About this time last year I posted a blog entry entitled “The Benefits of Hijab: Scripted Sayings vs. The Reality.” I’d really encourage you to reread this post if you’ve already read it. Otherwise, I’d love for the new visitors to my blog to read it and respond. There are some statements I made in this post that don’t necessarily reflect the way I feel today (and we can discuss that). So tell me what you think:
One day I listened to myself and I began to pick apart my own arguments with examples I’d seen in the Muslim community and in my own life. I was going on and on about the benefits of hijab but in the back of my mind I knew that my life was more complicated than I made it sound. If I’m honest I’d be forced to admit that subconsciously I was trying my hardest to make the life of a hijab-wearing Muslimah look appealing to non-Muslims (and even to non-hijabi sisters.) Somewhere along the lines I must’ve read an article or a book on hijab and decided the answers someone else provided were the best. Who knows, maybe I was trying to convince myself. So, what are some of the common answers I used to give? Let’s take a look.
Hijab protects me from the harassment of men. They do not look at me like a piece of meat or treat me like an object.
Believe it or not, there is some truth to this statement. On the average men do not hit on me when I’m out in public. They don’t whistle or make obscene gestures towards me. On the average they do not “hey baby” or ask me for my number. They either see the hijab as an off limits sign, don’t know how to approach someone like me or figure it’s too much work. However, I don’t think it’s true as a general statement to say that hijab makes me 100% exempt from the treatment other women receive while out in public. I think it depends on the situation and the person who’s doing the approaching:
-I’ve had Muslim men catcall me or try to get with me. (And I don’t think it was for the purpose of marriage). One time I was catching the bus to work and two Muslim men held up traffic as they tried to offer me a ride or at least get a telephone number. The fact that I was wearing an abaya didn’t seem to dissuade them in the least.
Hmm, I don’t know about that. From the studies I’ve seen and the conversations I’ve had with people, it seems that when people look at us they think the following: She’s oppressed, she’s backwards, she doesn’t speak English, her husband/brother/uncle/father made her dress like that, she’s not very educated etc. Some people are repulsed or even afraid!
Not a lot of people look at us and automatically see a righteous woman who is consciously striving to please her Lord. In fact, people are surprised when I tell them that I chose to dress this way and that I am doing so to please God. They’re shocked when they discover that I converted to Islam, don’t come from an “Islamic country”, have no Muslim family and made the choice to “dress like this.”
The hijab forces people (esp. men) to move past the physical and to focus on my mind; my intellect.
No, not all Muslim men are sexist. There are brothers who do appreciate us for our intellect. We thank them. Now it’s time for you to get out there and challenge the other brothers!
Muslim women wear hijab as a sign of modesty and purity. It is a symbol of their chastity and dignity.
Ideally yes. Realistically no. We all know that there are Muslim women who wear a scarf (and I say scarf deliberately rather than hijab) but have cleavage hanging out, painted on jeans, see through garments etc. The only thing they are hiding is their hair (or part of their hair). And believe me; I say this not as a judgment but rather as a statement of the facts. One day I was walking to work and as I approached the corner I saw three guys with their neck stretched out, looking at someone who was around the corner. I heard them saying, “Dayyum, look at all that ass!” Much to my surprise they were checking out a Muslim woman who was wearing a scarf but had on ultra-tight jeans with a fitted shirt. I try not to judge people- esp. women when it comes to wearing hijab- but I didn’t think those guys were looking at her and seeing a woman who is modest and pure; a symbol of chastity and Islamic dignity. (And I am not fully blaming her. I could write another blog about the objectification of women etc.)
The other thing is that there are women who wear hijab (and I do mean ‘proper hijab’- whatever that means to you) whose behavior does not reflect its purpose. The way I see it, hijab is more than just the clothing you put on, it’s also in the behavior, and how a woman carries herself. Unfortunately, there are hijabis who curse like sailors, hijabis who are loud and rude in public, hijabis who are wild, and so on. A friend of mine once told me that she knew a non-Muslim guy who had a hijabi “girlfriend”. My friend was trying to explain the purpose of hijab, modesty etc. to him but he thought it was a joke. He told my friend when it came time to have sex with his “girlfriend” he just lifted up her skirt and “did his thing.” He’d never seen her hair but he was “getting it.” (And I say this not be crude but to be honest about what’s going on out there).
WRONG! While I have not seen statistics on bulimia or anorexia in the Muslim community, I find it hard to believe that there aren’t practicing Muslimahs who suffer from either disease. The reason I say this is because I have been around Muslim women and have listened to them complain about their weight- even if they are slim. I’ve also know that in certain Muslim cultural communities the ideal woman is fair-skinned and skinny. What happens if a woman is neither?
For some Muslimahs the aforementioned statement is true. However, I have to admit (and I know I’m not the only one) that I have my ups and downs. For the most part I absolutely love wearing hijab. It has become like a second skin to me and most of the time I could not fathom the thought of taking it off. Generally, I feel so feminine and so proud to represent Islam. Then there are days when my iman is not as high and though I still wear it, it’s difficult. Sometimes I feel unattractive in it. I look at myself and I see a strange, foreign lady staring back at me. Those days are rough. I have to ask for Allah’s assistance and do little things to lift my morale.
I’d also be lying if I said I never thought about taking it off. Especially in this post-9/11 world with the spike in hate crimes directed towards Muslims and the overall discrimination we face. The other day I was telling my husband that he does not feel the sting of racism and discrimination directed towards Muslims in the way that a woman wearing hijab does. Without a doubt, people KNOW I am Muslim when they look at me. By the same token, they don’t know he’s Muslim unless he tells them. They just see a Black guy with a beard who has a “funny name.” From time to time, the staring, the rudeness, the stereotyping, and discrimination starts to get to me. But alhamdulillah, my saving grace has been that I remember the blessing that is involved. I rememeber the more difficult something is, the more reward you’re getting for it.
I am not saying that some of the statements listed above are not true for some Muslimahs. And I am not suggesting that we air all of our dirty laundry to people when explaining the benefits of hijab. I just don’t think it’s good to try and sell a dream or to be deceptive in any way. And I feel like, in some respects, many of us are just regurgitating statements we’ve read and heard over the years without seriously thinking about what we are saying. I personally decided that I would tell people my reasons for wearing hijab but I would also share the complexities (and ups and downs) that come along with it. I’m all for being real and I think people respect you more for that.
Besides, the biggest benefit I’ve gotten from wearing hijab has nothing to do with other people or their understandings of Islam. The best and most important benefit is the closeness I feel to ALLAH by doing something he has commanded- no matter how difficult it is at times. That’s enough for me.