I received permission to write this story over a year ago now. For the purpose of protecting the privacy of the beautiful lady I’m writing about, I have changed her name, and chosen to call her Nadia. Nadia is not depicted in any of the photos in this blog post.
When I first met Nadia our daughters were in the same class in a primary school in central Edinburgh. My daughter, big thinker that she is, had decided to invite all the girls (and also a boy) in that class to a tea party at our house. The children were aged 7 at the time. And at the time I had a 6 month old. So the party was not as straight forward as it would have been without a baby. However, far be it from me to hinder any type of shindig – I love a party! So along came the guests – twenty or so seven year olds. Nadia’s daughter was one of them, and that’s how we met. She chose to stay at the party with her daughter rather than drop her off. She was lovely, intelligent, super social, and very kind. She was also pivotal to keeping an eye on those children that were in my house that day. She ensured that they did not fall while jumping, hurt each other while playing, or break their bones in some other way. I really appreciated the help. So immediately she won my respect and a place in my affections.
Nadia wore a hijab. I thought nothing of it. It is very common to see Muslim ladies wear hijabs and it doesn’t really register with me. What did register though, was when I saw her, two or three years later, without her hijab on. I didn’t want to pry, but I was honestly curious as to why she had stopped wearing it. So after a few consecutive days of seeing Nadia without her hijab on, I plucked up the courage to ask her.
The story she went on to tell me was actually shocking.
Nadia told me that she had been the target of several racist attacks over the previous months. She had been stared at, shouted at, spat at and told to “Go home you f****ng Packi.” She had been followed into the Meadows (a park in Edinburgh) by people shouting abuse at her. These kinds of things happened on several occasions, including times that she was with her children. It happened in broad daylight, shamelessly, in a central residential area of Edinburgh, which is characteristically multi – cultural and home to people of all kinds of nationalities, ethnicities and faiths. As a single mum of two, Nadia shared with me that she began to feel unsafe walking around while wearing the hijab. She felt targeted and she felt endangered. So she made the decision to stop wearing it. As soon as she did stop, the attacks also stopped. The people targeting her were strangers- people who knew nothing about her, except that she was a Muslim. As soon as that identifier was gone, so were the hateful encounters she was experiencing. And she felt safer that way.
As I listened to her telling me this story, an intense and overwhelming anger rose up within me.
I remember the anger very well because it is rising within me right now as I am writing this. It is an anger that I can physically feel in my chest and shoulders, and in the pit of my stomach. It was shocking for me to hear that this kind of ignorant, cruel and uncivilised behaviour takes place in this city I call home. It shocked me that there are people in Edinburgh who have, and publicly display such a ridiculous, uneducated hatred towards a Muslim woman. The behaviour she spoke of is, to me, unacceptable. It actually disgusted me. I can’t even imagine how she felt when this was happening to her.
After getting over the shock of her story, I found myself having a deeper respect for Nadia. It angers me that she was made to feel that she had to make this decision. But I deeply respect her decision. She did not stop being who she is. She did what she felt she had to do in order to feel safe; in order to be able to keep her children far away from harm, and to protect them from the expression of hatred and prejudice. She was able to navigate a disturbingly difficult situation. She had the self awareness to know what she was, and wasn’t willing to put herself through at that moment in time. This to me shows strength, wisdom, self- knowing, responsibility and a real ability to get through life’s hard things.
To me, Muslim culture is a culture of people with a beautiful warmth about them. In my Muslim friends and acquaintances, I see a genuine openness to connect, an emphasis on relationship, family and hospitality. In their culture I also see a sense of seeking for, and sharing of life’s wisdom. I love these elements of their culture, and I am really drawn to them.
Hijab or no hijab, I am convinced that Nadia is, and will continue to be who she is. And I love her for that.