She prays toward Mecca

Chronicle Staff

Hana Al-Henaid ’10 whirled around in a big black office chair in the publications room and kicked her Converse-clad feet up onto another. She turned to face me expectantly. I looked back at her. I looked down at my tape recorder and asked her: “Do you think your religion sets you apart?” Then I held my breath.

“Well it’s not like I hide it,” she replied without missing a beat, gesturing to her head scarf (called “hijab”). It was black with a lavender print. “I mean, I’m not going to say ‘Of course they don’t notice, they see the real me.’” She rolled her eyes. “But people here have been pretty nice.”

Al-Henaid enrolled as a sophomore this year. She is one of the only Muslim students at the school. At her previous school, Claremont High School, she was one of around 20 Muslims, she said. She called Claremont High the most diverse school she’s been at yet. Before living in Claremont (where she lives now — a 40 minute drive from the San Fernando Valley), Al-Henaid had moved back and forth across the country since she was born.

Al-Henaid’s father is chairman of the board of directors at the Islamic Center of Claremont. Al-Henaid has just begun to take a leadership role in reinstating the center’s youth group.

Though Al-Henaid has become more involved in her community, in the past six years since the events of Sept. 11, she has been subjected to increasing discrimination.

“[Sept. 11] is not something Muslims actually stand for,” she said, “[The discrimination] is just everybody’s ignorance. It’s understandable the year after, but it’s been six years now, which is too bad.”

“I was going to the security line [at an airport], and when I got to the person who takes my boarding pass she looked at me and said ‘You have been randomly selected for an additional security check.’ She paused a minute. “I mean I’ve done the whole pat down thing before, but everything is so much worse when you are completely alone. Plus, you know its because you’re wearing a scarf.”

But for her, the common experience of sideways stares and airport pat-downs creates a bond with her Muslim friends. “We’re lucky enough to be able to laugh it off,” she said.

She said that her head scarf is the only real source of discrimination. Her mother wanted her to wait to wear the scarf until she was older, probably, Al-Henaid said, to postpone intolerance. Officially, girls are supposed to begin wearing scarves around age 12 or 13. Hana decided she was ready at the beginning of eighth grade.

“Nobody forced me to wear it,” she said. “My parents didn’t even know I was going to wear it until I stepped out of the house [in it] and went to school.”

For Al-Henaid, the scarf is not “the ultimate” defining factor of her or even of her religion — she tries to adhere to the values of Islam in all aspects of her life. She said she has seen a lot of Muslim girls who wear the scarf but don’t necessarily comply with its ideology.

“If you agree with modesty, you might as well be modest. It’s how you act. ‘Edeb,’” she said in Arabic, though she does not speak the language, “[it means] you’re modest in your actions.”

That’s not to say that Al-Henaid is obsessive about adhering to her religion’s strict guidelines.
“I’m all about taking your religion and adapting it to your own life”

In a secular society that means a little tweaking  here and there to get her schedules — one organized around her five daily prayers, the other organized around class periods — in order .

“Three of [the prayers] are pretty easy, but there is one during school,” she said. Usually she just slips into the next room, which Al-Henaid says is “no big deal.”

 Al-Henaid said she is able to get a different perspective on her religion because she has been personally exposed to other cultures. Al-Henaid’s mother, a convert to Islam, is what she calls “cornbread American”; originally from Manchester, Connecticut, she can trace her lineage back to the Mayflower.  (“Technically, I’m related to George Bush,” Al-Henaid said).

“All my relatives I’ve ever met are Christian,” she explained. “So I’ve thought about ‘well what if I was this?’ That’s kind of why I can say that I’m Muslim because I want to be Muslim.”