American Christian Confronts Bigotry by Wearing Hijab

 

Nancy Allen
Nancy Allen: A beautiful soul who decided to stand up against bigotry and intolerance

On my birthday this year, I received a pretty incredible message:

Nancy Allen Facebook

Nancy has graciously written about her experiences for my readers, which I proudly share with you below. Nancy also wrote daily about her experiences in hijab and is currently looking to publish these under the title Between the Veils. Having had the pleasure of reading her daily posts – let me tell you – you’re going to want to keep an eye out for them!

By Nancy Allen

In December of 2015 I became a hijabi.

I am not a Muslim; I am a white American Christian residing in the American south. I wore the hijab in solidarity with the American Muslim community and to support freedom of religious expression. I chose to do this because of the political discourse of the moment.

Living Between the Veils became a personal and spiritual journey for me, and I confronted bigotry and white privilege, as well as some of my own personal issues, like the need to conform and maintain a certain kind of appearance, some of my own prejudices, and yes, daily fear. I chose the title Between the Veils because it seemed to reflect that sense of liminal space in which I dwelled for four months – always on the verge of something new, one foot in the unknown and the other firmly planted in my old values.

I never intended to be a social activist, although my politics are undeniably liberal. But I did get some attention for what I was doing. In mid-December, my story was picked up by a YouTube news channel called “The Young Turks” and was broadcast worldwide. To date there have been over 350,000 views and innumerable shares.

I was responding viscerally to a situation that I found untenable, I was responding emotionally to the plight of all marginalized citizens, and I was responding spiritually, motivated by a desire to love my neighbor as myself. During the time I wore the hijab, I wrote a blog with reflections about my journey. In looking back, I realize that I developed some themes:

Is the hijab a symbol of oppression?

I got a lot of of negative feedback from people who can only see the veil as a symbol of oppression. Western thought carries some burdens, one of which seems to be a determination to see Middle Eastern cultures through a lens of colonialism, with a result that some cultural icons seem to be fetishized. A Frenchwoman of my acquaintance was so horrified by what I was doing that she begged me to come back to reality, and many people used their pre-conceived notions to justify their conclusion that what I was doing was in essence, nuts.

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Nancy in her hijab

Why would anyone want to wear the Veil?

I contacted a number of Muslim women and organizations before I made the decision to wear the hijab, and most responses were very positive. In the course of my demonstration, I met many Muslims who were encouraging and kind, and I received gifts, letters, and sustaining words. I began to see the world with a new pair of eyes, and I gained an appreciation of what veiling could mean to Muslim women who make an educated choice to wear the veil. I ultimately found the hijab to be a kind of sacrament—an outward symbol of inner grace.

Sticks and stones. 

I am not pizza, and not everyone appreciated what I was doing. I received insults and death threats, some of which were reported to the F.B.I. and Homeland Security. Some of these threats were posted on a local senator’s Facebook page (he later removed them), and I was afraid every day that I wore the hijab. I had to mentally prepare myself to go to the grocery store, church, work, and I couldn’t help but wonder if this is what it is like every day for women who wear the hijab as a matter or faith.

Cringe-worthy moments.

I wasn’t always graceful, and that was never more obvious than when I was being interviewed by a local TV news station.  I completely mangled a quote by Martin Niemoller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

I made a quip about wearing the hijab in the liquor store, which turned out to not be quite as funny as I thought, especially to observant Muslims. I still shudder at how tone-deaf I could be. Clearly, I was just as burdened by pre-conceived notions as I was telling everyone else they were.

Commitment, the gift that keeps on giving.

Wearing the hijab every day became an exercise in commitment. Many of my posts are about the difficulties of getting up every day and choosing to put on a veil. I thought a lot about keeping promises that I had made to myself and to my community, and some reflect my wonder at the daily commitment Muslim women make when they put on the hijab. I also wrote about actually wearing the hijab without falling apart in a breeze, wrapping it without resorting to thumbtacks, and feeling very exposed (which I understand seems to be a contradiction, but going from having hair to frame my face to completely exposing my face was a big step).

I ended my demonstration in April 2016, so in all, I wore the hijab for four months.

I miss it daily.

This period of demonstration and meditation took me on a spiritual journey that resonates with me still. I stopped because I felt I had made my point, and that continuing to wear the hijab was only serving to draw attention to myself, and not to the message.

About Nancy

Nancy Allen is a librarian living in Conway, Arkansas in the Southern U.S.  She retired from teaching special education in 1999 in Washington state, and moved to Arkansas with her family. Nancy is married and she and her husband are the parents of two adult children. She lives with her husband in a house that has been in the same family for six generations.

In December of 2015, though April of 2016, Nancy wore the hijab in her daily life as an expression of solidarity with the American Muslim community, and in support of freedom of religious expression. Her demonstration arose out of frustration with bigoted hate speech that was only then becoming endemic in the American political discourse; that level of discourse has only intensified in the ensuing months. Nancy wrote a blog about her experiences as a hijabi in the American South.

When not a social activist, Nancy enjoys making music with guitar, dulcimer and voice, acting in local community theater productions, and pursuing creative writing.

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