I am far beyond the usual barrage of questions regarding my hijab.
I live in Toronto. Hijab is hardly a foreign concept. Many women from varied ethnic communities choose to cover. Some fully. Some partially. Some in amazingly-coloured, culturally-inspired fabrics. Some in pristine designer brands. On the subway. On the street. At concerts. At a Masjid. At schools. At the flea market. Wherever.
Questions come flying at me on the football pitch. Where women my age (30+) are NOT routinely seen on a team or part of a recognized & affiliated club.
My generation of empowered Pakistani-Canadian Muslim women with opportunity, seldom engaged in contact sports. Heavily in Academics, also Art and Music. Definitely not in football / soccer. If they did, they stopped by 12 or 13 years of age.
Naturally when participating in a sport that, in my corridor, is currently dominated by suburban, privileged, white women, most have yet to see a hijab-clad footballer. Despite being in a city with the largest Muslim population in the country.
Inquiries don’t come from my teammates because they know me. And they’ve asked already. Very politely. And they don’t really care as long as I do my job on-field.
Which is NOT to set up a Muslim and Non-Muslim Bridge-building Session or engage on a full-fledged discussion on Rights of Muslim Women. It’s to put the ball in the bloody net.
The opposing teams seem to find it fascinating and odd that I am there- all covered. Even if we’ve met before. Same drill.
As I warm up and stretch they are staring and whispering. They are sizing me up: lean, woman of colour, red jersey, longsleeved shirt underneath, Kickass boots (I’m biased), Black bottoms, Red underpiece with black hijab on top.
Sure, it may seem like a lot of clothing. Because it is. And that’s how I play. How I CHOOSE to play.
Just to be clear, I am not averse to answering questions. Just not in the middle of a match. Ask me after. I am happy to provide my number, a dinner invitation and a Tariq Ramadan website. I am friendly, fun and approachable most of the time.
Alas, I am not addressed before the game or after, it is always during play. After a sprint as I am breathing heavily after beating a player and crossing, shooting or perhaps losing the ball and play moving away from my side. Far enough from others (I play on the wings- always) and close enough for the inquiring mind to not have to speak loudly. The interaction always goes like this:
Them: “So… uh nice run”.
Me: “Yeah, Thanks”.
And I wait for it.
Them: “Can I ask you something”?
Them: “So, um…..do you wear that…veil all the time? Do you have to wear it while you play? Don’t you sweat? Aren’t you hot? I am so hot. I am dying. It’s so hot these days. I can’t imagine with all that on. Is that a burka? A veil? What’s the proper name?”.
I let them babble nervously for awhile, and keep my eye on the play. As if this game is that important. Well, it is. More important than their ridiculous monologue.
As they are stammering away, realizing the inane commentary is getting no response, I nod and offer my standard line: “I’m used to it”. Then I take off.
I would like to add some dramatic license and present a picture of me scoring 3 goals and performing in some Messi-like manner whereby achieving a great victory for all oppressed Muslim women and earning the respect and acceptance of these nimrods.
Truthfully? No. Some games I play well. Some games I get called for illegal slide-tackles. Some game my shots are more embarrassing than is allowed. Some games
I score. Some days I get booked because I have a bad temper, have Pathan blood and I play physically. Some days I just suck.
All days I play covered. And most games, ALL games since I have been playing with a hijab (15 yrs), I get asked similar questions.
A few years back a player with whom I was colliding regularly asked me vehemently “are those, like, your bedsheets?” I laughed. And then I jabbed her incessantly with my elbows as she was guarding the box and me on our corner kick. She held my shirt tight but she didn’t touch my sacred bedsheets.
My standard on-field, mid-game reply usually discourages them from further prodding. Most recently I was asked by an Eastern European opponent whether my “babushka” made me hot. She made me laugh.
I am not out to impress or fit in. I am in it to play. Hard.
So I play, endure this line of questioning and sometimes, I laugh. Covered.