Being a moslem as a majority in Indonesia is easy. No one is questioning why you worship 5 times or why you wear long-sleeve dresses and cover your head in a hot and humid weather.
But, being a moslem as a minority is a different story.
I started to travel to Europe as a trainee in a short course for English teachers. Paris was my destination. France itself is the country which has the majority of moslem community in Europe. I found so many moslems when I was there, but the ambiance was not the same.
It was obvious that people see me as a moslem. I wore hijab. I might have been suspected as a terrorist or an illegal migrant. When I arrived in Frankfurt airport and was checked by the immigration, they inquired me with several questions and performed body-scanning (this might be the common procedure). Moreover, they also asked me to show them documents to prove my intention in Paris.
Having checked all my supporting documents, they stamped my passport and let me continue my journey.
Many people asked me if I felt intimidated during my stay in Europe. Well, answers might be diverse. But for me, all the excitements to visit a different country for the first time outweighed the fear.
I still remember the first time I came to the class and met my trainer and the other trainees from English-speaking countries such as England, the USA and New Zealand. At that time, I didn’t feel intimidated because of my religion and my appearance. I just felt a bit not confident because of my English. Regardless of who I was, I got along well with all my friends, I was so welcomed.
Since the first day at school, I asked for permission to pray and left the class for a moment. My trainer, of course, allowed me to do what I believed I had to. He also offered me to pray in a different room, but it would take time to go there and I just decided to pray in a small room next to toilet.
My daily routine was all fine, everybody respected each other.
However, when it comes to a culture, I found it difficult to follow.
As a moslem, I never eat pork nor drink alcohol.
I was so aware every time I bought some food and make sure that it didn’t contain non halal product. I mostly ate vegetables and bread.
A friend of mine at the course always tempted me to eat pork. He said it was delicious and worth a try. But again, it was not my culture and I was forbidden to eat that.
He also suggested me to unveil my hijab because, he said, I was in Europe where nobody cared about what religion or nationality I was and it was a free country where I could do whatever I liked. But then again, it wasn’t my culture.
In some occasions, all of my friends celebrated everything by drinking wine, which, again, against my culture and religion. For me, I was so content just to drink mineral water, hot tea or hot chocolate. I was never tempted to drink wine.
So, every time it came to a party or a celebration, I never tossed the glass. It is believed that tossing wine with another liquor causes bad luck. I was just watching then.
I spent 70 days living in Paris and traveled to Belgium and Germany as well. During my travel, I was fine with the “moslem” status and wore the hijab.
Until then, in early January 2015, Charlie Hebdo was attacked by the allegedly moslem terrorists. I was there when it happened and can you imagine how I was feeling? Terrified.
The islamophobia raised up after the attack and I heard some incidents occured to moslem people in the aftermath.
I was hiding in my room for 2 days trying to avoid people since I might have been the target of those anti-moslem extremists.
Three days after the attack, I and one of my friends went out to Montmartre just to chill and relax. She convinced me that everything was okay and I came home safely as well.
Living in Europe as a moslem was not intimidating or daunting. People respected me as I respected them. I believe what goes around comes around and I believe that kindness is seen by your actions, not by your religion or appearance.
So, why scared to reveal yourself? As long as you are a good person, there’s nothing to worry about.