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  • Amal Alhuwasyhil

From Burka To Bikini - Personal Journey to Freedom


In leaving Saudi Arabia and coming to Canada; here's where I found my freedom.

From the outside, I’m a second-class citizen, who couldn’t leave Saudi Arabia to come here for education if it wasn’t for this piece of paper.

Which is the permission from my male guardian to go study abroad. From the inside, I am still conflicted over the dichotomy of it. This piece of paper represents oppression and empowerment. I was an adult, 24 years old, but I needed permission. My dad signed it, in a place where not all men are willing to do the same, he empowered me. This paper granted me freedom but is a reminder that I wasn’t free.

Can you imagine being treated as minor for your entire life? Needing permission from your father, husband, brother or even your son to pursue education, obtaining a passport, or credit card. From the inside, I thought to myself if a whole country’s law, whether it’s sharia law or rigid interpretation of it, is set up to guide a women in every step, then this inequality might be true. I believed that if God views women’s witness statements in court to carry half the weight of a man’s, then God knows best. Aren’t these evidence that women are clearly incapable of making decisions on their own, and maybe I do need that permission.

Do I? Do I need permission? No I don’t! and I know that. But I still catch myself seeking that permission, that tap on the shoulder to go for it. because my society ingrained that in me.

What did YOUR society ingrained in you? (PAUSE)

I was privileged to be born in Saudi Arabia.

A country that spends 8.8 % of its GDP on education, compared with the global average of 4.6%, and yes, just like Canada, there are more women enrolled in Postsecondary than men.

In 2013, I was among 49,176 females studying abroad.

A Lot of people ask me why I chose Canada, I’m a list person, so I had pros and cons comparing Canada, Australia and the UK - Yea didn’t even have the States in there.

Based on the weather, the quality of education, and the people.

Everywhere I looked I learned that Canadians are sooo nice and apologize way too often, they had amazing universities, and it snows a lot! So, Canada it is!

I really just wanted to go to Montreal to McGill University. But I thought to myself, maybe going from +40 degrees to -40 degrees is not a good idea.

I lived in Vancouver before moving here, I was wearing the hijab and fully covered up, there I was, watching the “Lost West” waste their lives without worshiping God, I felt privileged to be knowing of god, I felt superior. And I felt sorry for the women who were in shorts and tank tops, while the men wore more clothes and covered more skin. With some judgment, well, a lot of judgment, I observed how those poor souls are products of their environments. I knew that they felt sorry for me that I was fully covered up, but back then I didn’t know that I , too, was a product of my environment. We do that all the time, we judge people and we project - it’s much easier, but we never look in.

I picked up this book called Female Chauvinist Pigs: about the rise of Raunch culture. The book critiques the highly sexualized American culture in which women are objectified, objectify one another, and are encouraged to objectify themselves. A part of that book was dedicated to this playboy playmate that convetted to Islam, I read her words about how the islamic cover made her feel, powerful, secure, protected.. I continued to read her words, and I could feel every single one of them coming from her, but I realized that I didn't feel the way she felt, I recognized every word she used, because I wast taught them, but I didn’t feeeel them.

I realized that a lot of my inside story was given to me.

I found myself in a place where I questioned the religious teachings. And maybe I wanted to free myself from that and the social conditionings. Was it really my choice when I cried in third grade asking my mom to get me the islamic cover? Or was it fate, and that was what all the adults were doing.

SO,I moved to kelowna, August 2014. I had already decided to stop doing something I did for a long time… I decided to take off the Hijab for a year, and have that be an experiment for me to go as far as I would go. I wore a hat instead and showed a sliver of hair. I knew that I was going to take it off, but I was waiting for it to feel right in my body.

, .

On FROSH night, where many lose their virginity, other get “shit-faced” for the first time, I, on the other hand, stood in a circle of girlfriends away from the crowds and lights, where I slipped down the hat, I took it off for the first time for few minutes in the darkness of the night, as it represented the darkness of my action,

then I took it off in morning of late September day, where I felt the brisk fall breeze wove through my hair, as it bounced with every sinful step I was taking. And I thought everybody was watching me, everybody knew what I was doing, But nobody looked at me, nobody noticed, nobody cared. I was taught that I needed to cover up not only to protect myself, but not to cause a man to go a stray, to sin, to end up in Hell because of me, and my lack of MY desincy. But, No men were going stray because of me, no one was falling on their knees. I mean (flick my hair), ugh.. Whatever. I felt free… I FELT SO FREE... I felt free from that burden, that I am not responsible for other people and their actions.

I thought I was stepping into my freedom, but I was stepping into hell, My inner world was not at peace... There I was, sitting with immense guilt and shame, with an identity crisis, struggling with anxiety attacks.

People told me that I was courageous, that I should be proud of myself, They say be proud of yourself, love yourself, HOW?! With all this shame, ocean of saddenss, pain from the past. I did love parts of myself, the parts that were courageous, but there’s those other parts those bad parts of me were not worthy of love. So I turned in. And for me the gate way was through my yoga practice, journaling and reflecting a lot, that I sat in the mud at the roots of my psych, I found my limiting beliefs; feelings of unworthiness, fear of loneliness, So, I repeat my affirmations to myself, that I’m always surrounded by love, that I am worthy of it all, I’m in my power. And there, I found my freedom, I met my divine feminine, I found the whispers of my soul, not societies’ manual.

Once again, on this journey to freedom, I stopped doing something I did for a long time, this time, I stopped believing many of the negative thoughts I had about myself.

So my question to you; what is the one thing that you’ve done for a long time, that you’ll stop doing?

Using plastic bags, a painful thought, self sabotage, a habit, how you show up to your relationship, looking at your phone instead of smiling to the homeless person on the street, canceling your Netflix account, and reading books instead.

Ignite brilliance in your thoughts about yourself, but also heal and integrate the parts of you that believed

Here’s where I found freedom….

Freedom to me was not From burka to bikini

Freedom to me was to put my shoes on and take off, not having to wait for the driver or my dad

Freedom to me hop on a bus from Tronto to Newyork, get there on Dec 31, Celebrate New year’s eve in Times Square, and on the morning of Jan 1st hop on the bus back to Toronto

Freedom to me was to repel and openly criticize the elected government, and still see the next day

Freedom to me was not From burka to bikini, freedom to me came from within

Freedom to me is to open my heart and to allow myself to fall in love again.

Freedom is having the confidence to stand on the TEDx stage, to speak about conscious choices and share my journey in taking off the Hijab

Freedom is to give yourself the permission to go for it, to start that company, to leave that relationship,

Freedom to me was when my friend told me to run for student politics, that I freed myself from self doubt all the negative thoughts about myself, who am I, an international kid who doesn’t get it, that I’m not ready. To step into my power and go for it.

Freedom to me was not From burka to bikini, freedom to me came from within

My journey to freedom continued when I ran for students politics. A blog post for next month :)


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