An American woman—presumably not Muslim, though she doesn’t say one way or the other—married to a Libyan man is taken aback when her 9-year-old daughter suddenly wants to start wearing hijab.
This is the story of how conflicted she felt about it, her concerns for her daughter, and how she finally came to terms with all of it.
Nine years ago, I danced my newborn daughter around my North Carolina living room to the music of Free to Be … You and Me, the 70s children’s classic whose every lyric about tolerance and gender equality I had memorised as a girl growing up in California.
My Libyan-born husband, Ismail, sat with her for hours on our screened porch, swaying back and forth on a creaky metal rocker and singing old Arabic folk songs, and took her to a Muslim sheikh who chanted a prayer for long life into her tiny, velvety ear.
She had espresso eyes and lush black lashes like her father’s, and her milky-brown skin darkened quickly in the summer sun. We named her Aliya, which means ‘exalted’ in Arabic, and agreed that we would raise her to choose what she identified with most from our dramatically-different backgrounds.
I secretly felt smug about this agreement — confident that she would favour my comfortable American lifestyle over his modest Muslim upbringing. Ismail’s parents live in a squat stone house down a winding dirt alley outside Tripoli, Libya. Its walls are bare except for passages from the Qur’an engraved on to wood, its floors empty but for thin cushions that double as bedding. […]