Writing this letter was hard as I did not know from where to start; my life and this letter are quite similar in this regard. I know what some of you might be thinking about me but it has become quite a necessity for me to explain my viewpoint so that the little hope of being understood does not die in my heart without doing any effort.

You all know by now that it is a Pakistani Hijabi whose letter you are reading. I have two of the apparently most deplored and regretted identities in the world; one was written in my fate while the other one has been taken up by me willingly.

I admit, we, the Hijabi women and bearded men, do bear resemblance to the individuals who have been causing anguish and agony to humanity since the end of the 20th century. Why would you not suspect me when I am not visibly different from those who have authored incidents like 9/11, July 2005 London bombings, November 2015 Paris attacks, and 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting? Believe me, it is completely understandable. All what I need is a little opportunity to provide a reason behind this decision of mine and millions of girls who wear headscarves.

I was not wrapped in a scarf immediately after my birth. In fact, I did not wear it for almost two decades. Some happenings made me do so. Who would not love to sway her hair in chilly winters? Who would not want to try on latest hairstyles in accordance with the occasion? Who would want to sweat further in already clammy summers? Like many even I did not want to. It was difficult to get accustomed to the itchy feeling, the suffocating adornment, the deprivation of sensing the coldness of breeze around the neck, and the absence of compliments given to my hair color or style. However, I did manage to accept these realities that had befallen me owing to my own decision.

The steadfast resolution was based on a series of harassments that I had to face by my own countrymen. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is not as Islamic as you have always thought it to be. People here find it a compulsion to opine over every issue; you will be called a whore if you choose to wear a sleeveless or backless shirt, while if you decide to cover yourself entirely because will be eyed as an extremist. I have been pestered by my driver, qari sahib (a bearded man who provides home tuition and teaches young children how to recite the Holy Qur’an but never makes you understand what its verses actually mean!), teachers, policemen, passers-by, hooligans, and colleagues. Some would wink, others would give flying kisses.

From being groped to by a stranger’s hand to a policeman asking me to sit in his van, from a teacher making unwarranted advances to several colleagues asking for undue favors, I have faced a lot. I wanted to conceal my sexuality, the only tool people think I have. I am a feminist and I firmly believe in gender equality. I know extra clothing does not and cannot stop vandals from looking at me with lustful eyes, but what else would I have done to try to deflect stares and physical liberties that men take. I wanted to do my maximum and prevent all forms of mishaps. You ask me about our police and other law enforcement agencies to which I could have reported my case and expected justice or contrition. But this cannot be expected in a country where the harassment of women in police stations is an open secret. Therefore, I started swathing myself with a Hijab.

For those living in the west, or those who are offended by the hijab, I was not unaware that many of you would be skeptical about my appearance, but please give credence to my statement that I have always wanted to resemble the pious and noble Mary. The difference, however, exists in that God made Jesus testify his mother’s chastity while he was still in her lap; whereas I am afraid of being assaulted for wearing a headscarf that I originally wore to protect myself from being harassed. Instead of being eyed as a woman who herself wants protection, I am fearful of being linked with those who want to harm other humans. I know our outfits are same. I realise our dresses seem to you like a uniform. But have you never heard of people being plundered and murdered by dacoits and terrorists emblazoned in police uniforms? They wear such clothes so as to be suspected the least.

I am not asking you to believe me blindly when I say that Islam is the religion of peace because so far we have apparently not done anything peaceful for humanity. But it is a humble request of a Muslim girl who is confronting discrimination in her country and fears to face the same abroad to kindly give people who dress differently a chance of co-existing.