March 26, 2008
"Why do Muslim women wear the hijab?"
It's not the first time this has happened and it is
certainly an issue that needs to be addressed.
One of the major misconceptions about the hijab (covering
of the body except the face and hands) is that young women are forced to wear
it by their parents or by male family members.
Sumayya Syed, 16, says that what parents or men want have
nothing to do with it. In fact, she astounds people who ask by saying that
every woman should have this form of liberation.
Syed maintains that when a woman is covered, men cannot
judge her by her appearance but are forced to evaluate her by her personality,
character, and morals. "I tell them that the hijab is not a
responsibility, it's a right given to me by my Creator who knows us best. It's
a benefit to me, so why not? It's something every woman should strive to get
and should want."
The young woman admits to being surprised that many
people wonder if she wears the hijab everywhere (at home, when sleeping, in the
shower). The truth is that Muslim women only cover themselves in front of men
who are not direct relatives (brothers, fathers, and uncles) to prevent
indecent acts or thoughts.
Another young woman who wears the hijab, Zeinab Moallim,
18, maintains that some people assume that all Muslims who wear the traditional
dress are immigrants who don't know English and perceive them as
"I remember in my class when I answer questions,
some students look at me like I'm kind of dumb and I can't answer (them),"
she says. "So usually I answer, just to let them know I can do
All of the young women interviewed agreed that the
advantages of wearing the hijab are many. According to Rema Zawi, 16, "You
feel modest...and you feel like you're covered up. You have more self-respect.
You have more confidence in yourself that you don't need to care about (how)
Syed emphasizes that a major plus is that people actually
evaluate her on who she is and not on her beauty or clothing. "It keeps me
protected from the fashion industry. The hijab liberates you from the media,
brainwashing you into, Buy this, buy that, you're supposed to look like
this," she says. "It allows me to be who I am. I don't have to worry
about being popular through buying things that are 'cool'."
Hana Tariq, 15, who just recently began wearing the
hijab, agrees with Syed's view and says that the hijab lets you know who your
real friends are.
"People who are friends with you because of the way
you look aren't real friends. And people who judge you by your personality are
true friends, because people can change looks but they don't really change
The young women said the hijab provides them with an
identity. They don't have to tell people they are Muslims. It shows.
However, there are drawbacks. Mariam Hussein, 18, was in
a store minding her own business, when an old woman came up to her and
proclaimed loudly, "Go back to your country!" It was a difficult
situation because the young woman considers Canada her home.
Responses to the hijab vary widely. Zawi is one of the
few Muslim girls in her school who wears the traditional Muslim garb. She says
some students treat her differently by looking at her in strange ways or
vandalizing her property. However, she also finds that other students have
questions for her regarding the hijab.
"I find that it's so hard for them to ask because
they're really shy, so I confront them. I tell them, If you want to know
anything, just talk to me." One young woman's first year at Silverthorn
Collegiate was especially difficult. A counsellor was looking at her English
marks from previous report cards, and said she found them
"impressive". But then she made a comment that hurt. "Well, it's
obvious you don't need ESL," she said.
The counsellor made the assumption that since the young
woman wore the hijab, she had just emigrated and needed to take English as a
Second Language. Syed, who attends a school with a fairly large Muslim
population, says the people she knows treat her with dignity and the comments
she gets from friends and classmates are generally not disrespectful.
"Most people in my life respect me with my hijab:
they don't swear around me, they don't crack bad jokes," she says.
Some people may think that the more a woman covers, the
less freedom she has. But, according to Muslim tradition, it is actually the
opposite. The less she wears, the more she is degraded and the more she is put
in the line of fire of male criticism.
Syed is astonished at the behaviour of some women who
claim to want "freedom". She can't understand how going topless, for
example, represents equality. "People have to understand that we (males
and females) are not equal in body image but we should be equal in rights, in
justice. Taking off your shirt will not make you equal to a man; it'll make you
lower. Why? Because the woman's body is created differently."
Amani Elkassabany, 30, who is not presently wearing the
hijab, has a different view. She applauds those who wear the hijab (especially
those who wear it for God and with good intentions), but feels that it is not
necessary to wear the hijab to gain respect.
"Just because a woman covers, doesn't mean she is
automatically entitled to respect, or has already proven the worth of her mind.
Respect must be earned regardless of one's appearance and it is not earned
through a dress code alone."
Elkassabany sees advantages to wearing the hijab, but
thinks that having internal modesty is more important than external modesty.
"This external covering is really just a reflection of an inner commitment
to dedicate oneself to the worship of the Creator," she comments.
She is also concerned about the restraints wearing the
hijab implies, restraints that are exclusive to women. "Both men and women
are required to dedicate themselves to God, but it is only women who are
expected to demonstrate this dedication outwardly in the form of hijab,"
she says. "This expectation on the part of [women] is what I find
difficult to accept."
Whether the hijab constrains or liberates women is an
ongoing debate. However, statistics reveal that in Western society, women and
men are perceived very differently.
One study, done at the University of California, found
that media photographs emphasize the faces of men but the bodies of women. In
the average picture of a woman, less than half the photo (45%) was devoted to
the woman's face. In the pictures of men, nearly two-thirds (65%) of the
photograph featured the man's face.sex sexy
Arab girl with Hijab
The same article reports the results of an experiment
conducted with a group of 40 male and 40 female college students. These
students were told that a study of freehand drawing styles was under way and
were assigned to draw either a man or a woman, capturing "the character of
a real person." It was observed that the men drawn had very distinct
features, with close attention paid to facial details. However, the images
drawn of the women were mostly of the body, with the faces vague or even
Perhaps, as women de-emphasize their bodies, this severe
imbalance will be at least partially rectified. Meanwhile, Islam provides a
solution to this problem - one which dignifies and honours all women.
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