NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–In second grade, the year when students begin to spell, Tehran Riaz decided to wear the hijab.
“I was nervous at first but everyone was so supportive,” said Riaz, now a seventh grader in Corona, Queens. “Some people told me that I looked better without the hijab but that didn’t affect me. I even made new friends who also wore the hijab. Nobody looked at me differently. It was all my decision to wear the scarf.”
The headscarf or veil some Muslim women and girls wear to show their devotion to God is an act of modesty. But for many teens, the hijab can also make them the target of harassment.
In California, for example, more than 10 percent of Muslim students in middle and high school have been bullied because of their faith, according to a 2012 report, “Growing in Faith,” by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Dona, who requested her last name not be used to protect her privacy, started wearing the hijab when she was 13, soon after she moved to the United States from Egypt. She said the teachers at her middle school in Brooklyn were “racist and I was miserable.”
“One day we had cultural day so I dressed in an abaya [a full-length robe],” she said. “Students laughed at how I looked and made fun of it.”
The harassment, bullying and teasing didn’t end until Dona went to high school. She said the diversity at Curtis High School in Staten Island helped her feel welcome and accepted. For the first time, she said, she felt comfortable to join after-school activities.
Maybe waiting until high school to wear the hijab was why Hareem Riaz, a freshman at Brooklyn College, never faced any harassment. She waited until her sophomore year. “I thought I would be judged or people would look at me differently,” she said. “Nobody bullied me or commented.”
However, for some younger Muslims, potential peer reaction didn’t factor into whether to wear the hijab. Mirna Elsheemy, an eighth grader from New York City, began wearing a hijab in fifth grade.
“I chose to wear a hijab because I liked how my mom wore it,” she said. “It looked nice and pretty.”