Our Canada: Finding the Strength to Become Myself | By Aamna Malik

Pakistani-born, Canadian-bred, studying in the UK. I’ve moved around. A lot.

My longest stay was in Red Deer – six years. Being twelve years old at the time, I’d say Red Deer was definitely the hardest to adjust to after living in metropolises like Toronto and Calgary. As a Muslim, I had moved to a place nicknamed a “redneck city.” I wasn’t particularly ecstatic.

I’d been wanting to wear the hijab since seventh grade. In its simplest form, the hijab is a form of modest dress intended to prevent the sexualization of individuals, both men and women. For women, this includes a head covering. The hijab’s primary purpose is to increase the emphasis on an individual’s character and break free of the barriers that appearance can set on a person. Personally, my desire to wear the hijab was simple: my heart yearned to become closer to Allah, and the hijab was Allah’s decree.

Starting seventh grade in a new, seemingly non-multicultural city was daunting.  I thought I’d check out the school first and try wearing my hijab out on my second day. I found that there were no hijabis in the school (I’m not sure if there were any Muslims) and I ended up finishing middle school without wearing a hijab.

My lack of self-confidence and social awkwardness continued into high school.  I was afraid that the friends would reject my hijab – I was afraid that they would reject me. In the back of my mind, I constantly remembered when a girl asked me why I was going to Pakistan. I told her that I’m originally from there and I was going to visit my family, but she couldn’t come to terms with the fact that I had lived in a place like that. I am quite fair-skinned, but I would think my name is enough of a hint to my origins. If people found it hard to accept the fact that I came from an Islamic country, how would they cope with me boldly showcasing my religion?

And so, just like in middle school, I completed high school without once veiling myself in a hijab.

When I was in grade twelve, a girl new to Red Deer confidently wore the hijab to school on her first day of grade nine. I felt both envious and regretful, yet I also felt grateful. My envy stemmed from her confidence, both in herself and in her faith, and my regret stemmed from my lack of these qualities. I was happy for her and proud. Since then, my gratitude has helped me become who I am. Today, I am a content and self-empowered individual who wears the hijab. I guess you could say that she was my inspiration to finally start wearing my hijab in university.

I received an invitation to interview for Liverpool Medical School. That was my first experience wearing a hijab. It felt intrinsically right and it gave me a sense of empowerment. I was able to do what I wanted to do rather than conform to societal norms – and I got my support and validation from Allah, knowing I had done the right thing when I succeeded in my interview.

I have been a hijabi since day one of med school. It is now entrenched into my identity and I am grateful that I was able to make this life-changing decision. I have, on occasion, been subjected to minor Islamophobia, but I have realized that the majority of people are able to accept each other as fundamentally human.

I am grateful for my chance to build and strengthen my identity. I am content with myself. I am content with my faith. And I am content with my decision to study in England.

I have done a lot of moving in my life. As a child, I was scared of meeting new people and making new friends. As an adult, it gave me the confidence to open myself up to who I am. Diversity and multiculturalism make up the basis of Canada as a country. I wish I had the courage to be myself while I was in Canada, a country that is so beautiful in its acceptance of the differences that make all of us unique as human beings. Now, I look forward to the future: coming back to Canada as a new person, with a well-established identity.

Banner illustration courtesy of Wanderer Online Illustrator Zarwa Malik; banner design courtesy of Wanderer Online Design Editor Janelle Holod.

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