She's the girl on the right side of this picture; I'm the one on the left. You may recognize Ali from when we did the 30 Days of Kindness together last October. She's been my best friend throughout high school (and also happens to be my adopted sister), and we tend to create interesting adventures. When Ali and I are together, we often try to change the world. We planned something recently that changed our perspective on a very important topic.
Ali is 100% Mexican. We often joke around about whether she looks Mexican or Middle Eastern because of her slanted eyes. One day, I wrapped one of my scarves around Ali's head as a joke, but we were surprised when we realized that Ali may look like a Mexican on most days, but when she put on a headscarf, she could easily pass as a young Muslim girl.
With all our jokes and silliness came an idea.
Ali and I live in a small Texas city where Muslims are a minority. It's rare to see a Muslim woman in full garb walking around where I live. Stigma and prejudice still follow Muslims, so Ali and I began to wonder: how does my community truly treat Muslim women? What kind of looks and treatment would Ali receive if she dressed up in a hijab?
Obviously, if our plan was going to work, we would have to do more than loosely wrap a white and blue dressy scarf around Ali's head. We were going to have to do some research. How do Muslim women dress? How would we accurately wrap a hijab? But the plan had begun. We divided our ideas into a few specific questions that needed to be answered before we could act upon our experiment.
What will Ali wear?
We needed to find a real hijab to use instead of my colorful scarf. We knew that a lot of research was ahead of us in order to find out what was modest and what was immodest for a young Muslim woman to wear.
Where will we go?
We decided on three places: two Christian bookstores and the local mall. The mall would be an excellent place for Ali to interact with a lot of people. There would be different stores for Ali to visit, giving us many opportunities to screen reactions. At one Christian bookstore, Ali and I would enter together as friends. At the other Christian bookstore, Ali would walk in separately from me. I would observe from the background, pretending to be a stranger.
How will Ali act towards others?
We decided that Ali would act demure rather than outgoing. She would avoid looking men directly in the eye. She would keep perfect manners and a slight smile on her face in order to seem polite and friendly. We didn't want perceived teenage negativity to mar anyone's impression of Ali. We also decided that if someone directly asked Ali if she was a Muslim, her response would be yes, but if we came across someone we knew, Ali would tell them the truth: that we were attempting a social experiment.
What will be my role?
I wished I could be able to dress up in a hijab as well, but since I'm paler than Snow White and I have green eyes, I knew I could not pull off looking like a stereotypical Middle Eastern girl. My role would be to act as Ali's friend, which would be simple enough. To liven things up a bit, we decided that I would wear a Christian t-shirt, but bring a sweater in case I needed to cover it up. What would people think about a Muslim and a Christian holding arms and acting like close friends? At times, my job would be to observe reactions from a distance and possibly ask questions to people around me.
And most importantly, what is the purpose of our social experiment?
I love my city. I love the people who live in it. However, I wanted to see how a Muslim girl was treated within my own community. Would a Muslim girl be treated differently than a Christian girl, just because of how she dressed and because of the prejudices surrounding her religion? Obviously, an eighteen-year-old Americanized modern Muslim girl isn't going to be a terrorist, but is that how people would treat her? The purpose of our social experiment would be to measure the level of prejudice that exists in my community, if only to better empathize with young Muslim women. We decided that if there was a high level of prejudice, then we would use our stories and photographs to raise some awareness within our community and strive to change it the best we could. The reason we were focusing on Christian bookstores was because of our own faith. Ali and I are both Christians, and we would like to see how our fellow believers treat Muslims: with the respect and love that Jesus had for the Samaritan woman at the well or with distaste, judgment, and prejudice.
So our plans were set. Ali would dress in a Muslim hijab and visit three different public places. The next step was finishing the research needed to make Ali appear like a realistic Muslim girl. Check in on January 6 to see what we did next.