I am a British Pakistani Muslim woman in her 30s, freelance journalist, comedian and (mostly) Reformed humanitarian worker.
Oh, and I also wear a hijab (headscarf).
Yes, the dreaded scarf. Yawn. I completely agree. We don’t really need any more articles, blogs, or first-person testimonials on “lifting the veil”, “deconstructing the veil” or “exposing jihad”, or indeed anything else.
The point is, my choice of headgear continues to have a profound impact on most of the upper and middle class white liberal people I work with in newsrooms, NGO offices and in the field.
I affectionately call this specimen of folk “whiteys”.
Most people find that an unintentional form of verbal dysfunction kicks in when I’m around, and that’s because my appearance and everything about me confuses most people.
Below are some of the best comments whiteys have made over the years regarding my hijab. Everything listed below has happened to me.
NGO office in Amsterdam:
A white man in his forties whom I have never met before walks up to me in the open plan office and grabs my shoulders. Before he came in to plant kisses on my cheeks.
Whitey: “I have never kissed a Hijabi woman before.”
Me (stumbling back) “I’ve never slammed a white man’s shit before, but I’m happy to try from now on.”
Work with an NGO in South Sudan.
A white aid worker spends two days waving her hand in a circular motion near my face and hijab as if I were a weather system on a map.
Whitey: “So, are you hot in there? I mean, you must be hot?”
Me: “No, actually, I’m not hot. I’m fine thanks. Do I look hot?”
Whitey: (Pause) “Actually, no … you look … you don’t look sexy. Actually, you look pretty rosy.”
Me: “Jew? Did you say Jew? I can’t look Jewish, love, I’m a muslim, innit.
NGO office in Oxford:
A white boss leans very close to me and lowers his voice to sound attractive.
Whitey: “So, Aziz ….. will I ever see your hair?”
Me: (laughing hysterically to make him panic) “Let me explain this to you. Even in your wildest nightmares, you won’t see my hair.”
(Also, please work on the hijabi pickup lines. The ones you fold are so 1980s and embarrassing.)
Whitey: “Oh, I can see some of your hair. Are you flirting with me? Do you have to come home and pray now that I’ve seen your hair?”
Me: âI’m glad you can see some of my hair. I was working to be a moderate Muslim.
Now that you’ve seen my hair for a bit, you’ve made a commitment to convert to Islam.
âAllah o Akbar! I’ll call the mosque and see if they can accommodate you for a lunchtime conversion. Leave it to me. “
The boss of an NGO London office walks into an open plan office on a Monday morning and stops by my desk. It is the month of Ramadan.
Whitey: “I dreamed that you took off your hijab and stopped fasting during Ramadan because everything was too much for you.”
I discussed this “incident” with HR. HR told me my former boss loves traveling the Middle East, adding, and quoting, âShe even speaks a little Muslim.
Me: “That’s great! I’m glad she enjoys traveling and loves the Middle East. Wonderful. The thing is, I’m from Oxford.”
Work in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Pakistani driver: “Ma’am, may I ask you where you are from? Are you from Egypt? Dubai? Kuwait? “
Me: (Bringue Urdu) “I’m Pakistani.”
Pakistani driver: “WOW, but you speak English JUST like Harry Potter and you wear a hijab! Amazing!”