Moving from a place with a sea of veils to a place with none was – to generalize it greatly – overwhelming. I had been living in a Muslim country for sixteen years of my life and going to an Islamic school for around a decade, which had undoubtedly become my second home. Picking up everything to move halfway around the world wasn’t on my to-do list but everything happens for a reason, alhamdulillaah.

My family and I reached Canada on an August day in 2013. I was going into my last year of high school so I had to get enrolled really soon because I was already late for the academic year. During the enrollment process, I had also been going through an internal battle: should I continue with the face veil I had been wearing since the ninth grade or should I discard it and forget about how it had gotten me through so much, how it had gotten me close to the One who Created me, how it was my safe haven when I didn’t think I could make it?

On the first day of school, I had not collected enough bravery to be able to walk in with my veil on and still maintain confidence. However, I started to feel anxious without it. I had been in a segregated school my entire life and to have my face on display for everyone to see made me feel highly uncomfortable. I made the conscious decision that the next day I would walk in with my niqab decorating my face instead. Needless to say, the reactions were expected: whispers and hesitancy but most of all, stares. I was the only munaqqaba [a woman who wears the veil] in my public school. I was well known in my previous school even though I was one munaqqaba among many back in Dubai. Over here, hiding my face did not make me part of the crowd but rather I stood out more. People were more aware of my presence and the stares persisted.

I had no friends and I was fine with that until teachers started noticing and forced me into groups out of obvious pity. Their pity was not needed; the veil was my choice – I had not been coerced into it by anyone in my family. After a few months of attempted indifference by others, many hijabis started coming up to me to say that I was an inspiration and wanted to know more about my struggle. No doubt I was beyond flattered but I really wished that they would just sit and talk to me instead of just complimenting me. It felt as though I had become the piece of cloth instead of a person with a genuine personality. I felt like an exhibition; Muslim girls wanted to know my niqab story and I became somewhat of a spectacle. Non-Muslims were more or less curious about the religion itself; most of them acted like nothing was different while others expressed their curiosity. It felt as though my own nafs was tarnishing my intentions.

The conversations never went further than my face veil. After that, I decided to focus on my studies and just let people get used to it on their own pace. It had some great benefits like people giving me space in the hallway so I could move with ease and I took that to my advantage! Becoming used to being the only munaqqaba in a public school taught me to never compromise my religion for anything else. You want me to perform spoken word? I’ll do it in my niqab. Want me to give a lecture on HR? I’ll do in my niqab. I need to deliver a monologue to pass Writer’s Craft? I’ll do it in my niqab. The niqab or the hijab is never an obstacle unless you make it one for yourself. It is never a barrier between what you can or cannot do. This Deen is a way of life. I proved everyone wrong in my high school. I was not going to be the shy, oppressed, uneducated girl people believed me to be. People were astonished by my witty sense of humour and confidence. After all, Allah was with me through all this. He never once left my side. I tried to maintain my self-respect; I did my best to remain within the boundaries of Islam [while occasionally bumping into random guys in the hallway] and proved them wrong. I’m trying hard not to say any of this without sounding proud; may Allah keep us steadfast in this religion and purify our intentions. Always stay true to your Deen and you will get far in life.

May Allah forgive me for my shortcomings. All good is from Him alone.