered her bags, hurried down the aisle, and quickly took a seat next to someone else.

I’d just scared a sweet, elderly woman with my petite, head-scarf-wrapped frame, and I felt like a monster. I was upset that my hijab – a strip of cloth, a head scarf – had become so loaded with negative connotations that it inspired such distrust.

For centuries, the West has appropriated the hijab as a symbol of oppression, subjugation, repression, and allegiance to fundamentalist beliefs. And while this may be a reality for some Muslim women around the world, it’s not true for me or those I know. Frustrated with the labels others have imposed upon them, Muslim women, including me, are reclaiming hijab and what it stands for. We are empowered and educated and choose to wear hijab because we are proud of our identity. And our experiences are generally positive.

America meets the hijab

There are an estimated 7 million Muslims in America, many of whom were born and raised here, like me. They bring attention to Islam through constructive contributions (Dalia Mogahed, this year, became the first veiled Muslim woman appointed to a presidential advisory panel), and through destructive violence (as in the case of Fort Hood, Texas, shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan).

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