When We Talk of Freedom Hijabs, Respectability and What it Actually Means to be Free

Each time someone questioned Hauwa Shaffii Nuhu's decision to wear a hijab, it wasn't just about clothing. It spoke to a larger culture even in Nigeria, in which visibly Muslim women are either exoticized or viewed as oppressed.

It's November. When night falls, harmattan spills into the room through the window. I'm sitting on the bed, one leg hanging off the edge, the other folded in front of me. I have my laptop in front of me and I should be working on a submission I hope to make before the night ends, but I am on the phone with a new friend. We've been discussing poetry, friendship; the common tunes that our hearts sing to. There is laughter in which I throw my head back and slap my thigh repeatedly, and I have to struggle to catch my breath. There is a fond dissecting of what home entails; I tell him how, against Warsan Shire's advice, I have built homes out of people.

As the night crawls on, my new friend and I begin to sail on waters unfamiliar to our friendship: marginalization and intersections; stereotypes; religion; the notion of belonging. Because I am learning to carry myself more carefully even during conversations, I hesitate to delve into matters like this (doing so invariably leads to recounting stories of oppressions suffered). To revisit oppression is to invoke the pain that accompanies it and so, I try so hard not to.

Our conversation begins to revolve around the things I hate to talk about, and the atmosphere tenses up. Eventually, I'm in the thick of it. When I say, 'but you know there's been a constant marginalization and ill-treatment of Muslims all around the world, right?', he disagrees. And this is when, for the first time this evening, I am speechless. I think about concentration camps in China where Muslims are treated like people with mental illness. I think about the Niqab ban in France. He says, 'I don't think it's like that'.

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