In my high school, I was the nerdy girl who wore spectacles and worked in science labs. Most of my classmates only hung out with me because I had the answers to their question related to science, and other subjects too. Most of my teacher didn’t seem to like me. They always asked me why I wore a scarf at school even though all the students were girls and most of the teachers were women. My chemistry teacher used to say, “So what if your computer and Pashto teachers are men? It’s not like you’re going to go to hell for it.”
“You can never tell who is going to hell or who is not going to hell,” I would reply, and she would get angry.
The only reason I wore scarf at first was that I saw my mother wearing scarf when we were in Malaysia. Also, in photos of her when she was young, she was wearing a scarf at age 11. I asked my mother why she wore a scarf when she was just a little kid. She said, “Well, sweetie, because in Islam women are supposed to wear a scarf, and also I used to wear scarf because my mother—your grandmother—used to wear it when she was at my age.” I still remember how I used to copy my mom, her way of walking, talking, cooking, listening, thinking, and her clothing too. I started wearing scarf when I was at the age of 12 in Malaysia, and my family supported me. My schoolteachers also supported me and used me as an example to the schoolgirls every morning, saying “look at this Muslim girl. She is following Islamic law at so young an age. I hope you all learn something from her.”
But when I came to Afghanistan, I saw all the women were trying not to wear scarf. They thought of it as a restriction. And when they saw me with a scarf, they asked me in a shocked tone, “Is your family that restrictive even though you came from abroad?” I told them I wear a scarf is because I am a Muslim girl, and in Islam we women are supposed to wear it. They didn’t agree. Take my friend in high school who memorized 26 part of the Holy Quran during the Taliban regime. With the Taliban gone, she decided not to wear scarf. I asked her why not, since she knows it is required by Islamic law. She said, “I only memorized the Holy Quran because I had nothing to do during all those years, and the Taliban are gone, why should I wear a scarf? I am free now.” Every time I would cry to my mother, she would say it’s okay, after a while, people will understand that wearing hijab is not a bad thing, but God’s order for people.
On Graduation Day, we students had a party and invited all the teachers and our mothers. On that day, I told myself, “That is IT. I’ve had enough of them making fun of me.” I was so angry with myself that I cried. So I went to my cabinet and took my blue Indian Punjabi, and let my hair out in the open and I put a shiny brown lip-gloss.
When I was coming down the stairs, my mom looked at me with a confused face.
“DON’T say anything! DON’T ask anything!” I told my mom.
“Okay,” was all she said and she had a small smirk on her face. I assumed that she already knew why I was dressed like this. We arrived a little late to the party and I had wanted to be late because I didn’t have the guts to go inside. I kept telling myself it’s okay… you can do this… no one is looking at you… just take a deep breath…
When I got inside the hall, I saw all my classmates standing in line to welcome the guests. The hallway was small and dark. I was standing next to my sister and we were walking together through the hallway. I felt my knees shaking. My sister held my hand tighter and said, “Don’t worry. You look great.” Her words made me feel a little better, but I was still afraid, thinking if they make fun of me in front of my family, what should I do? When I got inside the hall and took my hejab off, I felt all eyes upon me. I was too scared to look up because I didn’t know how to face them with this new look.
“Aisha?!” I heard my classmate called my name. I looked up at her and I saw her face was full of surprise. “Ah… is it really you? I mean … of course it’s you… umm … hi.”
I didn’t wanted to say hi to her cause she gave a lot of pain to me, but that’s not how I was raised by my parents—my mom and dad always said that no matter how much you hate someone you always have to be nice to people, because Allah will always be with good people. So I said “Hi.” in a cold way. For the rest of the party, I was the main topic. Most of the mothers came to my mom and asked for my hand in marriage for their sons or brothers. Also all my teachers and asked me if I could take some pictures with them, so I took only one with each one. When they wanted to take more pictures I said no. Everyone was complimenting me, saying I looked so beautiful, and they wanted to know why I didn’t look like this when I was at school.
When the party was over, I didn’t say good bye to anyone because to me, none of them were my friend. On that day, all of my teachers and classmates came to me because of how I looked, not because of who I am.
My life changed after that day I never looked back. I never want to return to that school even to visit. My older brother enrolled me in the American University of Afghanistan in 2006, and I started studying there. At first I was scared because I didn’t wanted my hejab to be a discussion subject again. But instead, boys and girls encouraged me to wear the hejab. I was supported by my teachers and friends. Now I have a best friend who came from United States of America. She does not wear hejab, but she fully supports me in wearing it.