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Silenced. Voiceless. Weak. Oppressed. Evil. Terrorist. That’s what they call me.

Outspoken. Eloquent. Determined. Liberated. Compassionate. Loving. That’s what I feel.

It’s funny how a piece of cloth I wear on my head casts a veil before my viewers eyes. Upon the first glance, my story is all of the sudden defined. My character set in stone. My personality diminished. My future bleak. And my dreams faded.

I smile at the apologetic sympathy filled eyes. I can see the question coming before it’s even asked. This is the West honey, you don’t have to wear that here. You are a free woman.

You see, had I not been wearing a Hijab, she would have looked at me with admiration. Complimented my beautiful long hair. My kind eyes. My welcoming smile. My B.S from an elite University. My successful career as a neuroscientist. My P.H.D that’s in progress. My strong personality. My leadership qualities. My work ethic. My ground breaking research. My eloquent speech. And had asked how I managed to do it all at such a young age.

There is her perception. And then there is my reality. I fight this battle everyday.

I look strong but my knees are shaking. My head held high but my mind full of doubt. My voice confident but stomach turning. My conviction strong but my self-doubt rising.

I ask myself why I do it. Why put myself through this everyday? — I stand out wherever I go. I have to prove myself every new acquaintance. Shatter all stereotypes. Justify the actions of a few hundreds I’ve never met, and billions I automatically represent. I embody what all Muslims must be like. I carry the baton without even realizing it. I am no longer an individual but a representation of a society, culture, and religion. I am an icon. A fabulous icon.

My life would be so much easier if I just take it off. People would see me for who I am. The first thing they see wouldn’t be an oppressed foreigner who probably doesn’t speak english. They’d see an intelligent woman, doing wonderful work, changing the world. But more likely, I would first be objectified and judged based on my looks rather than my intellect or personality. But still, life would be easier.

I’m almost like a revolutionary. A revolutionary of the small world that surrounds me. And now that I’ve tasted the triumph after the struggle, I can’t live an average life.

The baton that was handed by force, is now carried with pride.  I enjoy watching people look at me confused. I like initiating the first smile and a friendly Hello. I chuckle when they are surprised to hear me converse. I love shattering their glass castles and building a solid foundation. I embrace the opportunity to paint the blank canvas of their minds into a masterpiece. And I do it with love.

I wear my scarf proudly. You don’t have to be scared. It’s a constant reminder to myself of my commitment to God. It’s a layer of protection I’ve adorned myself with. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.

It makes me push myself harder. It forces me to carry myself with respect. It teaches me to be stronger. It pushes me to be ambitious and not get distracted. It whispers in my ears to always be compassionate and kind. And it never lets me forget, God is with me.

It demands others respect me. It saves me from objectification. It makes my personality shine. It forces others to take me seriously. It gives me an opportunity to break stereotypes. It opens up avenues of discourse.

It gives me the power to choose who and what I want to be; rather than me trying to fulfill society’s exceptions of me.

So you see, it liberates me.

And at last, I am truly free.

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