"What is this madness??" You cry, "You aren’t Muslim but you want to cover your hair?? The scandal! The outrage! THE OPPRESSION!"
Alright, well maybe that was a bit dramatic. Or was it?
In our society today, many people have heard about the concept of hijab or at least have heard the word, but few know what it actually means. It generally known to be something that Muslim women wear and is said to be a symbol of oppression.
What if I told you that it wasn’t oppressive? What if I told you it could actually be liberating, empowering? Would you listen?
First and foremost, let me get this straight: Most women are not forced to wear hijab. If anyone does force a woman, then they are probably doing this according to a cultural standard and not according to the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam. Muslim women who wear hijab generally put it on around the time of puberty, although some do it before and some do it after. Some women never wear hijab (I can hear the jaws of misconception dropping as I type) and yes, call themselves Muslim.
Hijab is a concept that is seen by many as oppressive, but this is because our societal standards force us to think so. In American culture today, the fashion industry tells us that the more skin a person bares, the sexier they will be. They will find their worth, guys will look at them, and they will feel pretty. For some this may very well be true, and who am I to judge what a person wants to wear? Personally, I feel that this focus on appearance actually stifles people and sucks them in to a mentality that says "I need to find my worth through my body". This can lead to issues such as low self-esteem and the even bigger issue of believing that it is only their body that gives them value as a person.
I choose to fight against the societal standard that says this. When I cover up, I know that people are not seeing me for my fashion sense, but rather what I say and more importantly, what I do. This also makes me feel like my words and actions have more weight and therefore I must consider my actions more carefully.
As a feminist, I also recognize that at the top of the fashion industry, it is still controlled by men. If it isn’t men who are the designers, then it is the CEOs of major fashion magazines who decide what to put in to a spread to tell people what they absolutely need to buy to wear. Wearing hijab is like my version of feminism - I control who sees my body and to me, that is what is called empowerment.
"But Karen, you’re not Muslim."
It is not only Muslim women who wear hijab. Haven’t you ever seen a picture of a nun in full habit?
They, too, cover from their neck down and their hair. Many other religions do this, such as various branches of Judaism, Hinduism (when they go into temple, I believe), and also Christians in other parts of the world.
You do not have to be Muslim to wear hijab. In fact, I am Wiccan, and when I found out that there was a group of Pagans that cover, I was a super happy camper. The ideals of modesty and empowerment are found in many religions and spiritualities, and covering is becoming the new radical thing to do. It is much more popular than many people think, and I believe it is time for us to know that we are worth much more than just our bodies. It is our minds, our hearts, and our spirits that make us human.