On Hijab, Tolerance and Choice

On Hijab, Tolerance and Choice

Tolerance (Source: familyshare.com )

Hola! Okay, so I am not going to apologize for the fact that my last blog post was back in January. I have finally accepted that I am a crazy workaholic who will always put work before anything else and that this blog will most probably never be consistent. But anyways, I am here now.

I actually wasn’t sure about posting this piece because it deals with a very sensitive topic. Religion and especially Hijab tend to be off limits in our society (plus, I have no time or patience for dead-end debates in comment sections) but I’ve never listened to the voice of reason in my head before, so why not?

A couple of days ago, I was at an awards ceremony that honored young students who excelled in fields of poetry, storytelling and speech writing. One of the participants, an innocent looking middle-schooler, went up on the stage and proceeded to read an excerpt of her speech titled “My Hijab”. What started as a proud anecdote that celebrated a personal choice soon turned into a sexist, racist and intolerant speech against non-Hijabis and Westerners.  I cannot count the amount of times I’ve heard the words “Unveiled Muslim Women”, “Western Influence”, “False Empowerment” and “Hell” come out of the mouths of adults, but to hear that coming from a child was beyond horrifying.

I do not wear Hijab. I choose not to wear it for multiple reasons. I don’t like how men tend to endorse it so passionately even though it doesn’t even concern them. I don’t like the concept of “covered sweets” that extremists use to convince Muslim women to wear it. I don’t like how our society assumes that if a girl wears Hijab then she is automatically a pious angel. And in all honesty, there is a small but vain part of me that can’t resist wearing red bows in my hair.

Will this change one day? Who knows?

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Hijab. I love what it was meant to represent. I love that it calls for modesty, for wanting people to see you for who you are rather than for what you look like. I respect that beautiful sacrifice that Muslim women make in order to have a spiritual connection with Allah. But I also believe in freedom of choice, and choosing to wear Hijab does not make you better than someone who does not wear it. Choosing to wear Hijab does not give you the right to place moral judgments on non-veiled women.

I cannot begin to comprehend what this poor child’s parents were thinking when they brainwashed her into believing that she is more of a Muslim than her non-veiled friends. Why do we instill intolerance into our children and then feel surprised when they grow up to become extremists? Our society is obsessed with appearances, why else would we have parents who drag their seven your old children to Friday prayer, but don’t teach them basic manners such as placing their shoes neatly outside the mosque and staying quiet inside it?

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time that I have had to watch young children recite their parents’ speeches. A sixteen year old girl in my Karate class once asked me why I don’t wear Hijab. I told her it’s a personal choice. She said I shouldn’t expect to get married then. By the end of the conversation, I had discovered that her mom had told her that no man would want her if she does not wear Hijab.

How was I supposed to react? Where would I have begun? Should I have told her that staying single is much better than being married to a man who does not respect my personal choice? That it is better than being with a man who cares more about my appearance than my essence? That judging others based on how they look goes against the concept of Hijab and our religion itself?

How do you break mental shackles that have rusted after years of cultural influence and religious misinterpretations? I don’t have the answers, but I do know that none of this makes any sense. I refuse to believe that I am less of a Muslim because I choose not to cover my hair with a piece of cloth. I refuse to accept a standard picture of what a Muslim woman should and shouldn’t look like. Islam is much more refined and tolerant than that.

It’s time for us to go back to the roots of Hijab and to understand its spiritual meaning before its physical one. When we stop placing labels and judging appearances, maybe then, our daughters would freely choose to wear it without us having to use “covered sweets” and hateful comparisons as motivation.



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