Fatima pinched two fingers around the strands of hair falling over her face and quickly tucked the hair behind her ear. “Sometimes my name makes me feel different" Fatima thought, as she studied herself in the mirror.
Fatima had learned to answer slowly when people asked her name. She pronounced each syllable "Fah-TEE-mah." But Fatima's distinctive name didn't prevent her from sharing books with Alice, jumping rope with Mary, or playing math games with Tomas. In fact, Fatima fit in perfectly at school.
Each day when Fatima came home, her mother would inquire, 'What did you do at school today?"
Fatima was always happy to share the latest book she had read and discuss art projects and spelling competitions. Fatima would even remember to tell her mother about lunch, especially when it was her favorite-pizza.
Then one day something changed. When Fatima got home, her mother asked, "'What did you do at school today?"
“Nothing? How could that be?" her mother wondered with an arched eyebrow.
"I don't want to talk about it!" Fatima blurted out.
Fatima's mother nodded and asked no further questions. Looking unusually downhearted, Fatima inched her way toward her bedroom. She sat on the corner of her bed, her feet dangling over the edge. As her cat watched from its perch on the windowsill, Fatima hugged her pillow and brooded.
Later that evening, Fatima's mother came into her room and sat beside her. "We need to discuss this," she said. "It's not like you to say that nothing happened after a day at school. Is there anything you would like to talk about?"
"It's just-it's what Billy said," Fatima whispered, her eyes glistening with tears.
“And what did Billy say?" Fatima's mother asked, grasping her hand.
"Billy said he saw us at the grocery store, and that you dress weird-that-that you cover yourself all over and wrap your head in a scarf! He said it looks sort of suspicious and scary. He wonders if you are hiding because maybe you did something wrong." Fatima began to sob. "It's not fair! I told him you're beautiful."
Fatima's mother smiled wistfully and held Fatima close. The cat leapt into Fatima's lap and began purring. For a long time, nothing was said. Fatima rested her head against her mother's shoulder, while the comforting sound of the purring cat filled the uneasy silence. Finally Fatima's mother spoke softly.
"I was taught that the way I dress is a part of our religion, Islam. When I wear the scarf-called the Hijab-and a long dress, I do it so people can see only my face and hands."
“Why?" asked Fatima.
"Because it's not what I look like that matters," her mother replied. "I want people to focus on who I am and what I do. Does it really matter whether I have black or blonde hair?"
Fatima shook her head.
"Right, Fatima-it doesn't matter what I look like. What counts is what I say and then do."
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