It takes two hands, a safety pin and two straight pins to turn a scarf into a hijab. Three pins if the wind is blowing across the Great Plains. Maira Salim stands at her dresser mirror with a pin in her mouth and a bedroom full of scarves. Her long brown hair disappears and then her neck. Maira leans in for inspection, making sure not a wisp of hair is showing.
Different scarves go with different outfits. She likes a black scarf with her red Converse sneakers. Her emerald scarf is nice with the satin dress she wears on holidays, tottering on gold heels as she walks across the asphalt parking lot of her Wichita mosque. The camouflage scarf makes her mother cringe — “You look like a boy!” — but Maira thinks it’s perfect with her mirrored sunglasses.
“I never wanted to be the weird religious girl,” she says.
Without a hijab, she would be a college senior who lives in a subdivision with her parents, two younger sisters and grandfather. She’d be the annoyed oldest daughter who has to pick up her little sister from swimming. She’d be the 21-year-old who works at her father’s used-car lot haggling over Dodge Chargers by a chain-link fence. She would be a business major who binge-watches “Quantico” instead of doing her take-home exam.
With the hijab, her country sees a Muslim in a headscarf. Grabbing her purse and keys, Maira — pronounced MY-ra — leaves her house already knowing the questions that are waiting.
“Do they make you sleep in it?”
“Is it allowed to touch the ground?”
“Can you hear me in that?”
“Does it come from overseas?”
Over and over she gives the same answers, trying to be polite and informative when sometimes she wants to say, “Really? Are you serious?” The lack of even the most basic knowledge about Muslims depresses Maira; it became terrifying in a year in which America’s television was stuck on the ISIS channel. One day she was at a traffic light when a woman rolled down her window and screamed, “Go back to your own country.” Nothing like that had ever happened before. The woman drove on while Maira sat there, scared and then angry, wishing she had yelled back that she was in her own country.