An American Brown Girl: A Hijab Story - By Zara Kabir

I had always been intrigued by the hijab. Yet, it was a concept that I held at a distance, thinking on it from time to time but not truly believing it would ever become a part of my identity. 

It wasn’t until 12-years-old me discovered the world of hijabi and modest bloggers did I begin my slow journey to wanting, and later needing, to wear the hijab. With influencers like Dina Tokio showing her millions of ways to wrap turbans and style herself modestly, I learned that the hijab could represent a multitude of things--modesty, elegance, and personality. Yet, as much as I loved trying to follow the newest turban tutorial at night (with little success), I ultimately couldn’t go through with it. Instead, I spent my time wishing I was strong enough. 

To preface my struggle to wear the hijab, I lived in Texas from the 3rd grade up until my freshman year of high school. In this time period, I quickly began the phase every American Muslim goes through--the denial of our Muslim identity. Growing up with little diversity in these small classrooms and teachers who didn’t out rightly dislike you (but did, nonetheless), I had always felt the unspoken need to portray myself as the ‘cool’, American brown girl, not the ‘cool’ Muslim-American brown girl. And 9-year old me being me, I wanted to be everyone’s friend, and for everyone to like me. That’s why when my best friend told me that her parents had advised her not to get too close to me, I asked her not to tell anyone I was Muslim. And me, being the coward that I was, did not get angry with my friend’s parents, or angry at all. Instead, I felt embarrassed for myself and embarrassed for having to ask her to keep quiet. 

From then on, it took me years to wash out this ‘embarrassment’. In the 5th grade,  I would tell my mom that she didn’t have to come to school, for fear my friends would see her hijab. In the 6th grade, I would walk away from my mom in our neighborhood Walmart, for fear somebody at school would see me. But in the 7th grade, I discovered those hijabi bloggers and began my journey back to Islam. 

During the beginning of my freshman year of high school, I moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. The high school I went to was vastly different from the schools I had gone to in Texas, where there were lots (and I mean LOTS) of brown kids and quite a few hijabis. I found my group, made some Muslim friends myself, and began changing my entire outlook on Islam. 

In fact, by my sophomore year of high school, I was giving lectures to hundreds of freshmen on misconceptions of Islam--something I could never have done just a year before then. I became socially active, realizing that there was no part of me that should be ashamed or embarrassed for representing such a beautiful religion. I slowly took the blame off myself and instead placed it on others, making it my mission to show others their ignorance. 

After that, wearing the hijab seemed easy. I began wearing it my senior year of high school and though it was rocky in the beginning (with me slowly adjusting my wardrobe to become more modest), I can confidently say that after nearly 3 years of wearing my hijab, I could never in a million years see myself taking it off. 

As a sophomore in college (who has moved back to Texas, interestingly), I am actively trying to dispel ignorance regarding Muslims, and especially regarding the hijab. Currently, I am writing my own book, called “Kismet”. I hope to publish 3 short stories on finding love in America with themes dispelling common Muslim stereotypes. To get on my pre-order list, feel free to fill out the following form:

Author’s Note: Zara Kabir is an honors sophomore at the University of Texas at Dallas studying Marketing and Political Science. In her free time, you can catch Zara running her social-impact business, Orenda Change, writing for her upcoming book, Kismet, or sharing her love for Korean and Turkish dramas via Tik Tok. 

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