The Hijab Question

Is that your Jesus costume?

Aren’t you hot in that?

Are you a nun?

Do you have any hair?

Are you from Iraq or something?

These are some of the day to day questions I have received from perfect strangers about my hijab.

The questions can range from innocent and curious to downright mean, but what all the questioning boils down to is: “Why do you wear that?”

What is Hijab?

To all the questions, I have received about hijab, I have had to concoct my own definition of the term:

Hijab [he JAB] (n)- 1. A piece of cloth that covers the hair, neck, and chest often accompanied by loose fitting clothes worn in public by some Muslim women.

2. A piece of cloth that reveals innocent enough ignorance sometimes accompanied by bigotry when worn in public.

Why Do I Wear That Thing?

Once the term of “Hijab” is defined, the ultimate question still remains: Why hijab?

In a culture where you are free to do anything, wear anything, why would one choose hijab?

The answer is simple. I wear hijab to please God. I wear hijab to be recognized as a Muslim. I wear hijab to be modest, to have control over who consumes my body (consumption by viewing is the most popular kind of consumption in the Television age).

Women feel incredible pressure to look a certain way, dress a certain way, to be pleasing to all who may look upon them. And the message is that the woman who is most pleasing to the eye is the winner (Think Kim Kardashian, who is famous for being beautiful … among other unsavory things).

It takes an incredible amount of effort, money, stress, and brain space to keep up with this pressure to squeeze one’s uniqueness into the pre-approved package of the “ideal beauty”. And at the end of the day, you will never be able to please everyone (even if you are Kim Kardashian).

Hijab is a way to reject this kind of minimization of a woman’s worth, it is a way to reject the idea that women should first and foremost be thought of in terms of appearance and then and only then in terms of accomplishments, thoughts, or actions. Hijab is a way to please God with one’s appearance. And who else really matters anyway?

Still there are those who insist that hijab is a form of oppression and they are staunchly against women wearing it. To much of the Western world, the hijab is a symbol of oppression, male-dominance, female silence, suffering, and subordination. You know- all the dark and shady things that have come to represent Islam in the Western psyche.

For me, when I first encountered Islam as a college freshman many moons ago, I was of the Western thinking in regards to hijab. I had, up until that point, never (knowingly) met a Muslim. I didn’t even know what Islam was. And still, somehow, I had picked up this prejudice from the culture in which I lived.

That was until I listened to a Muslim woman’s answer my very own question of “why do you wear that?”

She said: “So that I can please God. So that I can be recognized as a believing woman who is to be respected and not harassed.”

It shocked me that she didn’t say, because my husband/father/brother makes me, or because I am culturally obligated to dress this way.

It shocked me that it was her own choice. That she wished to be recognized as a representative of her faith and as someone who dresses with purpose and to garner respect.

It made me view hijab in its proper place—as a sign of a woman’s faith, a woman’s conscious decision to control what is seen of her instead of following trends, and a sign that she wishes- ultimately- to be pleasing in God’s eyes.

If western society demands that women take off an article of clothing that suits her level of modesty and is a part of her belief’s system, is it really about liberation?

How can we ask women to show parts of their bodies that they do not feel comfortable showing and still call ourselves a free society?

(And the inverse of this can be argued as well. How can women be asked to cover parts of their bodies they do not feel comfortable covering? Forcing women to wear hijab IS oppressive and a topic to be discussed in another article).

Be Prepared for Questions

But hijab remains something strange in the West and because of this, the questions will continue in all their forms – the innocent, the curious, and the ugly.

Even Nobel Prize winner and mother of the Yemini Revolution, Tawakul Karman, was asked about her hijab by journalists, who insisted that it was not congruent with her level of intellect and education.

Karman replied:

“Man in the early times was almost naked, and as his intellect evolved he started wearing clothes. What I am today and what I’m wearing represents the highest level of thought and civilization that man has achieved, and is not regressive. It’s the removal of clothes again that is regressive back to ancient times.”

When wearing hijab in the Western world, be prepared for questions. Be sure that you answer them with kindness, but be clear in letting people know that it is your choice.


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