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A powerful experience – celebrating World Hijab Day

CAROL MARTINDALE, [email protected]

A powerful experience – celebrating World Hijab Day

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I WAS STARED AT, glared at, and even spat at.

Last Monday I decided to take up an invitation to do something different – something I had never done in my 47-plus years. I was a “Muslim” for a day – or at least I dressed the part for World Hijab Day. Women of all different faiths, on this day, got the experience of wearing the critical symbol of the Muslim religion.

After being gifted with the hijab by some members of the Barbados Association of Muslim Ladies, I decided I would cover up my short hairstyle, ears, hairline and all and wear the headscarf. That morning, I turned to YouTube for a quick how-to and in five minutes I was wrapping and pinning the beautifully detailed headpiece.

I confess that while initially I was excited about the adventure of wearing the headpiece, especially since I had recently written on the challenges some Muslim women faced when taking pictures for identification cards, I started to get cold feet.

But I left my safe zone – my home – admittedly, with a little trepidation as I flirted with thoughts of how people would react towards me as I moved around. Just after 11 a.m. I headed for the door to take my mother on her errands, first stop Warrens Health Clinic.

There the staff and others were polite, smiling as they answered my queries with my mother standing close by. Some looks lingered, but nothing to make me uncomfortable.

That gave me the confidence to believe it would be a breeze and I was on my way to the nearby Republic Bank. Before exiting the car I checked to ensure my hijab was still in place and not a bit of hair was showing.

As soon as I was about to cross over to the bank, I saw an old friend Kenneth, and shouted him. It took him some seconds to recognise me and after revealing my reasons for the changed look, he scolded me and said, “You shouldn’t be wearing lipstick”.

As I entered the bank and took my place in line a great many stares followed me before I noticed another familiar face, Neil, exiting the premium banking section. He looked in my direction but didn’t recognise me but after a second look, he came over, shocked to see me in the garb.

After yet another explanation, Neil said he wouldn’t have known any different. By this time I truly was getting comfortable in my hijab, at times, not even remembering that I was wearing it. It was almost as if it was part of my normal dress.

Then, as I was finishing up I saw Commissioner of Police Darwin Dottin who is on administrative leave. He did a double-take. A smile then came over his face when he recognised me. Dottin greeted me with a hug and a peck on my veiled-covered cheek and remarked that the look suited me.

His look begged for an explanation which I offered and he said it looked “quite fashionable”.

As I left the bank it occurred to me that those who didn’t know me might believe I was Muslim.

With Mum riding shotgun I picked up the right lane of the one-way street and encountered a man on a bicycle approaching from the opposite direction. As he passed me, he turned towards my vehicle and spat at me.

It took me by surprise. I was in shock. Never had I been spat at before.

While I cannot say categorically he did that because of my hijab I know he clearly saw me through my open window.

The incident took me back to my recent interview with four Muslim women who spoke of some of the negative comments hurled at them.

As I drove to BARP in Collymore Rock, my mind swirled with thoughts of how easy our society could breed intolerance and discrimination nourished by ignorance of different faiths and religions. My mother remained shocked by what she had witnessed.

It dawned on me at that point that this was all part of the reason behind World Hijab Day. To walk in the shoes of another is more powerful an experience than writing about it.

My experience at BARP was easy and uneventful. I only remembered I was wearing the hijab when I asked the photographer there taking photo IDs to take my picture as I was taking selfies all day to capture this day.

After that I headed to The Nation, to have pictures taken to accompany this account. A senior staff member appeared upset when he caught sight of me, saying he was uncomfortable seeing me in the hijab. Once again I explained why. He was unmoved.

By 3 p.m. I was heading home, enriched by my involvement in the experiment.

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