“The Scarf Girl”: Musings from the Only Hijabi in an Eastern Kentucky High School
By Jennan Lahamer
Have you ever been in a situation where you felt utterly alone? Felt that although there were people around you physically, mentally they weren’t present? Felt that no one around you could even fathom the things you were going through, the things you had to push yourself through?
I live in Berea, Kentucky, a small town where my family is the only Muslim family. Living in such a small town has its perks — everyone knows everyone, you are able to drive off to the mountains and just look out, you get time to yourself to just think. But even with the positives, there are significant negatives.
On August 10th, 2018, I began to wear the hijab as a way of practicing my religion. The hijab is a head covering worn in public by some Muslim women as a way of showing modesty. It’s a personal choice, and it has nothing to do with Muslim men oppressing Muslim women, as many seem to think. I was already so nervous about starting high school, but now that I was going to wear the hijab? I knew it was going to be extremely difficult and would take lots of self-confidence, a trait I thought I possessed.
For the remaining days of the summer, I continued to do the things I loved, not letting the fear of reactions to my hijab stop me. I began playing soccer on the varsity team at my school, I hiked and bowled with a few friends, I went for the occasional run. Everything I did before stayed the same. The only difference was the amount of sweat I was producing and the occasional stare, which I had expected. Trying to continue with my life, I ignored strangers’ gazes.
Life was going great until school started. I hadn’t seen most of my friends other than those on the soccer team, so I knew they would be surprised. I was nervous, but at the same time, I was excited. The hijab made me feel confident and pretty, even though I’d already had some stares, and I just couldn’t wait to see my friends’ reactions.
The first day of school came around. It didn’t turn out the way I had planned.
I came home crying that day. The number of comments and questions I received was overwhelming, and I couldn’t believe the Islamophobia I experienced at the hands of my former friends. I was asked if I was “working with ISIS” or if I “had a bomb in my backpack.” Many tried to take my hijab off because they thought I was wearing a hood.
I was asked if I was “working with ISIS” or if I “had a bomb in my backpack.” Many tried to take my hijab off because they thought I was wearing a hood.
The harassment persisted, to the point where I wanted to move schools. Even with my mother’s support, I would still come home in tears. It wasn’t getting any better. In fact, a teacher even asked me why I wore my hijab. Not only was I personally dispirited, but I was also disappointed in the society in which we live today. It was disheartening that people weren’t culturally aware enough to understand why I wore my hijab or tolerant enough to accept my decision.
By the time midterms came around, I wanted to stop wearing the hijab altogether. I just wanted to look normal. I wanted to fit in. I couldn’t deal with all the hatred I was receiving. At the time, my grades were slipping. The continual abuse made it extremely difficult to maintain my school work. My mom began to stress school to me, telling me that I needed to get myself together. But how could I get myself together when everyone around me wanted to tear me apart?
After having a long talk with my mom, she convinced me that this was my test: a test God was putting me through to see how far I would go. She reminded me that God wouldn’t put me through a challenge He knows I can’t handle. After that talk, I realized I couldn’t just take the easy way out. I could and would get through this. We decided to inform the principal of all the comments I had received. He pulled me into his office and asked me if I knew any of the people who had been saying these things. Soon, he and I worked out a deal. Any more negative comments from anyone, and they would be in trouble.
Hearing that kind of reassurance was much needed, and after that, things were quieter. Looking back, I wish my school had done more. Instead of just telling me they would punish anyone who criticized me, I wish they would have taught the other students about my reasons for dressing the way I did. Most kids still don’t know why I wear a hijab, or even what it’s called. Informing students that there are so many other cultures out there will not only expand their knowledge now, but also help them later.
Most kids still don’t know why I wear a hijab, or even what it’s called. Informing students that there are so many other cultures out there will not only expand their knowledge now, but also help them later.
Now, entering the new year, I still get stares and the occasional “ISIS” comment, but things are much better than they used to be. Even though I am still the only Muslim that many of my peers know, most have realized that I’m still the same person with or without the hijab. Many know me as “The Scarf Girl.” I tend to joke around and ask my friends, “Why didn’t they notice my new haircut?” or “Do you like how I styled my hair today?”
Despite some people’s negative reactions, I feel as if my confidence has skyrocketed because of the hijab. I continue to play soccer and run as much as I can. Although I am the only Muslim that goes to Madison Southern, and for a while I will be the only Muslim to ever have attended, I can say that the hijab has not only taught me perseverance, but it has also taught me new things about myself and my religion.
I am more confident and happier with my hijab, and I hope it’ll stay that way. Some will never understand how it feels to be the only person of a certain color or religion in a room, or what it’s like to be the odd one out when they’re used to being surrounded by people of the same ethnicity and culture. But I’ve grown accustomed to the feeling, and maybe one day I’ll be able to ignore it entirely. Even better, maybe one day people won’t try to make me feel different because of my background.
If only my school and schools around America could teach their students more about other cultures around our world, we would expand our knowledge about the people that share our planet. When someone doesn’t understand the many cultures that exist today, they become scared of peoples and religions they don’t recognize, rather than appreciative of the beauty of diversity.
We still live in a world where many people are Islamophobic, or anti-Semitic, or intolerant of cultures that are unfamiliar to them. But no matter what others may think, I will continue to love myself, hijab and all.
Jennan Lahamer is a freshman at Madison Southern High School.
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