I am a 23-year-old student. I am from Gradačac, a small town in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I was born and raised in a Muslim family, so I used to fast, pray and go to mosque. But that was mostly during Ramadan. Sometimes, it wasn’t even during Ramadan, especially during the teenage years when I had the moments questioning the existence of God. However, all that changed when I started wearing hijab 5 years ago.
I clearly remember that day when I decided to start wearing hijab. That night I was randomly searching different topics on the internet, so I started searching Islam. I found one site where it was written that every Muslim woman should wear a headscarf. I couldn’t believe it; I thought they must be wrong. No one has ever taught me that every Muslim woman needs to wear it. So I started searching that particular topic and found the same answers. Then I searched for the line in Quran to confirm it. I was shocked, everything matched. We were taught in school that a woman should be covered when she prays and nothing else. And just like that, at that moment, I decided that I will start wearing hijab. I wanted to start the next day but I thought that it would be better to give myself time to introduce this decision to my family and friends. My parents were shocked when I told them. My father was against it. He told me to practice Islam but not to put the headscarf on. My mother reacted differently. She thought that it was just one of my phases and that I will regret it and take it off.
I was clear about my decision, so the first day of school (after the winter break) was the first day with hijab. I was so happy but also so nervous because of the reactions. They were all shocked, some positively, some negatively. People knew me as a girl who was listening to rock, heavy metal and punk music, and a girl who was drinking so they told me that I can’t transfer from a rock girl to a hijabi girl just like that. But I proved them that I can. First class we had that morning was English class and I remember the shock on the teacher’s face, but I could also see happiness, joy and respect on her face. In school, teachers would come to me and congratulate me on this step; most of them praised me and told me that they were happy for me. I remember only one situation when one of the teachers told us to take off hats, scarves and gloves (it was winter time) during our class. She noticed that I wasn’t taking the headscarf so she came to me and asked me is that obligatory and told me to take it off if it’s not. I didn’t even want to respond to that question. Students I didn’t know would come to me and congratulate me or ask me how I made the decision. I would always say the same thing: “It was a call from God and nothing else.”
When I came back home, I called my mom (they were out of town) to tell her about my first day. I started telling her about the reactions and she was confused, she asked what is going on. I told her that it was my first day with hijab, don’t you remember? She was shocked as well because she thought that I have given up on that decision. She was so supportive through all these years. However, my father hasn’t still completely accepted this decision. But, also, he has never tried to force me to take it off, so I’m thankful.
I was the only girl in school with hijab. I was the only one at the prom with hijab, but I was so proud and happy.
Even though, I’ve experienced a lot of positive reactions, I’ve also experienced the negative ones. The last day of school, most of the students got together to celebrate the end of high school. While I was sitting at the table, one of the students approached me and started insulting me. I told him to keep away from me, but he didn’t. He pulled my scarf, trying to take it off by saying that I don’t need that in my life. I was so scared; I couldn’t believe that was happening to me. He hasn’t stopped until other male students got involved and told him to leave me alone. After that experience, I avoided going anywhere because I always had the fear that someone will try to do the same or even the worse.
The other experience happened 2 years ago during Ramadan. After the taraweeh prayer, my friends and I were returning home from the mosque, so we stayed at crossroads to talk a little bit more. I live near the church, which is at the crossroads, so we sat in front of the church and continued talking. While we were talking, a car stopped and someone said ‘Good evening ladies.’ I saw the shock on their faces so I turned back and saw the police officers in the car. They asked us what we are doing there? So we responded. I asked them is there any problem? They told us that someone (showing on the priest’s house) called the police and told them that someone suspicious was sitting in front of the church. I couldn’t believe my ears. They tried to explain that it’s better to sit somewhere else, but I didn’t even want to listen. I told them that I can’t believe that it’s illegal to sit in front of a church and that someone has a problem with that. The police officers tried to calm us down because they also didn’t see anything wrong with that. I just left; I couldn’t even listen to anything because I was so mad. That church is in my neighborhood, I love that church since I was a little child. I remember coming back from school and going to the church yard to drink water from the water pump. That priest had no troubles with Muslim children coming to the church yard. He loved us and we loved him.
I must admit that during high school and generally in society, I got more respect and support from people who are Atheists or people who are non-Muslims. Muslims in my community, even though we live in a country with the majority of Muslims, do not easily accept hijab but I hope that will change.
Anyhow, I’ve experienced a lot of things with my hijab, both positive and negative. The negative ones made me even stronger and more determined to show this community that hijab is not a problem in your life but power. Now, I enjoy life and I go anywhere I want without any fear. I don’t feel that I don’t belong somewhere because of my hijab. On the contrary, I think that I deserve to be every place where I want to be. I try to be involved in as many activities as I can and speak to people about different topics, especially taboos so that I can show this community that Islam has made me free and not alienated. I present myself as a simple girl; the only difference is that I wear a headscarf.