Oak Lawn, Ill. – A woman who hid her hijab beneath a fluffy knit hat and scarf found an entirely different world around her when others couldn't see the traditional Muslim garb.
"I didn't understand what was happening at first. People started talking to me more. Women would speak to me like I knew them since forever. Men looked at me like I was actually approachable," Leena Suleiman wrote of her experience on her blog, Facetruth. "And I was made to feel like I was actually from this planet."
But with the hijab hidden, Suleiman also learned the familiar place she inhabited comfortably for so many years, the world of American Muslims, no longer was warm and friendly.
"The Muslim taxi drivers who would almost always say "Assalamu Alaikum," ask me where I'm from or if I'm single, or not allow me to pay for the fare became cold and dry. I would simply give the address, and the only dialog thereafter was at time of payment. It was puzzling," she wrote.
But the wrap around her head made all the difference. And so she decided to conduct her own social experiment, much like skinny people who don fat suits or white people who darken their skin to see how others react to their new "body."
"I started paying more attention to the difference in the way people treated me. It was fun feeling like everyone around me believed I belonged in their culture by default, and not as part of the begrudgingly adopted diversity piece of the pie. It was a good feeling. I secretly started looking forward to venturing out into the cold to further explore what it meant to be 'normal.'
"I became even more confident walking in my city. My city. All the stares were not racially related anymore. I was addressed as 'lady' and 'little lady,' something I had never heard before. Men would hold doors for me. Women would crack jokes with me. I became respectable, lovable, and accepted."
Suleiman, a 25-year-old architectural designer in Chicago who graduated from Illinois Institute of Technology, was born in Oak Lawn and lives in Chicago Ridge. A large population of Muslims, many with roots in Palestine, is concentrated in the south suburbs.
Her blog, posted on Feb. 7 and titled "I Took Off My Hijab," has more than 200 comments as of Feb. 13. Suleiman goes on to write that the realization, only made possible by this winter's record-setting cold temperatures and windchill in Chicago, saddened her.
"I immediately began to despise the inequality, and it dawned on me that I acted like someone who was bullied for years, and finally was accepted by the mean girls ..."
Commenters on her blog found the experiment thought-provoking, however.
"Sounds quite adventurous! Perhaps the fact that the 'hijabis' ignored you because you were not visibly Muslim may indicate both sides of the problem .Too often insularity is what keeps people from being treated as 'normal,'" said one.
Adds another: "Honestly, I think many non-Muslims in America aren't quite sure how to approach someone in a hijab. It's not that you're Muslim. It's that you simply dress in a way that is different and it's a bit intimidating."
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