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“A head covering worn in public by Muslim women,” states the Oxford Dictionary, when asked to define the word ‘hijab.’ When looking into a word’s literal meaning, people tend to not have an issue, but once one goes deep into its symbolic explanation, misinterpretations arise. Following under this scenario, are two university graduates: Naheed Mustafa (“My Body is My Own Business – Facts and Arguments,” published by the Globe and Mail on Tuesday, June 29, 1993) and Catherine Meckes (“Wearing the Uniform of Oppression” ), who clearly have contradicting opinions of the hijab.
Mustafa’s understanding of the significance of the wearing of the hijab, which takes into account her personal experience as a Muslim woman, is better than that of Meckes, who simply co-opts Mustafa’s sayings to validate her own perception.
Everyone has the right to express their opinions without suppression. Yet, it is unacceptable when one crosses their limits and misuses this advantage of freedom of speech to degrade another woman’s rights on what she can or cannot wear.
Meckes may be a graduate in journalism and have studied Islam, but these qualifications do not surpass Mustafa’s experience of living as a Hijabi woman. Mustafa’s entire teenage years were spent on trying to become the next Cindy Crawford and at the end of the day, she only found it tiring and humiliating to meet these impossible male standards of female beauty in the Canadian society.
In effect, the veil has always given her freedom: freedom from being judged by her looks, freedom from constant suggestions on how she can improve herself to be represented as the best example of “beauty” (2) and freedom from her physical person to play no role in her social life.
“It gives [her] freedom.” (1) What gives us the right to question that? It doesn’t!
Meckes disregards Mustafa’s explanation and rather exaggerates it by assessing the hijab to take some sort of “twisted logic” (3). She implies as if there is some complicated mystery behind this cloth, describing it as a method to hide behind the bars, so that one does not have to deal with reality, as if the women are entrapped in a cage. Little does she understand that, Mustafa finds it to help face her reality of being appreciated and respected for the contents of her personality and not her appearance. In fact, it seems as if Meckes is using some sort of method, or in her words, a “twisted logic” to put her fear out of sight.
Living in the 21st century, Meckes finds the sight of women covering their faces to be “disturbing,” “exotic,” and “mysterious” (3) and finds this as a reason for her right to have a negative connotation towards Muslims and the Koran. What’s ironic is that Ms. Meckes has mentioned that she lived in a Muslim country and ellaborates her understanding and sympathy towards the Islamic culture, yet still finds these women to be irritating in her sight. Perhaps if she took the time to learn more, she may be able to change her perspective to be a little less objective.
As a young woman, only in her early twenties, Mustafa faces racial discriminition in that she receives strange looks from strangers stereotyping her as either a radical terrorist or victimized Muslim woman. One wouldn’t be surprised to know if Meckes was a part of these strangers. Mustafa is often treated as an outsider and irked with questions in slow, articulate English, as if she doesn’t understand. As a woman, if she does not live up to society’s expectations, then she is ridiculed. If she lives up to them, then she is oppressed. Those of other culture attempt to make out her personality inside the veil, and paradoxically, the outer judgement shifts from her appearance to the cultural features of her personality. She speaks with such wisdom and experience, and consequently, understands the appreciations and values associated with the hijab, which Meckes lacks.
Mustafa faces disrespect and mockery, if she refuses to follow the ideal style of feminine beauty, which she considers as “oppression.” (1) Meckes manipulates Mustafa’s wordings and synomizes the hijab as a “uniform of oppression.” Afterall, what does oppression mean? Being oppressed refers to the state of being subject to unjust treatment. The unattainable Perfect-Body society is what makes those who are under the non-attractive category, being fat or having acne, to loose their self-esteem, just because they are just not thin or pretty enough. Yet, the non-Islamic public, including Meckes, finds Islam to be the one oppressing women? This must be a joke.
Why would half of the world’s population value a garment that oppresses and degrades a woman’s rights and freedoms? Hence, we cannot say that wearing the Hijab is a degrading attribute for women and that Islam is infesting the world with this garment promoting a mockery of liberation. Thus, I disagree with Ms. Meckes describing the Hijab, as backwardness, submissiveness and degradation. How you choose to dress yourself shouldn’t be the main focal point of judgements that are passed on you. Hijabs, and other garments, similar to Hijabs such as Turbans, aren’t a way of oppression. They’re also not just a piece of cloth that one decided to cover him or herself with. They bear much more meaning behind them, and blindly claiming it as a sort of oppression , are just caused by lack of knowledge, confusion or simply ignorance.
Choosing to wear the hijab at a young age is unquestionably a battle. Knowing that you must conceal your beauty in a world where beauty is only valued, is unsettling. After weeks of contemplation, insecurities, and fear, I finally made the decision at 11 years old to wear the hijab/abaya. It wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies at first but through this religious journey, I have grown to love my hijab.
If you asked me a few years ago how I felt about my hijab, I would truthfully answer that I was embarrassed. I would tell you that I wore it for show, and if it were up to me I would have taken it off without a second thought. I would tell you that I felt hideous wearing it, being different from society’s social standards. Honestly, all I wanted was for my hair to be free. I wanted to be free.
I would wake up every morning and, as I pinned the cloth that sat on my head and put on the abaya that covered my body, I would groan, thinking of how much I wanted to be like everyone else. To be free of the judgemental stares and hurtful comments. Maybe it was because everybody I conversed to about the topic thought it was an impractical concept. Hair was meant to be let free. People would question, “Who’s enticed by hair? What’s the point, why wear it?”. They’d continually state that donning the hijab was a sign of oppression and told me I should just take it off. I would silently put my head down, embarrassed by what I looked like.
It was sometime over the course of my middle school years, that it hit me. Maybe I didn’t comply to society’s standards. What if I could be different? I didn’t need to display my body to be considered beautiful. I could be beautiful with my intellect instead. As said by a girl on the channel Talk Islam, I fell in love. I fell in love with the hijab because I came to understand that it was not simply a cloth draped over my body to cover beauty and preserve modesty. It was a physical manifestation of my submission and connection with my lord. An external representation of my internal spirituality.”
It had become my identity. When I learned the rationale for the hijab stated in the Quran. I was overwhelmed. Not only did it shatter my shallow perception of the hijab, it demonstrated to me God had validated my beauty. And from that day on I can’t imagine leaving my house without the hijab.
As Nusayba once said, ‘Wearing Hijab represents my freedom, my choice, not my oppression by the wants of men and media.’ I believe the hijab is a sign of modesty and freedom. It liberated me and gave me an identity. It has empowered me beyond any measure. I realized that while wearing the hijab I was judged for my thoughts and characters rather than my beauty. I was acknowledged for who I was rather than how I looked. I wanted to grasp any chance of making my bond firmer with my Lord, so I seized this opportunity. However, hijab isn’t simply concealing your beauty, it bears a far more profound importance. It’s about attaining modesty, embellishing our character, and having alluring patience. It’s a commitment, to never stop trying to seek God in everything, through everything.
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