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My Headscarf Cover-Up
Anonymous
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I grew up in West Africa. When I was 8, my parents moved to the U.S. and left me in Africa with my grandparents, but we remained close. My mom and dad called me all the time and my dad often sent money, clothes, and toys. I told my friends that he was the best father ever. My father came back for me when I was 14—my parents had finally gotten papers for me—and then we came to America together. I was so happy to be reunited with my family, because that’s what I had been dreaming about.

My first year in New York, everything between my dad and me was OK. But then, in 8th grade, things began to change between us. He wanted me to start wearing hijab to cover my head. In our religion, Islam, most people believe that women have to show modesty by wearing long clothes and covering their hair with a headscarf called the hijab. But, as we all know, people of the same religion don’t always practice their faith in exactly the same way. Some Muslim girls don’t cover their heads and others do.

At first, my dad wasn’t too pushy about it because I was still young—girls are supposed to start wearing hijab as they approach adulthood—so he only told me to put it on occasionally so I could get used to it. But I was already used to wearing anything I wanted and doing my hair the way I wanted, so I just ignored him. He didn’t make a big deal out of it until the next year.

Too Many Rules

When I started high school, he became stricter with me. He created a lot of rules: I’m not supposed to talk to boys who I’m not related to, other than to say hello; no boys are allowed in the house; I’m not supposed to use Facebook; and I have to get home early every night. Plus, he kept telling me to put the hijab on.

I agree with some of his rules, like not bringing boys over, because I know that he is trying to protect me from bad things. He knows what guys want from girls, which is to sleep with them, and he doesn’t want me to end up pregnant with my life destroyed. I understand that.

However, I disagree with him about some things. I created a Facebook profile so that I could talk to a boy who is my best friend. It seemed harmless to me, so I just didn’t tell my father about it.

Also, we were at a standstill because I continued to disagree with him about wearing hijab. When I tried it on, I felt shy and uncomfortable. Most of my friends don’t cover their heads, so wearing it makes me feel different from them. None of this mattered to my father.

Caught Bareheaded

I don’t know why, but the hijab became a huge deal for my dad. He told me that if I didn’t wear it he would send me back to Africa. I thought this was an unfair threat. I came to the United States for a better education and to help my family. How could he send me back? However, his threat made me realize that if I continued to resist his rules, the consequences could completely change my life.

After that, every time I went out and he told me to put on the hijab, I said OK. The first time I put it on after he threatened me, I mimicked what he was saying to me and looked at him in a mean way. He knew I was mad at him, but he ignored me. When I left the apartment with my sister, we took the elevator. As soon as the door shut, I took the hijab off and stuffed it in my backpack. This became my regular habit.

Whenever I’d take the hijab off, I’d feel so free and comfortable, like myself again. Before coming home, I would simply put it back on before walking through the front door. Thankfully, my sister, who is younger than me and doesn’t have to wear hijab yet, didn’t tell my parents what I was doing. They assumed I wore hijab all day, every day. For a year, my plan worked just fine.

Then one day last fall, my mom came to my school to pick me up without telling me. When she saw me without the hijab, she was shocked. So was I! I was so scared she’d tell my father that my whole body started shaking, my eyes turned red, and my skin grew cold. To make matters worse, I couldn’t quickly put it on because I’d left it in my locker.

image by Amanda Garcia

When we got home she started yelling at me.

“I will tell your father and you will be dead today!” she said over and over.

I didn’t respond because I knew that she would calm down sooner or later. And I knew she would keep it secret because she didn’t want my dad to send me back, either. I was right—she didn’t tell him. But the worst was still to come.

Accused

One night when I was in my room, my father called the house from work and told my mom to give me the phone. I knew something was wrong and I worried that he’d found out that I wasn’t wearing hijab. When I got the phone, I was trembling and my heart was beating fast.

“I know everything you’re doing now, you ho, but I will show you who I am,” my dad said as soon as I put the receiver to my ear. No one had ever spoken to me like that before, and I certainly never thought a father would say this kind of thing to his child. He kept cursing at me, but I didn’t say anything. I was surprised and upset.

Apparently, earlier that day, my dad had looked at the telephone bill and saw that there were texting charges on my mom’s phone. He assumed I was texting boys, which wasn’t true. (It was actually my friend who texted a boy using my mom’s phone when she came over.) Also that day, my uncle told my father about my Facebook profile, and said that the only thing I do there is talk to boys. He showed my dad my pictures on Facebook, so my father believed him.

Even worse, my uncle lied to him, saying that I had been cutting school to go to a boy’s house in Brooklyn. This was totally made up. My uncle and I don’t get along and I think he was trying to get me kicked out. He wants my dad to send me back to Africa, so that he can beg my dad to bring his sister in my place.

“If I get home today you will be sorry,” Dad said. I was glad that he still didn’t know I wasn’t wearing hijab, but this was worse than I thought. I went to my room and prayed to God to help my father understand me, and not send me back to Africa. Then I went to sleep.

‘How Dare You’

When my father got home at 2 a.m., which was when his shift ended, he woke me up and told me to come into the living room. I was really afraid because I didn’t know what he was going to do to me—if he was going to hit me or what. I went to the living room and saw him and his brother standing there. He looked so mad and frustrated. He asked me who I had been texting, who I went to see in Brooklyn, and why I had a Facebook profile.

I explained that my friend had texted a boy on my mom’s phone, not me. I said I had a Facebook page because I talk to my friends and relatives. I also told him that I only talked to girls and relatives, even though that wasn’t true, but he didn’t believe me. Finally, I swore that I never cut school.

Then my father smacked me on my face. I was hurt—the inside of my mouth tasted like blood—but I was also angry.

image by Amanda Garcia

“How dare you call your uncle a liar,” he said.

“It is a lie,” I responded.

He told me that I was not allowed to use the computer or the phone anymore, that I should not go to school, and to cover all my body. I was so angry that I wanted to take something and hit him with it so he would realize he shouldn’t treat me so badly.

But I didn’t do anything, or even say anything else. I ran to my room crying and prayed for him not to send me back to Africa, or to stop my education. Mostly, I just couldn’t believe what had happened. He had never done anything like this to me. Usually, my dad was playful and really nice.

House Arrest

For four days I wasn’t allowed out of the house, not even to go to school. I felt like I was in prison, which made me feel sick and unhappy. I stayed mad and stopped talking to my father. My mom was mad at my father, too, but she didn’t get involved. She knew that if she tried, he would blame her for my behavior and say she was doing a bad job controlling me.

Then on Monday at 7 a.m., he knocked on my door as I was sleeping. I opened my eyes reluctantly. “Go to school and when you come back I will tell you my rules,” he said. I didn’t say anything or even look at him. I had already seen in his eyes that he still loved me as his daughter, and I knew he couldn’t bring himself to send me back to Africa. I was less scared, but still unhappy.

I got up and put on the hijab for him to see, but this time I waited until I got all the way to the bus stop to take it off because I thought he might be following me. I was worried about what could happen if he found out, but I still disagreed with my father about the hijab and I wasn’t ready to back down.

When I got home from school that day, my dad didn’t say anything about new rules for me. The look on his face said he regretted what he’d done, so I forgave him for calling me names and hitting me. I feel like he only said those things because he was very upset. I still think he is the best, even if I don’t agree with him.

At Peace, for Now

I respect my father and I can feel the love that he has for me, even though it’s hard for him to show it to me. I know he wants what is best for me, which he thinks means protecting me from talking to boys and making me cover my hair.

I do want to obey him, but I have a hard time because dating is normal among my friends. I do sometimes talk to boys in person and on the phone, but I make sure not to take it too far. In fact, I feel ashamed when I talk to a lot of boys.

As for the hijab, I wish my dad would give me more time. I think my dad wants me to cover my head because he is afraid of me becoming too Americanized. He doesn’t want me imitating non-Muslims. But my decision is to start wearing hijab when I get older, maybe when I’m 27. That’s about the age when my mom and the women in my father’s family have done it. In fact, my mom didn’t start wearing hijab until she had children. The hijab symbolizes adulthood, and I’m not there yet.

For now, my dad and I are getting along and talking again, which makes me really happy. Whenever I need something, I ask him and he gives it to me just like he did when I was a child. Of course, I still worry about him finding out that I don’t actually wear hijab out of the house, and I pray that my secret stays hidden.

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(NYC-2011-05-18)

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