Imagine someone telling you that you were not allowed to wear jeans anymore.
How would that feel for you?
Now imagine it was another woman, pointing her finger at you and telling you authoritatively that you should not be wearing those “oppressive jeans.”
Imagine that woman “cared” so much that she organized many other women and men to persuade the Federal Government that you–and any other woman—should no longer have the option to wear jeans.
If you’re like me, it would seem both arbitrary and unfair.
I like wearing jeans. I pretty much wear the same comfortable pair every single day. Who is to say I should not?
The last few years, my work has been centered on women from all over the world—and I love it! But there’s one thing that has been eating at me lately. I’m a Muslim.
People are always shocked to hear that a feminist who works with the Divine Feminine could possibly be a Muslim. Wouldn’t I have let my faith go?
I actually have versions of this conversation every week, varying from the very passive slights to the big ones, which usually happen when I am not face-to-face with someone.
There is still so much Islamophobia.
I chose not to wear hijab—the headcovering that many Muslim women wear—so in some ways, I am fortunate. I am not visible unless I am vocal about my faith.
I’m not going to preach to anyone, but there are obviously reasons why I chose to hold on to my faith, even if I’m not a very religious person anymore.
The way many Western women talk about hijab often disgusts me. More than that, it is painful. It is a reminder that I dare not go outside of western norms or I too will be unacceptable.
According to the ACLU:
>> Muslim women have been prohibited from wearing their headcoverings in a number of contexts. They have been harassed, fired from jobs, denied access to public places, and otherwise discriminated against because they wear hijab. Because of their visibility, Muslim women who wear hijab face particular exposure to discrimination and have increasingly been targets for harassment in the aftermath of September 11. While it is difficult to obtain accurate statistics about discriminatory incidents, reported instances of discrimination appear to be on the rise.
>> Civil rights complaints filed with one Muslim advocacy group rose from 366 in 2000 to 2,467 in 2006, an increase of 674 percent.
>> One expert has found that Muslim women who wear headscarves are more likely than those who do not to face discrimination: 69% of women who wore hijab reported at least one incident of discrimination compared to 29 percent of women who did not wear hijab.
>> Go back to the earlier discussion about jeans and try to imagine how arbitrary it feels for Muslim women who wear hijab.
>> Jeans were the only American obsession I could remotely compare to the headscarf. But that’s not really fair. Because, pretty much every American woman I know wears jeans. And only about half of the Muslim women in the US wear hijab. According to NPR, there are about one million Muslim women in America; 43 percent of them wear headscarves all the time.
And unlike jeans, the hijab has a religious connotation that makes wearing it very important to the women who chose to.
True, there are some countries that enforce wearing hijab—or even the burqa—but that’s not what we’re talking about. Many of the 800 million Muslim women around the world have a choice. Some choose to wear hijab and and some chose not to. There are many on both sides who are my friends; some as close as sisters.
The assumption that women who chose to cover their hair are somehow stupid, inferior or ashamed is so far off I don’t even know where to start. I have friends who wear the hijab with PhDs. Some of the strongest and brightest women I know happen to also cover their hair.
Hijab is a personal choice, and it is not something I can claim to know that much about because I don’t do it every day. What I can say is that when I do, I notice a marked difference in the way I am treated by my fellow Americans. They talk s-l-o-w-l-y to me, like I am either stupid or don’t speak English. I get dirty looks.
Western media continually tells us that Muslim women are different and less-than.
“The persistence of negative language used to describe Muslim women, the homogenization of all Muslim women, and the heightened focus on the headscarf are all examples that reflect how Muslim women have been used as a discursive means to render those who do not share Western values as ‘others.’ Moreover, these media representations have fostered the perception that Muslim women are not active citizens in their communities, and instead reduce them to victims, passive women, or only veiled women. Such representations tend to reflect a narrow view of Muslim women, in which the actual problems or challenges faced by Muslim women are ignored. In this way, critical issues which affect Muslim women are often mistakenly perceived to be caused by religion, rather than specific socio-economic, nationalist, or political forces.”
We might think about how this plays into our national agenda in countries like Yemen, Palestine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq, where our own actions have been far less than honorable. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in most of these countries the majority of women cover their hair.
But here is something else to think about, especially for feminists and women who are beginning to reject the notion that they always have to look a prescribed way to be beautiful for the entire world. Hijab is one more way to reject those demands.
Personally, I stopped dying my hair, wearing nail polish and uncomfortable shoes. I don’t shave anymore. I rarely wear makeup. And I wear clothes that are the most comfortable for me.
Hijab is not that much different. I see it as a desire to want to save a little of yourself for you—and perhaps your Creator or a partner. It is the desire not to spend all your time to appease people you don’t even know in order to devote it to those who matter most to you. It is the rejection of a culture that demeans, devalues, humiliates and brutalizes women the world over. It is a marked space—this is mine.
Would you rip someone’s jeans off their hips the way some women have had their hijab ripped right off their heads?
Telling someone they should not wear hijab is just as unfair as telling a woman she must wear it. Countries like France that outlaw the headcovering are just as wrong as those who force women to wear it.
Whether we want to wear bikinis or cover up completely, women must be able to chose our clothing for ourselves.
Hijab in Western countries is a choice. Those who wear it are suffering a lot of discrimination in order to maintain that choice every day. These women are brave. These women are warriors. And, I smile every time I see a sister wearing hijab because I recognize and honor her strength.
Can we get past what other women are wearing and join each other in changing the world as we know it?
We have a lot of work to do!Authors Ayesha Mattu & Nura Maznavi, address myths about Muslim women in the book “Love, InshAllah”
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Ed: Lynn Hasselberger