Growing up in a household when soccer was on all the time, I felt the need to follow suit. My three older brothers played, so I joined my local team as well to carry on this family practice. But it wasn’t until 7th grade I began to play while covered, when I began wearing the hijab permanently. At that moment, I wore leggings under my shorts, long sleeves under my jersey, and a hijab on my head.
In all honesty, I was terrified. I felt that people would judge me as soon as I stepped on the field. I was already used to the stares at school, but soccer was where I got away from the gawking I received. This next step in my life was a big change for me. From this point on, it meant fully covering. I would be an actual Hijabi. Some might not get the importance of that for me, but it was greatly important. I was not only changing my appearance, but also my mentality. Some see it as a simple piece of cloth, but the meaning is much more spiritual and profound than one might think. By doing this, I was speaking for something bigger than me. This meant I represented Islam in everything I did and said. My religion is so important to me, so I took this responsibility head on (pun intended).
August came around, soccer season began, and I showed up to my first practice with my hijab on. I arrived timidly, compared to my usual vocal entrances. So we scrimmaged, ran, and did our normal practice routines. It was over before I knew it. Before leaving, my teammates complimented me on my choice to cover permanently and that they admired my faith. I left practice that night beaming, extremely happy and shocked that everyone was so supportive. They proved some of my fears wrong, but they weren’t the only ones I was worried about.
As the games, months, and seasons went on, I was judged by supporters and players from opposing teams. But I didn’t let the stares, comments or dirty fouls bother me. I had to show these people that I was better than them. I had to prove that just because I wore a hijab that did not mean I was below them. I eventually became captain of my team, and I earned the respect of many teams across Central Florida. Coaches and players knew me and knew what I could do on the field. I built my reputation with hard effort and determination, displaying my faith with proud courage. After nearly every game the opposing coach would pull me aside and tell me what a great game I played. Amazingly, I would go places and people who knew I was. “You’re that girl who plays soccer right?” was a constant statement from people who also had kids playing in the same, or even different, club as mine. I’m pretty sure the teams around only knew me because of my hijab, but I was fine with that. In Islam, we have this thing called “dawah”, which is the spreading of knowledge about Islam to others. Every time I played, I was spreading dawah. I held my head high and proved that a Muslim girl can play just as well or better than anyone else my age.
But the good came with the bad. Sometimes during games, parents would call me things like “terrorist”, “towel-head” or “dirty Muslim”. And many times players remarked similar things, only following the lead of their parents. I tried my best not to let them affect me. I would ignore them and play my game. Or at least I would try to. It was hard being 15 years old and getting called those terrible names especially since I’ve done nothing wrong, and especially nothing to them. Being cleated in the ankles, elbowed in the face, and fouled viciously did get to me, I’m not going to lie. I still didn’t give them the satisfaction of making me mad, I kept my cool (as much as I could) and played my games with careful focus, but later, I would reflect on these harsh and brutal comments. I always wondered why. Why do others get to practice their religion without being criticized? Why do I get targeted for wearing a hijab? These peers, and disgustingly parents who were meant to be mature adults setting examples for their children, had the audacity to try and hurt me. But they know nothing. I find it incredible that the ones who speak the most know the least. Words hurt (as much as I didn’t want them to), and these people knew it. But no matter what, this didn’t discourage me from playing, winning, or being the best I could be. This allowed me to not only win my games with gusto, but also win that war they gauged with every game. I figured the best way to show them up was to, well, best them. Which always a damn good feeling. Sometimes a few girls rejected to shake my hand after the game, which I refuse to let bother me. I proved them wrong and it wasn’t my fault they were salty. I quickly realized that I was always underestimated and I would always be underestimated. It was a bad feeling, yes, but I learned from it. The unmatchable passion I have for this sport fuels the fire inside me, and all the water in the world can’t quench it.
I learned I didn’t care what people thought; they can judge me for wearing a hijab, say hateful things about me, and carry hostility in their hearts, but that won’t stop me. I play the sport I love while practicing the religion I hold so dear in my heart. They’re only fooling themselves if they think it’s enough.
No, I’m not oppressed.
No, I’m not forced to wear this.
No, I won’t let your hate get to me.
I’m proud of who I am and what I represent, and don’t let anyone ever discourage you from being who are or becoming the best you.
Isa is a contributor for The Millennial Times.