“What’s that on your head?” “Why do you wear it?” “Does your dad make you?”
These are questions hijabis encounter frequently. “Hijabi” is a term used by American Muslims for women who wear headscarfs and modest, loose clothing. As a hijabi attending college, I have been discovering more and more that many people don’t know much about Islam; especially where the use of a hijab (head covering used by Muslim women) is concerned.
Eastern Michigan University students had the opportunity to try on a hijab at the Muslim Students’ Association first-ever Hijab Day last week. That evening, they were invited to discuss their experiences.
Those who attended the event learned women choose to wear a hijab for a variety of reasons: first and foremost, because we believe it’s God’s command. Other reasons include modesty and identifying oneself as a Muslim; just as a Jew might wear a Star of David necklace or a Christian a cross.
One of the clichés about college is that it’s a place to learn and discover; it’s about finding yourself. I find wearing a hijab makes this much easier because it’s a constant reminder of who I am.
For instance, I think twice about certain acts because I am a visual representation of Islam. If I fail to leave a tip for the waiter or cut someone off on the highway, because I wear a hijab, this may give people a negative view of Muslims and Islam.
In no way does the wearing of a hijab prevent a woman from being all she can. Islam acknowledges women as sisters, daughters, wives and mothers. More than that, it views women as valued and active participants of society. Women had no rights in any society 1,400 years ago; they were treated as property. Islam gave women many of the rights they have had to struggle to receive today – the right to an education; to a voice; to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
As Muslim Student Association President, Hani Mohamud pointed out, many people think the hijab originated from Islam and it isn’t anything new. In fact, it has been around for thousands of years and is observed by people of multiple religions. Picture Christianity’s matriarch, the Virgin Mary. In every portrayal, her hair is covered, and she’s dressed modestly. The same goes for Catholic nuns. Head coverings most commonly worn by Jews in the Haredi community are the snood (a type of headgear worn over long hair), tichel (headscarf worn to comply with a code of modesty) and sheitel (a half-wig used to cover long hair).
As Erika Buckley, graduate assistant for the Center of Multicultural Affairs, said, “To me, it’s one of the most beautiful things in the world, to have the honor of putting [hijab] on myself… I consider it a privilege.”
She continued, saying in response to a coworker’s inquiry about why a beautiful woman shouldn’t show off certain assets, “Whatever religion you follow, it’s your decision to make about who you share yourself with. My body is not for everyone. It’s private, personal, and unique, and therefore, I won’t share my goodies with everyone, only those who I deem deserv[ing].”
Wearing a hijab is conducive to becoming a strong, intellectual and productive individual. It conveys dignity and humility while giving a woman enough space to express her personality in a modest way. Rather than diminishing a woman, the hijab makes her more apparent. It is time we start looking at how the hijab serves women, and elevates their status in society, because as Mohamud summarized, “The only thing oppressing me is your judgment.”