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.
I see you’re wearing pants today. Good for you. I chose to jazz things up with a shirt and a headscarf to boot. Too much you say?
Let’s be honest here, a whopping majority of us (Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Agnostic, or otherwise) do believe in some form of modesty–of course there are those outliers who believe in nothing at all–but I think most of us would agree that those conditions are not always very sanitary.
We women are especially notorious for scrutinizing one another and making harsh judgments, while men generally get a pass from our scrutiny.
Is that dress too low cut for her age? Does she have the body to pull off that outfit? How can she wear that at a funeral/wedding? …
Usually, to men, the more naked a woman-the better. Few from this gender do protest from seeing too much. And to those that are on the opposite side of the isle exclaiming that our covering isn’t enough–it isn’t like you will ever stop looking at us regardless of what we wear–lower your gaze, brother. There is no need to call the Haram Police.
While the judgments made between women can be harsh, it is in these critical comments where we decide where we want to draw our own personal modesty line–which helps us decide what amount of coverage makes us feel comfortable ourselves and in the company we keep.
In honor of World Hijab Day, coming up this February 1st, I thought it might be fun to list a few reasons why someone might want to participate in this event. (click the link to read all about it and read the experiences of others who have participated in the past.)
Hijab is a word many Muslims (people who follow the Islamic religion) use when referring the scarf and modest clothing Muslim women wear in religious observance. The goal of hijab is to achieve a modest appearance and let any potential hungry eyes that like to scan the female form know “that this … ain’t happening”.
Actually, there are many reasons Muslim women might wear the hijab, and whether cultural or spiritual, World Hijab Day is a nice opportunity to show a little solidarity with your neighborhood Muslim female who sometimes has to go through a great number of obstacles to continue wearing a symbol she sees as important to herself, to her religion and to her identity.
For a more in depth review on hijab see Hijabology.
Now … introducing … the top 5 reasons to wear a scarf on February 1st: World Hijab Day!
Going to the mosque can be a scary endeavor when you are a new Muslim, a non-Muslim, or even when the mosque is new to you. Going anywhere new is a scary thing (says the introvert).
But going to a place of worship that you are not quite sure what is taboo and what is deemed appropriate behavior is so much more scary. Believe me. I know. But have no fear! Theresa is here to make all the mistakes for you and then report back to give you the down low to make your visit go smoothly.
Mosque- (n.) /mawsk/ also known as a masjid /MASS-jid/ among Muslims. An Islamic place of worship.
Unfortunately, like many Western women, some days I look through my closet and I think I have nothing to wear. However, I have a secret weapon. It is just when I have lost all hope of being stylish and comfy that I can turn to my trusty abaya (əˈbīə/noun 1. a full-length, loose, outer garment that can be easily be slipped on over the head). Never too tight or scratchy, this instant classic and friend of your wardrobe is there to save the day time and time again. Sure, she may not grace the pages of the latest Vogue, but nowadays abayas are being designed in every color, shape and style imaginable.
So stand back pants (or skirt) and top- let’s discuss the top 5 reasons why abayas are truly awesome.
5. Laundry Day Cover Ups
All I have left is this pink knit skirt to go with this over-sized blue and brown t-shirt … throw on a nice abaya- instant sophistication!
4. Instant Slimmerizer
It looks like I lose a few percentages of body fat just by wearing these things. Rolls? Muffin top? Not that you can tell! It is like spanx for the woman who will not be encased like a flippin’ sausage.
3. Decency in an Emergency
Whoops, I am late for class/work, etc. – good thing I can just slip this on. Wearing pajamas at the grocery store has never been so much fun. (Also I suspect that was probably why Mona Lisa smiles ever so slyly. She was actually wearing jammies under her Renaissance abaya, and Leonardo da Vinci was none the wiser.)
2. Fashionista Always
In the West, have you ever encountered another Muslimah sporting the exact same abaya with the exact same hijab as you? Yeah, me neither. Feel like you are wearing couture, and laugh as you walk past the GAP -then turn around and walk in because you see they have cute scarves.
Avoid this look
1. Prevents Blushing
I don’t have to worry about my shirt riding up, or any other bits of me being exposed without my knowledge (especially when I have to perform salah/prayer). I equate this with more comfort and I find it hard to ever say no to comfort (Hey, Comfort … call me …).
Sure it is tempting to follow Western trends, just make sure you are comfortable both physically and spiritually with whatever you grab from your closet (or … um … from the laundry basket).
Whenever in doubt, break the abaya out.
Has your abaya ever saved the day? Tell us about your favorite one below!
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I asked myself, “Self, what is the first question (and often the only question) people ask you about your religion?” Then self said, “hijab!”
To be clear, hijab is not a headscarf. Hijab is a standard of modesty for men and women as was revealed by God in the Quran (Quran 24:30-31). But many people use the word hijab to mean the headscarf some Muslim women wear.
Whatever you call it—hijab, head scarf, garb, head wrap, turban, and some more insulting things which I will not mention here—it is the first thing people notice. I am kinda tired of talking about it, explaining it, defending it. It is not the most important part of Islam or Iman (faith).
But Western attention focuses so much of what it “knows” about Islam on the way Muslim women choose* to dress that it is important to continue to talk about, explain, and defend. *If a woman is wearing a headscarf to please her husband or father, this is not from Islam.
The day to day questions I receive from perfect strangers about my headscarf can range from innocent and curious to downright mean, but what all the questioning boils down to is: “Why do you wear that?” And my first thought of course is to give a smart-alecky response like: “Oh, I love to wear converse because they give me that I don’t give a crap look that I love so much.”
But then I rein myself in—I know they are referring to the gorgeous accessory I use to cover my hair—and I respond by rote: “For God and Modesty”.
Four little words. That’s all. It sums it up, but falls short.
If I gave the full answer/history/misconceptions to passing strangers, I fear I may be committed or burned at the stake (In the small southern cities in which I have resided, Muslims are scarce. So, the lack of knowledge is understandable, but unfortunately xenophobia is rampant).
So let’s get down to brass tacks with my longer, but still short-ish explanation of the headscarf people inaccurately call hijab.
No! not another definition! Yes, kind reader, another definition.
Hijab [he JAB] (n)- 1. A style of dress for women and men that expresses modesty and a devotion to God. 2. A word that often is used to mean headscarf which is a cloth that covers the hair, ears, neck, and chest worn in public by Muslim women who wish to please God and be recognized as a believing woman. 3. A piece of cloth that reveals innocent enough ignorance sometimes accompanied by bigotry when worn in public.
To the Western world the hijab/headscarf that some Muslim women wear has a connotation of oppression, male-dominance, female silence, suffering, and subordination. You know, all the dark and shady things that have come to represent The East in The Western psyche.
*Point of contention/personal pet peeve: Islam is not an Eastern religion. Sure it started in The East, just as Judaism and Christianity did, but it is absolutely a world religion. However, the hijab/headscarf is normally tied up in the Western mind with all that is Eastern.
For most Muslims, the scarf and modest clothing represent strength, piety, confidence, a sense of self-worth, and a woman’s right to have full ownership over her own body and not be viewed as a sexual plaything.
For me, when I first encountered Islam, I was of the Western thinking in regards to women dressing modestly, for no other reason than this was some kind of programming to which I had been subconsciously subjected. However, as a young woman, I knew the crushing insecurity that came along with being put on display at all times, as a subject to be critiqued by all who crossed my path. I knew I was expected to mold my appearance for unattainable approval. And I was crushed my the weight of it all.
I became increasingly frustrated by the harassment and disrespect I received as an American woman dressed as a typical American woman. I was perceived as available. And was so rarely treated with respect that should be shown to any human being no matter how I acted, or what words I spoke, or what I achieved. Sure, some women enjoy this kind of attention, but it was not for me.
Then I did something weird. I listened. I listened to a Muslim woman answer my very own question of “why do you wear that?”
And the answer was so obvious and attuned to my own nature that I was shocked when she said, “So that I can be recognized as a woman who believes in God and should be respected and not harassed. So that I can be spared the cross hairs of the male gaze. So that I can give consent to who see me and who does not.”
When I found out what hijab was really about, I wanted to allow myself these rights. It took time and a lot of courage, but I finally started observing hijab in 2001, and I LOVE allowing myself this freedom.
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