She donned the hijab when she was twelve years old, in a school run by Hindus.
“I’ll never forget the moment I walked through the corridors of my school, in my first week of wearing the hijab, and this teacher called me. I had never spoken to her before but I knew she had a reputation of being austere, which made me nervous. I went to her apprehensively and to my utter surprise she gave me a warm hug, and told me I looked very pretty in the head scarf.”
She calls herself an ordinary girl from a small city and looks back on her hijab journey with a warm sense of gratitude. Hijab, to her, symbolises her commitment to God, her dignity and pride in her identity as a Muslim and protection from societal evils.
Having been born and brought up in a Hindu majority society somewhere in the Northern belt of India, she recalls never having received anything other than love, acceptance and respect from her non-Muslim neighbours and peers whom she calls her brothers and sisters.
“In fact, when I decided to wear hijab in the 6th standard, my friends and teachers never alienated me. I was never discriminated against. Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I saw the deep-rooted essence of India, which is interfaith and inter-cultural integrity in the face of diversity.”
Ironically, she remembers not receiving the love and acceptance she expected from the Muslim community, including some of her extended family members. She recalls bitter memories of being mocked at by people of her own community for wearing the hijab. Looking back, she recollects traumatic memories of her parents being rebuked by Muslim women for letting her wear the hijab from such a young age.
“I remember people of my own community mocking me for my hijab, completely overlooking the fact that I was a child and their remarks would have been detrimental to my psyche.”
“Now, looking back at those bitter moments, I realize that many Muslims, especially of the previous generation, were very uncomfortable with a visible Muslim identity. The rebukes I got was a result of the same internalized hate, which is reinforced in their minds by the media.”
“There are many Muslims who have internalized an Islamophobic worldview; I once had a Muslim classmate ask me if my father forces the hijab on me. They associate hijab to oppression, and a visible Muslim identity to terrorism.”
They say that the worst experiences are the best opportunities for growth. Looking back at those experiences, there was no doubt in her mind that many Muslims were clearly very uncomfortable with the idea of having a visible Muslim identity, especially the elders. That’s when she decided to do something about it.
We’ve all seen superheroes wear capes; Capes usually represent strength and power. “Hood” was born as a Hijabi girl-next-door who is self-empowered and empowers others. The very real and goofy character who wears the hood – a hijab – is lovingly called Hood, and so is the illustrator. She likes to go by the name “Hood” as well because her comic character is partly based on herself, and she prefers anonymity, like Batman.
“I wore a hijab, and I could relate to the character. And when I started drawing Hood, I hoped that it would make more hijabi girls comfortable with their identity. Also, I thought it would dissociate hijab with the idea of oppression, an idea that is subconsciously internalized within many Muslims. Many incidents in my comics, if not all, have actually happened in my life. So, I see Hood as a virtual extension of myself, rather, a better and more entertaining version of myself.”
One day, with nothing specific in her mind, she randomly started making comics. She didn’t have a digital drawing tab back then, just a sketchbook and good old paints. She started experimenting with cute characters and playing around with comic designs. When she saw people react positively to cute visuals on Instagram, she thought of making her characters a means to convey important messages. Most of her content is a response to the Islamophobic narrative and the communal hatred fanned in the media and movies; and also, some passive observations she’s made through her life.
“I once saw some of my classmates calling a fellow Muslim classmate a terrorist, and other jokes on similar lines but I try not to let hate comments or Islamophobia get to me.”
She sees the prevailing political scenario in India as an opportunity to do good, rather than a hurdle. She believes it is important to be careful, foresighted and balanced when it comes to addressing sensitive issues, and speak only after having understood the cause and effects of what one is saying, but, at the same time to not let sensitivities hinder one’s creative and intellectual expression.
“If you speak after having weighed the pros and cons, you are good to go. I feel that you can go way ahead in bringing about the change you desire if you exercise the freedom of expression in a responsible and calculated manner, instead of aggressively ranting out your disagreement of what’s happening in the society.”
Although she acknowledges the very genuine challenges that one has to face as a “visible” Muslim in the world, she believes that the biggest challenges to oneself are the apprehensions in one’s own head.
“You know, for me, the most difficult part of wearing a hijab for the first time was the car ride on the way to school, and thinking what people would say. But once you start to feel confident in your attire and embrace your identity, the apprehensions will fade away. You’ll not be afraid to sit for an interview in hijab, to give competitive exams, or even to get rejected for a job. Because you know that you’re doing the hijab for Allah and He is the only Provider; and if Allah is with you, then He will help you overcome all hurdles.”
She certainly has come a long way after overcoming the setbacks she had to face. Embracing the artist and scientist in her, she began her PhD in Bioengineering this year. Besides running her comic pages on Instagram, she has her very own website, hoodnscience.com, where she combines the art of storytelling with complex science and funny doodles. Be sure to check it out!