Wearing a hijab with a non-Middle Eastern face incurs it’s fair share of stares. Confused passers-by, shop assistants, co-workers – some can be initially at a loss to compute what seems like your average western woman wrapped in foreign fabric.
I came across this post: a hijab wearing woman’s take down when a man tells her she shouldn’t be driving (link also below), because she’s a Muslim, and in Saudi, women don’t drive. She responded with a #shutdown history lesson bringing his ignorance of the wider world and it’s religions to the forefront.
But what is interesting to me about this post is that it highlights the fact that the average person automatically associates All Things Islam with Saudi Arabia.
Yes Islam originated there, but Christianity also hails from the Middle East. Yes Makkah & Madinah are holy cities, but I am pretty sure a lot of people all over the world would consider Bethlehem and Jerusalem holy cities too.
For everyone who believes in & loves Jesus (peace be upon him), which includes every Muslim ever – Islam being the only other major world religion that makes it a Pillar of Faith to believe in and love Jesus – was he not also a young Middle Eastern man? Yet how many people automatically associate Christianity mainly with people of middle eastern heritage?
Saudi Arabia has a population of 28 million, whilst Muslims worldwide number 1.6 billion, so Saudi nationals make up less than a tenth of one percent of the Muslim world. (Assuming I got my zeros correct!)
Why this post reverberates with me is because I can see the confusion behind the quizzical expressions in response to coming across such an apparent anomaly. Sometimes a conversation is struck and I tell them I converted to Islam. After responding ‘no’ to the next statement-question (“Oh so you married an Arab”) I can see them now wondering “why would you want to be (like a) Saudi Arabian ?”, when the truth is I no more identify with Saudi culture than I do with that of the Eskimoes.
However I don’t blame people for their lack of understanding. I try to be patient and friendly when explaining myself for the umpteenth time (especially with the elderly for whom I have a soft spot). Afterall, most of us automatically live our lives in our little local bubbles, automatically adhering to the standard preset milestones of our culture, which doesn’t usually include a good bout of soul searching (let alone changing ones religion) , though most people experience some kind of universe-questioning events in life at some point anyway.
We may close our minds and automatically take on media fed stereotypical concept of Islam and Muslims. But now that we can drive down the information superhighway, we can change directions, take new paths, read the signs. It doesn’t hurt to slow down, put ourselves in manual for a while, look at lifes map, contemplate the journey.
Islam is the simple, timeless call to the worship of One Unique Almighty God.
It is an open invitation to every human being ever born, that began with Prophet Adam in the year dot and will continue till the end of time, reaching every corner of the earth.
It’s adherants are as diverse as all humanity.
I’m so glad we have the internet now to just put that out there, especially as western women constitute one of the largest group of converts to the faith. Perhaps oneday soon people will see a non Middle Eastern Hijabi and think ‘oh she converted to Islam’. Automatically.