Anyone who wears hijab knows what it is like to have people stare. When I walk into a crowded room, it’s not out of the ordinary for me to become the center of attention. Sometimes the stares are curious, sometimes hateful. I have grown accustomed to it after being a hijabi for so many years. Sometimes, I pretend I am a celebrity. I like to believe that everyone was excitedly anticipating my arrival and were so in awe of me when I arrived, that they just couldn’t take their eyes off me. Of course I know deep down that this isn’t the case. My style of dress isn’t exactly the norm here. Most people sport shorts and tank tops during the summer in this hot box known as Orlando.
As I walked into my local Walmart over the weekend, I saw a woman look at my flowing abaya with pity in her face. She didn’t understand that the loose, light fabric is really a blessing in such unbearable heat. Her daughter sat in the cart, studying me for a moment. Then, her pretty blue eyes got as big as saucers as she pointed at my hijab. “Look, Mommy!” she exclaims. “A princess!” I smiled, thinking that was by far one of the nicest things I had ever been called. Her mother gave me a smile, and I couldn’t tell if she was embarrassed or just thankful that I didn’t snap at her for gawking. A child’s innocence is one of the most beautiful things in the world. They aren’t born knowing fear or hatred. I know they can’t stay innocent forever but if we can all take the time to teach our children that different doesn’t necessarily mean bad, the generation after us could possibly eliminate prejudice altogether. I know that is really wishful thinking, but I am an eternal optimist.