by Halima Ahmed

My hijab, to some non-Muslims, symbolizes oppression and lack of women’s voice and agency in the Islamic faith. These individuals feel it is incumbent upon them to free me, and all Muslim women who adorn the hijab, from this perceived oppression. We live in a culture that constantly makes Muslim women and the hijab synonymous with oppression so much so that most folks do not even want to engage in a dialogue with a Muslim woman about her reasons for wearing the hijab prior to assuming and then telling her that she is oppressed. I have had countless number of non-Muslims tell me “I do not have to wear this in the land of the free and home of the brave” and that by wearing the hijab I am sending a political message, which stands in support of “extremists killing innocent people.” My response to these people varies from the tone of their voice to the kind of day I am having, but the overall message I try to convey is that I wear the hijab because I want to. Although to some, it might be a sign of a political statement, for me it serves a spiritual and religious significance, which is grounded in a faith that does not in any shape, form or fashion support the killings of any innocent people anywhere on this earth. I have made the personal and conscious choice to wear the hijab on a daily basis after immigrating to the United States and learning about my faith, the Qur’an and what it means to be a Muslim. Every time I get ready to step outside my home, I make the decision to wear the hijab. I am not and have never been forced to wear it as there are women in my family who do not wear it and there are those who do. My hijab is part of who I am and I proudly embrace it.

The preconceived notion that all Muslim women who wear the hijab are oppressed is highly problematic. First, it ignores the large number of Muslim women who wear the hijab on their own terms and second it uses a piece of a garment as an indicator to figure out which women are oppressed and which are not. The Muslim women who wear the hijab that I have met over the years do so because they decided on their own that they would wear the hijab. This is something that is ignored by mainstream media as well as so-called feminist groups that proclaim to fight against this oppression and eventually liberate Muslim women from Islam and Muslim men. What these groups conveniently forget is that the most essential part of fighting for someone’s rights and freedom is listening to what they want and not what you want for them. Muslim women are capable of deciding whether they want to wear the hijab or not. With that said, there is no denying that some Muslim women wear the hijab because of their families and/or societal pressure. I believe this is wrong and fundamentally against the teaching of Islam, which clearly states that there is no compulsion in this religion. Women across religious, racial and class lines live in cultures that are male dominated and patriarchal. Muslim women are not exempted from this; Muslim women, in their respective communities as well as secular communities, do face the challenges of living in a patriarchal society. However, this does not mean one assumes all Muslim women are oppressed and somehow need to be rescued or liberated from wearing the hijab or the Islamic faith. The stereotypes and assumptions that portray all Muslim women as complacent and voiceless individuals are oppressive in and of themselves. The exclusion of Muslim women who wear the hijab from mainstream media and public discourse on why they wear the hijab breathes life to this notion of the oppressed Muslim women.

Photo Credit: Haifeez via flickr