Clearing the name of Hijab in the name of Islam

Maliha Jafri

Originally Published Sept. 11, 2006

A few weeks after 9/11 a couple was taking a walk after dinner in downtown Los Angeles when a man came out of nowhere.

He put his revolver up to the seven-month pregnant woman’s stomach and shot her. Her husband pleaded and offered the man his wallet and his wife’s jewelry but it was already too late. The murderer did not want the money or jewels. He wanted the lives of the innocent.

He shot her because she was wearing a Hijab, a traditional Islamic veil covering the hair, and because her husband had a beard.

This is how low some in society have stooped to. People are so scared of each other that they do not think before they act.

The concept of the Hijab is so pure yet so many people don’t understand. The word “Hijab” comes from the Arabic word “hajaba” meaning to hide from view or conceal.

I wear a Hijab, but what do people see when they look at me? Some people simply stare, while others think I am controlled and uneducated. Several think that I am limited and un-liberated. People are thankful that they are not I, because they would like to remain “free.”

Well, free isn’t exactly the word I would use to describe women who are always worried about what others think of them.

People think that I do not have opinions or voice. They think that wearing a Hijab isn’t my choice and that wearing it makes me look caged. Some ask me if my husband or father is an extremist who forces his will on me.

As Muslim females, we want to stop men from treating us like sex objects. We want them to ignore our appearance and to be attentive to our personalities and mind. We want them to take us seriously and treat us as equals and not just chase us around for our bodies.

A Muslim woman who covers her head is making a statement about her identity. Anyone who sees her will know that she is a Muslim and has a good moral character because that is what the Hijab means.

Many Muslim women who cover are filled with dignity and self-esteem; they are pleased to be identified as a Muslim woman. As a chaste, modest, pure woman, she does not want her sexuality to enter into interactions with men in the smallest degree.

A woman who covers herself is concealing her sexuality but allowing her femininity to be brought out. I’m not saying that I am perfect and pure, but that is what I am working toward and I have to start somewhere.

I myself tried to work up the courage to wear a hijab countless times and finally succeeded last year. I failed in the past because I would remember the story about the pregnant woman and get scared. Or maybe I failed due to my lack of confidence in myself and in my faith.

I think that if people like that guy who shot the pregnant woman don’t even care about the life of an unborn child, then why would they hesitate to take my life? The dilemma I am faced with is, should I willingly practice my religion by wearing the Hijab or play it safe by not wearing it?

I decided that it was time to become confident. By wearing a Hijab I can be easily spotted in a crowd. Some of my non-Muslim friends say that I have become a living target and pose a threat to anyone acquainted with me. It is not my wish to hurt anyone in anyway but I would also like to be able to practice my religion without regret or constant guilt.

The Muslim community in America is growing rapidly. Growth factors include conversions to Islam, immigration from Muslim countries and high birth rates for Muslim families.

As the community grows, more Muslim women will enter the workforce. In many cases, these women wish both to work and to maintain their religious convictions. It should be possible to fulfill both goals.

Young Muslim women are reclaiming the hijab, reinterpreting it in light of its original purpose – to give back to women ultimate control of their own bodies.

The Quran teaches us that men and women are equal, that individuals should not be judged according to gender, beauty, wealth or privilege. The only thing that makes one person better than another is her or his character.

Women are not going to achieve equality with the right to bear their breasts in public, as some people would like to have you believe.

Feeling that one has to meet the impossible male standards of beauty is tiring and often humiliating. I should know, I spent my entire teen-age years trying to do it. I spent a lot of money I didn’t have on potions and lotions.

True equality will be had only when women don’t need to display themselves to get attention and won’t need to defend their decision to keep their bodies to themselves.

My parents came here because the United States of America is the “land of opportunity,” where people come from all over the world for religious freedom.

You have to realize that a lot of countries don’t have religious freedom like we do and I would like to take advantage of my right to religious freedom.

Maliha Jafri can be reached at maliha.jafri.18@csun.edu.