Earlier this year, Hoda Al-Jamaa, a 17 year old Muslim student at Otago Girls’ High School was violently attacked by other students, who ripped her hijab off. After suffering multiple blows to the head she was hospitalised with a concussion.
In this essay, Khadro Mohamed, who features in the video series My Hijab and Me, writes about how this affected her.
When the news of Hoda first broke out, I had an intense array of emotions flood my system.
But I often jump between two emotions in particular: fear and anger.
Fear, for Hoda’s continued safety and the safety of every hijab-wearing girl currently enrolled in a high school here in Aotearoa.
And anger, for how overlooked our experiences continue to be despite the massacre that saw 51 Muslims killed in March of 2019.
It’s in times like these that I really struggle with how far New Zealand is willing to go to face the racism that continues to brew in our communities.
Because how often was Hoda dismissed? Ignored? How often did she feel silenced by the school? A place that should guarantee her safety while she seeks an education?
If schools are no longer a place we can show up as ourselves fully, how far have we really come since the attacks of March 15?
After the incident received international media coverage, the school reportedly expelled two of the students involved and a third received counselling.
The principal couldn’t publicly reveal the details for privacy reasons, but told media there had been an “appropriate disciplinary process”.
I often find myself looking back at my own experiences at high school. On top of the typical angsty teenage experience, many Muslim hijabis have an added layer of struggle that comes along with us.
Spaces are often so much harder to puncture, our voices are so much smaller, our experiences are often side-lined or left out altogether.
I think back to how difficult it was to move through spaces while being so hyper-aware of myself and my surroundings. The attack against Hoda and her friends feels so personal to me, and I’m sure to many other hijabis across the country.
What often strikes me about the violence against Hoda was the nature of the attack itself. Not only was she approached with demands to teach the attackers swear words in Arabic, but she was violently held down, repeatedly hit and later had her hijab torn off.
For many people, the hijab tearing off is a small, seemingly minor detail in an already horrific attack—but for Muslim women, it’s a very different story.
For many of us, the hijab is much more than a physical piece of clothing that hides our hair and neck. The hijab represents our faith, our resilience, our values and for many of us, it is a literal part of who we are.
The very act of having a hijab ripped off is violent, it is hideous, and it is an attack on every hijab-wearing individual in New Zealand.
So where does that leave us now? How are hijabi women, and members of other marginalised communities, expected to continue despite the horrific racism and bigotry we face on an almost daily basis?
All I can hope for is that New Zealand reckons with its past, present and looks to create a more inclusive future for everyone that calls this country home.