In all the many aspects of my life I noticed a deep difference between the values and culture I find at home and the ones I find in school or work.

I was raised in a religious environment and most people I’ve known during my childhood have the same ideas and beliefs as my parents’, give or take. As I grew up, though, I started to realize that religion wasn’t a priority for many people and that most of them confuse religion with culture and think that they’re interchangeable.

Nowadays, most people I know are not religious. But, I noticed that they still swear by the Islamic beliefs and feel that it is necessary to follow certain aspects of the religion. Except when it contradicts their lifestyle.

As I started work, I began to meet with people who have a variation of views on religion and its relation with life. Views inherited from their parents or from the French colonization that took place between 1912 and 1956. Those who studied under the French missionaries or in France have a bigger value in Morocco and their stance on religion affect the life and people around them.

Many of these people run big companies and banks in Morocco and they try to apply those ideas on their employees. No matter what qualifications the person has, if she wears the hijab, her chances to work in a bank used to be close to none. Many companies used to (and still does in many situations) ask women to take off their hijabs or men to shave their beards. One of my most memorable job interviews was with a director of a women’s magazine. To me it seemed like a great opportunity. I was always interested in publishing books and magazines, and I was excited to learn and be productive.

Being a feminist myself, I thought I’d fit right in. But she didn’t think so. After barely listening to me talk about my qualifications and why I’d be a great addition to the company, she launched in a series of questions about my hijab and my experience with it in other countries. I informed her that I didn’t encounter any problems in my years in Turkey, or in my stay in the United States. From her tone and the way she asked the question, however, I knew that the interview was doomed.

It was the first time I experienced a situation where I was judged on my appearance and my beliefs. At first, I brushed it off and acted as if it didn’t matter. But as time passed I realized that it was still with me; I hadn’t forgotten what happened. The fact of the matter is I felt betrayed. Through all my travels and stays abroad in different countries, I had never encountered any discrimination because of the way I choose to dress. Even in places where other complained to me about islamophobia, there were no such occurrences for me.

To come back to my own country and undergo this experience gave a blow to my self-esteem. I realized that no matter how many great qualifications I might have, I will eventually be judged on my appearance.

Now, I try to not let these thoughts consume me and discourage me. Of course, there are many companies with hijabi women working in them. There are hijabis who own companies, as well.  I try to see what happened as a secluded experience and not one I should refer to.

But I think this was a clash of two different sides of Morocco. One part is religious and adopts religion in the day to day, and the other part believes that religion shouldn’t be mixed up with their lives. Both sides stay among themselves and try their best to live separately from the other.

In this clash, a lot of people end up suffering; people who don’t want an ideology war, people who are open to others and their beliefs and who want to live in harmony.

I deeply believe that these issues can subside if both sides come together without prejudice or judgment. Only if they accept and respect each other can they succeed in forming a real community.

This post is part of our quarterly theme “Culture, Religion, Society”.” |  Read more publications for this series.

Khaoula El otmani
Khaoula is a writer and a techy. She was born and raised in Morocco. She lived in Istanbul, Turkey for three years studying Information Technology. She’s working her way through to becoming a digital nomad and help people live the lives they love.
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