It’s an expression we’re all quite familiar with. It’s always a comparison like cheap jewelry to jewelry in a case, a pearl to a rock, a fresh lollipop with a trashed one.
“A non-Muslim asks an imam, “Why is the female head covering compulsory in Islam?” He smiles gently and produces two lollipops. One covered with the shiny plastic wrapper, but the other, he rips the plastic cover off and drops on the ground.
‘Now, which lollipop would you like to eat?’ He asks the non-Muslim.
‘Why, that’s easy. The one that’s still clean.’ The non-Muslim says confidently, pointing to the one the Imam still held.
‘Well, that’s the same with our women in Islam,’ the Imam says, ‘We keep them protected with the hijab; pure and chaste until marriage. They’re protected from the gaze of men, that is its beauty.’”
I first heard that when I was thirteen years old. I was the typical Muslim American teenage girl: struggling to fit in with those around me, dealing with body image issues alone. It was a struggle I kept to myself, laughing when my family made fun of the way I looked, later binging on the dark chocolate chips I hid next to my bed in despair. I was a tomboy, the girl that every guy liked hanging out with, but never the one that they developed crushes on.
Sophomore year in college was the year all of that changed. Every week, I dressed up carefully for the mosque. I was new to the community, but I wished desperately to fit in and threw myself into the community organizing efforts.
It was how I would meet the boy that broke me.
It started off harmlessly, but I kept careful distance. He pursued me with sweet compliments, building up the friendship between us in planned out moves. He’d dart back and forth, playing hot one day and cold the next. Still keeping my distance, I asked the few community members I knew about his reputation.
They were all glowing, but then again, they were all his friends.
It felt good to be wanted by the opposite gender. I felt dizzy and confused by his loving attention, yet, weak by the comments he made about my intelligence and drive. I thought that was the way things worked. That he had a right to say those things.
The day I found out that he was talking to other girls too, I was engulfed with hot anger. But I was so broken by his words at this point that my anger was targeted at the girls. I began worrying about how to keep him close, too afraid to confront him directly. So when he asked to Skype with me late into the night, I said yes.
I didn’t have a camera on my laptop, but I persuaded my friend to lend me hers. I began skyping with him late into the night, the conversations mostly one-sided because he said he liked to listen to my voice. My exhaustion pushed me into delirious exhilaration, that I was doing something right for once.
I wanted to make him all mine, wanted to make it okay.
He began pushing me to take off the hijab for him. He’d try to get me to start my video before I had put it on properly, and was cold when I refused to. For days, he stopped speaking to me. I was desperate.
Finally, I gave in. I didn’t want to lose him. I told him it was a late birthday present. It was over Skype. I told him to wait, while I ran to the bathroom to make sure my hair looked perfect. I was proud of my hair, had spent years figuring out how to take care of the rich dark curls that I couldn’t wait to show my husband.
Just like a pearl.
I looked into the mirror, adjusted my hair, and felt my heart hurt. The lights overhead were softly buzzing in the dorm bathroom as I looked into the mirror and just then, I thought to myself, “This must be what losing your virginity feels like.” I felt myself crumble as I remembered the lollipop metaphor, because how could I really be a good hijabi if I was doing this? I felt vulnerable, unsafe, and unprotected. My consciousness floated separately from my body as I walked back to the computer.
The rest of it was a blur.
I felt like a hypocrite wearing the hijab. And it was in the coming weeks that the pieces came out: that he was seeing multiple women, that he just wanted us to be friends. It took the anger of my friend to push me out of the pseudo-relationship, as she helped me break it off.
The shame I carried from having shown him my hair weighed heavily on me every time I put on my hijab. I felt like a slut, internalized my self-hatred into the way I ate my food.
How could I call myself a good Muslim if I had given myself up so easily?
I still remember the look my best friend gave me when I confessed that I had shown him my hair. She blamed me for what happened. I didn’t know how to tell her that it wasn’t because even I had difficulty believing that.
I didn’t realize until it was too late that I couldn’t even trust those I had asked for help. I could tell you that I quickly regained my confidence, that I didn’t feel broken for months afterward because of how cheap I felt, but that’s all a lie. It took years before I was able to regain ownership to my own beauty.
During those years, I saw one friend after another fall to the whims of this predator, his carefully sweet words preying on the girls who saw themselves just a little less than everyone else – hijabi and non-hijabi alike.
It took years for me to stop blaming myself. In that time, I’ve met women of every type of hijab that have been sexually assaulted, shamed and smeared, abandoned by their communities. I’m only speaking up because I’m tired of being silenced, but I’m still too ashamed to attach my real name to this piece. I still wear the hijab, but it’s different now.
Hijab doesn’t protect you; it never has and never will.
What will protect us, are the communities that we are a part of. Until then, I refuse to let someone dictate my supposed rights as a hijabi – because those rights were missing the night the predator believed he owned me.
Stop protecting the cloth, and start protecting all women by letting them speak, instead.
4 replies on “Stop calling me a lollipop.”
It’s always a little hard to read about something you’ve never experienced and will never be a part of. I always try to be open minded and understand the situations about people in these kinds of situations, who are missued and then blamed on for someone elses actions.
I can’t say I still truly understand, while I can say “I feel you” it simply means “that’s sad but ultimately bears no comparison to anything I have ever experienced” and that has always been something that bugs me.
I just came across this website. It’s truly something, I always love reading about other peoples perspective because I want to get it, I want to understand what it is I am supporting. It’s easy to be the “nice one” and blindly applaude but that’s something I’m trying to change. It’s gonna take a while, but I thank you and everyone on this website for making yourself heard.
As the first article I read, it was one that is going to take some time for me to really get which ultimately could mean what I am typing at this moment bears no meaning.. yeah..
But it does. It means I’m thinking, really trying to think. And I think that says a lot about how you worded yourself and wrote this article.
Who knows, maybe this is just a text of wall I wrote that really doesn’t say much. I could excuse it but hey. Just, sorry I can’t be more direct with what I feel about this article (besides that it made me think a lot, how detailed of me).
Great article! and good point about the lollipop as well , But i still believe the hijab protects you to some extent , trust me
I empathize with you for all that you’ve been through, but I don’t support the idea that whatever happened to you was the result of someone else’s devious agenda. It is unfortunate, but a lot of our mistakes, a lot of the burdens we carry, are burdens that we inflict upon ourselves. I’ve been there, I’ve felt it. Not once, but numerous times. And each time people tell me it’s not my fault, I’ll say it is. Because playing this dumb blame game and making him out to be the perpetrator even though he may be minimizes whatever faults we have. We need to stop tiptoeing around these issues, playing the blame game, and using these mind-numbing social niceties. We were dumb. We were fools. But I pray we’re stronger than we were before, smarter than before, so we can prevent these things from happening again. I know I was weak because I let myself become weak, because I let his sweet nothings become the world to me. And now I know I’m stronger than that.
We need to inform our youth to be more aware, and to never let someone take something so precious as hijab away from us. Because if he does, then honey, he ain’t worth it. The problem isn’t so simple as a few rotten apples, pick em out and society’s good. We all have potential for bad, we all have our nafs. So before we start pinpointing the problems in others, we oughtta aim to fix ourselves.
As a disclaimer, I do not extend this to rape and sexual assault cases. We are never at fault there, and we should never let others convince us we are.
And I agree with Hauwa, I do believe hijab protects us from a lot alhamdulillah. The sexual advances and inappropriate comments have reduced greatly since I started donning the hijab. A lot of the problems we face in these relationships are not because of the holes in the protection the hijab confers, but because we weren’t strong enough, we didn’t put our foot down when we should’ve.
I hate that lollipop story. its stupid and un-islamic and reduces women to dumb sex objects that only wear the hijab so that we don’t get raped. Go to Yemen and tell me if the hijab still “protects” you there. People leave us alone a little more here in the US because were seen as different and weird and owned by some terrorist man who will kill them if they do anything to us. In Muslim countries this is not the case. It really is more the community that protects us not just a piece of cloth on our heads. Of course the hijab has a significance but it’s ignorant to think it’s the only or main thing that protects us because it isn’t. We wear the hijab for more than one reason.
Also, why haven’t Muslim men been reduced to something as insulting as a lollipop example? People who come up with this trash make Islam seem one sided. Men and women are supposed to remain chaste and pure until marriage so why not include that when we are explain hijab for both men and women. Also, if a non muslim asks about the hijab for women, one should naturally bring up hijab for men to exemplify the equality especially of this aspect (being chaste) in our religion.