My Experience Traveling and Wearing a Hijab

It’s 2017. Trump has just been inaugurated 10 days ago. My Hijabi self is in a car on the way to the airport. Only 24 hours earlier, the Muslim ban was applied on 7 countries. People were stuck in airports and in layovers. Syria was the latest to be added to the ban and Syrians who were in the air as the ban was announced were rejected entry to the US. My Syrian best friend texts me that she doesn’t know if she’ll be able to leave her home in the US if the ban stays. I’m joking with my friends at school about how I hope I’d get in the country as an Egyptian, or if they’d add Egypt to the ban during my twelve-hour flight. My friends advise me to delete any Islamic app on my phone, or any anti-Trump sentiments that may be there (just in case).

My excitement of going to my favorite city in the world fades into worry that I’d be stuck at JFK airport with nowhere to go.

My fearless attachment to my identity turns into trying on different beanie styles to make my Hijab “fit in” unsuspiciously.

Nevertheless, I’m at the airport.

My suitcase rolls around Cairo airport ’til we board. I sit in my seat for the twelve hours ahead and try to relax my mind. My dad falls asleep minutes after takeoff but I stay awake the whole flight. My general travel anxiety doesn’t help with my worries of being let in the country or not, but I remind myself that I’m overreacting. I spend some time in the plane going through my phone and deleting my prayer apps and checking my pictures to make sure nothing would be misunderstood. It seemed silly, but maybe my friends were right, maybe Immigration was going to check my phone through security procedures – you literally never know!

I realize I’m overreacting again and remind myself of the result. I am going to New York City because I’m an organizing member of an International Model UN conference, I have all the right to be there!

And I will have a lot of fun.

As the flight attendants announce we’ll start landing soon, I go to the bathroom to put on my new “beanie” style Hijab.

I look at myself in the mirror, and I like how it looks.

But I also think I wouldn’t have worn it if it wasn’t for the political tension. I return to my seat and excitedly watched as we landed in JFK Airport. After 12 hours of anticipation, weeks of worry, and months of excitement, the plane touched the ground and it felt like everything had been worth it. I was finally here. And after what seemed like forever, exiting the plane, we made it to homeland security. You don’t know fear ’til you’re a non-white person waiting for the immigration officer to make a decision about you.

I’m standing at the counter with my dad. The man takes our passports, he holds one and looks at it for a minute, types some words down and stares at the computer. He gets up and goes to call another officer. I start to get nervous. Ten minutes of waiting later, the officer gives me my passport, looks to my dad and says to him that he needs an extra checkup. MY DAD, who had no Hijab on and no sign of being “Muslim,” whatever that means in today’s climate. I found it hilarious and relieving. It was a “random” check that took fifteen minutes. I passed through and waited for my dad at luggage claim, not realizing that the stress I had throughout the past months and weeks would amount to nothing!

This goes to say that I stressed myself out for something that never happened. For me, it was only natural to think the worst because of what was going on in the world. But I’m thankful it didn’t stop me from being motivated to go on my trip.

Also, I’m not saying that Muslims aren’t marginalized in the US and the world. I’m not saying the world is perfect. There are several stories of Muslims, and Hijabis specifically being awfully discriminated against around the world. I am not discrediting their stories one bit. But there are millions who had good experiences. No one is going to write about “the time I wasn’t ‘randomly’ checked at TSA”. And when these stories aren’t told, it paints a negative picture for people like me. 

Which is why you need to know that the majority gets through okay, and you will be okay! You can’t let marginalization stop you from livin’ yo life. But if you have an experience like mine, when everything ends up being okay, realize your privilege that you’re even able to travel.

Moral of the story:

Travel is for EVERYONE, although it’s been commercially targeted to white, upper-class families from stock photos laughing on a beach resort!

I didn’t invent Hijabi travel, other Hijabis have been doing it for centuries. But we need more. You’ve got to Shut Up and Go, and take pictures in your hostels of your beautiful unique selves, so that people can see that whatever you look like, travel is for you, boo.


Travel is for you, boo!

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