Salaam Alaikum, Sajjal.

mary and jesus in persian miniature

Dear Sajjal,

I wonder how you bear it all each day.

I had forgotten how much hate eyes can spew. I thought I would be able to do what women in Sweden did after a pregnant Muslim woman was viciously attacked. I thought that I too could show my support for you and all Muslim women by wearing a scarf on my head in public.

I lasted two days.

I’m sorry.

I have not felt so scared in public in a long time.

It was easier to spot a racist when I grew up in South Africa. Quite ‘normal’ to assume a certain demeanour around White people, to be guarded and careful not to do anything that may invite an attack.

After being here for 25 years, I’d let that guard down, settled into feeling safe, protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

But when I covered my hair with a scarf as I went about my day this week, I felt as though I had a target on my head.

What is it about the scarf that incites such hatred?

I’m not sure if you know this but in Ancient Greece a women’s head covering was called a himation, although what Mary wore on her journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem was called a mantle. (By the way, I didn’t know that Mary is mentioned more often in the Quran than she is in the Bible!)

In Medieval Europe women covered their heads and necks in a wimple but in many places in Eastern Europe today it’s called a babushka, in Spain a mantilla, in India a pallu.

Whatever it’s called, the tradition of a woman covering her head as an indication of piety and modesty has a long history. But in the future historians will note that when Muslim women covered their heads in the early 21st century, they were targeted for vicious attacks whilst Christian nuns who cover the heads in habits, do not suffer the same fate.

If you were still my student and I still your teacher, we could explore the roots of the hate through Media Studies. It would be quite an easy exercise to find multiple examples of how the media has been magnifying the hate while all but ignoring the voices of reason and compassion.

But I know that understanding would not make the indignities any easier to bear.

I’m sorry that what I taught you about human rights and civil rights can provide no comfort or protection from the ignorance and fear that fuels the hate you experience daily.

You have quite an insightful mind so I would not be surprised if you wonder at the irony of the upcoming Christmas celebrations when there will be images of Mary everywhere.

Mary, with her head covered,  seeking shelter.

I know that your big heart will lead you to do all that you can to help the Syrian refugees who are about to find out what you already know about the two kinds of Canada – the one that vilifies women who cover their heads, and the other that celebrates the birth of the son of one with wishes of peace and joy.

I would love to be able to do more than just wish you peace.

But a wish for peace is all that I have now.

Salaam Alaikum, Sajjal.

2 thoughts on “Salaam Alaikum, Sajjal.”

  1. A powerful piece.
    I also read the one you sent a link to – regarding forgiving a friend: “Even so…”

    It’s strange that people think that the best way to beat a group that feeds on hate and violence is to hate and act violent towards them. It plays right into the terrorists hands, and it’s lazy and reactionary on our part. It’s harder work to try and understand what drove these people to want to join a terrorist group. Why have things gotten to this point? What is driving these people to do these things? I can’t imagine any person enjoys getting up in the morning to cause terror in others. I can’t and won’t believe that these people get up in the morning to find satisfaction and joy in blowing up and cutting the heads off other people.

    I also think its strange that people believe these refugees want to come here. They don’t. For the most part, I imagine many would much prefer to go home and live normal lives there. Unfortunately, many of their homes have been bombed out and they are no longer safe. Living in Canada, I can’t imagine having to leave my home, all my possessions, and then my entire country because it isn’t safe. It’s unfathomable what these people have had to go through.

    We should be receiving these people with understanding and love, not treating them with suspicion and frustration. I’d like to think we’re better than that. I’d like to think that we can see how safe we are here, how fortunate we are and be willing to share what we have with those that need it. We should be proud of what we can do for them. These acts of generosity are what make us great and proud to be Canadian.

    It seems to me that if hate and violence feed terrorism then perhaps the opposite would prevent it.


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