My younger sister, now a sophomore in high school, is thinking about taking off her hijab.
She makes her confession to me at the kitchen table over mugs of too-hot green tea. Part of the reason is that she and my mom have moved to a state in Trump territory where boys in her homeroom yell "Allahu akbar" at her as a joke. But the main reason, she says, is that the hijab is too much of a social barrier.
The hijab shuts down the possibility of mistakes before they happen.
I know what she means instantly. The hijab shuts down the possibility of mistakes before they happen. You won't get with the wrong guy, because guys never look your way, period. Most of the time you are not processed as a sexual being. You won't get too drunk at the party, because no one will invite you to the party; you won't even know that the party is happening.
I stay quiet because I don't want to influence my sister's decision. I'm the first Made-in-America child, the good-with-relatives-back-home child, the straight-As-with-a-headscarf child. That child cannot and does not want to be anything but a good example.
Months earlier, on the 14th night of Ramadan, I go to a college party. By this time, I have started wearing the headscarf in a turban style. It is my way of bridging both worlds, of being the hyphen, and for the most part it works.
On this night my friends want to go out and I do not want to fail them.
I don't want to go. The smell of alcohol makes me nauseous, the idea of touching strangers makes me nervous, and unnecessary hearing loss from loud music makes me angry. In fact, I spent my first college party—which I swore at the time was going to be my last—sitting on an overturned egg crate in a dark closet. My hands were clamped over my ears like I was giving adan, the call to prayer.
I go because it's a matter of principle. Because suddenly in college I find myself in a position to know where the party is and sometimes get an invitation to it. Because on this night my friends want to go out, and I do not want to fail them. (It mystifies me, how they always know where the "out" is and when and why; how they know it has to happen regularly, like midterms and sunset and prayer.) The first Made-in-America child cannot and does not want to be anything but a good example.
What if your religion as institutionalized through your peers at school doesn't quite have a place for you?
Of course, there is a community within many American universities (and, if you are very lucky, high schools) where you will be safe from this pressure in favor of other ones: the Muslim Students Association. The bigger the university, the bigger and more prominent the MSA tends to be. My school is the largest private university in the country. Theoretically, I've hit the jackpot.
But when my "Hey, girl" collides with another member's "Assalam alaikum"; when I listen to Future and Drake instead of the holy Quran; and especially when I choose to go to the party, I know: I am not M enough for this MSA. I don't belong, and I am quite possibly being judged.
What if your religion as institutionalized through your peers at school doesn't quite have a place for you? What does it mean for who you are and who you have become and where you can go? What does it mean for your redemption? And is it all in your head?
I didn't take the drink, but I didn't think of the taraweeh prayers I was missing, either.
I don't want to go to the party on Friday, but I won't be entirely comfortable at the Friday jumaah prayer either.
It's the 14th night of Ramadan, but I choose to go. This makes the sin deliberate. I plan it as I break my fast hours earlier, my sticky fingers pulling apart a Medjool date. My school friends will meet me at my dorm, and then we will walk to the party, held on a TriBeCa rooftop, together.
At the party a guy offers me a drink, as a guy is inclined to do at a party when he is talking to a girl, but I'm startled to be included in this exchange. I think, Wow. This is an achievement. I didn't take the drink, but I didn't think of the taraweeh prayers I was missing, either.
"Why did you start wearing the hijab in the first place?" I look up from my cooled tea mug to ask my sister this question, even though I believe I know the answer.
"Because of you," she replies.