Once the temperature wavers half a degree or so above the freezing point, I know that It is coming. Cue the dreaded question that tops my Hijabi FAQ list:
Aren’t you hot in that?
So when Blonde Sophia corners me after 6th period during a particularly hot spell last week, her query isn’t entirely unexpected. It’s practically the soundtrack of my summer life, after all.
But what gets me every time — with Blonde Sophia, the stranger in the public restroom, and the countless others who’ll come forward between now and September — is the question’s incredible nuance. On the surface, it has nothing to do with religion, politics, or terrorism. The premise appears (almost) believable: people are genuinely invested in my physical comfort.
Other bonuses: the question is clear and succinct. It is easily workable into any conversation. It can be phrased in a variety of distinct, creatively stimulating ways:
- “Oh my God, isn’t your clothing [READ: religion] suffocating you?”
- “Are you really wearing like five layers [READ: of patriarchal oppression] right now?”
- “You should take it off for a little while until it gets cooler — it’s totally okay!” [READ: I know what’s best for you, both wardrobe-wise and life-wise, just like in Mean Girls. However, I am not familiar with the concept of irony.]
Even the more classic version can be dressed up with a limitless array of offensive tonalities:
- “Aren’t you HOT in that?!”
- “Are you not hot in that…?”
- “How are you not hot in that?”
The way I see it is this: It’s 93 degrees out. You and I both know that I am hot in that. What’s the real question here, Blonde Sophia?
Look… I’ve got nothing against your bare and generally flawless legs. Sometimes, I also want to come to school wearing a tiny floral sundress or a cute ’90s-style crop top. To feel the wind fully, rushing at the backs of my calves and behind my ears.
To be you: one of the long-haired, bare-legged beauties that the boys in our class live for, give their varsity jackets to, and kiss in the stairwells.
So forgive me for being defensive, Sophia.
It’s easy to say that wearing the headscarf is hard because of all of the doors I must witness closing in front of me. The doors that I cannot even name or imagine and doors that I can, like the American presidency. It’s easy to say that wearing the headscarf is hard because of your questions and your ignorance, because of Islamophobia and Society at large, not to mention The System Is Broken. (I’ve been listening to a lot of slam poetry lately.)
But it is nearly impossible for me to admit to you that being a Muslim is hard physically. That this is a disadvantage I have brought upon myself, and continue to bring upon myself.
So yes: I am hot in this.
Likewise, it is strenuous to fast during Ramadan. We may frequent wildly different social stratas, Sophia, but we are still both human. (So before you ask me if I’m hungry in a couple of months, please remember that I cleared it right up for you in late-March.)
And yes, as you might guess, Ramadan and summer occasionally collide for a truly memorable experience.
Please remember that I am choosing to make these sacrifices. Sacrifices that look to you like sweat stains and forehead blotting and (another?) opportunity to question my fashion choices, or perhaps my general ability to respond to social cues.
No: you won’t see me in a bikini. I won’t see me in a bikini either, if it makes you feel any better. (Admittedly, that’s got more to do with my body image issues than anything else; you can bet all your booty shorts that other hijabis strut around in their underwear at home if they want to.)
But please remember that you won’t see the other things, either. My family and I, walking home together under the full moon after Ramadan night prayers. (The streets blue-black and empty, the night swollen with our faith; you are sleeping.) You won’t eat from our traditional iftar dinner feasts, or sit with our entire extended family as we stay up laughing and talking and hoping to sleep late into the hot tomorrow.
You will probably use the phrase, “the Mecca of…” throughout your entire life, Sophia, without ever truly understanding it.
You will never pray in one of the rings surrounding the ka’bah, with melodic Quranic verses washing over you. With your sides wedged tight in between the Muslim on your left and the Muslim on your right, both from different countries. With your feet splayed and bare and unguarded. Your heart suspended.
You won’t smile the secret smile of hijabis passing each other on the street.
You won’t stand in front of your mirror, wearing an ankle-length, ink-black jilbab with delicate black detailing, and feel ethereal. (If you did, you would probably look awesome, but it would also be cultural appropriation — a discussion for another day.)
How am I supposed to convey all this and more, when you ask me if I’m hot in that, and when you’re really asking me why I wear the headscarf, and who I am really, and where I come from?
Maybe one day we can have a conversation about all of this, but until then, I’ll continue to answer you: