Apr 2nd, 2018, 06:11 PM

Coffee with a Hijabi

By Fernanda Sapiña Pérez
Image Credit: Muzna Hatmi
Muzna Hatmi: international student, photographer, and hijabi.

"She made me feel like a predator. I felt hurt. But I smiled, I said hello, it took a while but I still made conversation, I made sure she understood I was a person just like her." Muzna is a Muslim woman who recounts her experiences while wearing a hijab, seeing beyond scrutiny and the meaning behind the hijab for her. She explains when and how she decided to start wearing a headscarf but also how it doesn’t define her.  

Muzna comes from Karachi, a city in Pakistan. She moved to Paris in 2014, making it almost four years since she arrived. She studies Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands. Muzna always had an idea of when she would put on the hijab, “I always knew I was going to do it at some point in my life. I was never ready. Not even when I started. But it didn’t take me a long time to think through my decision before I finally wore it. It was a now or never kind of situation. I knew I’d make myself proud. And I am. It’s part of my identity.”

It also seems that time flies by her before wearing the hijab. She said, “I don’t remember a time I didn’t wear it. But to give it a thought, it was not long ago, actually. I began in the June of 2017. So almost a year.” The hijab has become a part of Muzna’s identity and being.

Having the headscarf as part of who you are also comes with unwarranted scrutiny. She said, “I think I’ve been one of the lucky ones to not have [bad experiences] too frequently. I do get a lot of dirty looks. It was terrible at the start, but I think I’m more used it now. I don’t take it to heart anymore. I pay less attention. But I have experienced something that will stay with me forever. I flew American Airlines from Chicago to London once. My seat was next to an educated, white, non-Muslim family. I don’t think I’ve seen a human face look more frightened. It looked like they had seen death. The mother quickly changed seats with her four-year-old daughter next to me. She made me feel like a predator. I felt hurt. But I smiled, I said hello, it took a while but I still made conversation, I made sure she understood I was a person just like her. I wasn’t some alien. I wanted to make sure she would never feel uncomfortable around Muslims again. It sucks that I have to smile to people even when I don’t want to, just so they wouldn’t misunderstand me as someone I’m not. I always feel like I carry a responsibility with me. But I’m happy if it’s playing a part in helping someone against facing discrimination for being Muslim, even if I am not.”

Image Credit: Muzna Hatmi

Situations like this are great moments of reflection for Muzna about her religion and what it means for her. “The way Islam is portrayed to the non-Muslim world is unfair to all of us Muslims, especially to women who wear the hijab because it openly shouts I’m Muslim, which is something I’m so proud of. Sadly, people connect more to the representation of Islam portrayed through media rather than giving us a chance to present ourselves. Although I think it’s unfair in the first place for anyone to have to prove against some nasty misconceptions about who they are.”

The reason why Muzna wears a hijab? She has an uncomplicated answer for that, saying, “I do it for God. That’s the simple answer. But it makes me feel valued. I feel powerful. It has helped me create a self-identity. I wear it because I feel comfortable.”

Fortunately, discrimination is not something Muzna often feels when wearing her hijab, which makes us dare to believe in a more tolerant future. What the hijab means to Muzna is still an enigma to an extent, but she does have the main meaning behind it clear, saying, “I keep coming back to this, but it represents who I am. It’s so important to know yourself and who you are. The hijab shapes me everyday morally and spiritually. I also think it represents commitment.” Muzna also finds her place in society, as a Muslim, a hijabi and a woman to be, “Equally next to any other woman and man, not more and not less."

Image Credit: Muzna Hatmi

Wearing a hijab in a Western country can also be quite the ordeal and while becoming the subject of many stares; however, Muzna has a refreshing perspective when it comes to being a hijabi, “I feel exotic. Well, it’s sometimes scary especially with movements like Punish A Muslim. But at the same time, I feel courageous. It’s easier practicing Islam in a Muslim country, obviously. To think that I do it outside makes me proud and gives me more determination to be a better Muslim, which means to be kind to people, help people, and love people.” She is fearlessly herself and she encompasses what it is to be a global citizen in today’s fast-paced, modernizing world.

Image Credit: Fernanda Sapiña

Muzna is a devout Muslim and a talented photographer, using her art as an extension of herself and her self-expression. “Photography works like art therapy for me. I feel very attached to the images I create. It’s another way for me to stay in touch with myself.” Her photography is idiosyncratic and true to her vision, always remaining true to herself. “I hear a lot that there is something very unique about my photography. I don’t know what it is, but I let out all my creative energy through my work. The mood boards are always making shifts in my mind and I guess that is just a reflection of it.”

Symbolism and hijabs come hand in hand for Muzna. To her, “it’s a symbol of liberation.”