College Essay: The veil: ‘A means of empowerment’

Bilan MohamedMisguided saviors trying to save a simple Muslim girl but they can’t seem to comprehend that I don’t need to be saved, for I have my own strength and wearing the veil is one of them. – Bilan Mohamed

Being Muslim isn’t something I can hide. I wear it in my dress and I show it in my actions.

My heartbeat increased and my palms started to sweat as I slowly walked by my neighbors’ house, hoping they didn’t notice me. Even though I wasn’t looking at them, I could feel them staring.

I expected myself to be brave and stand up straight, but I couldn’t. I tried to tiptoe my way past their front yard.

I thought I was free from his attacks, but then I heard my neighbor say, “Terrorist.” When I heard that, I bit my lip to try to contain myself from exploding on him.

These are the attacks I get for being a Muslim woman.

Being Muslim isn’t something I can hide. I wear it in my dress and I show it in my actions. Through these insults, I’ve realized that I can’t change people’s opinions of Muslims by fighting or arguing with them, but through education I can teach people about my faith and what it means to be a Muslim woman. These situations have strengthened my faith and devotion to Islam. I view my veil not as a weakness but as a means of empowerment.

As a child I never realized people didn’t wear hijabs. Since I was born in Somalia, I was surrounded by people who dressed like me and practiced my religion. I didn’t feel different.

Then the civil war hit, and I was forced out of my country. My family of seven found ourselves in a refugee camp in Kenya. Later, we had permission to fly to the U.S., not knowing I would leave a physical struggle only to enter an emotional one.

When I arrived in America, it was a culture shock for me. Everything was different, from the way people dressed to the way they ate. It was the small things that stuck out to me.

For example, in Somalia, my neighbors were more like family. If someone saw you wandering around, they probably knew your family and would take you home. In America my neighbors were distant. They didn’t visit, say hello or ask how I was doing. We were more like strangers. As a child that made me feel alone.

In order for me to not forget my culture, my parents enrolled me in a charter school that has a big Somali population. I was slowly exposed to other cultures, but I made sure not to forget mine. Growing up in America, I’ve seen many Somali kids change themselves to fit in, losing religion and culture. Some fully assimilate, leaving behind their family, while others accept some concepts of American culture but still keep their traditions.

Wearing the hijab is a reminder of my beliefs. I wear it through the heat of the summer, through the cold of winter and despite the curious stares. It takes willpower. Many would give up, but I’m not the average person. I wear my hijab because it’s part of who I am.

I am very dedicated and I don’t give up easily when things get tough. Negative comments don’t get to me anymore, because my experiences have made me more devoted to my faith.

I was 12 years old when my neighbor called me a terrorist. Back then I would always have a reply ready for him, but now I realize all he wanted was a reaction.

At age 17, I do things differently. I’ve realized people will try to put you down, but you can’t let that impact your actions or decisions.

My struggles in life have made me a stronger person. Wearing the veil has made me the strong Muslim woman that I am today. But to succeed, and to help my neighbor understand me, I need an education that teaches me how to share my stories with the world and help the Somali community voices be heard.