Her Hijab Caught My Eye

A simple dialogue opened my eyes to the injustice of Islamophobia, and changed my perspective of Muslims forever.


Posted By
Jessica Eturralde
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Her hijab caught my eye. 

She was bagging groceries in the fourth aisle of the military commissary. Her light blue hijab framed her round face and warm gray eyes. I guessed she was about 42.

Our eyes met, and as I began unloading my groceries onto the belt of her checkout lane, we exchanged smiles and nods. An instant connection was in the air.

She carefully picked up a bushel of persimmons from the conveyor belt and placed them in a paper bag. 

“These are my son’s favorite,” I shared, in a cordial attempt to learn more about this woman. I had not interacted with many women who wore hijabs, and I was curious and charmed by her warmth.

“These fruits are popular where I am from. We call them ‘Khormâloo,’ she said. “They are very sweet.”

Her eyes smiled for her. Her accent endeared me. She left a perfect conversational space for me to ask where she was from. As she rolled my cart out to my van, she briefly told me about her homeland, Iran.

Following her explanation, I could no longer contain my excitement. I used to have some Persian friends who taught me a few greetings, and I could not pass up an opportunity to blow the dust off of my old exchanges.

Repeating one of the three sentences I could muster in amateur Farsi, I attempted to tell her that it was wonderful to meet her. “Hale shoma che torey hahnoom!”

Her gray eyes lit up, and her smile widened as she extended her arms in surprise. “You speak in my language!” she exclaimed. “How do you know that?”

That day began one of the most meaningful acquaintanceships I have ever had.

For the next two years, I would look for her hijab among the twenty checkout lines whenever I shopped at the commissary. Even if it meant waiting longer, I always tried to get her line so I could see her smile and exchange Farsi greetings.

She taught me how to say “you are my friend,” and it became so that every time we saw each other, we would each lift our arms in an open embrace and say, “Dosh ti man!” with utmost enthusiasm. While each encounter was short and general, our brief salutations were like meeting with a lifelong friend—as if their mother was your mother’s friend, and you had known each other since you both were 12. 

We would quickly ask how life was going while she bagged, wheeled, and loaded my groceries. She would close my trunk, and we would linger an extra minute under the Hawaiian sun before parting ways. I always made an effort to give her an extra tip before she had to return inside.

An Emotional Farewell

One evening, I arrived to shop later than usual, not long before closing. I had just missed the rush, and I saw my friend in the bagging area. While she smiled at me with kind eyes, I noticed the absence of her usual cheerful disposition.

I completed my transaction, and she grasped my cart and began to push it towards the door as usual, but this time, something was different.

As we loaded the groceries in the dark, the reasons for her mood became clear. She gently shared that she had just spent two hours waiting for a customer who had a lot of coupons to calculate, so she could then bag and load the groceries.

Once she finished loading their groceries, the customer gave her a five-dollar bill and instructed her and “her kind” to “go back” to the Middle East.

My friend, as she was telling me this, paused loading and stood straight. The tears pooling in her eyes reflected the street lights as she gazed past me and across the parking lot. “Then she said…” she continued, fluttering her right hand. “Now go away. Get out of our country. We don’t want you here.” 

Her eyes met mine again, and in solemn seriousness, my friend explained that she and her husband were moving back to Iran the following week. I no longer recall her reasons for returning, but I remember that she said that people here said things to them like that all the time, and she missed “home.” 

I did not know how to respond. All I could do was apologize to my friend. How could I right this wrong? How could I fix the pain—how could I make up for the actions of the people in my community?

I gave her the biggest tip I could afford at the time, a meager $20, but what good was that? My mind was racing to pull together everything I wanted to say to her. Two years worth of conversations that we never got to have.

What followed seemed like an exchange of pleas, appreciation, and grief. 

We each began fighting tears. We both started confessing our faith and why we believed. Through unexpected sobs, we promised to pray and wish each other well.

In that exchange, I wondered how to tell her about Jesus. How will she know that there is something exponentially transcendent about His love for us—and how will she believe it if people who claim Christ’s name treat her so antithetical to His teaching and example?

It’s been over ten years since that night. I still think of her often.

I never even really learned her name, but when I remember her, I lift her up, and I still have yet to do so without tears.


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