Living 'Muslim' in 2018 Should Not Be As Hard As It Is...
The year is 2018 and I am standing in a grocery store, waiting my turn at checkout when a young woman walked up to me. “Don't you feel hot in that?” She asked quietly, pointing at my abaya and the scarf draped over my shoulders. I shook my head slightly, smiling - it is 2018. I shouldn't be used to being asked about my choice(s) of clothing. But I am. So, I went back to standing in line, trying not to flinch at the stares.
The year is 2018 and my mother is sitting in on my little sister's parent-teacher conference when the issue of the absence of a security guard was raised to which the principal, a woman in her early sixties, replied, “Yes. We're working on that. The only person who has applied for the job so far is a Muslim and I personally think Muslims are not good enough to place the security of our kids upon.”
Mother's face had burned from both anger and embarrassment; anger that nobody thought it ugly, that nobody said anything to rebut the statement. Embarrassment that she had to hear such spiteful words from someone she'd dined with, laughed with. Embarrassment she'd been 'cool' with an Islamophobe. I was shocked...but not surprised. Shocked because it was now okay for people to be so blatant about their ignorance. That we've transcended from hate speeches being whispered behind a person's back to it being slapped at them from right across a board table.
The year is 2018 and we are in our college classroom. The professor said to my friend sitting just next to me, “I hope that hijab is not going to hinder the knowledge that's supposed to flow into your brain”. And I watched as he proceeded to try and humiliate her by pointing every question her way in a bid to prove his twisted theory right.
The year is 2018. And Muslim women still have to defend the fact that their hijab is not a sign of oppression. That it is a personal choice.
The year is 2018 and we have to watch our sister's cry on streets as their hijab is being dragged off their heads. It is 2018 and “a woman has the right to do what she pleases with her body” except when it's a Muslim woman and then, it screeches of “Oppression! Oppression! Muslim women are oppressed.” It's 2018 and Muslims representation in mainstream media is barely past 'terrorism'.
The year is 2018 and Hafsat is still not allowed into the University library because “you can't wear the hijab into the library”.
“Why?”, we asked.
“You just can't,” they said.
“Perhaps they're scared we're going to make away with all their books underneath our jilbab”, I whispered rather dryly. We laughed. We shouldn't be used to it. But we were.
The year is 2018. And I watched as a man spat when a brother passed by.
“Bloody terrorist”, he muttered. The brother shrugged. He shouldn't be used to it. But he is.
The year is 2018. And somehow it has become a compliment to say to a Muslim “you don't seem like a Muslim”.
“How so?”, the confused Muslim would ask.
To which they'd reply, “You are just so…Civilised.”
Living in a country terrorized on the daily by self-proclaimed Muslims, it is hard not to build up a defensive stance and construct a mental barricade between you and hate-speeches. And the constant having to justify why 'Not all Muslims are this or that'. Living in a country like mine, you are thrust with the responsibility of being some sort of living proof...a symbol that Islam is full of goodness and love and light. Nobody should have to live their life that way; constantly prepared to be both an accused and a defending counsel by virtue of your personal convictions. It is where you have to study in advance so you can name ten Muslims who are doing absolutely fine in their respective fields to combat the one who was involved in illegal activities.
Being a Muslim sometimes is praying there's a 'I know a few Muslims and they're good people' person in the room to vouch for your goodness and the fact that you're not there to blow them up because you're wearing a hijab.
It's the days where you watch your sister singled out for a random search on the street because the 'Muslim terrorists' use the women in niqab to transport weapons and grenades.
Being a Muslim here is the hurt and betrayal when you find out people you've known almost all your life are closet Islamophobes when a trivial issue is raised and their reply is 'Muslims are the problem in this country.'
I know what you might be thinking. That it is not everyone who thinks that. But I am saying that nobody - not a single person- should have to think that. I am saying that nobody should be assigned a twisted moral compass because of their faith.
It is 2018. Whatever your perception of Muslims may be, they are not terrorists. Where on one hand, many people are suspicious of Islamic beliefs and motives, some others find it inconceivable that Muslims should cry foul where 'they have it easy compared to Muslims in other countries that are REALLY discriminated upon'.
Like a person drowning in a pool has it easier than one drowning in the ocean. Like pain is not pain. Like a 'little' discrimination hurts less than a 'huge' one. Where Nigerian Muslims can be said to have, to an extent, been experiencing 'just a little bit of scorn and distaste', the Boko Haram insurgency which rattled the nation's fragile state of security and crippled an entire state was the literal last straw.
The group 'Boko Haram' which literally translates to 'Western education or westernization is forbidden' who affiliated with Islam claimed they were curbing the ineptitude that was Western education as it did not agree with the teachings of Islam. In mid-2014, the group had gained control of swathes of territory in and around Borno State, Northern Nigeria. And as the terrorism spread, so did the wariness of Muslims and all that Islam stands for.
Perhaps it has been an age-long principle of the human race that we fear what we do not understand, but as 21st century humans who have considerably moved away from the days of swinging from trees and what Hobbes called the 'chaos and madness', a little bit of tolerance for our notable difference is required. Nay, expected.
While prejudice and bigotry might be the easy way out, we must task ourselves into realizing that fundamentally, we're all the same. First, we are humans.
THE WRITER: ZAINAB ONUH-YAHAYA
Zainab Onuh-Yahaya is a modest fashion enthusiast and college student. She enjoys reading, writing and dreaming up minimalistic fashion hacks.
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