“You know you don’t have to wear that thing anymore. You’re in America!” said the elderly woman to my friend, pointing to her headscarf. Little did she know that this friend had both grown up in “America” and made the very personal decision to wear the hijab, or Islamic headscarf, despite protest and lack of support from a number of her own family and friends.
As human beings, we often take in the visual cues around us and very naturally jump to conclusions. Although there is no doubt that there are women today who are forced to dress a certain way and are limited in societal participation in a highly subjugated manner, it is also very true that females of a variety of races, backgrounds and ages embrace the decision to wear the hijab.
I choose to cover because it’s a commandment directed to women in the Holy Quran. I hate how people stare. I love matching my scarves with the rest of my outfits; I’ve learned so much about color coordination in the process. I get so annoyed with students who think I’m going to be quiet in section and not have opinions of my own; it’s like their mouth drops in shock when they hear that I have a voice and it’s actually quite loud. I love not having to worry about my hair when I’m running late for class.
Wherever I go, it’s like I’m a walking “expert” or “spokesperson” for Islam and Muslims (because we’re all the same, right?). I wonder if I’d have more friends if I didn’t wear hijab. I love the sense of empowerment I get and how all my interactions and relationships are based on how I think and act, not necessarily what I look like. It’s nice to be regarded as a human, not an object. I hate how some people abuse religion to carry out violence and then it ends up hurting me. It’s so frustrating how a country like France thinks it has the right to regulate and limit how a woman can express herself. It’s already tough sorting out issues of religion and culture as a college student, and I appreciate how my friends really respect me for having my values and beliefs while being able to keep an open mind. It’s not oppressing; it’s liberating.
Hijab means many different things to many different women. Among the most common interpretations behind the commandment to wear hijab is the requirement that women dress in a modest way that covers all but their faces, hands and oftentimes feet. The commandment is based on the Islamic emphasis on the concept of modesty as well as specific verses from the Quran and Prophetic traditions. For mainstream scholars and Muslims, the headscarf is a physical boundary that facilitates modest and professional interaction between genders, not isolation; many verses in the Quran indicate the importance and equity of women in society and their duty to be active and involved members within the political, social and economic realms of the local, national and global communities in which they reside.
Despite the prevalence and recognition of the importance of wearing hijab in many Muslim societies, it is also agreed upon that the headscarf is a very personal decision and aspect of a practitioner’s relationship with God, a relationship that cannot be enforced or dictated by any man or woman. Dr. Jamal Badawi of the North American Fiqh Council emphasizes that although he views hijab as a required tenet in Islam, it was never in the Prophetic approach to implement “compulsion or force” in these matters.
I’ll never forget what one colleague once said to me on this issue: “I may not agree with or completely understand your decision to wear hijab, but I would die defending your right to make that choice.
STAMP and MSAN’s co-production of “Hijabi Monologues” this past weekend and today’s “A Day in the Life of a Hijabi” illuminate the right of a woman to choose how to express herself. I urge you to ask instead of assume, and I leave you with these words: “It’s about what’s in your head, not on it.”
Mai El-Sadany ‘11