Reimagining the Workplace: A Hijabi's Journey
World Hijab Day got me thinking about what it means to be a visibly covered American Muslim woman in the workplace.
Dressing modestly and wearing a headscarf is often associated with controversy. Throughout my hijab journey, I saw how this was weaponized around the world. The first hijab ban I ever remember was in 2004 when France banned headscarves in schools. Although I wasn’t a Hijabi at the time, I thought it was so bizarre to control how someone dressed in such a liberal country and wrote about it for my elementary class newsletter. But since then, hijab bans have continued in France, Germany, India, and Belgium. Meanwhile, Iran and Afghanistan have gone on the other extreme by using modest dressing as a form of control and abuse. Some countries see the headscarf as a political symbol and a form of oppression. But for myself, and countless other women and girls, it is an act of devotion and identity to let you know who I am: a Muslim woman.
My goal isn’t to scare you or rub it in your face. It’s just a part of me that I want to share. As someone who has the honor to serve as a civil servant, wearing a headscarf has not been an easy journey as an American, especially growing up and starting to wear a hijab post 9/11. But I have so much gratitude knowing I can be in a public facing role to serve my nation and community as I am. And I’ve been lucky to have a supportive work environment that respects freedom of choice and faith. It’s crazy to think that countries do not allow civil servants to wear a scarf or won’t allow hijabi lawyers in their courtrooms. Meanwhile, I’ve often found that my scarf is an opportunity for education, openness, and connection in my work.
My experiences as a hijabi have developed my empathy, resilience, and ability to speak up when something seems wrong. My scarf shows people that there is someone who looks like them that can guide and support them when they have questions. There have been numerous times where people in need of assistance see me, and tell me they feel reassured about reaching out for help because my scarf is something familiar to them. It represents a set of values and beliefs that they align with and makes them feel safe. It also shows non-Muslims that this country has all kinds of people who are perfectly competent and capable people to work and serve their country balanced with embracing their identity.
I know America isn’t perfect and was built on systems and structures intended for some to succeed, and others to fail. We have a lot of work to do and there are still a lot of communities suffering. Progress needs to be made. We’re a long way from the finish line. But at least I can be my true self openly and visibly be a part of that journey for our country to be fully free and accessible for all.
Originally posted on LinkedIn.
Saira Bhatti is a writer and public servant based out of D. C. area. She is a graduate in Global Affairs from George Mason University and received her Masters from American University’s program fo Latin American Studies and Spanish. She writes on various topics including human rights, immigration, feminism, racial justice and the role of religion in society.