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"Raghead": A Hijabi with a Mission

03/17/2015 12:03 am ET | Updated May 16, 2015

Picture this: I'm walking down the street with a group of friends, kicking lightheartedly at the slush of half-melted snow on the sidewalk and daydreaming of sunny spring days. We're laughing, cheering, throwing snowballs at one another, and reveling in our day off of classes.

"Hey, raghead!"

Harsh words tend to bruise shoulders darker than any ball of slush can.

Taken literally, the phrase "raghead" would be pretty accurate -- I am a young Muslim who wears the hijab, or headscarf. It is, in fact, a piece of clothing worn around one's head.

The hijab is also a manifestation of a concept central to Islam: modesty. The Arabic word hijab derives from the three root letters ha, jeem, and ba, and when put together, they form the term "hajaba." Hajaba means to conceal or hide from view. Further, despite what the media tells us, modesty is not a value exclusive to women in Islamic culture. The Qur'an, Islam's holy book, urges both men and women to lower their gazes while addressing others and to dress modestly -- that is, by wearing loose clothing, clothing that isn't revealing. So, it's a way of living and dressing that can be carried out by people regardless of whether they cover their hair or not. The value of modesty can be embodied whether or not one wears a hijab.

I choose to wear the hijab because it empowers me. It gives me dignity. It forces people to listen to me, rather than look at me, by preventing my objectification as a sexual object. It helps to promote my intellect and quirky personality as a human being. As a feminist who enjoys dressing androgynously for herself, the hijab has become a major facet of who I am.

Yet in today's society, the crown I once chose to wear upon my head is no longer a ring of diamonds -- it has become a set of rags. I place my dignity upon my shoulders each morning, only to have the bright colors and beauty of my hijab soiled by ignorant slurs and claims that it oppresses me. Western feminist rhetoric rejects my claim to feminism, labeling my headscarf oppressive and radically degenerate. A monolith is made out of my religion, my choices, and my people when in reality, Islam is a vast, incredibly diverse religion that colors the lives of millions of people.

It has become common for those who are not aware of the independence I have discovered to pollute the name of my story with insults borrowed from the media and from mainstream rhetoric regarding Islam.

However, I am no longer going to allow this to happen.

Instead, I'm claiming these insults as my own.

"Raghead" -- my new nickname.

It's a little grungy, I agree -- perhaps a bit on the Cinderella side of the spectrum. But I am quite fond of my new title. I claim this word and all of its negative connotations, and turn it into something new.

To me, "raghead" will represent not a "dirty Arab," but an elegant, proud, empowered young woman with her faith upon her shoulders and her heart on her sleeve. "Raghead" will represent a young Muslim feminist, who chooses to wear the hijab to further her concept of autonomy. "Raghead" will be the mantra of a dreamer with the hopes of changing the face of public policy in the United States. "Raghead" will be the symbol of a woman who hears slurs about her religion and laughs in the face of her oppressors, because she knows better than anyone how beautiful and peaceful her beliefs are. "Raghead" will be the name of a girl who writes truth with her pen and brings those words to life in the form of speeches, explanatory conversations and daily moments of solidarity with close friends. "Raghead" will be my name, and with it, I will invite you to place my hijab in your hands and let it cleanse you of your misconceptions -- like water dripping from a rag.

"Raghead." It's got a nice ring to it, no?