Islam is a large religion. A research conducted by Pew Research Center showed that in 2017, there were 1,6 billion muslims around the world and that it is the most expanded religion. The Middle East is filled with beautiful and complex cultures and lots of different rituals. In 2020, there were more than a million muslims living in Brazil. But still there is prejudice surrounding the religion and its customs.
For muslim women, this comes as a harder problem because of their hijab, a scarf they wear to reinforce their faith and respect for the muslim culture. Wearing it in Brazil, such a diverse country, can be a target to religious intolerance but also it confirms identity and resistance of these women. That’s what Zainab El Moukad, nutritionist and muslim women who wears a hijab told about following the Islam in Brazil today.
Born In A Muslim Nest
Zainab is a Brazilian woman with Lebanese descendance. Her parents were born in Lebanon and met by coincidence in Paraná. Zainab has two brothers and, a few years ago, her family moved to São Paulo.
She, who is 24 years old, speaks about her decision to follow the religion and wear a hijab: “It is something really natural. Many children copy what their parents do and follow their example. I started wearing the scarf when I was 9, which is the common age to begin. I was the first to use it in my school and, actually, it wasn’t hard. Of course people tend to think it is strange, but I didn’t feel it that much because of my friends who had been with me since we were three years old and totally supported me”.
During her entire student life, she confesses never having suffered a great case of prejudice from her colleagues: “There are plenty of jokes that are not funny at all, but it depends a lot on who is telling them. Even so, there was always a limit, if I didn’t like something that was said, I would talk to this person”.
What Does It Mean To Wear The Hijab?
In Islamism, the culture of wearing a hijab is common, but not mandatory. To explain the reason for the veil, Zainab says: “Imagine you have a diamond. Would you leave it exposed for everyone to see and unprotected that it could fall and break at any moment? In Islam, women are more valuable than diamonds, so using the scarf is an act of care and love. It is not just about the privacy and respect, but it is also an Islam simbol”.
Her experience with it is very positive and she doesn’t intend to take it off because the veil became part of her identity. Zainab adds: “We don’t wear it because men impose it on us. It is a God’s obligation, but we have the free will to put it on or not”.
The idea people have of the hijab is influenced by what the media shows. She comments about what is happening in Afghanistan and explains why it doesn’t have to deal with the religion: “Women there are being oppressed, but it is wrong to say it has something to do with Islamism. It is way more political and cultural. People created a really wrong image, but no religion preaches oppression”.
How Western Media Influences Religious Intolerance
The nutritionist questions the power of the media and how it doesn’t share the wrong information, but defames the name of the religion by, for instance, inserting “Islamic State” on terrorist attacs matters. “Iran is seen as one of the worst places in the world. Of course it isn’t, it follows the Islamic laws, but the right ones, nothing related to what we hear. Differently from Saudi Arabia, in which women can’t drive, for example. I think that what I speak out about is enough to understand that being muslim is not symbol of something bad, it is a religion like any other”, she says.
She defends that we should learn more about cultures, but Zainab emphasizes that education needs to surround the fact that the Middle East and Islamism are different things. She says people are always asking where she is from just because of her hijab and it annoys her in a certain way: “It is not because I wear a scarf that I’m not Brazilian, it’s a religion. People keep forgetting that in Syria, Lebanon, and other Arab countries there are many religions too, not just in Brazil”.
About the oppression Zainab believes that comes from the media, she explains that the hijab is not related: “These situations exist, but they happen anywhere in the world. Brazil is one of the record countries with a high number of women homicide, violence, but no one relates it to christianism because it is wrong. Is the same thing with Islam”.
“Something my dad always encouraged me about is my learning, being independent. So it was very important that I studied, had my job, my autonomy, because we never know what can happen in the future”. That is the base of her accomplishments and a beautiful road of becoming a health professional.
Zainab graduated in Nutrition and works at Hospital Santa Casa, one of the most important Brazilian reference hospital centers, and has her own clinic. During her journey, she made sure to leave her mark and she took advantage of all the experience on the internships she had the opportunity to join. The nutritionist says that her networking skills were always really good and helped a lot with her job; also tells how was it to wear the hijab while working:
“During all this time I never had any problems with the veil, actually I think it was even better to wear it especially when I worked inside the kitchen and I didn’t need to cover my hair with the cap”. Zainab also makes her mind about the misunderstanding that people have with the muslims: “The scarf is not an impediment to anything, it never was. I like to think in the positive way that it captivates curiosity, and good curiosity, to learn more”.
Through her accomplishments, what she defines as the best thing to do is to put effort on what you are doing and don’t get scared if you will or won’t be accepted by the scarf. “I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but it’s worth it to think about it with lightness”, she adds.
Being Muslim In Brazil And Social Networks
The nutritionist has an Instagram page (@nutrizainabmoukdad) in which she shares information about her job, focused on women’s health, and shares a little bit of her personal life and muslim traditions: “I realized that because of my scarf people expected different contents on my page. And I like being the example by showing my actions and not just talking about it”. Zainab is the living proof that it is possible to reconcile religion and everything she always dreamed of.
She comments: “In Islam, we have equal rights. That is shown by the amount of women who live in countries that follow the muslim laws and still work in politics”. Inspite of Brazil being a diverse country, it still has lots of cultural prejudice and Zainab tells a story of one time that she had to face this kind of situation: “Once I was at the subway line to get a ticket and an old lady asked me ‘Are you from the terrorists countries? Are you a terrorist?’ and I just felt in shock. I talked to her and explained it, but it’s sad having to do this”.
Zainab deffends that the internet can help a lot to spread the right information, even if it is for just the people who have access to it. What she emphasizes is the power of education: “If we had a strong base of education – not only in public, but private schools too – people would have more respect for others, more knowledge. But I’m not only talking about History, Geography, Maths… I mean learning about cultures in general”.
To finish, she explains how Brazil is an open country to a lot of people, but it definitely needs to change its ways of dealing with new cultures.