Hijabi problem #99: I am oppressed

I am a hijabi (wearer of the hijab)

And I am oppressed.


For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term hijab, let me clarify (but most of the world probably is by now). The term hijab technically refers to a scarf, but the way it is understood by Muslimahs (female practitioners of Islam) is a little more inclusive.  When we (muslimahs) refer to hijab, or call ourselves hijabis, we are referring to a style of dress which includes a scarf on the head in some fashion, and a certain etiquette by which we live our lives.  Different cultures will define proper hijab in different ways…some more “conservative “, some more “liberal”.  While I feel comfortable in the way I physically wear my hijab and socially practice it, I don’t feel the need to judge others on theirs. Is mine perfect? Hardly. But I consider myself a hijabi none the less.

And like the media loves to trumpet, I certainly am oppressed.

My attire doesnt stop me from physical activity (hiking, swimming, riding bikes, etc).  My dress doesn’t keep me from being fashionable/feeling beautiful (quite the contrary, I’ve never felt so good looking in my life!).  My social etiquette doesn’t keep me out of the work place or secluded at home (I’ve worked with both men and women with no awkwardness, and I’ve gone on outings on my own).  I’m not oppressed by my hijab.  But as a hijabi,  I am oppressed.

I’m oppressed by you.

Not you, specifically, dear friends.  You support me and my right to practice my faith, my way.  I love you all! By “you”, I mean the traditionally “western” concept of hijabi oppression.

Being glared at on the street and whispered about; constantly fearing a violent outburst from a stranger keeps me at home.  The current fashion of see-through blouses and crop tops makes it hard to dress myself.  Requiring I remove my hijab before I can work keeps me out of the workforce and dependent on a man to care for me.  You consistently, relentlessly telling me I am not a strong woman because of the choices I made for myself makes me feel secluded and weak.

I did not oppress myself.  I would not choose a way of life that makes me feel poorly about myself.  The only thing about being a hijabi Muslimah that is oppressive is other people’s attitude towards me and the difficulty of living in a society that doesn’t want me in it.

So when you see us on the street, don’t cluck your tongue and shake your head.  Smile.  Nod.  Maybe a little wave of “hello”.  Make us feel included.  Makes us feel welcome.  If you are so concerned about the oppression of hijabis, maybe you should stop doing it.


I got 99 problems but my scarf ain’t one.


*light-hearted notes below
1. Like I said before, not everyone does this. If you are reading this and are a hijabi supporter,  hey girl/dude! You’re the best!
2. The new style of “shirt dresses” is great for hijabis and am all about that fashion trend right now! Yes!
3. No, I don’t expect everyone to bow down to hijabi style and not wear sheer shirts and crop tops.  You do you, boo. We just want some fashion options that aren’t boring black Abayas*.
4.*if you like boring black Abayas that’s OK too. 🙂


10 thoughts on “Hijabi problem #99: I am oppressed

    1. Thats a really good question! I had to think about that…

      I think when it comes to “walking down the street” type, the US is far worse. It never bothered me too much in college towns, but when I went home (to SC) for visits I was always looking over my shoulder. I was never victim to active discrimination in the US, probably because I’m white enough to confuse people haha.

      In Turkey I find that work-place discrimination is a bigger problem. Partly because it’s legal here (sad), and also because instead of
      being disliked because I’m “different and scary”, I’m disliked because I must be “conservative” and have xyz political views. While the streets of turkey are full of hijabis, most work places are not. Just 2/3 years ago they made it illegal to ban hijab in public buildings (yes, before you couldn’t pursue a higher education in Turkey if you wore hijab). Nor work in a hospital, school, federal building, etc.

      But I’ve been told izmir is the worst city for hijabis, so it could be different in other places.

      1. Thanks for the response and distinction. I have not seen a single hijabi since moving to Arizona, but I saw them frequently in Salt Lake. There was an urban, city high school quite close to my work place that had a high population of Muslims, both those born in the US/Utah, and a high number of Muslim refugees (Utah is a refugee state, has been forever). Students and their families were walking to and from and frequenting nearby businesses all the time. That being said, I still always found myself curious about these women and girls (especially), and therefore probably staring, rudely. I didn’t feel like I could go up and ask them about their religious views and their thoughts on living as a religious minority in a predominantly white, Christian area. But I often wondered about it, but–I must emphasize–with no ill will or evil or hurtful intent. I’m just curious. (This is probably also part of the reason I’m drawn to your blog.) I, personally, see a lot of cultural similarities between Islamic culture and even Sharia law and the culture and social rules of the conservative, Christian faith I was raised in. A LOT. Both good things, and not so great things.

        That being said, I would be horrified to think that a hijabi (or other Muslim) felt that I was stalking them, or scoping them out, assuming they were somehow, I don’t know, dangerous because of the obvious outward signs of their religion. Mostly, I am just curious, but feel out of line to stop them in the street and start asking about their religious views and practices. I have had that happen to me (people asking me about my religion, not Islam, obvs), and it is almost always uncomfortable. People can be difficult and offensive without ever meaning to be, an insensitivity in asking questions and a built-in defensiveness in answering them. I absolutely do not think I know how to be non-offensive in my sincere questions, so I don’t ask directly. I just watch them and hope they don’t catch me at it.

        And, for the record, I have this same curiosity about any religious faithful who demonstrate outward and recognizable signs of their religion: Jewish prayer shawls and yarmulke; Amish dress; polygamous families with wives and kids in tow; Buddhist monk’s robes; Christian nuns. I am less curious about Mormon missionaries because I already know what they will say. 🙂


      2. Yeah, I understand where you are coming from with the “not wanting to be weird about it” questions thing… I’ve had people who politely ask me questions about my religion (E.g. One of my students ask why I wear the scarf. I say. They are like oh that’s cool, and life goes on) vs very awkward and gawky questions that hint at an underlying prejudice (e.g. How do you feel about the oppressive hijab thing/ terrorism in your religion? Woah. Woah. Step back.).
        Curiosity is a great thing! And looking at people isn’t bad ;). Honestly, I never really noticed it that much until my husband pointed it out to me! I think a smile goes a long way in conveying your intentions 🙂

    1. Haha those are just five I bought one day, my collection is closer to 40 by now 😂 and I have many more to get! And the second pic I drew on computer paper with colored pencils and a black pen.

  1. Salam sister,
    I absolutely love this article, and I couldn’t agree with you more. I used to have the very same problem. I live in London (GB) and I have had a very hard time coming to terms with my identity as a Muslim woman. Wearing the hijab in public would give me major anxiety, but then I came across powerful, successful hijabis on Tumblr and Instagram, and I started feeling very confident. I also went travelling around Europe, and found many hijabi sisters in places like Brussels and Amsterdam. If you ever need someone to talk to, email me: sadiadventures@outlook.com
    Salam! ❤

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