Your name is Aisha and you are fifteen years old. You live in Dearborn, Michigan, and your parents are Muslim. So were you once, but it isn’t so easy now. When you were little, you could play with your friends from school, do cartwheels — and laugh. Then, aged nine, your life changed. Your parents made you wear the hijab. At first you didn’t mind; all girls like to dress up. But you got fed up with it; it got in the way when you wanted to do cartwheels. “It’s for your own good,” they said. “It will stop the boys looking at you in a bad way. And you shouldn’t be doing cartwheels now — it could damage you.” You didn’t know quite what they meant, and you couldn’t see why boys would want to look at you — the boys at school played with other boys. But when you asked your parents, they said again that it was for your own good.
As time went on, your parents got more strict about the hijab. By the time you were thirteen, they would hit you if you didn’t wear it — not really hard and never on the face, but hard enough. It didn’t seem fair. You looked different and sometimes it felt hot and sticky. Your classmates could wear what they liked — except Shabnum, who had to wear it too. Shabnum was cheeky, though. She would take it off during the day and put it back on to go home. One day she forgot to put it back on; you had been having such a good time after class, not doing cartwheels — that’s kids’ stuff — but talking to some boys. The next day, Shabnum was not in class and you never saw her again. Your brother Khalid said she’d been taken to Pakistan to get married. “That’s impossible — she’s only thirteen.” “That’s old enough,” said Khalid. “The prophet, peace be upon him, married Aisha when she was six and consummated the marriage when she was nine.” “What’s consummated?” you asked. No answer.
By the time you were fourteen you knew what consummated meant and what happened to the other Aisha long ago, at an age when you were doing cartwheels. You didn’t think Mohammed was much of a prophet and said so to your father. He beat you black and blue — on the legs, the arms, the stomach, but not on the face. Your hijab covered the bruises, “so you won’t bring shame on the family,” your mother said. “Time she got married or there will be more trouble,” said your father. Khalid started taking you to school and back every day, so you wouldn’t talk to any boys.
Now you’re fifteen. You haven’t told your parents, but you don’t want to be a Muslim anymore. You hate wearing the hijab and would tear the damn thing up — but you’re afraid of another beating. You don’t discuss Islam with your father — the beating put a stop to that, too. Your friend Susan doesn’t know about the beating, but she says it’s wrong to make you wear the hijab. “This is America. You have rights. Women are equal here.”