I believe in the power of self-respect. I believe that having personal dignity for oneself truly grounds a person as the individual that they are, and makes them that much more impetus in overcoming the hurdles they face in life.
At the tender age of six, I began attending a religious school. Going in, I had the perception that this was the place where I would truly find a sense of belonging. Where I would easily be accepted, be able to easily fit in, and that the act of forming a bond with my classmates would come easy because we already had a connection by sharing the same faith. But I was wrong. My classmates did not warm up to me as easily as I had thought they would. It started with the simple questions of “Where are your parents from? What other languages can you speak?” my answers to which had forever labelled me as ‘the outcast’ in their eyes. You see it was fact that my parents came from a country and spoke a language that was different than theirs, that suddenly deemed me worthy of being the subject of ridicule. I was weird. I was different. There was no way I could ever be the “same”. Their lack of tolerance for me only grew as the years passed by. It wasn’t long before comments such as “You’re ugly. You’re dumb. Nobody wants you here”, gradually progressed into “You’re worthless. Nobody will ever love you. You should feel sorry for the people that have to look at your face everyday”. I could feel their animosity almost seeping into my very soul with every condescending glare and whisper they cast my way. As a little girl that only longed to be accepted by those around her, I couldn’t help but to believe in every word of what I was told. It wasn’t long before I became consumed by the idea that I really wasn’t worth anything. That there was nothing about me that was special or significant, that the idea of truly being loved simply wasn’t possible for the likes of someone like me. I had become the shell of the happy, lively girl I was once was. I quickly fell into a dark abyss of self loathing, where my once joyful spirit had become masked my own growing insecurities. Swiftly, it got to the point where I no longer had the stamina to fake a smile and say it was fine when my parents asked the simple, everyday question of “How was school?” No longer being able to take the anguish of being hated, I finally decided it was time to confide in the only person that had been by my side from the very start; my mother.
My spiritual journey of self enlightenment, the way I dug myself out of the perpetual darkness I had once buried myself in, truly began with the simple words of “it’s what’s on the inside that counts.” After having heard my troubles and wiping away my tears, my mother kindly explained to me that although a person was incapable of changing what they looked on the outside, they possessed every power of changing what lied within. As long as I took heed in always improving myself for the greater good; took strides in being honest, tolerant, respectful, and open-minded to all that I see I was capable of possessing a beauty that would stay with me forever. A kind of beauty that would simply out shine my greatest flaws, and bring my greatest strengths to light. These words may have well saved my life, and helped me embark on a path towards acquiring a spiritual lifestyle that allows me to practice the idea of doing just that.
Having always been intrigued with the concept of the hijab (the Islamic veil), I decided to submerge myself in finding out the rationale behind it. ‘Why was covering yourself up considered a religious obligation for women in Islam? Does it really enforce the idea of female oppression? Or was that just a misconstrued perception of a religious practice that held greater sentiment?’ After having had researched the topic and truly feeling like I had quenched the thirst of acquiring whatever knowledge I could, the answers to such questions came quite easy. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the hijab (a religious veil that not only applies to the head but to the entire body of a woman) is a symbolic representation of religious virtue. It is a symbol of modesty, integrity, but above all it represents that a woman is to be respected for who she is, and not just for what she looks like. By covering herself, a Muslim woman is not hiding herself from society but rather, is eliminating any physical barrier that stands in the way of her respect. The premise of the hijab is to ensure that a woman is recognized for her personality, her intellect, and her character. That she is cherished and treated with the utmost decency by others simply because of the beauty she possesses within her personality. My decision to embrace the hijab came shortly after having coming forward about being a victim of bullying. The hijab is a constant reminder of how establishing and nurturing an inner beauty is a priority. It is a symbolic practice that allows me to empower myself as an individual. It serves as a physical motivator, which encourages me to continue to educate myself and do what I can to enrich my soul. It embodies the very principle of the advice my mother once gave me, and after deciding to put it on, I couldn’t be more grateful for choosing to make such a decision in the first place.
Moreover, the hijab also allows to me garner a sense of strength against the social stereotypes I am often up against. The biggest stereotypes I have come across come from within my own family. After having seen photos of me in a headscarf, my relatives (both distant and close) have begun to assume the worst. They believe that I have been brainwashed. They believe that I am oppressed. That due to the simple decision of choosing to cover myself, I probably have no friends because “no one in this world could ever be quite that accepting”. I am probably not that bright because I’m too “restricted” by my headscarf. I am less likely to succeed because my headscarf will only cause more problems for me in the future. I cannot tell you how having heard such words, from the people I love, has hurt me in ways more than one. However, this time instead of taking heed in what others have to say, like I did before, I have decided to remain indifferent to their criticism. I will not cease in wearing my hijab. It is my only true motivation to keep moving forward, and helps me to stay rooted in the idea that I WILL prove them wrong. By building my character and developing my intellect I WILL be able to survive and overcome the scars of my past, and progress into a brighter future.
I believe in spirituality. I believe in inner beauty. I believe in self-respect. I believe in a lot of things. But above all, I can now finally say that I BELIEVE IN MYSELF.