Sarah Bardeau, a strong, young woman of the Muslim faith, came to speak to Aden Bowman School on March 14th for the Multicultural Day celebration. She spoke on the hijab and the life of a woman of a minority. The prime focus of the speech was empowerment of all women, but she focused in specifically on her personal faith journey and her experiences as a Muslim woman in Saskatoon.
Her words were powerful to everyone in the room, even to those who are not of Muslim faith. She began the presentation with a discussion. She asked the class, “How many of you think I am oppressed?” and many students put up their hands. Sarah was not surprised by what she saw, but my jaw dropped. She followed up by saying that it’s a common misconception that women who choose to wear the hijab are oppressed. I found this simple to believe. I have not experienced this generalization first hand, but in today’s society, minorities are naturally assumed to be people who lived oppressed, fearful lives in other other countries and came to Canada to be free or live an ‘actual’ life, as she put it.
As she shared her very personal faith journey, she addressed the misunderstandings of why women wear the hijab. I find it very empowering to hear young women express their dedication to their faith and explain how they have grown and are growing in the direction of success. Including Sarah, young women struggle enough as it is already, and when adding factors such as external hate and internal conflict, the life of a young woman becomes even more complex. Sarah then went over her personal journey as a young woman trying to find herself and face the music she was afraid of.
When Sarah began her story, it was more or less what you would hear of a typical childhood. It wasn’t until early adolescence that she experienced hate and discrimination. It was early middle school that she feared wearing her hijab to school for the first time. She had prepared for this moment, not only recognizing that she was ready for that responsibility, but what is to come along with it. It is a relatable moment when something is changing and something new is happening. I have been there and it is a familiar feeling when the pressure to impress, or even be considered ‘normal’, is hanging above your shoulders. It isn’t easy and Sarah addressed how she hesitated going into her classroom that day. It took a lot of gathered courage, but Sarah came to terms with her uncertainties and embraced herself instead of forcing herself to be like everyone else. A significant message I took away from her story is the importance of being yourself and embracing who you are and not hiding to impress anyone.
Not only was it a struggle being an early adolescent girl coming to terms with who she was and who she wanted to be, but Sarah “found herself a target in an Islam-phobic world.” The prejudice and hate restricted her as she tried to find a passion and comfort in the already unsettling world. From there, her speech shifted. She began to talk about how overcoming fear and pressure put her in a more comfortable and stable environment. She embraced the hijab and the Muslim faith for herself and “witnessed a dramatic change in [her] life ever since.”
To conclude her speech, she first read a written piece by her friend on the stigma around Muslim women and the hijab, addressing the misunderstanding and misconception of the practices and values of her faith and the hijab. I felt very emotionally connected to Sarah during her reading even though I do not identify myself as a Muslim. The way she read it, it was meant to explain more than just racism of their identity, but to take a step back and look at people as a whole. It is too common to associate Muslim people with terrorism or refugees. Sarah made it very clear that it is okay that people think those things for now, but she was adamant that Muslims are people too and stereotypes can say what they want, but it is all in your character, regardless of faith, gender, skin colour or status.
Finally, to close off her presentation, she discussed a very important piece of her faith. She spoke about the topic of religion being subjective in a way of suiting what a person needs. This does not mean going against religion and expecting no consequence, but rather personal preference within the religion. For example, in the Muslim faith, women are not obligated to wear the hijab. Sarah said she waited until she knew why she was wearing it before putting it on. Similarly, some women cover all but their eyes in the name of faith and their beliefs. This really connected with me to know that there isn’t always a ‘must.’ There is a choice and ability to adapt based on preference and situation. This being said, I find my mind more at ease reverting to this piece of information, knowing that I can adjust what I am doing to “work for [me] and fit [my] life.”
By: CASSIDY JOSLIN