This started as an Instagram post and seeing that I wasn’t the only one who had such concern about the issue, I decided to make it a blog post.
See Post Here:
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I always take it personally when people who know my name call me Alhaja. No. No. Stop it. My name is Azeeza, if you can't call me that. Don't bother to open your mouth. I even introduce myself as "Azeeza, but you can call me Zee" to make it easy for them. . . When I tell them not to call me Alhaja, they be like "but you will be an Alhaja in future". Yes, In Shaa Allah. But that doesn't change my name from Azeeza. . . When I fight for my change with a driver, people be like "haba Alhaja". When I insult or clapback at people who do the same to me. They be like "Alhaja 😮". As if wearing the headscarf means I have to eat my voice or shrink myself to be their definition of "Alhaja." 🤷🏾♀
Hijabi/ Alhaja/ Eleha/ Hajia
I’ve lived in the South-West and the Northern Nigeria and there’s a noun used for the Muslim women. Alhaja, Hajia, Eleha. In Arabic, Hijabi.
Which literally means someone who wears Hijab(head coverings worn by Muslim women.)
But sometimes it is used figuratively. It’s a noun that encompass all that you are so that when people start calling you that, they forget other things that you are.
They forget that you’re a nurse, an activist, a creative, they forget you love Korean movies, they forget you stalk the royal Duke and Duchess on Instagram.
Actually, they didn’t forget; they never knew all that details about you in the first place because they only see you as one thing, a Hijabi. Only one thing. A noun. Only one identity.
This is what I have a problem with. I’m not one thing. I’m not a noun. And I won’t allow just one noun to describe everything that I am.
Oh. It’s Not That Deep Zee.
I had no problem with Alhaja or people calling me or describing me as a Hijabi. Until I started to.
I realized there’s a singular narrative internalized about Muslims here so that when they see a Muslim, it is as if they’ve met the whole Muslims.
As though every Hijabi is supposed be one thing with the same attitude, behavior, likes and dislikes.
It started last year in camp. I camped in Kebbi State and as you’d expect, it was filled with different Nigerians from different backgrounds.
I was in a hostel with about 50 other corpers. We were about 6 Muslims in that hostel. Guess what our names were?
You guessed right! Alhaja.
So, my name became ‘Hey, Alhaja. No, not your Alhaja, the Alhaja beside the Window.’ “No. no no, not you, the Alhaja beside the window who owns the big torch light.”
Apart from the people I made friends with, others in the room called me one thing Alhaja. It would have taken them less than a minute to ask me for my name but my name was inconsequential to them because they thought Alhaja described me best. A noun. An Identity.
Maybe I wouldn’t have taken it so seriously if I was the only one in the room called Alhaja but seriously you call 6 of us Alhaja. Like Yo!
Reminds me of Boy and Girl in Bird Box. I’m sure we all felt some type of way when we saw that Malorie didn’t name those children, instead she called them by their genders.
My name is really important to me, I spend minutes teaching people how to pronounce my name correctly and telling them what it means.
But instead, like Malorie in bird box, some just decide to write off my name and call be by my religion label.
I was used to being called Alhaja at a point. Usually by people I may not see again, by strangers.
A taxi driver, a passenger in the bus, a shopkeeper in a new neighborhood, someone on queue in the bank. So I wasn’t bothered then. It’s the same way we call strangers brother or sister or uncle or mummy because we don’t know their names yet.
But we aren’t strangers anymore and you go on calling me Alhaja? That I have a problem with.
In camp, one legit called me Alhaja through the first and second week. We were in the same platoon and anywhere he saw me, he’d say Alhaja until I asked him, “Guy, don’t you want to know my name?”
After I told him, I started telling others too.
“Hi. My name is Azeeza. Don’t call me Alhaja, it’s not my name.”
When I started NYSC in Ibadan. I took it really seriously. When people call me Alhaja. I don’t answer.
When they walk up to me and say, “Hey, I called you earlier.”
I’ll be like, me? When?
Oh, ehya, Im sorry but you sef you didn’t call my name na. You called me Alhaja.
Why So Deep?
I wanted them to see me as a person, not a representative of Islam. I am not a representative of Islam.
The Hijabi label to me became a word for someone who is expected to act in a particular way.
Meek. Knows nothing about the Jonas Brothers. Turns her other cheek when she’s slapped. Pretends someone’s rude jokes doesn’t hurt because you’re not supposed to get angry. Doesn’t watch GOT.
Oneonce said “Ehhhh, so Alhajas watch Game of Thrones too?”
Or “heyyy. Alhaja, so you too can rap Nicki Minaj like this,” as though rapping a Nicki Minaj somehow isn’t for people of my identity.
It became weird and uncomfortable especially when I say things or do things or they find out things about me that isn’t “Hijabi -ish”
For instance, I dislike when people are rude to me or run their mouths at me. But somehow, because I’m an Hijabi, I am meant not to react. I am meant to shrink my loud voice and diversity so that I satisfy their definition of an Hijabi. I have become an ambassador of Islam.
What’s so Wrong With Being An Ambassador Of Islam?
So many expectations! As if we are all one. Like a robot who’s expected to act the same with the millions of diverse Muslim Women all around the world.
Someone who’s behavior will be used to judge other Muslims.
Every word, action, behavior whether good or bad will be used to judge other Muslims.
It became a constant bother for me. I started to ask myself, Is it faulty or not if people see me as an ambassador of Islam?
Should I be a representative of Islam, so that when I do good, it will be like every Muslim have done good in their eyes?
But I don’t see them as an ambassador of their religions, I just see them as people. So why do they see me as an ambassador of my religion?
It’s out of this frustration that I once suffered Muslim guilt because I suddenly felt not Muslim enough to be an ambassador of Islam.
If you haven’t already, read my article about the “Perfect Muslim” Single Story Published on Amaliah.
We Are Not Just Hijabis
Muslims are diverse, the whole world is and it will be wrong to expect every Hijabi to be one thing.
We are not just Hijabis, We are doctors, housewives, entrepreneurs, writers, singers, dancers, models, scholars, Uztaza, congress women and it is wrong if you think just one person can represent the whole diverse women who sit under the label Islam.
Ramadan Mubarak guys!!!
May Allah accept our acts of Ibadah and make us people who find every opportunity to seek His blessings.
Please keep me in your Du’as this Ramadan 😘