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Muslim youth speak out about wearing of the hijab

Muslim youth speak out about wearing of the hijab

January 22, 2008

There have always been generational clashes between parents and their children.

Ibtissam Mustaq knows these struggles well. She has battled for years with her parents about how to observe her religious beliefs. Although she's a 21-year-old University of Toronto student, the clash still exists.

However for Mustaq, a devout Muslim who's lived most of her life in Toronto, it's not the battle you may think.

For Mustaq, she has been fighting to wear the hijab, or religious headscarf.

Traditionally, Muslim girls wear the hijab, which she has done since she was 15, but her mother disagrees with her decision.

"She doesn't want me wearing it because she's afraid that in this society it will hinder my progress, and she wants to be feminine and look pretty," Mustaq said.

Her parents are Muslims from Bangladesh. Her dad attends a mosque and her mother prays and fasts so you'd think they would eventually accept her decision.

"My mother did not approve of it at any point and every morning I would go through the same hell, going to school she would try to stop me from wearing the hijab," Mustaq said. "My father doesn't oppose it, but he doesn't support me either."

For 17-year-old Scarborough high school student Asma Rahman, the opposite is true.

Born to an Indian Muslim family and coming to live in Canada in 2005, she's expected to wear the hijab. She also wears an abhaya, a traditional long dress.

"I don't mind wearing it, I think it's a good thing," she said. "In the Qu'ran, God tells us not to reveal your body and not to wear tight clothes."

Two girls, two different circumstances, and unfortunately a point of interest since the murder of Mississauga teen, Aqsa Parvez, allegedly killed by her father in December. Reports said the girl was murdered, in part, due to her refusal to wear the hijab.

Both girls disagree.

"Indian and Pakistani parents expect a lot from their children and usually they expect them to follow their religion and teachings, but I've lived in an Indian family my whole life and I believe the father just lost control or lost his temper," Rahman said.

Mustaq agreed.

"It seems to be more of a family violence issue. ... If a man is going to do that to his daughter (he) is going to do that no matter what his religion. These culture clashes between generations happen in all cultures and different geographical places."

Abdul Hai Patel is the Muslim chaplain at the University of Toronto and for York Regional Police, and director of interfaith relations, Canadian Council of Imams. He said the killing was not only a clash of culture and religion, but also a generational clash with a man who couldn't control his anger.

Unfortunately, people always link the crime to the faith, in this case, the Muslim faith, but Patel said domestic violence happens in other faith communities in Toronto.

"The issue that children are torn happens in all immigrant communities whether it's Italian or West African because they find themselves in a new culture and they feel that they will lose their values, culture and religion," he said.

In regards to Ibtissum's situation of wanting to wear the hijab, Patel said this clash of values and reverse pressure is common, but something the media rarely talks about.

"I've heard a number of cases where girls choose to wear it on their own but because the mother is not covering the parents made it hard for them," he said.

One of the biggest misconceptions people have is assuming every Muslim wears a hijab or abhaya, but Patel said the assumption couldn't be more wrong.

"It varies from country to country. For some it is more a cultural thing. In some places like Saudi Arabia they are forced to wear it and in some countries it's an open choice," Patel said.

"A lot of Middle Eastern countries, like Iran and Saudi Arabia, the state requires it, but in other Middle Eastern countries it is a more open society."

While both girls wear the hijab, they're not forced to wear them. For Mustaq that meant embracing the hijab on her own; she thinks it's no surprise that those who are forced into wearing it rebel against it.

"I've known girls who were forced and they took it off when they got to school. There's no point in forcing them," Mustaq said.

Rahman said it's the choice of the individual.

"It is obligatory for Muslim girls to wear the hijab, but ultimately it's their choice," Rahman said. "It might be wrong but then again, it's their choice, you cannot force religion on anyone."

Patel said Islam clearly states there's no compulsion in religion, and you cannot force anyone to do something, you can only persuade them and ultimately it's up to the individual whether they wear a covering or not.

He also said when Muslims move to a country such as Canada, many women make their own choice, but parents who come here cannot expect their children, especially their teens, to not want to embrace any Western culture.



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