Written By: Elyse Keelani*
Why is a Muslim woman’s worth symbolized by a headscarf** or the lack thereof?
In Western societies, the lack of a headscarf makes a Muslim woman blend into secular society; whether or not she’s a practicing Muslim is less important. Usually, as long as she looks the part, she is accepted. A lack of a headscarf in the eyes of the West means that she is not oppressed, and that she has found freedom.
However, the West fails to see that their own society confines women also, and that women are treated simply as objects. If a woman wears a bikini on the beach, she’s fine. If a woman wears a bikini on the street, she’s deemed “loose”. If a woman of the right body-type wears a low-cut top, she is seen as sexy; If a heavy woman does the same, she is trashy. There are so many rules to follow, it’s hard to keep up.
“Do I look confident or self-absorbed?” “Do I look strong or do I look overbearing?” “Do I look sexy or do I look slutty?” The lines are drawn according to a woman’s race, body type, socio-economic status, etc. Then a woman might find that the lines are drawn differently in some Western countries, or in some areas of Western countries.
The worth of a woman is often narrowed down to fabric, but that worth was taken away long before anyone saw how she was dressed. Being “Jane” means less opportunity in life, less pay, more risk of being a victim of violence, etc.
Clothing is simply a symbol of how well a woman is fitting into the society that already oppresses her.
This is why hijab can actually be seen as a symbol of rebellion in the West, when it is meant to simply be a religious garment. Many would argue it’s a symbol of oppression, but the real oppression comes from forcing women to either wear or not wear it.
A woman in a headscarf does not fully submit to Western society: she either submits to God or sometimes to her original culture or society. Women are expected to blend in and to be subservient, so any act that goes against this renders her a target.
Now, we can not forget Muslim women in certain Eastern societies and what the headscarf means there.
These women are also objectified and also seen as a threat; their bodies are seen as a tool for a man’s needs, much like in Western societies. They are ridiculed in public by men for not covering enough of their bodies, but these same men will, in private, look longingly at half dressed, or undressed, women online.
Why is the headscarf– which is only mentioned once in the Quran– automatically a symbol of a woman’s worth to these men?
“The headscarf hides beauty so a woman’s mind can shine,” some might say, but in modern times, men don’t respect the mind or body of a woman. The body of a woman is simply for pleasure, and the mind is not important.
“A woman should be shy and subservient, and a model wife is quiet and meek.” Why can’t a woman be strong and powerful and still desirable? Why are men so weak that their masculinity hinges on whether or not they are more powerful than women? In certain Eastern societies, the headscarf is not seen as a symbol of rebellion, but a symbol of her silence and acceptance.
The headscarf is not the issue, it was never the issue. The headscarf has only been dragged into these patriarchal societies as a means.
A beautiful symbol of faith has suddenly become a means to limit a woman’s role in society.
Muslim women are worth far more than a headscarf or lack thereof. The worth of a Muslim woman– or any woman, or any man– lies in their heart and mind. The headscarf has a lot of meaning to it, and this is a personal matter for each woman to decide whether or not to wear it.
To enforce the wearing or not wearing of the headscarf is erroneous, in both secular morality and the Islamic religion.
*Elyse Keelani is an American convert to Islam. She holds a BA in Political Science with a concentration in International Relations from Kent State University. She is currently living in a small village in Jordan with her husband and newborn baby.
**Note: The term “hijab” covers far more than just the scarf worn on the head, so I will be saying the term “headscarf” instead, for the purpose of accuracy.
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