Recent events in Afghanistan got me thinking about two of my favorite former students. Noom, an Iraqi American, wore an hijab every day. Nor was Palestinian American and did not. Both dressed in typical teen tight jeans. Noom and Nor were in my U.S. History class at the Sonoran Science Academy in Tucson, the only two Muslim girls there.
Some days they left class together around noon for traditional Muslim prayer, which only took a few minutes. They often hung out in my classroom during lunch or recess. They asked straightforward questions: “What do you think of Israel?” “Why do people think America is so great?” “Do you believe in god?” We learned from each other. I liked them.
“You think it’s better for my grandmother who lives in Baghdad that America overthrew Saddam? At least she had running water and could cross the street before American soldiers arrived with their war,” she said, raising her voice.
“Then why don’t you go back there if it was so great?” Tad asked angrily. And he said something derogatory to Noom, but I don’t remember what it was.
“Enough! You don’t talk to anyone in this class like that,” I said. “Everyone has just as much right to be here as you do.”
I requested that Tad’s father come in to discuss what happened. I was nervous as this lumbering man walked in, not knowing how the conversation would go. But he and I came to an agreement that Tad was wrong telling Noom to return to Iraq. That Tad had to apologize.
A few days later, a classmate asked Noom if we could see what her hair looked like underneath her white jersey hijab.
“Only if all the boys leave. They’ll have to promise to wait outside at the end of the hall.” The boys agreed, although I caught a few of them sneaking down the hall to watch, including Tad. I made them leave.
Noom’s dark eyes shone as she unwound pinned layers of the blackest hair I had ever seen. She looked so proud, smiling, sharing her unconcealed appearance with the other girls.
Teenagers who crossed a boundary together. Noom and Nor are grown women now. I sure would love to see them.