BERLIN ON BIKES
Berlin has a population of just under 200,000 Muslims and the number of people riding bikes on any given day is roughly that same number. However after living in the city for a couple of months, not once did I see a hijab-wearing women on a bicycle. I couldn't help but notice this as I was forbidden to ride a bike growing up. My parents immigrated to the U.S. from Yemen, where conservative values of extreme gender inequality are the norm. They were raised to believe it was improper for girls to ride bikes, that bicycle riding was a threat to a girl's virginity, her “highest virtue”.
This led to the idea for these rides. In the summer of 2012, I asked a few friends to don hijabs with me before setting out on our bikes. We road around Kreuzberg and Neukölln, the areas most populated by hijab-wearing Muslims. In the eyes of onlookers as well as a few comments of disapproval, the stigma was evident.
I didn’t expect to effect any change with a few short rides. What is obvious to me now is how this experience influenced my decision to get a bike when I returned to L.A. that fall, which is still my primary mode of transportation.
To this day, it is highly taboo for a woman to be seen riding a bicycle in places such as Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan. A headline in 2015 reading “Shock and Controversy as Women in Yemen Ride Bikes” was for a protest ride that 14 women turned up for; 4 knew how to ride bikes.