By Sara Bokker
POSTED: 20 ZULHIJJAH 1427, 10 JANUARY 2007
I am an American woman who was born in the midst of America's
"Heartland." I grew up, just like any other girl, being fixated with
the glamour of life in "the big city." Eventually, I moved to Florida
and on to South Beach of Miami, a hotspot for those seeking the "glamorous
life." Naturally, I did what most average Western girls do. I focused on
my appearance and appeal, basing my self-worth on how much attention I got from
others. I worked out religiously and became a personal trainer, acquired an
upscale waterfront residence, became a regular "exhibiting"
beach-goer and was able to attain a "living-in-style" kind of life.
Years went by, only to realize that my scale of self-fulfillment and happiness
slid down the more I progressed in my "feminine appeal." I was a
slave to fashion. I was a hostage to my looks.
As the gap continued to progressively widen between my self-fulfillment and
lifestyle, I sought refuge in escapes from alcohol and parties to meditation,
activism, and alternative religions, only to have the little gap widen to what
seemed like a valley. I eventually realized it all was merely a pain killer
rather than an effective remedy.
By now it was September 11, 2001. As I witnessed the ensuing barrage on Islam,
Islamic values and culture, and the infamous declaration of the "new
crusade," I started to notice something called Islam. Up until that point,
all I had associated with Islam was women covered in "tents," wife
beaters, harems, and a world of terrorism.
As a feminist libertarian, and an activist who was pursuing a better world for
all, my path crossed with that of another activist who was already at the lead
of indiscriminately furthering causes of reform and justice for all. I joined
in the ongoing campaigns of my new mentor which included, at the time, election
reform and civil rights, among others. Now my new activism was fundamentally
different. Instead of "selectively" advocating justice only to some,
I learned that ideals such as justice, freedom, and respect are meant to be and
are essentially universal, and that own good and common good are not in
conflict. For the first time, I knew what "all people are created
equal" really means. But most importantly, I learned that it only takes
faith to see the world as one and to see the unity in creation.
One day I came across a book that is negatively stereotyped in the West--The
Holy Qur'an. I was first attracted by the style and approach of the Qur'an, and
then intrigued by its outlook on existence, life, creation, and the
relationship between Creator and creation. I found the Qur'an to be a very
insightful address to heart and soul without the need for an interpreter or
Eventually I hit a moment of truth: my new-found self-fulfilling activism was
nothing more than merely embracing a faith called Islam where I could live in
peace as a "functional" Muslim.
I bought a beautiful long gown and head cover resembling the Muslim woman's
dress code and I walked down the same streets and neighborhoods where only days
earlier I had walked in my shorts, bikini, or "elegant" western
business attire. Although the people, the faces, and the shops were all the
same, one thing was remarkably distinct--I was not--nor was the peace at being
a woman I experienced for the very first time. I felt as if the chains had been
broken and I was finally free. I was delighted with the new looks of wonder on
people's faces in place of the looks of a hunter watching his prey I had once
sought. Suddenly a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I no longer spent
all my time consumed with shopping, makeup, getting my hair done, and working
out. Finally, I was free.
Of all places, I found my Islam at the heart of what some call "the most
scandalous place on earth," which makes it all the more dear and special.
While content with Hijab I became curious about Niqab, seeing an increasing
number of Muslim women in it. I asked my Muslim husband, whom I married after I
reverted to Islam, whether I should wear Niqab or just settle for the Hijab I
was already wearing. My husband simply advised me that he believes Hijab is
mandatory in Islam while Niqab is not. At the time, my Hijab consisted of head
scarf that covered all my hair except for my face, and a loose long black gown
called "Abaya" that covered all my body from neck to toe.
A year-and-a-half passed, and I told my husband I wanted to wear Niqab. My
reason, this time, was that I felt it would be more pleasing to Allah, the
Creator, increasing my feeling of peace at being more modest. He supported my
decision and took me to buy an "Isdaal," a loose black gown that
covers from head to toe, and Niqab, which covers all my head and face except
for my eyes.
Soon enough, news started breaking about politicians, Vatican clergymen,
libertarians, and so-called human rights and freedom activists condemning Hijab
at times, and Niqab at others as being oppressive to women, an obstacle to
social integration, and more recently, as an Egyptian official called
it--"a sign of backwardness."
I find it to be a blatant hypocrisy when Western governments and so-called human
rights groups rush to defend woman's rights when some governments impose a
certain dress code on women, yet such "freedom fighters" look the
other way when women are being deprived of their rights, work, and education
just because they choose to exercise their right to wear Niqab or Hijab. Today,
women in Hijab or Niqab are being increasingly barred from work and education
not only under totalitarian regimes such as in Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt, but
also in Western democracies such as France, Holland, and Britain.
Today I am still a feminist, but a Muslim feminist, who calls on Muslim women
to assume their responsibilities in providing all the support they can for
their husbands to be good Muslims. To raise their children as upright Muslims
so they may be beacons of light for all humanity once again. To enjoin
good--any good--and to forbid evil--any evil. To speak righteousness and to
speak up against all ills. To fight for our right to wear Niqab or Hijab and to
please our Creator whichever way we chose. But just as importantly to carry our
experience with Niqab or Hijab to fellow women who may never have had the
chance to understand what wearing Niqab or Hijab means to us and why do we, so
dearly, embrace it.
Most of the women I know wearing Niqab are Western reverts, some of whom are
not even married. Others wear Niqab without full support of either family or
surroundings. What we all have in common is that it is the personal choice of
each and every one of us, which none of us is willing to surrender.
Willingly or unwillingly, women are bombarded with styles of
"dressing-in-little-to-nothing" virtually in every means of
communication everywhere in the world. As an ex non-Muslim, I insist on women's
right to equally know about Hijab, its virtues, and the peace and happiness it
brings to a woman's life as it did to mine. Yesterday, the bikini was the
symbol of my liberty, when in actuality it only liberated me from my
spirituality and true value as a respectable human being.
I couldn't be happier to shed my bikini in South Beach and the
"glamorous" Western lifestyle to live in peace with my Creator and
enjoy living among fellow humans as a worthy person. It is why I choose to wear
Niqab, and why I will die defending my inalienable right to wear it. Today,
Niqab is the new symbol of woman's liberation.
To women who surrender to the ugly stereotype against the Islamic modesty of
Hijab, I say: You don't know what you are missing.
Sara Bokker is a former actress/model/fitness instructor and activist. Currently,
Sara is Director of Communications at "The March For Justice," a
co-founder of "The Global Sisters Network," and producer of the
infamous "Shock & Awe Gallery."