My daughter is shunned because I wear a hijab

‘Dehumanization does exist’

In a time of dangerous generalizations and labelling, I spoke with one of my friends, Ayse Bahar, 36, about what it means to her to wear a hijab in 2016. What kind of a power does this fabric have? Does it have the power to put Muslim women on the spot in a way that makes them vulnerable against people who are willing to take individual action with anger over increasing terrorist attacks?

Her response was less direct than I had expected — It is a feeling, she explained to me.

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“I try to avoid going out as much as I can. I quite often think what I would do if I were randomly called a terrorist, because I know some of my friends went through this. I’ve started seeing weird looks on people’s faces lately. I have never been looked at this way before. That’s why I’m puzzled.

“There have been no acts, but there are disturbing looks. I am mostly exposed to this in the swim club of my children. Both of my children are licensed swimmers at a club for three years. We go there every day for their practices. My daughter Zehra’s current group is composed of teenage girls.

“With these girls, we have started suffering from problems we never knew before. I guess this has to do with the fact that it’s an age when children’s ideas about the world in general are being shaped.

“The problem is most girls won’t even say hi to her. Zehra greets them, but they turn their heads away from her. One day we were talking about how upsetting that is and what could be the reason. Zehra comes to me and says ‘Mom, no offense, but I think it’s because of your hijab.’

“One time she also told me some girls in the swim club were talking about ISIS’ recent attacks. She hears them say ‘Muslims are terrorists.’ She gets agitated and feels the urge to explain and say ‘I’m not a terrorist.’

swim

“Apparently, one day one of those girls who never spoke to her happened to ask which school she goes to, Zehra only said ‘G.I.S.’ rather than using the long name for her Islamic School.

“I asked her why she tried to hide that she goes to an Islamic school. I asked if she was ashamed of who she is. She couldn’t answer my question but I could tell that she was afraid of labelling.

“One day I saw one of the moms whose daughter was intentionally avoiding Zehra. The lady herself has always been kind to me. In fact they have a dog that Yusuf – my 9 year-old who also swims at the same club – loves to play with. I was there with him as he was playing with the dog. We were chatting and laughing. Then arrived the mom of one of the other girls who avoided Zehra. She says hi to the other lady but completely ignores me. They also start chatting and laughing. I try to join the conversation but she won’t even look at me.

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“Of course there are such wonderful and kind people out there. But dehumanization does exist. I try to share it with my husband. No matter how many times I try, he keeps saying I’m being too sensitive. ‘No one does that to me,’ he says. But I live this. I sense this. I told you how that woman wouldn’t even look at my face. I did try to be patient and hold on to what I had. I did try to put aside how I felt and join the conversation, although I was obviously being marginalized.”

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