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Is Veil/Hijab Becoming a Symbol of American Muslims?
By Moin Moon Khan
Moin Moon Khan, an Illinois-based political activist, can be reached at or at 630-889-0588)

Last week, when I watched the one-minute snapshot of the hearing of the Patriot Act in US Congress, I saw about half a dozen veil/Hijab-wearing Muslim women sitting in the audience. That is the only image that got registered in my psyche and certainly in the minds of millions of Americans.

We must salute Muslim women, who wear Hijab, for their courage, initiative, volunteerism, outreach work, and patriotism. They are the symbols of a true American because a true American believes in constitutional freedom, participates in the civic arena, partakes in debates and peacefully lobbies for an issue that is near and dear to her and him.

Having said that, I must acknowledge that it bothers me when a religious figure represents my secular identity as a proud American. Fighting against some of the terrible provisions of the Patriot Act is indeed patriotic, but fighting it from a religious perspective is religiosity. Fighting for my civil rights is my innate human right, and it does not need any religious overtone.

When a group champions pro-life issues, it does not need priests, rabbis, or imams to go on a picket line because saving the existence of a child is and should be everybody's business, and any Tom, Dick and Ahmad should walk the walk.

Opposing the same sex marriage does not need any recitation from a scripture to justify its annulment. The supporters of common law marriage have to justify their cause by emphasizing the need for progeny and respect for their way of life, etc. In this country of secular leanings, the overdose of religiosity weakens an issue like strong and bitter words indicate a weak cause.

Those who watched the 60-second image of the Patriot Act's hearing may rightfully ask why are Muslim women in Hijab propelled on the forefront of defending the rights of seven to eight million Muslims of America? Where are Muslim men? Where are Muslim women without Hijab?

But that image is not a solitary picture of 2005. In almost all public meetings all over the United States, Hijabi women outnumber men and "regular" (for lack of better word) Muslim women.

The question is where are "regular" Muslim women? Are "regular" Muslim women not volunteering for these events and causes? Do the organizers not approach them? Or do the organizers strategically place Hijabi women in meetings?

As I indicated earlier, I have great respect for Hijabi women, but I don't want to use them to fight for my civil rights. They should not be used as our weapons or as our Marines, so to speak. Fighting for our rights in the United States in the name of religion is the worst act we can perform. We should not bring the Hijab and Hijabis to a boiling point that had stirred the anti-Muslim sentiment in France and pushed Muslims in the back seat as the Nine Eleven terrible catastrophe recoiled Muslims 20 years back in the United States.

It is not important what is on a woman's head - scarf, Hijab, hat, bandana, burqah, veil, purdah, chador, or simply hair; the most important point is what is in her head. Mother Teresa covered her head, whole life, like millions of Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, and Christian women of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, and also like my mom, but she was also known for working for the most untouchables.

A few years ago, my wife's niece graduated from her high school as a valedictorian. We were discussing her speech content, which was interspersed with quotations from American president, philosopher, and scientist. Her one relative asked her to include some passages from the Holy Qur’an or Hadith. However, I had a different view. My argument was that she was wearing a full length Hijab, which was in itself a life-size portrait of Islam. In that situation, she did not need any overdose of her religion there.

The erudite speech given by Queen Noor of Jordan, and Maliha Lodhi, former ambassador of Pakistan to the United States, always fascinates me, and they do not wear Hijab.

Last year, I watched with amazement proceedings of the Organization of Islamic Countries on C-Span. Most of the wives of the heads of the states of Muslim countries were not wearing Hijab, and I saw them shaking hands with Mahathir Mohammad, the then president of the OIC.

My wife's nephew got married recently in Pakistan. We received a videocassette of the wedding ceremony. There were only a handful of women who were wearing burqah or Hijab among about 300 well-dressed beautiful women.

Let it be very clear. I respect Muslim women with Hijab and I support those who want to wear it. There are a few of them in my family. This is their choice, which is part of their civil rights. At the same time, I would like to have similar respect for Muslim women who choose not to cover their head. There should not be any kind of whispering and allusion to sins or aspersion on their characters. We need to respect both groups and we should not use one group over another in public meetings and hearings.

In fact, I would prefer the image of Hijabi women piloting NASA's satellite into the space, working as CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, reporting on CNN from the White House and Pentagon, anchoring a talk show like Oprah Winfrey, and developing a new medicine for AIDS control. We should inspire our daughters and ladies to be heroes and not the examples of victims. When Islam is presented with the example of excellence, it is the best and most suitable presentation of our faith and issues.

(Moin Moon Khan, an Illinois-based political activist, can be reached at or at 630-889-0588)


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