Marwa and sectarian fear

Written by :
Marwa Melhem

I was born and lived my whole childhood in one neighborhood, one city, its people are similar to each other in everything, their accent and way of dressing and cooking, the same opinions on political, and humanitarian issues, in all matters, we were never allowed to go beyond the neighborhood, we were trapped in a simple neighborhood and its courtyard, we are living according to similar habits and lifestyle, a group of people who are not only from one creed and one community, but also from a single geographical area, they have their own culture and deep- rooted convictions -even if its source was missing- and have their worries and concerns for other cults and other residents.

All my life, I have never known a woman wearing hijab, unless they pass by our neighborhood by coincidence going somewhere. In my childhood, I used to run away from them, thinking they came to kidnap me, I do not know the source of this idea, but in my mind, I have scary illusions about women with hijab that makes me jump from horror when I see them miles away, after I have grown up, I conquered my fear, but I still have this awareness of coming closer to them.  

In high school, which was far a little bit from the neighborhood, I had many friends, and started to learn the vocabularies that define communal and social differences, so I put to my fear a name, as if I could identify a group that I cannot tolerate or getting close to them.

It was surprising to me that this unity between women in our neighborhood and not wearing the hijab was not innocent or coincidental, but it was placed under a whole community definition, fine, who mad these differences?

Under what circumstances it became reality? 

A mysterious subject which made it more intimidating and confusing and a matter for questions.

At the beginning of the war, I was willing to end up my relationship with any friend who decides to wear hijab, once I see them covering their heads, I feel disgust and shocked and end up my relationship with them, even once, my favorite classmate and friend “Hiba”, we spend every day talking about the details of our lives and dreams, when we finish the baccalaureate, one day she got sick, and her mother came to pick her up from school, I was helping Hiba go down to the lobby leaning on me, when we reached first floor, I was amazed watching her mother putting a white hijab on her head, she was anxious, waiting for us, and she started asking me casual questions in a hasty about “Hiba”, and how she got sick all of a sudden and about school and exams, I cannot remember what she asked also, I was confused and could not concentrate, I left them be, and returned to class so upset, I cried so much that day, because I lost my friend “Hiba” who had no idea what I had in my mind, she could never understand why our friendship was ruined and our communication ended.

This went on until second year in university, I was almost alone, friendless, I spent my college days with a confused mind most of the time for many reasons, one day, I forgot my notebook, and my calculator in the auditorium, I returned home without them, when I found out about them I got really mad, my book has everything I wrote in the lectures, and my calculator was too expensive and I could not afford another one, I had no expectation of where I left them, so there was no hope of getting them back.

Next day, while I was waiting for the second lecture to begin, a young girl walked in looking around perplexed and in a hurry, I noticed my notebook in her hand, I rushed to her without even asking her anything, when she saw approaching, she knew I was the owner of the stuff and handed it to me immediately.

She told me she was looking for me since yesterday, and when she gave up to find the name on the book, she searched at student lists and the attendance schedule, then she found out my lecture times and came to see me.

That night I was describing to my mother how much I was happy retrieving what I had lost, and suddenly I remembered that girl was wearing hijab, it did not bother at all this time, I barely even paid attention to it, I could not tell whether it was temporary or this girl could eliminate my rejection and hatred for hijab.

In the next days, I met her many times in mutual lectures, she was an excellent hard-working student, prepare all lessons and write every homework, studies before exams insanely, and her grade average is very high.

Gradually, we became friends, she helped me in my study in a great dedication, and absolute commitment like she was responsible for my success, I have never seen anyone like this before.

“Mais”, she was from Idlib city, her accent was special and so religious, she told me about things in Idlib I never heard about in my life, and the routine there, its people and their temper and works, back then, war escalated in Idlib, and life was so dangerous there, she traveled to her hometown in summer and told me that the internet connection will cut off probably, I suggested she come to my house if the roads are closed or she might misses university, and she could stay at our home until college dormitory opens again.

She came indeed, she came two weeks before the beginning of the semester and college dormitory was still closed, because it was risky that the roads might close, and she will not be able to travel to Homs.

The days we spent together, I felt the true companionship, we stay up all night, we laugh, we think and study, we eat and sleep, we lived every detail, and when she was able to contact with her family after several attempts, we were so stressed and eager to check about them and hear about news in their city.

Mais had a place in my heart and my life, she made me experience new feelings about others, understanding and respecting who they are, to listen to their stories, history and different backgrounds, I am not saying that I accepted the idea of the hijab, it is more than that, because after this, it all seemed ridiculous, I laughed and mocked my fear of women wearing hijab and my rejection for them.

Mias had a lot to tell me of what do people in Idlib think about people in Homs, especially our cult, but the difference was, she did not have the same fear for me, but her kindness pushed her to make friendships and help people, and this what made us become best friends, and changed me and made me think twice before I judge people

I laughed at my fear of veiled women

Community Verified icon

Community Verified icon
Marwa Melhem