Many years ago before my Sister-In-Law first came for a visit, when we were still in the preparation stages, I started really paying attention to the visibility of hijabis in our city. At that time, my overseas family had this preconceived notion that hijabis were very rare in the United States and she would stick out like a celebrity. (Much like I do when we visit the small town outside of Cairo where Khaled’s family lives.) So, in the days leading up to her arrival, I would count the number of ladies I saw at the grocery store, driving cars around town, at the mall…and report it back to Khaled so he could share it with Naena. I wanted to reassure her that SIL would be safe, and welcomed.
Then I adopted this habit of saying “Assalamu Alaikum” to each and every hijabi that met my eyes. I felt like if I said Salaams (the act of saying Assalamu Alaikum wa Rahmatu lahi wa Barakatu) to them, they would know that they are not invisible, and I am reaching out to them, making them feel welcome…like I would want someone to do to my SIL.
Kate and Pea have adopted my habit of saying Salaams to random strangers we meet in the store. We usually catch them off guard and are often shocked, they don’t respond. Very rarely do they say Salaams back to us, but sometimes we are met with a smile.
The whole family was out the other day, and Pea (choosing not to practice her hijab that day) said “Assalamu Alaikum” to a lady who had met her eye. The lady didn’t say anything back to her and we went about our business. Mr. Fox commented that it was extremely awkward to just go up to random people and say hello to them. It got me thinking, is this rude to be Salaam-ing random people? It seems like hijabis do it to each other all the time whether they know each other or not. But then, there is a clear identifying marker to establish that one is, in fact, Muslim. I didn’t think it was rude, I don’t find it offensive when people say Salaams to me. It immediately translates into my head as “Peace Be Upon You.” How is that rude?
While working at school, I came in contact with many families who may or may not be Muslim. Only 1 family knew me from the community. The rest were not Mosque goers. So I had a struggle at first when I saw the hijabi mothers in school and car line. Do I Salaam them? A week went by, and I didn’t. It felt wrong. I couldn’t see someone who I knew was Muslim and NOT say Salaams to them. I felt like I was being rude to them. Even when I was saying Hello and Good-morning…So, I did. I gave them Salaams and only 1 person responded. Only 1 person gave me Salaams back. Sometimes, when you are looking a person in the face and giving them Peace and Blessings…and they don’t give it back to you, it feels like you are being slighted. I’m sure I don’t have a right to feel that way, because it’s not like they were going out of their way to be mean. They did say “Hello” and “Good-morning” with smiles and happy faces.
But somehow it isn’t the same.