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There's something about a headscarf

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Dear Sajjal,

I wonder how you bear it all each day.

I had forgotten how much hate eyes can spew. I thought I would be able to do what women in Sweden did after a pregnant Muslim woman was viciously attacked. I thought that I too could show my support for you and all Muslim women by wearing a scarf on my head in public.

I lasted two days.

I'm sorry.

I have not felt so scared in public in a long time.

It was easier to spot a racist when I grew up in South Africa. Quite "normal" to assume a certain demeanour around White people, to be guarded and careful not to do anything that may invite an attack.

After being here for 25 years, I'd let that guard down, settled into feeling safe, protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

But when I covered my hair with a scarf as I went about my day this week, I felt as though I had a target on my head.

What is it about the scarf that incites such hatred?

I'm not sure if you know this but in Ancient Greece a women's head covering was called a himation, although what Mary wore on her journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem was called a mantle. (By the way, I didn't know that Mary is mentioned more often in the Quran than she is in the Bible!)

In Medieval Europe women covered their heads and necks in a wimple but in many places in Eastern Europe today it’s called a babushka, in Spain a mantilla, in India a pallu.

Whatever it's called, the tradition of a woman covering her head as an indication of piety and modesty has a long history. But in the future historians will note that when Muslim women covered their heads in the early twenty-first century, they were targeted for vicious attacks whilst Christian nuns who cover the heads in habits, do not suffer the same fate.

If you were still my student and I still your teacher, we could explore the roots of the hate through Media Studies. It would be quite an easy exercise to find multiple examples of how the media has been magnifying the hate while all but ignoring the voices of reason and compassion.

But I know that understanding would not make the indignities any easier to bear.

I'm sorry that what I taught you about human rights and civil rights can provide no comfort or protection from the ignorance and fear that fuels the hate you experience daily.

You have quite an insightful mind so I would not be surprised if you wonder at the irony of the upcoming Christmas celebrations when there will be images of Mary everywhere.

Mary, with her head covered, seeking shelter.

I know that your big heart will lead you to do all that you can to help the Syrian refugees who are about to find out what you already know about the two kinds of Canada - the one that vilifies women who cover their heads, and the other that celebrates the birth of the son of one with wishes of peace and joy.

I would love to be able to do more than just wish you peace.

But a wish for peace is all that I have now.

Salaam Alaikum, Sajjal.

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