New post in my ongoing Hijab Series is written by sister Ashley. In her post she talks about how the hijab is her empowerment.
Being a Muslimah and covered woman for over two years now, and living in the United States and United Kingdom, I have become very, very accustomed to being spit, stared, and shouted at in the streets, as well as some more violent things. This is nothing more than I expected that December morning, when I woke up and picked the scarf up off of the floor where I had discarded it after the event at the masjid the night before, and put it on for good.
What I didn’t expect, however, is the sheer amount of people that would be so, so angry at me in such a personal way, for nothing other than the colour of my skin.
That’s right: most of the shouting and violent encounters that I have had over the past two years have had nothing to do with the scarf on my head, but rather the fact that I am WHITE and I choose to dress this way. I have been berated for being white and a native English speaker and giving up my privilege, oppressing myself, letting my husband oppress me, and in general just making a completely ridiculous, and according to them, invalid choice in religion and clothing.
So today I want to tell everyone who doesn’t understand why I, as a young, decent looking, white woman would give all of that “freedom” up for a so-called “oppressive” lifestyle, exactly what my hijab means to me.
First and foremost, my hijab is a symbol of something bigger than me. It is one way that I can obey my Creator and manifest my devotion to Him. It is a way to practice my religion openly, and it is a way to worship my God every time I step out of the house. It is a sign to show people exactly who I am and what I believe in. It tells you I am a Muslim woman.
But secondly, here in this world my hijab is my empowerment.
By covering myself like I do, from head to foot in loose fitting and opaque fabric, I am making the choice to become something more than a body to be dressed up and shown off. I am moving past the ever changing trends and sometimes fierce competition amongst women who should be treating each other as sisters. I am putting myself in a position of absolute power; I get to choose exactly who can see which parts of my body.
And I am demanding respect in my interactions. I know that the hijab is not a one size fits all solution to things like street harassment and sexual assault (these things are societal issues that go much, much deeper than what a woman is wearing), but in my day to day interactions with colleagues in work and university, I have noticed a huge difference in the way I am treated.
Just one example: on my MA course in London we were mainly women, with one man. Whenever he saw all of us girls studying together or getting a pre-class coffee, he would come up and greet us. All of the other girls got hugs and greetings like “hey there lovely!” When he would get to me he would always greet me with “good morning/afternoon, Ashley,” and never once tried to give me a hug. My hijab was an automatic barrier, and an indication of how I expected our interactions to be; my dress signified that we could have a friendly professional relationship in the context of university, and that would be that.
Western feminists often talk about body autonomy, a woman’s right to do with her body whatever is right for her, including the way she dresses (ironically they also talk very often about “liberating” covered women from their awful families/choices, but that is a whole different blog post). For me, my hijab achieves just that. My hijab puts me in control, and empowers and emboldens me to really let my personality, intellect, and spirituality shine through without constant worry about all of the more superficial aspects of my body.
Far from being a white woman who chose to be oppressed, I am a woman who found my freedom.
“Modesty (haya) brings nothing but good.”
Narrated in Bukhari
Ashley is a 20-something year old American Muslim, who lives in North Africa with her awesome husband. Besides a BA in Language Studies and an MA in Translation, she loves to read, needle-craft, and strives to improve her tea-brewing for the perfect cuppa. When she isn’t snuggling cats, you can find her writing over at www.muslimahaccordingtome.wordpress.com, where she shares her experience with Islam as well as resources and support for new Muslims.