Middle school tests Va. Muslim girl's decision to wear head scarf

Smar Abuagla is 13 years old and a typical American teenager. She also happens to wear a head scarf at school. In her own words, she describes how she arrived at this decision and how her classmates have come to regard her.
By Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 15, 2009

Smar Abuagla steps out her front doo r at 7:20 a.m., her shoulders slightly hunched, her eyes watchful.

Last year when she made this walk to the bus stop on the first day of school, she was wearing black skinny jeans and a short-sleeved T-shirt; her hair was in braids. But this year she's a different Smar. In addition to looser, more modest clothing, her hair is completely hidden under a head scarf.

It is a look that not only sets her apart from most girls at her Reston middle school but also proclaims her as a Muslim, a religious minority in a country that sometimes associates her faith with terrorism and acts of violence.

Most of Smar's friends and classmates have never seen her in the scarf before. Smar, 13, has no idea how they will react.

It's drizzling as she reaches the bus stop, where she huddles under an umbrella. The eighth-grader is normally chatty with an impish grin, but today when a couple of girls she knows slightly walk up, she mutters, "Hi," and rolls her eyes self-consciously. Omigosh, I probably look horrible. Omigosh, everyone's staring at me.

She closes the umbrella.

"Hey, Smar, if you're not going to use that, can I?" one of the girls says. "My hair's getting wet."

Smar silently hands it over.

At her middle school, plenty of the 960 students are from Muslim families. But only three or four of the girls wear head scarves.

Some of Smar's friends didn't even know she was Muslim until she mentioned one day that she spoke Arabic.

"They're like, 'Why? Only Muslim people do that,' and I'm like, 'Yeah, you don't get it?' "

Today, when she arrives at school in her green and black head scarf, they'll get it.

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