The Choice that Changed Everything
By Amal Ahmad
Being brought up in a religious family, wearing a headscarf in public was a rite of passage that the women went through in order to become stronger in both their faith and their identity. After I graduated elementary school, I remembered telling my parents that I was going to go through this ‘rite of passage’, and start wearing a headscarf in sixth grade. I very much regretted doing so once sixth grade orientation was near, as the fear and panic of my decision started to set in. What would all my friends say? Will they even be friends with me after seeing me? Will I be a loser at school? Was I even making the right decision? I mean I’m literally only ten years old, which is too young to be making a big life-changing decision like this… right? When the first day of school rolled around, I was a mess. The burden of everyone’s expectations was pushing me deeper into the ocean of my anxiety, pressuring and pressuring me until finally, an hour before I was supposed to leave, I broke down in tears. My mother came to calm me down and talk me into going to school.
“Amal, lado, if you don’t want to wear the headscarf, then don’t. It is entirely up to you,” mom said, stroking my hair.
“But if I don’t then you and baba are going to be mad at me,” I sniffled.
“No we won’t,” mom said, “honestly I will be a little sad but definitely not mad.”
“I’m scared,” I said, not being able to meet my mother’s eyes. “I’m scared that I’m going to lose my friends and that people will look at me differently.”
“Well of course everyone is going to look at you differently,” mom started, “that is a normal reaction for middle schoolers. You just have to defy the crowd and be your own person, and the longer you wait, the harder it will get, trust me.”
“And as for your friends, think of it this way. If they are your real friends, they won’t judge you for your attire. You are still you, but now simply with a headscarf. Honestly, if people want to judge, let them. Just know that they are those types of people who care more about your appearance rather than your personality.” mom said, holding my hand.
“Okay,” I said, really absorbing my mother’s words.
Mom looked at me with warmth in her eyes and said, “Listen lado, now is the time where you ask yourself if you are able to put your faith in front of everything else. Know that you are not doing this for me, you are doing it for God. I am going to wait in the car, and when you feel ready, come join me.”
I sat there for a few minutes, trying to absorb and implement my mother’s words. Once I had a firm belief that I was doing the right thing by God, I got up, wiped my tears, and picked up my headscarf. As I donned it, I realized that I was also donning a new and better identity, one with confidence, grace and firm faith. I looked at myself in the mirror and started smiling. That was me. The girl in the scarf was me. I felt happiness spread throughout me and went out to the car, where my mom gave me a long hug. Then we set out for the real test- school
Once we arrived at school, I remember being extremely nervous and self-aware. I was scared that everyone was going to look at me weird and judge me. However, when people saw me, they treated me like any other stranger, a glance and then they moved on. Wow, this isn’t so bad, I thought, and my confidence began to grow. Then I saw my friend and we made eye contact. I braced for impact, but she just smiled, and a wave of relief washed over me. I walked over to her and she said, “Nice fit.” “Eh, can’t say the same about you,” I replied, and we both laughed. After that, I felt a huge boost of confidence and started tackling the day with it. Then I saw someone from my fifth-grade class. We made eye contact and he looked at me with a combination of astonishment, disgust and mostly looked like he was weirded out. Why did he make that face? We weren’t even friends in fifth grade, but his reaction still felt like a punch to the gut. Then I remembered what Mom said, that there are of course going to be people that look at you weird, but these are the type of people that care more about appearances than personality. This made me feel a lot better as I realized that my headscarf was a vital tool in making real friendships with good people. That day, I went home to proud parents, a happy household, and most importantly, a sense of self.
It has been around six years since this event, and I can definitely say that wearing a headscarf changed my life dramatically, by teaching me self-importance and confidence. I am very happy and grateful that I fought past my fear and anxiety of being different and have truly embraced who I have become.
Amal Ahmad is a senior at Battlefield High School. Her hobbies include cooking, running, napping, and binge-watching television. She lives in central Virginia with her family.