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Does My Hijab Match Your Stereotype?

A Muslim-American finds her voice in activism.
Nida Allam

This is an opinion piece by Nida Allam, the 3rd Vice Chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party.

Polka dots? Stripes? Paisley? All black? Which hijab should I wear to make you feel good about your stereotype of Muslims?

As much as public schools try to push the narrative of America as a melting pot nation, we'll never be that until we defeat stereotypes. Right now we're one of those overpriced salads where they trick you by hiding some bleu cheese in between the layers . You're sitting there enjoying this salad, and it's a wonderful blend of colorful and flavorful tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers. Then all of a sudden you bite into some rancid bleu cheese that's trying to hide itself to poison you with its aged ideologies of the vegetable world and it's all like: "Tomatoes don't belong, they're a fruit!"


As a tomato in our current political climate, I stand out with my vibrant scarf as well as my democratic socialist ideas. It tends to make me an easier target for xenophobic rhetoric. I try to not let that get in the way of my political dreams, but it's a hurdle I face and conquer frequently.

All through school I was the token Muslim girl, the person everyone turned to for answers whenever someone with a long beard committed a heinous act. As a kid, I enjoyed the attention. Teachers would put the spotlight on me and have me explain "Iz-lamb" to my entire third grade class. I think back to it now and the Islam I taught my classmates was that when I go to heaven I get a flying horse. So, you're welcome "Moslems" around the world. I'm the reason we are the fastest growing religion.

Being the token Muslim isn't always fun. A child shouldn't have to stand in front of their class to explain their religion after 9/11 because the media generalized our entire religion.

Up until college I tried my hardest to steer as far away from being the Muslim guide for everyone. It isn't exactly easy when your paisley scarf waves in the wind everywhere you go. Don't get me wrong, I have always been proud of being Muslim, but religion has very deep interpretations.

I realized my calling as a Muslim halfway through my senior year of college. I heard about this crazy 70-year-old Jewish man named Bernie Sanders who was going around the country preaching equality, justice, and human decency. I thought "Hey, this sounds like my Islam!" I devoted my final months in college not to this man but to the message he shared, the message that my prophets Muhammed, Isaa (Jesus), and Musa (Moses) spread as well. The message is that all humans deserve equal rights.

I joined the Sanders campaign full time after college, and travelled the east coast for six months, not as the token Muslim girl but as one of the members of a ragtag group of people hungry for a future we could believe in. Meeting people in the depths of South Carolina fighting for access to clean water, up to the wealthy class of New York City who were sick and tired of the status quo, I found my people.

They were the people who didn't care what I wore on my head, but cared that I was safe in my country. They cared that every child had access to clean water, that every mother and father had the opportunity to provide for their children, and that no parent should fear their child being loss to a hate crime.

This is what Islam means to me: Caring and fighting for others.