Shahina experienced a strange sense of oppression whenever she put on the hijab. No other girl in her class had to cover her head and look like a blinkered horse. Moreover, she was not a little girl anymore. She was sixteen and was mature enough to make some personal choices at least.
“It is our religious duty, my girl,” Bapa told her in his usual affectionate way.
“But there are other Muslim girls in the school who don’t wear such a thing. There’s even a Muslim lady teacher who never wears it.”
“Well, we live in a particular community and we have to follow the rules of that community.”
How absurd, thought Shahina. We call ourselves Muslims and then we divide ourselves into a hundred factions. Shias, Sunnis, Salafis, and what not. And then each faction makes rules for itself. Then fight for the sake of those rules. Absurd. Absurd.
Standing in front of the mirror, she looked at herself. “Blinkered horse,” she smiled to herself in spite of the oppression that weighed her heart down.
She couldn’t blame Bapa. He chose to send her to a secular public school instead of a Muslim school because he wanted her to grow up like a normal human being as much as possible. Even Bapa cannot ignore the community. Even he wears a hijab. It is invisible, that’s all. We are all blinkered horses trotting along the line drawn by the community. Minor aberrations were tolerated. Like her going to a secular school.
Looking at the beautiful hairs of her companions in the class, Shahina felt the oppression return to her heart. She longed to get away from the classroom.
“To let your hair down means to behave without inhibitions, to be yourself, to be free from unnecessary restrictions,” the English teacher was explaining.
Shahina left the school building during the lunch break. She went to the far end of the playground and crossed over to the private estate. She walked on until she reached a rock. She climbed the rock and standing at the topmost point she pulled out her hijab, untied her hair and let it float in the breeze.
She screamed to the trees and the breeze and the butterflies, “I am not a horse. I don’t need blinkers.”
She screamed again. And again. And she felt her heart becoming lighter.
The lightness sifted through the leaves that murmured secrets to the breeze. The breeze filtered into Shahina’s heart. She sat down on the rock and smiled at herself.
And then she sighed. The warning bell rang in the school. The lunch break would soon be over. She picked up the hijab from the ground and started putting it back on her head.