Twenty-year-old Soukaina Rachidi has spent most of her life abroad. Born in Morocco, she spent sixteen years in the United Arab Emirates, and two years in Qatar, where she attended international schools. In August 2009 she made the move the United States to study at the University of Delaware and spent the last year in Buenos Aires on a study abroad program. While abroad, she made the decision that all Muslim women must make some time during their lives: whether or not to wear the hijab, the literal translation of which is "veil".
She recalls the date exactly- December 15, 2010- and the events that led up to her to veiling. "It was the first week of December, and though I had always thought about the hijab, I started to really think about it. One day I started talking to elderly Syrian woman in mosque who I knew didn't really have anyone anymore and seemed lonely."
"From then on, we had a good relationship and one day she told me that she wanted to give me a hijab. It wasn't the eureka moment; but I had been thinking about it and she had offered to give me one. I don't know it seemed very..." she pauses for a moment searching for the right word, settling on "serendipitous".
Decisions and liberation
The moment she was given the hijab, however, was not the same moment in which she decided to put it on. "I started to feel like a hypocrite. When I went to mosque, of course I would cover appropriately. Just as soon as I walked out though, I'd take off the head cover and that was really painful to me." She shakes her head at the discontent she endured. "I had to ask myself, what is so shameful about this?" After what she describes as an emotional night and a lack of answers to her own questions, she put it on with no regrets.
"It's a decision that I think women really need to come to on their own, from a place of faith as opposed to coercion so that she doesn't come to resent something that in essence is quite beautiful if you think about it." She explains the hijab as functioning as somewhat of an equalizer because when a woman wears the hijab, the quality of her character becomes the basis of others perception of her; inner beauty comes to completely surpasses outer beauty.
"It doesn't matter if you have the best or worst hair, figure or skin. It doesn't even matter if you're the hairiest beast on the planet! It doesn't matter because the point of the hijab is to bring out the best of you - but it certainly helps that it covers it all!" She laughs, "That's not to say that all women should start wearing the hijab because no one will know if you've shaved your legs." She continues with obvious passion, "It's like a complete removal of vanity and a complete denunciation on what mass culture is constantly throwing at you about ideas of self worth and body image...Islam, in many ways rejects the modern portrayal of both men and women alike in mass media, and encourages building an inpidual identity independent of external approval".
Soukaina attributes these same characteristics to why much of the youth has been able to mobilize, rebel and protest against a government that has stirred feelings of great discontent amongst its people. "It's about time", she says.
She begins to attempt a brief explanation of the history of the Arab world: "The Arab world has gone through a lot of phases. First it was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, then during the scramble for Africa, that's when things started to go awry. After World War I much of the land had to be overturned to the League of Nations.Then the Middle East passed into the hands of the French and the British, then it was the 40s, 50s, and 60s... Basically, Arabs haven't been in control of themselves for a very long time."
She explained how even after World War 2 and the start of decolonisation, people like her grandparents took part in the independence movement risking their lives for the cause. She lost her grandfather, who was tortured in a French prison. Now the generation who grew up with decolonisation are still dissatisfied. "There's this realisation that we don't have to live like that anymore." She also considers the role that globalisation has played. "In the past 20 years, our world has been more connected that ever. We're having more educated people, people who are bi-lingual, tri-lingual, communicating with others in the world and there's an international exchange of thought and people are starting to say, 'I'm not satisfied!'"
Her eyes fill with new passion and anger as she explains that the lack of respect for authority is caused because the authority has no respect for the people. As this idea settles she adds "The true root of change is not in a country's leader or government. It's the passion of the youth who are seeking a better future for themselves and their children...We feel no resignation that our forefathers might have felt, and I think that's a really important ingredient for change."