A Supposed Former Niqab Wearing Black Muslim Hijabi
I was born and raised a Muslim, in the heart of Baltimore. I grew up in the Park Heights area, one of the roughest in West Baltimore, but I was a part of a very tightly knit Muslim community. I attended Muslim schools, starting at Sister Clara Muhammad, from Preschool all the way through, until 8th grade. At age 13, I made the choice to attend a prestigious all-girl public high school. I wore a scarf all those years. It was like wearing a shirt or pants, if I left the house without it on, I felt somewhat naked.
In my aforementioned neighborhood, probably at age 8, I fought a girl who yanked off my scarf, sealing the deal that nobody better touch Nia’s scarf. I was always the only Black girl in a scarf everywhere I went, even my freshman year at Spelman College. Even my first internship at Vibe Magazine’s creator Keith Clinkscales’ first magazine, Urban Profile; where I had landed the coveted job of interviewing Spike Lee for the cover story on the film Malcolm X. (And, being given the nickname Nia Malika Babalika, by Spike himself.) I wore a headscarf while interviewing rappers, attending release parties, and on my wedding day. I even wore a niqab for a while, after my divorce. But it wasn’t until I left the safety of the cocoon that was my small town, Baltimore, for the “real” world, Los Angeles and the entertainment industry, that I thought more deeply about my headscarf.
I came to L.A. because I had stories to tell, Muslim American experiences that I had painted into words, for the big screens that never told our stories. But, nobody was listening to the pitch, they were hung up on the appearance of the pitcher. Are you Muslim, or are you Black? Are your stories political, this is show business, and as the saying goes, “If you want to send a message call western union.”
I was invisible. Nia, the person, became, an avatar for something that was not me. I took off my scarf for two reasons: to claim my Muslim American identity as a Black woman who chooses to be Muslim, and to show that a headscarf doesn’t define my faith. I still pray 5 times a day, I still believe in Allah and the last messenger, Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) Nothing about my faith changed.
For me, removing my headscarf was reclaiming my identity, as a Black woman who is also Muslim. My scarf didn’t define me as a Muslim back then when I wore it; it was clothing. It doesn’t define my beliefs and the way I live my life, it’s just clothing. And, it doesn’t “legitimize” me as a Muslim just because I wear it, it is clothing.
*Despite popular opinion, it is not a mandatory command from God for a Muslim woman to cover her hair, and I challenge anyone to prove to me otherwise. (And, for the record, my ‘bosom’ does not mean my head, nor are they in any way otherwise considered synonymous to one another.)
There is an unspoken insidiousness, this dismissal of Black and Brown women in Muslim communities that include Muslims of immigrant heritage; Arab or Southeast Asian heritage. Akin to white feminism, there’s a non-inclusivity that is pervasive, and the unspoken rule seems to be that wearing a scarf redeems you somewhat; but still not quite. You’re still Black. You’re still Latina. You’re not Muslim enough if you don’t wear a “hijab,” and if you wear a gelee or head-wrap, you’re just being “Afrocentric.”
I can’t help but to feel like Islamophobia attacks on a Hijabi Muslim woman of any ethnicity other than Black, rallies communities to her defense, but I wonder would the same happen for a Black Woman Hijabi? Or, *gasp,* a Black Muslim woman who doesn’t cover her hair? Again, it all feels reminiscent of white feminism to me.
As if somehow we aren’t part of the fight against Islamophobia; like we don’t know anything about Islamophobia, because we don’t wear a scarf. We’re not really part of the struggle. Well, this Supposed Former Niqab Wearing Black Muslim Hijabi is very much part of the struggle. I know Islamophobia very well, and I’ve experienced it all my life. AND, along with that struggle, to paraphrase a fellow Black Muslim woman, ‘I wear my Black skin.’
As a Muslim, I wholeheartedly believe that when one of us is harmed, all of us are harmed. I am very much in this struggle against Islamophobia, and I would expect a rally around our fellow Muslim sisters whether they are Black, or wear hijab, or have Arab heritage, or don’t wear hijab, or perform rap music with some profanity, or wear make-up and high fashion, or sing on stages, or perform racy stand up comedy, or, or, or… But, when we feel marginalized, and even made to feel invisible, our fight in the struggle seems ignored or deemed nonexistent. Or, at least that is what it feels like.
We need intersectionality to fight Islamophobia. Otherwise, our ummah will be divided and conquered by it. So, challenge your own inherent bias. Pay attention to how you think about your fellow Muslim sisters, including the everyday struggling teachers, mothers, nurses, doctors, police officers, corporate executives, janitors, bus drivers, tv producers, baristas, waitresses, actresses, photographers, journalists, artists, etc. whether they wear hijab or not; no matter their ethnicity or heritage, and let’s leave no one behind.