At 18, I’m facing a choice that will define my adulthood: Should I wear hijab?

In America, someone who wears hijab assumes a one-dimensional identity.

They are scarves my mother is far too afraid to wear to her job, scarves that spend hours tightly knotted beneath my 18-year-old chin but that come undone like clockwork in the light of day, because I am too ashamed to wear them outside my own home.

And ultimately, they are scarves that have lost their meaning, because on this land they no longer serve as hijabs, meant to be worn as the pinnacle of religious piety and modesty. Instead they have become accessories, tied around the handles of handbags or curled around our necks to ward off the brunt of winter. They are seldom on our heads, because in this country — with its warped perception of Islam, and particularly of its women — they are not supposed to be.

Herein lies the hardest lesson America has ever taught me: The choice to wear a hijab here can redefine a woman.

As one of the most profound signifiers of Islam, a hijab carries weight: Intertwined within its threads are the expectations of what it means to be a Muslim woman. In time, to so many — to peers, to teachers, to neighbors — I, too, will become discernible first and foremost by my religion, perceived by what I seem to be rather than what I am. I am afraid. I am afraid of all I have to lose.

But my mother owns a wicker basket overflowing with scarves. Scarves from every corner of the world.

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