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Why I wear a hijab ... and I don't - GTA - Why I wear a hijab ... and I don't




Nusayba Salih, 16, (L) wears a hijab, while Zahraa El-Zaibak, 15 (R), plans to wear one someday, but doesn't feel she's "spiritually ready" for it.

One Muslim teen wears the headscarf known as the hijab, the other doesn’t. The girls tell the Star what everyone wants to know. Why? And why not?

December 15, 2007 robyn doolittle
Staff reporter


Asmaa Abou Zeidan scans through her closet and – like most mornings – settles on a shirt her mother doesn't like.

It's a white linen button-up blouse, falling just above the knee.

"She thinks it's too tight," the 16-year-old sighs. "She thinks everything I own is too tight. `That's not the way a Muslim girl is supposed to dress. You're supposed to be modest,'" she says.

Asmaa doesn't consider herself super-religious. She reads the Qur'an – when her parents ask her to. She attends mosque, prays five times a day, and believes in Islam, but right now Asmaa's priorities are her family, friends and being 16.

On a typical day, Asmaa likes to hang around school for a bit after the final 3:15 p.m. bell. Sometimes, she and some friends will hop the 43 bus to the Scarborough Town Centre for some shopping.

"I don't have to be home until dark, although in the winter that's pretty early," she says. "My parents are pretty lenient with things like this. I can hang out with my friends as long as my mom knows where I am."That said, Asmaa lives a life of clear limits. She's never had a sleepover at a friend's house. She's not allowed to have a boyfriend and any secret crushes have to stay that way.

Well-liked at school, and as happy as a 16-year-old can be, Asmaa wears the hijab – by choice. It's a decision she made at 12, late by some standards.

"I liked the way people treated me when I wore it. I get more respect," says the Winston Churchill Collegiate student. "And I like the way it looks." Asmaa skims through her 25 or so scarves, selecting a chequered black and white one, with a pearl pin she bought at an Islamic clothing store down the street. In 30 seconds, she's wrapped it around her shoulder-length black hair.

"My hair's just black right now. But a few months ago I had it dyed red with highlights," she says, her soft eyes beaming. She laughs, anticipating the next question. But who's going to see it?

"What? I'm still a girl," she laughs. "My friends see it sometimes."

She means either at home, when no men are around, or in fitness class. "It's just girls, so when they close the gym doors, sometimes I take off my hijab," she says.

But sometimes, she just lets her hair down. Late at night, Asmaa will sneak down to her building's pool for a swim. Her bathing suit goes all the way to her ankles and wrists. She wears a cap on her head. Only when she's sure no one will walk in, Asmaa takes off the cap to feel the water run through her hair.



Most days, Zahraa El-Zaibak and her friends congregate outside the main school entrance after the final 3:15 p.m. bell.

Kids from other cliques stop to chat. A grade 11 student in conversation with Zahraa's friend Asmaa stops mid-sentence, looking over at Zahraa. He makes a face.

"Are you Muslim?" he asks

"Yes," the 15-year-old replies, with a hint of annoyance.

"Then why don't you wear the scarf?"

Let's just say Zahraa's heard that before.

In typical teenage fashion, clothing is a pillar of Zahraa's teenage life. On this day, Zahraa's wearing a brown crushed velvet track jacket over some loose-fitting blue jeans. It's a modest ensemble compared to what the average, low-rise-jean-wearing high schooler might wear. But by traditional Muslim standards the jacket's too short.

And the jacket's zipper is only half done up, revealing a not-so-baggy tank top that scoops a few millimetres too low below the collarbone.

But it's the one thing she doesn't wear that always creates questions.

"It happens all the time and I'm sick of hearing it," she says, in a severe tone.

"People think that if you don't wear the hijab you're not religious. They look on the outside. If you're wearing the hijab then you're automatically religious, instead of getting to know a person and see what they're really like."

Zahraa is "the sweetest girl you'll ever meet," according to her two best friends. But discussing the hijab brings out an uncharacteristic passion.

A scarf is not the only indicator of your spirituality, she says. She's learning how to read and write Arabic, so she can study the Qur'an, prays, attends mosque, fasts during Ramadan and says she thinks about faith and religion and what they mean to her.

"It's not that I won't wear one," she says about the hijab. "I'm just not ready for it yet. I will wear it one day. I know that. Just not right now. For me, I want to be spiritually ready to do it and not regret it later. It really changes everything."

She knows she's treated differently than Asmaa, her best friend, who does wear the hijab.

"They think you're more – I can't think of the word – traditional."

For one, it would change how she dressed every day. Like many 15-year-olds, she wants to be able to wear what she likes.

As it is now, Zahraa gets up a bit earlier than the rest of her friends. She has to.

Her voluminous shoulder-length hair takes at least half an hour to tame. After a shower and quick blow dry, Zahraa reaches for a can of mousse and works it through the curls, crunching her hands into fists.

The last thing she does before she meets the morning is pull her dark brown bangs back with a pair of bobby pins.

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