The Muslim hijab
The hijab is simply a piece of cloth which covers a woman’s hair, neck and bosom to conceal outer beauty. Practicing Muslims wear the hijab for purposes of humbleness and modesty. (There are similar guidelines set for men’s modesty.) In the Quran, God says, “And say to the faithful women to lower their gazes, and to guard their private parts, and not to display their beauty except what is apparent of it, and to extend their head coverings to cover their bosoms” (Nur: 31).
The Arabic word Islam means simply to “surrender oneself [to God].” Because surrender and submission to God’s oneness is the quintessence of Islam, it requires one to trust that God is present, knowing what is best for us. After all, if one postulates a divine creator, one must have to admit that he would know his creation best.
There are many reasons why people think I wear the scarf. To wit: that I am oppressed (and they pity me), that I am uneducated, that I am a terrorist, or that I am simply old-fashioned. On the other hand, there are those who admire me for my strength and beliefs. Brave people who muster the courage to ask me about the way I dress usually have questions like, “Do you wear that to respect your husband?” or “Aren’t you hot in that thing?”
As a woman, I maintain that, contrary to popular opinion, the concept of the hijab, along with full-length clothing, is actually one of the most fundamental tools of female empowerment. Because of the superficiality of the world in which we live, and the madness of the fashion-industry pendulum, external appearances are so emphasized that individual values are nearly phased out.
Additionally, the advertising industry continues to portray women as unintelligent sex objects to such a level that it has become unnoticeable. Examples are the Miller Lite’s “catfight” ad, where two women rip each other’s clothes off while wrestling in a fountain, and the Coors Light series characterizing things men love, such as sexy, blond twins. One of the saddest truths of our time is the all-important female “self-image.”
To prove my point, you can instantly find out what kind of body image is “in” or “out” by simply reading a few popular magazines, which constantly bombard us with the messages that to be overweight is to be ugly and to bare one’s cleavage is the expected norm. What kind of freedom can there be for a woman when she cannot walk down the street without being constantly “checked out” and judged as desirable or not? How can those women be liberated and I am oppressed?
The hijab is not a political flag, nor am I an extremist. It’s a way of self-respect and modesty, an act of obedience toward God, and I am at peace within the core of my heart. I can rest, knowing that no one is looking at me and making conjecture about my character from the length of my skirt or revealing bosom. It’s a barrier between me and those who would exploit me. I am a human being equal to any man, and I am not vulnerable because of my sexuality. Yes, I have a physical manifestation upon this Earth, but it is the vessel for my God-given intellect and strong spirit. I wear the hijab not because I have to, but because I want to, and nothing comes before God.
Zahida Mehirdel works for our sister newspaper in Sacramento. She relocated to Sacramento from the Bay Area about 19 months ago to accept a job in our business office.