Before and after wearing the scarf
As a cashier I have to ask the same question of customers countless times at work: “did anyone give you a hand with that?”
They say, “Yes. The girl wearing…” They lean forward, point in a circular motion around their face and whisper, “that scarf.” Immediately I know they are talking about Farrah.
Farrah Beauferris, 21, a friend for more than a year, is a sales associate in the store I work. Born and raised in Canada as a Muslim, she wears the hijab.
When customers refer to her, some say, “Yes, Farrah was helping me,” which sometimes becomes “Sarah” in translation. Many people give a blasé, “Yeah the girl in the fitting room wearing the scarf.”
But several times a day I get the customers who didn’t catch her name and appear uncomfortable with mentioning her hijab. I feel like saying, “Why are you whispering? It’s not a secret. I know she’s wearing it, you know she’s wearing it and I’m pretty sure she knows she’s wearing it.”
That little whisper always annoyed me because I assumed it to be ignorance. I still can’t understand why they do it. Who do they think they will offend? For a while I thought it was people being overly politically correct. Because they aren’t used being around Muslims, they don’t know if it is offensive to refer to the hijab.
It is understandable that some Calgarians may be misinformed about Islam as the most recent census from Statistics Canada on religion in 2001, shows that around only 2 per cent of Albertans are Muslim.
This number has likely increased in the past 10 years though as Pew Research Centre’s forum on Religion and Public life from January 2011 says that from 1990 to 2010, the global Muslim population increased at an average annual rate of 2.2 per cent, compared with the projected rate of 1.5 per cent for the period from 2010 to 2030.
I also wondered if it is because people think it is rude to define someone by a physical characteristic, which is a fair point. The only thing is people don’t whisper when describing the guy with the ginger hair or the girl with the Eastern European accent, so why act embarrassed about mentioning a scarf?
Farrah certainly isn’t embarrassed about it in fact she says part of the reason she chose to wear the hijab is because she wants to be identified as a Muslim. She made the decision to put on the scarf about 18 months ago when she became more interested in her religion.
“I think it is because you wouldn’t know my dad and I are Muslim unless we told you-we are both lighter skinned.”
— Farrah BeauferrisShe says it’s hard to describe why she chose to wear it and that she always imagined she would do, just not until she was older. “It just feels right now,” she says.
Her parents are both Muslim but not what Farrah would call strict. Her father is originally from Lebanon but is a Canadian citizen and her mother, originally from Brazil does not wear the hijab. After Farrah started wearing the scarf, one of her four younger sisters started wearing it too.
Farrah says, since putting on the scarf at the age of 19, she notices a difference in the way some people act toward her. She says one of the main things is the assumptions people make and jokes that one of them is that she is a terrorist.
She says that although most people don’t react to her differently, some strangers, often customers, assume she is foreign and doesn’t speak English. “They talk really slowly and then you can see this thing in their face, like a realization when I start speaking and don’t have an accent or anything,” she says.
People often assume Farrah says, that she is wearing the scarf for or her husband of six months or because he is making her wear it. Of course this is not true, but in my opinion even it were, I don’t find that different from typical western standards. Many women of course dye their hair because their husbands like it or squeeze their feet into impossibly high heels to please men.
Farrah says she also noticed a big difference in the male attention she receives, “Guys used to hit on me way more but now they treat me with the same kind of respect you would treat an old lady, opening doors and not looking directly at me.”
The newlywed says she hasn’t travelled internationally since wearing the hijab but when she has done before with her father they didn’t face any kind of problems. “I think it is because you wouldn’t know my dad and I are Muslim unless we told you-we are both lighter skinned, sound Canadian, have Canadian citizenship and have a French-sounding last name,” she says.
Her husband however has on occasion had trouble travelling through the United States, even with a valid working visa. She laughs about the fact that alarm bells probably ring because his first name is Osama.
Due to her husband’s work as a doctor, the young couple is planning to move to the United States in spring. Farrah said she was skeptical at first due to the things she has heard about anti-Muslim sentiment in the country, but is after thinking about it is more relaxed. “I’m just going to be myself. A piece of clothing doesn’t determine my identity,” she says.