However, there is one object that is responsible for bringing out the most polarizing results like no other object can. On the two extremes, one person sees this object and immediately feels a sense of loving, sisterly bond, or a sense of comfort and safely. Another can see this same object and a feeling disgust is aroused, maybe even full on rage and anger. I'm speaking of course about a piece of fabric.
A fabric, you say? How can a fabric possibly do that?
Yes, a fabric. And yes, it can. That little 3 ft. square piece of cloth, or 2 ft x 5ft, which ever is preferred; the shape not so relevant, just how that fabric is used.
I'm speaking of course about what I like to call the Hijab Effect.
Once this fabric is wrapped around your head, it's transformed from being simply a fabric; somehow people's attitudes and social interactions do a swift pivot to mirror the individual's preconceived ideas. The fabric (your hijab) is now a catalyst of mood change.
I see this every day. When I interact with someone new, this fabric lets me know immediately that person's perception of Islam, as the scarf immediately signals, "this person is Muslim." Their behavior adjusts based on the sight of that scarf. In many cases it has nothing to do with me, it's what I represent wearing this fabric.
In all honesty, most of the interactions related to this thing have been very positive. In relation to the negative, I haven't been discouraged in the least towards the decision I made to wear it. Surely, this all depends on where you call home.
By my observation, here's some of the affects of the Hijab Effect:
There are color divisions in our societies. I hate to note that, but it is true in most cases. But with the Hijab Effect, to an African American person I am no longer just another stuck-up self-righteous white girl. They can relate with me that I'm sometimes prejudiced against too. I especially love meeting other African American Muslim women. There's an immediate connection there that's sometimes hard to make without the presence of that fabric. This is remarkable, and I truly love this affect. It demonstrates the idea that we are all brothers and sisters.
You can feel that some people respect you for having the guts to wear hijab when you are the clear minority. They see you as courageous, principled, and disciplined. There's an almost admiration for you. I can't pinpoint exactly in what way people give off this vibe, it's just some subtlety in their behavior that tells you.
When other Muslims see me wearing hijab, especially if she is wearing hijab also, we become sisters. We are in this game together fighting out the same battles, struggling with the same day to day stuff. You are complete strangers and yet your eyes may meet across the room and there's an instant connection. I love this affect because it gives me the chance that I never would have had, without wearing this fabric, to earn more rewards: we say Assalamu Alaikum to one another, maybe we shake hands, and exchange some pleasantries, all rewarded by Allah SWT. All of these good deeds happened because of the hijab.
This effect is when a social interaction is trumped by the other person's strong and concerted effort to be extra kind and friendly with you. This effect goes beyond just general politeness. They don't articulate this to you, of course, but to me they are saying, " I don't believe what the media says about Muslims. You're all right to me!"
The Cold Shoulder
These people see your hijab and what's going through their head is all the garbage they saw on the nightly news about how Muslims are terrorist, suicide-vest wearing, barbaric fools. They have nothing to say to you and any attempt on your part to keep the social exchange normal is rebuffed.
Thankfully, I haven't seen or taken part in this effect. It's the horror stories you hear: women having their hijabs violently ripped off, the shouts of "go back to your country," and other hostile threats and hate crimes. All of this prompted by, YES, that fabric on your head. Amazing isn't it?
In reflecting on all these types of attitudes, particularly the neutral to negative ones, what a gigantic and some might say insurmountable opportunity you have wearing that fabric on your head, to alter, disrupt and change perceptions and reactions. Can you shock a "Cold Shoulder" persona by violating their ill-conceived notion of what a Muslim is? Your kindness, compassion, friendliness, attitude, fairness, and other positive traits have the power to move mountains. Likewise, show a negative side of yourself in public and you just might end up confirming someone's negative stereotype of what the Muslims are really all like. You might just be the only Muslim that that person ever had contact with. Will you be a good reflection, via your hijab, for the whole of the Muslim ummah? We have to remember we are ambassadors of our faith, meant to shine a light into people's worlds, wake them up from their sleep, spread Islam. What a huge and awesome responsibility it is to wear hijab. Alhumdulilah for my Islam, for my iman, and alhumdulillah for Allah choosing me to be a vehicle through which Islam is shown.
O Allah, let all of the Muslims represent Islam in the best way, Ameen!