My name is Yasmin Ali. Here are a few facts about me:
- I was born in Yemen to Somali parents
- I lived in Tunisia before coming to America
- My passport is American (bless), and I’m a proud Muslim!
- I’m 24, but I look 19
- I’m short af.
- Traveling is in my DNA
Even though travel has always been a part of my life, things changed when I made the bold choice to wear the headscarf (hijab) at 20.
Before wearing the hijab, I blended in quite easily. Until you asked my name, I looked like any other black college student on campus that loves sweaters and coffee shops. Guys would talk to me in very aggressive language when we went out, and girls would try to give me their short skirts and crop tops to borrow (I cover head to toe now, but even back then I had your standard body image issues, so I covered a lot then. Funny enough, I love my body now, yet I love wearing long flowy outfits because I feel it to be very mysterious and alluring already.)
After wearing the hijab, people around me shifted so fast. I started wearing it the summer before my junior year started, so I had a set group of friends already. Even though they all knew and supported my decision, by December they were all gone. Shockingly, this was both Muslim and non-Muslims. No worries though, I found other friends, Muslim and non-Muslim and we clicked so much better. When it came to guys, oh my God. I have never seen a bigger shift in reactions in my life. Guys would apologize if they cursed around me (I don’t even care!), or they would avoid staring or talking to me completely. Muslim guys, especially, avoided me more “out of respect.” Non- Muslim guys asked me tons of questions regarding marriage and rights (out of curiosity, not heated debating), and suddenly douchey college guys were trying to have civilized adult conversations. Now, before even asking my name, people would ask me if I was from another land because I looked “exotic” and “different.” I actually don’t mind this, I love standing out!
Also, with the hijab I found inner peace. I felt more myself, I didn’t struggle with internal issues, and I could enjoy everything around me. Before I wore the headscarf, I didn’t really think too much about why I did what I did, I hung around good and bad influential people, I kind of just made decisions based on random factors like “what is everyone else doing” or “how do I feel in this moment.” I wasn’t grounded, I wasn’t true to myself, and the most important thing, I wasn’t my best self. So suddenly I started to piece together that the scarf is definitely just more than a scarf on your head. It’s a symbol. It means something to you, and to the people around you. People will react however they feel towards religion, just based on what you showcase on your body. Positively, this can create amazing dialogues and bonding between two people who may never have crossed paths. Of course, this can also spark debate and tension between others.
When it came to traveling, I noticed the changes head on. The day after I decided to wear the scarf, I booked a flight to Minnesota to visit my aunt. Leaving the south, the airport gave me my first wake up call. As soon as I got in and sat down, an older white male walked right past me, mumbled a bunch of profanity, and glared at me as if to tell me I shouldn’t be here. This trip alone, a father stop playing with his child to stare at me, a woman moved to a different row to glare at me some more, and a family whispered right behind me. I didn’t even get to Minnesota yet!
With these moments, I’ve learned that there are two facts that are true and can’t be challenged. I am innocent and I am human. There’s no reason I should stop what I love doing because of someone else’s ignorance! So this is how I handle it. I have made it fun for myself. I wear brighter hijabs. I walk up to those scared individuals just to ask the time, where the bathroom is, or stop other girls just to compliment their outfits. Why would I suddenly stop being me because I’m wearing a 9.99 scarf from H&M??
Now, before you leave feeling sad, there are also amazing moments that happen. Nothing beats non-Muslims asking me questions, complimenting me, and joking with me. Just like two humans should interact. I love seeing other Muslims in general and giving each other that nod that signifies a bond between us two. I love feeling included in groups where I’m not the only person that stands out, but rather we all have differences between us and thus, tons of stories.
My advice to other non-Muslims, we cool. Come talk to us! Ask us about our outfits or where’s the best place for scarves (we got hella locations). Humans stare, but if we make eye contact, smile so we aren’t afraid of you, too. One person making us feel welcomed, beats 100 people that don’t.
My advice to other Muslims who are shy of traveling, don’t! Do what you can to make you as comfortable as possible, such as traveling with other friends or family, going to locations that might be more safer or have a high Muslim population already, and work from there. Take a self defense class even! Travel happy and safely!
The world is covered in different cultures, religions, opinions and crazy people. I still get shocked when I meet a vegan and I’m already asking them one too many questions about how they survive without chicken! But if you are a nice person and your intentions are pure, you can make a really good friend, at the very least for a moment. It doesn’t have to be surrounded by religion, but just any topic that can tie two strangers together. My hope for this world is that we would judge less, and ask more questions instead. <3