“Mama, help me fix my hid-ab.”
Our youngest daughter came downstairs with a nightgown framing her face, covering her hair, and hanging down her back. It was her pink jaguar print nightgown; she was trying to wear it as a ‘hijab.’ There were a lot of Muslim girls in her kindergarten class, and their head scarves were beautiful.
I paused. “Honey,” I began, “Umm, you can’t wear a nightgown on your head to school.”
Okay, let’s have a time out for a moment. I need one. Did anybody else learn the answer to this one in parenting school?
At her innocent inquiry, my head began to spin. I didn’t want to make too big of a deal out of this–she just wanted something pretty on her head like her friends. But wouldn’t it be insulting to somebody (not to mention out of uniform) to wear a pink jaguar nightgown hijab to school? Did I really want to have the Muslim and Christian discussion at 8 o’clock in the morning when we were trying to get out the door? What would I even say? What did I even think?
It was too much for that moment. I went with my first instincts.
“No, sorry,” I could see the disappointment register on her nightgown-framed face. “We can figure this out later. But not today. In the car please.”
She surprised me by pulling it off her head without protest. “Okay, Mama” she responded, brightly, “Tomorrow we’ll find a beautiful scarf for my hid-ab.”
We just needed to get out the door. “Sure. Whatever. Let’s go.”
* * * * *
Twenty minutes later we arrived at the door of the school. She had moved on, but my brain was still somersaulting. What was the right decision? There was so much to consider.
We are attempting to raise our children as followers of Jesus–thoughtful, compassionate, joyful people whose lives are defined by loving God and neighbors. We pray for God’s spirit to fill them, to make impossible things happen.
But this morning, I was the one who needed help. As a Christian parent, would I be denying my faith by letting her wear a hijab? Or would making a big deal out of it, emphasizing ‘we are not like them’ be the very opposite of Jesus-like love?
The door buzzed and we walked inside. I barely registered the pressure of my daughter’s hand as she led me down the echoing hallway, toward the gym. Inside, three hundred children were standing in the same direction, hands over their hearts. A first grader with tight braids and a neat navy jumper had the microphone. We snuck in the side door as she began: “I pledge allegiance to the flag…”
As we recited, I looked around. My daughter squeezed in by one of her many ‘best’ friends. They were trying not to giggle as they elbowed one another and sing-songed, “and to the republic, for which it stands…”
I sighed as I watched her squirm. How did she get that much yogurt all over her uniform? And goodness, she looks so blonde. I marveled at how my husband’s Scandinavian ancestors seemed to be taking over our gene pool. Her friend, child of Somali refugees, had a dull khaki scarf on today, and I hoped that this would help my daughter forget her hi-dab envy. I watched their eyes twinkle at each other as their lips mouthed the words,
“With liberty and justice for all, please be seated.”
Three hundred small bodies shuffled for their seats, and I made my exit. In the car, I exhaled a prayer, as if I had been holding my breath the whole time,
Jesus, I still don’t know what to do about the hijab, but thanks. Thanks for this moment in my daughter’s life when wearing a beautiful scarf on your head doesn’t mean division, when saying the pledge with a sampling of the world isn’t a strange thing, when she doesn’t know who is who and what it all means. Help us, because it gets so hard later on. Help us, because I know my allegiance is with you.
Before I drove away, I turned on the radio. News from far away filled the car, and I bowed my head.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
I rolled down the hill, away from the school, and into the rest of my day.
* * * * *
Photo by Christine Olson, shared on Creative Commons
When I was in college, I visited a mosque near Detroit as part of a field trip for my cross-cultural communications class. I wore a black scarf as an hijab, and one of the Muslim women complimented me on the way I wore it. I’ll never forget that.
I wonder if we all wore — or didn’t wear — our preferences and beliefs and prejudices on the outside if we could get along better. Or maybe we’d get along just fine if we came to admire the things each other wore (like your daughter did) rather than hating them for it.
Thanks for this beautiful post. The area where you live sounds rich with diversity.
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Jen, thank you for telling this story, and thank you for not trying to have all the answers before you told it. The image of those school children and the the questions you’ve left us with are beautiful.
Any time a child chooses to wear something it is probably an innocent endeavor that gets complicated by all the adult culture surrounding the chosen adornment. I think you did the best you could in that situation, one way to look at it is that it would appear to co-opt another religion or culture and on the other hand, there might be a fear that wearing a hijab would make you “less” of a follower of your own religion. I’m not sure what I would think myself. I do know that it’s good to be honest about your gut impressions and let the internal struggle out. I admire your honesty. The love of Christ is continually being perfected in us, but not fully just yet. I think the coming Kingdom will be full of hijabs and all sorts of different expressions of God’s children, even from differing religions. Whatever it looks like, I know that as a sum of its parts, it will be even more beautiful than the most colorful garments in the world.
If only that childlike faith, acceptance, joy, and even distractability (is that word?) characterized more of us, the news you were listening to on the radio might not be so full of despair. Thanks for this, Jen.
oh, kids and their finding beauty in things adults are trained to see as “different.” beautiful.