Secondhand Islamophobia

My senior year of college, I started attending an Eastern Orthodox church. I loved it. I still do. Eventually, I became Orthodox. Few things have taught me more about Islamophobia than joining a conservative* Christian sect.

Here is a thing that happened: I was getting ready to leave for church. I put one of my pashmina scarves on my head. My parish did not require women to cover their heads, but many women did. I did, especially after I had shaved my head. I loved my hair that short, but I knew it would draw questions and glances at church, and I felt it was more respectful to just cover. It also felt like I was doing something set aside in my life. It felt…holy, something that prepared me to engage in worship. Clothing is powerful.

As I was leaving for church, my roommate told me that the friend who was picking her up for her church had asked about my headscarf (to be clear, it was a scarf that I put on my head). Apparently, it made her uncomfortable. My roommate suggested I wait to put on my scarf until I was off-campus.

I have never cared very much about making people—especially people I have never met—comfortable, so I did not do what she suggested.

This was the first, but not the last, time someone questioned my head-wear to my face. I didn’t realize at the time, but that was Islamophobia. They associated me with Islam for having covered my head. I remember thinking to myself, but I’m not even Muslim. That was my own unaddressed Islamophobia.

Other people have told me how I was anti-feminist, an accusation faced by many Muslim women, more frequently. And the hostility is less masked.

The point is this: Islamophobia is bad for everyone, worse for Muslims. Do some research. Call your local mosque about when you can visit and how to visit respectfully. Listen to Muslim women who talk about head covering and believe them.

I am sorry it took experiencing Islamophobia to realize it was a problem. I know this is something that comes up for many marginalized groups: why didn’t you just believe us? And the answer is that I wasn’t listening to you. I was listening to white guys on TV.


*I am using conservative theologically. While some aspects of Orthodoxy may be politically conservative, for the most part, the Orthodox Christians I know are Democrats or, at least, vote that way. Church leadership is carefully apolitical in the United States (with a couple of exceptions), not the case in Russia, Ukraine, and Greece.

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