A young American Muslim can’t go a day without being asked what it’s like to wear a hijab in her hometown of Kansas. But Maira Salim, 21, who leaves her house everyday knowing to expect at least a few odd questions, is not giving up her right to express herself.
The questions aren’t smart, to say the least:
“Do they make you sleep in it?”
“Is it allowed to touch the ground?”
“Can you hear me in that?”
And while what she really wants to say is “Really? or “Are you serious?”, Maira patiently replies to all those who are curious about her religion and why she wears a hijab.
“I never wanted to be the weird religious girl,” Salim said, who has been in the United States for the last 19 years – since moving with her family from Pakistan.
Salim, who was only two years old when she moved to the US, claims that she has ‘grown up’ with people staring at her and her hijab. Furthermore, while her imam and mother warn her not to become too intimidated by the American culture, the young girl’s father, Salim Sattar, who worries for his daughter’s safety, tells her to “Go big, this is America”.
“My dad is one way, and my mom is another,” Salim said. “I wore a ‘Free Palestine’ hoodie when we came back from Canada. My mom was like, ‘Don’t wear that, Maira.’ My dad said, ‘Let her wear it.’ ”
Believing that it is the basic knowledge about Islam which most Americans lack, Salim faced her life’s first and most horrifying incident when a woman at a traffic light rolled down her window and screamed, “Go back to your own country.”
President of the Muslim Students Association at Wichita State University, Salim began wearing a badge which reads, ‘I’m Muslim, Ask Me a Question’, yet claimed that was not enough. Regardless of how many times she told people she hated Islamic State and their ideology, they weren’t satisfied.
Aware of Salim’s ability to apply good henna, Muslims as well as non-Muslims invite her to bridal parties from where she earns a few extra dollars. At parties where there is alcohol, Salim politely refuses when being offered some.
“So, in your country, do people pay you to do this?” a woman at one of the events asked Salim.
“No, well, I came here when I was 2,” she replied in her flat Kansas speech. “And I just do this for fun.”
“Do you plan to stay forever?” was the next question, for which Salim had no reply.
“So, you guys have tattoos?” another guest asked.
“Actually, in our religion, we can’t have tattoos,” she answered patiently.
Recalling the anniversary of September 11 as one of the most difficult days for a Muslim, Salim said she went to all possible events to tell people about a Muslim’s side of the story.
“This is not what I stand for,” she said of what happened 14 September 11’s ago, wishing that after all these years people understood. Salim said she learned a long time ago that to survive, she could not let herself be defined by the fears of others. “You have to show people that there is good in the world.”
However, the life of fear did not end for Salim or her friends. In November, Islamic State claimed responsibility for a series of coordinated attacks by suicide bombers and gunmen in Paris that killed at least 128 people at a concert hall, restaurants and the national sports stadium.
Soon after which, a Muslim couple shot down at least 14 people at California’s disabled centre. For both attacks, Salim prayed to God and said, “Please don’t let it be Muslims.”
This article originally appeared on Washington Post.
Photos: Maddie McGarvey