My personal note on discrimination

I am a proud hijabi!

Image from Worn Journal




Have you ever experienced this situation before? Especially if you are a woman, a Muslim in particular, and wearing hijab (veil) in daily basis?

I want to write about this subject for maybe two years ago, when I encounter those situations by myself for the first time. But I postponed it until… now.

Why I finally decided to post my personal story towards racism and discrimination?

So, yesterday I watch an Indonesian movie with my family at the cinema, titled 99 Cahaya di Langit Eropa (English translation : 99 Lights in the European Sky). The movie was actually adapted from a non-fiction book with the same title, written by Hanum Rais and Rangga Almahendra.

At the beginning of the movie, I saw two scenes that captured my interest. Let’s imagine a day in the suburban Austria (or in Germany, Österreich, which stands for ‘eastern empire’) for the setting. In the first scene, I saw a little Turkish Muslim girl named Ayşe Pasha which had been bullied by her friend at school, just because she was a descendant of Kara Mustafa Pasha, an Ottoman military leader whom failed to expand the Ottoman Empire into Central and Eastern Europe, including Austria. Her friend was mocking her hijab all the time, which made her teacher in an uneasy condition, and then asked her to take off her hijab for good. Of course, Ayşe refused her teacher’s request.

The second scene was about a young Turkish Muslim woman named Fatma Pasha who tried to find a job at a local clothing store, but the owner refused her, because in the owner’s opinion, her German wasn’t so that good. She was  actually, Ayşe’s mother. And the refusal wasn’t arrived from her lack in German, but because she wear a hijab. It wasn’t her first try, I bet. She already try to apply in many places, but always get rejected because of her appearances.

In fact, many Muslim women in Europe, especially immigrants, are discriminated by the natives because they wear hijab. The natives also stigmatized them as an uneducated, uncivilized and submissive women.

I never thought that I will experience racism, discrimination and Islamophobia such that in my country, because Islam is a major religion in Indonesia. But my mind had changed a few years ago.

Those scenes remind me of my past experiences when I work as a part-time tutor for expatriate students around South Jakarta for more than two years. In general, the work is fun and challenging for me, because I was given a great chance to sharpen my English skill especially in speaking, the paid was better than other part-time jobs and it was lovely to learn about foreign cultures by your own hand, without had to spend a lot of money to enroll an (highly expensive) student exchange.

In most of the cases, I befriend with my students and their parents very easily. But I remember my two students that had changed my entire life.

The first student is an American native, let’s call him Mark. The tutoring arranger said that Mark need a tutoring session in A-level Chemistry, which was my expertise. When I came to his home, I was welcomed by a blaring rock musics. His mother let me in, and asked me to wait Mark at the dining room. I saw a young man with a messy hair, wearing a rock band-themed T-shirt, took a peek of me from the second floor. I look back, and I saw his face turned into disgust, and anger. Then he went to his room and had a fight with her mother. I waited for more than 30 minutes, with no clue what was actually happened to him. Then I heard him screaming,

Mom, I really don’t like her!“.

I tried to observe, what I did wrong? Why he didn’t like me, when he had never met me before? It was surreal. I looked to the mirror nearby, and I knew the answer. Maybe, the main reason was, he didn’t like my appearance. Well, I was wearing a hijab, as usual.

Her mother finally approached me, and apologized. She said that Mark forgot to bring his book and past papers from school, thus he refused to study at that time.

I smiled firmly, and said, It’s OK, maam“.

I understood that it wasn’t the real cause. She apologized to me again, and handed me some cash as a cancellation fee.

I wish I had a chance to talk with him….

The second student was a AS level British student named Harry. It was my first time to teach a British, and to be honest, British accent was extremely hard to understand. At least at that time. I met his mother, I call her Jo, and she gives me a e-mail copy from the Chemistry teacher, which said that Harry just got D on his mock exam, and pointed out the list of topics that he lacked at the exam.

Miss Novia, I have to tell you before, that tutoring Harry will not be an easy task...” said Jo.

I answer, “I will try my best, Maam“.

Then Jo introduced me to Harry in his study room. A bespectacled, skinny young man shook my hand.

Harry“, he said.

Novia“, I replied.

On the first day, I was overwhelmed by his behaviour. I learned that he had an ADHD, which made him hard to focus on his study. The duration of tutoring was usually 1.5 hours, and for other students, that amount of time was enough to finish a chapter. But for Harry, he only could focus in around 30 minutes, and the remaining 1 hour will be spent on listening to his annoying stories including Chuck Norris’ silly jokes, throwing pillows, jumping on the sofa, and other exhausting activities. He always said that my English wasn’t that good, especially my pronunciation. For instance, I often pronounce Lead (Pb) wrongly into lead (as in leader), and he would jump on the sofa for the entire session because of my fault…

He also liked talking about religion. To be concise, asking why I chose Islam as my religion, why I wore hijab, what is the importance of daily prayer, what is Jihad, why some Muslim do terrorism, etc, etc.

At first, I have no clue how to answer that kind of questions…

Later I knew that him and his family was an atheist. Yep, they didn’t believe in God, at all. I realize it in the middle of December, when I asked why there was no Christmas tree in his house.

Miss Novia, our family is an atheist. That’s why there’s no Christmas ornaments in our house.“, he said.

I was shocked. Finally, I understand why he was curious about religion. From that time, I promise that I will try my best to answer his questions and respond firmly when he started to insult Islam. At least to give him better understanding in Islam.

After sixth month of tutoring sessions, he finally passed his Chemistry final exam and would continue his study in Dubai, because his family would move out to UEA. I remembered his last words to me,

Miss Novia, I am terribly sorry for being racist, and for insulting your religion. Thank you for everything.

I forgive you, Harry. But please don’t do it to other people, especially when you’re in Dubai!

Okay, Miss. I promise!

So, will you use turban and white cloak in Dubai?”

Miss, now you’re the one who is racist!

He smacked with pillow, and eventually we both giggled… :D.

I am thankful to meet Mark, Harry, and my other students. Because of them, I try to improve my knowledge in Islam day by day so I am able to answer their difficult questions. I have learnt a lot about tolerance from them.

Before I met them, my highest stimulus to study hard was only to make my parents proud.

Now, I have another stimulus to study hard. Because as a Muslim woman, it is my task to prove that Muslim women are equally educated, just like any other women in the world…

“Knock, And He’ll open the door
Vanish, And He’ll make you shine like the sun
Fall, And He’ll raise you to the heavens
Become nothing, And He’ll turn you into everything.” 
― Rumi


About Pradisty

A keen observer. A lifelong learner. Bookish but not bespectacled.

Posted on December 8, 2013, in Islam, Psychology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. A very inspiring piece. Ma shaa Allah. Will you kindly grant me the permission to republish this on my blog and link back to you?

  2. Assalamualaikum. I just watched that movie too. And is it possible if I talk to you in personal. Coz I can say that u r a really inspiring person.. Email me please.

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