My Hijab Does Not Erase My White Privilege

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Woman in hijab

I am a Midwestern-born American who is white and was raised Christian. Sixteen years ago I converted to Islam. For many of those years, I have worn a headscarf. It is not always easy. I have had rude comments made to me, been stared at, and had people shout awful things as they drove by.

There have been times when I have feared for my physical safety. There are so many random acts of physical violence against hijab-wearing women in the world happening every day. But I have been protected by Allah and have never been physically assaulted, alhamdulillah (Thank Allah).

To avoid such occurrences, I make sure to follow good self-defense guidelines such as always being aware of my surroundings, looking people in the eye with a smile, and engaging with people around me. I make sure I do all I can so that they see me as a person and not just a symbol they do not understand and fear.

But even through all of this, I especially try to keep in mind that any of my hijab-wearing (as well as not hijab-wearing) sisters of color have it so much worse than I do. 

My hijab does not erase my white privilege.

Privilege is not something you can "unchoose."

I have heard so many white convert (or "revert" as some Muslims say) Muslim women complain about how difficult wearing hijab is (and it is.) How poorly they are treated. That they are stared at, mocked, and yelled at. They will tell all the sisters at Jummah prayers how they experienced some form of hate due to their hijab.

I know all of those things are frightening, as well as a new experience for them. I am sure they have never had anything like it happen before. The need to discuss with others something new and unknown is natural and can be comforting to the person who experienced it. But have we taken into consideration our audience and how they feel?

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Part of white privilege is the ability to become invisible.

I will not blame any sister for choosing to stop wearing a headscarf out of fear. But we, as white women, need to be sensitive to the fact that when we take off our scarves, we look like everyone else and are not a target anymore. When sisters of color remove their scarves, they are still women of color and still have to deal with the daily realities of racism.

As white women, any danger we might be in can be averted by simply removing our scarf. Even Muslim clothing such as an abaya can look like a maxi dress on a white woman without a headscarf. The targets on us disappear completely when we take off our hijab. Even covering our hair in a manner that doesn't look specifically religious makes us invisible to the haters.

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Racism makes you a target for things you didn't choose.

Sisters of color have to deal with the repercussions of prejudice and hate on a daily basis. Every time I see a sister wearing hijab, I feel such a swelling of pride for her. For her strength and bravery. No matter her skin color or nationality. But when I hear a white sister mindlessly complaining about the difficulties of hijab, I cringe and feel ashamed of my race.

White sisters certainly have a right to feel what they feel. They also have a right to remove their scarves if that makes them feel safer. Even the Qur’an supports doing so if there is danger. I just believe we should be less vocal about it and remember our sisters of color. Not everyone was born with the privilege we were.

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You don’t complain of stubbing your toe to a person without a foot.

We, unfortunately, can’t erase our privilege (though we should be working toward that), but we shouldn’t wave it around thoughtlessly either. There shouldn’t be any racism in Islam. Allah made us all equal. Let us work towards making that a reality for everyone.

One of the biggest steps towards equality that we can take is to recognize and be sensitive to those situations where others do not have it as good as we do. Then we can begin to correct the problem.

And among His wonders is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the diversity of your tongues and colors. For in this, behold, there are messages indeed for all who are possessed of innate knowledge! Quran 30:22

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HF Sylaj is an American writer who moved to her husband's homeland in rural Europe where she keeps a flock of chickens and tries to learn the local language. She writes regularly on as well as the Facebook page "This Albanian Life."

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.