Women’s Rights: The Headscarf (Hijab)

There are many people out there who will think I’m crazy for saying that the wearing of a headscarf (or hijab) is a woman’s right. That’s because Western society views Muslim women as oppressed and the hijab as a symbol of their oppression.  We assume that the only reason women wear the hijab is because their men require them to and that they will discard them as soon as they’re liberated.

While I don’t doubt that there are some Muslim women who dress the way they do solely because of the requirements of their culture, who would prefer to not wear the hijab, I believe that the majority of Muslim women who wear the hijab feel quite comfortable doing so. In fact, they wouldn’t have it any other way.

When I first encountered women wearing hijabs in my job, I was curious and dubious. I wondered if they resented having to wear them and doubted that they would if they had a choice. I had always seen the head scarf as depersonalizing. I thought that it took away a woman’s right to look as attractive as she wanted to. It seemed to me that Muslim men insisted that their women cover themselves in order to keep them from being sexually enticing, as if men couldn’t control themselves if they saw a woman’s hair or the outlines of her body.

I also thought that I would never be able to tell the women apart. That reflects a prejudice on my part which I now realize is completely unfounded. The women still have faces, for God’s sakes! And their hijabs are all different, some of them really beautiful. I realize that there are Muslim societies where the women are required to wear all black and cover themselves from head to toe. (For a discussion about this click here.)  But the Muslim women I’ve gotten to know are from Libya  and are here in the States studying to be doctors. Through them, I’ve been able to see a different side of being a Muslim and a woman.

I’ve been reading the book Who Speaks For Islam? which is based on Gallup polls that have been administered worldwide. Western women see Muslim women as needing to be “liberated,” but the majority of Muslim women say they are comfortable with their lot in life. They would like to be able to vote without outside influence, work at a job for which they are qualified and be able to drive. But their pressing concerns are lack of unity among Muslims, extremism, high unemployment and political corruption. (Click here to get to a .pdf flyer about Muslim women.)

The wearing of hijab does not imply the same thing to Muslim women as it does to non-Muslim women. (For instance, the word hijab has come to mean modesty, privacy and morality. See here for more information about hijab dress.) We need to stop assuming that wearing the hijab means a woman is a second-class citizen. The polls show that the majority of Muslim women feel sorry for Western women because of the way they are degraded by the men who treat them as sex objects.  Seeing as how feminists also object to women being treated as sex objects, instead of judging Muslim women for wearing hijabs maybe we ought to wear them ourselves, as a show of solidarity.

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Ellen

Editor and chief writer at I, Muslimah and Femagination. Ellen also contributes regularly to Elevate Difference. She is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with two cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.