This statement (even if not in these exact words) was told to me by a colleague while working on a field research project (literally- a field). The intense summer sun was beating down on us and the men that were present before to aid in the physical labor had left.
“Finally!” I exclaimed, beginning to roll up my long sleeves and loosening the scarf around my head, “Now that it’s just us ladies…”
My colleague looked at me with a mixture of sympathy and exasperation.
“I’m sure your husband doesn’t mind if you don’t completely cover yourself all of the time. It’s hot out here after all.”
While her intentions were pure, the statement was like a slap in the face. Your busband doesn’t mind… For any married women out there that have decided to don the hijab after marriage, for any reason, ya’ll have probably heard this before. This was not the first time I heard this either. There seems to be some misunderstanding in our (US and other non-islamic) cultures that hijab is something donned and practiced for men. This thought is the seed from which grows the idea that Islam is mysogynistic.
Let me be clear. While I can’t speak for others- I will speak for myself. Wearing the hijab was my idea. I put it on in my own time, when I was ready to experience it. Neither my husband nor his family ever forced the idea on me, or even planted it in my subconscious through actions. I began studying Islam because I wanted to know about it. My husband was simply the sounding board from which I bounced my ideas of studying Islam and looking into it further via reading or action (he was even a little nervous about my wearing hijab- thinking that others would suspect it was his idea). I’d known that hijab was obligatory for muslimahs for approximately two years prior to my wearing it, and was, in all honesty, one of the biggest obstacles for me to overcome and embrace Islam (which, technically, I haven’t taken my shahada yet but I am almost there, inshallah). Being from a non-islamic country and background, I too began my journey into Islam with the jaded notion that women were completely subservient and slaves to men, that hijab was for men and was forced upon women by their elder male relatives.
Oh, was I wrong.
The more I read and listened, the more I saw hijab for what it was; a feminist (and Islamic, ofcourse) act of controlling how others see you, and commanding dignity and respect with a modest appearance and behavior, all while identifying yourself as a muslimah. Hijab is for WOMEN, not men. I fell in love with the concept. (note: there is a hijab for men too, but I’m talking about the one prescribed to women in the Quran.)
In understanding more about hijab and what it is, I began to wonder where the idea of wearing hijab for men came from, this idea that prevails in non-islamic societies. I then began to consider womens actions and dress in my own culture. Do not women often choose their clothes, hairstyles, and makeup, to attract attention from men (and women)? While we may not be doing it knowingly, our appearance is greatly determined by the thoughts of those around us. In this way it seems clear that society would view hijab as an act for others (men specifically) because this is the only way that society knows how to think. I’m not saying every woman is like this, but look between the lines of our cultural norms.
If you are behind your computer screen berating me for my thoughts, I challenge you to wear hijab for a day, or a week, or, hey, try the 30 day ramadan hijab challenge from June 28 to July 28 and show the world that you don’t care what they think of your look. Put on the hijab for yourself and feel the liberation. You may be surprised how much you love it.