She called me, peppy and excited and full of love, as she usually does each day after coming home.
I’m usually at my apartment in Indianapolis when I answer my mother’s FaceTime calls. This time, though, I was just coming out of media day, preparing for the Rose Bowl story I would write from the Oklahoma perspective.
She smiled when I picked up, a bright beam on her face. She asked me about my day. I told her about the press conference, about how Baker Mayfield was making headlines, about how I was publishing several stories very soon.
“Do they give you a hard time?” she asked.
I paused. “Who?” I asked her.
“Anyone. The athletes, other writers, anyone you work with.”
I didn’t understand her question. “Why would they give me a hard time?”
“Because of your hijab.”
I laughed to myself. After all, it didn’t make any sense. How could anyone, whether they knew me or not, give me a hard time now?
I was at the Rose Bowl. The dateline on my stories said “LOS ANGELES.” I was doing things––thanks to incredible opportunities in the Sports Capital Journalism Program––that I’ve dreamed of doing my entire life.
I’ve wanted to be a sports journalist since third grade, and my hijab, the Muslim headscarf I decided to wear in fifth grade, has never stopped me from working towards that goal.
It broke my heart hearing my mother ask that question with genuine concern early Saturday morning.
And then it broke my heart to understand why she asked it.
I was watching Wisconsin and Miami in the Orange Bowl, engrossed in the close game, when I received a Twitter notification that someone had responded to a picture of my colleague Sarah Bahr and I at the Rose Bowl Stadium.
“Why does she have that towel on her head?” it read. “This is America.”
I stared at my phone for almost an hour, sorting through a number of thoughts before realizing an important fact I needed to share.
Whoever published this tweet was right. And for every other Muslim woman out there working to reach their goals, whatever they may be, I want you to know that.
This is America.
This is a country—our country—that has provided us with an education and a future we could not imagine elsewhere. I am grateful to be at a university that embraces and appreciates diversity. IUPUI, its Honors College, the School of Liberal Arts and the Department of Journalism and Public Relations have been integral in my progress so far, and that is something I do not take for granted.
This is a country that has granted us the honor and privilege of having the chance to work with prestigious organizations, to represent our faith through action by being the best at what we do. In 2017 alone, I have been blessed to be able to work as an intern with the Indianapolis Colts and as a clerk in the sports department at the Indianapolis Star, institutions that have paved my way to future growth.
This is a country that has introduced us to kind, beautiful friends, individuals with big hearts and open minds that we are surely blessed to know and have. I never could have imagined the outpouring of support and kindness that I experienced following that tweet.
And that “towel” on our heads—that hijab we decided to wear through our own, unique journeys—is the thing that keeps me grounded in my faith and preserves my modesty. The thing that empowers me and inspired me on Saturday evening to respond the way my religion taught me.
With love. With dignity. With respect.
And as I finish out this week in Pasadena, I’ll keep responding that way. I’ll keep trying to do my part so that eventually others will exhibit those same characteristics.
So that people will see the importance in valuing other cultures and faiths, seeing the good in different backgrounds and races.
So that I can show the millions of Muslim women across the country and tell them with certainty that nothing can stop them from pursuing their dreams. Not their race. Not their gender.
And definitely not their hijab.
By Alaa Abdeldaiem | @Abdeldaiem_Alaa