Oklahoman reporter Carrie Coppernoll takes time out during Ramadan to reflect on the day when several Muslim students taught her about how we are all alike.
I will always remember the time I saw Zoha Qureshi’s hair.
It was maybe five minutes before class was about to start, and none of the boys had shown up yet. The girls who came early were chatting, and the focus had shifted to the small clutch of Muslim students.
Why did they wear headscarves? Was anyone allowed to see their hair?
The conversation unfolded during Newsroom 101, a class for high school students who are interested in journalism. It’s sponsored by The Oklahoman, and I’ve had the pleasure of teaching it for several years.
Zoha and two of her classmates from Mercy School — Isra Cheema and Areebah Anwar — enthusiastically answered every question. They opened a window into a little corner of Muslim life, letting us non-Muslims peek in.
They explained that religious modesty keeps them covering their heads every day. In America, Muslim women are free to choose their own level of modesty. Some wear simply a headscarf, called a hijab. Others wear a loose outer layer, called an aba. A few wear a face veil that may show the eyes, called a niqab.
The other girls in class wanted to know more about their hair. My Muslim girls explained that a few people could see it, namely other women and male relatives.
“So, could we see it?” someone asked.
“Yeah,” Zoha shrugged, looking a little confused about why everyone wanted to see her hair.
My job was to stand guard at the entrance while my students sat to the side. If a male walked down the steps, I would stop him before he could see inside.
Zoha undid a few folds and pins, and anticipation filled the room.
What would happen? What would she look like?
She gently folded back the cloth. Then we saw it.
Just, you know, hair.
Turns out, Muslim hair looks an awfully lot like non-Muslim hair.
We all exhaled and laughed at ourselves.
My Muslim girls live in a place where their headscarves are curiosities. People will have questions, even if they don’t say those questions out loud.
I’m sure they are fielding questions now during the sacred month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast during the day. Hopefully those who are curious — like my students and me — will look and see that we are all the same underneath it all.