March 12, 2009

Wearing Hijab in America

Filed under: Blogroll — mariahussain @ 6:27 pm

I cannot even begin to talk about the hijab (Islamic dress, translated as “covering”) without first looking at the big picture and raising the question of what exactly we are trying to accomplish with our endeavors in this life in this land. Foremost, let’s look at the sordid state of affairs that we are contending with; think of all the things happening in this world:

The earth is being ravaged by industrial toxic technology. Rainforests are being burned and destroyed. The atmosphere is being shredded, wildlife and marine life are becoming extinct. The world lies in wait of nuclear holocaust at the touch of a button, while the slow leak of poisons spreads insidiously into our drinking water and dust particles. Topsoil erosion from overuse of pesticides has laid much of the earth’s surface to waste. Thousands of homes lie vacant while thousands of men, women and children are homeless. 20 to 30% of Americans now have herpes, which is an incurable disease. Cancers and auto immune dysfunction are becoming increasingly common. Allergies are rampant. This is because our physical bodies are part of this earth, and cannot be separated from the environment. We are suffering because our mother earth is being devastated and abused. And I have hardly even touched upon social injustice and political oppression.

Confronted with such a bleak portrait of reality, we must ask, how do we deal with those in power who are responsible for all this? In fact, Allah talks about the people of Moses in the Quran who were asking similar questions. Al hamdulillah, Allah already knew that the Pharoah would meet a sorry end, just as we know that capitalism is on its last legs today, even though it gives the appearance of being very powerful. Moses did not tell the Israelites to go and kill the Pharoah. Instead, he told his followers to concentrate their energy on their homes and their communities and to establish their connection with Allah. This is an example of how we can go about quietly struggling against evil.

And, hijab is precisely one of the symbols of this struggle. It is a sign that says, “I believe in Allah and I believe in forbidding what is evil and encouraging what is good.” It is an outward acknowledgement of an inner faith for which we are willing to sacrifice our egos and work hard for, in order to bring about positive social change.

In itself, hijab will not free the oppressed, feed the hungry, or create a moral society. It is a statement to the world that you KNOW you are a person of great value, worthy of being treated with decency and dignity, simply because Allah created you.

Keeping this empowering concept of hijab in mind, lets examine how women are treated in westernized society. You will see a striking parallel between the way the capitalist world system thinks of the earth and how they view women. If one word were to describe both, it would be EXPLOITATION.

In America, a lot of girls grow up not having any idea that they are worth anything. They see how everything is used for its commercial value and they feel insecure about their spiritual worth as human beings. This is because we see people having to think constantly in terms of consumer products. For example, the breakfast cereal in the prettiest box will be the most expensive, and this will bear no relation to the nutritional value of the cereal. And when it comes to women, we see on TV beautiful girls being used to sell everything from laundry detergent to cars, and the society puts such an emphasis on physical attractiveness that young girls will try so hard to look like these fashion models. When I was 12 years old I started taking diet pills, and I was on a diet for the next ten years until I became Muslim, al hamdulillah.

The truth about American society is that women are expected to sell themselves in order to be successful. That is, they have to make their bodies into a pretty package in order to be accepted socially or in order to get a job. Among the lower income, women will find that if they get a job as a waitress they will have to work very hard to act cute and pleasing and even flirtatious, in order to get good tips. But even professional women have to think in this way in order to get ahead. My mother, who has a PhD and works as a university administrator, was actually told that it is a department rule that all female employees must wear pantyhose. This is so sick. This is saying that no matter how hard you work or how educated you are, first and foremost, you must show your legs.

So, I believe that the hijab is a very firm way to say no to using your body for the sake of gaining commercial advantage. It is a way of saying that you refuse to participate in the exploitation of living beings for whatever profit. It says that you know you are worth something beyond being an object of pleasure for any and all. So in a small yet large way, to wear hijab is to fight against capitalism and greed. We are evidence that you have a choice. You can say no to capitalist, exploitation and destruction.


It is true that there are many difficulties involved with wearing the hijab in American society. And we have to be prepared for this and understand where it comes from. First of all, we have to realize that some people are going to react to you in a hostile manner. However, it is important to realize that it is not a personal but a political issue. If someone curses at you for wearing hijab it is because they hate Islam, and it shows that they are racist, sexist, and oblivious to their Creator. Also, some people’s behavior may change towards you once you start wearing hijab, from being pleasant to extremely or subtly rude. Why is that? It is because you have rejected the idea that a woman’s role is to be cute and act stupid in order to make men’s egos feel good. You are showing them that you respect yourself and that you know who you are and you don’t feel it necessary to sell yourself by showing off your beauty just like a box of Sugar Pops.

Also, look at where you are living — there are plenty of places where Muslims are treated with respect. So if your family is having a really hard time as Muslims it could be that you are living in the wrong neighborhood. When I lived in a certain suburb, people used to yell at me out of their car windows. But when I lived in downtown, every time I went out of my house, someone would say to me, “Asalaam alaikum!” That felt really good, to be recognized as a Muslim.

Another problem you may face is finding a job. After all, it cannot be denied that when you give up that “cute” look, a lot of employment opportunities are going to be denied to you. But then again, broaden your horizon. If jobs like waitressing are denied to you, others like working in an office or school may still be available. Hijab can stimulate us to get creative and find new ways of making money, or of meeting your needs without using as much money. This is a way that forces each family to struggle against greed on an individual level as well.

Thirdly, you must always remember that no matter how educated you are, you still have the right to be supported by your husband and if it is too stressful for you to go out and fight the power every day, you can work in the home without guilt. The brothers also need to realize that the best treasure you can have is a believing wife.

Lastly, I want to address the fear that a lot of sisters may have that wearing hijab will alienate them from American society. I have been wearing hijab now for 6 years and I can assure you that actually the opposite is true. In America, the hijab does not mean seclusion. In fact, you will be compelled to talk to people constantly because every day you will be asked questions about Islam. Wearing hijab is like holding up a sign that says, “If you want to know about Islam, just ask me.” Remember that when you put on the hijab you are reaching out to help others. You are not rejecting them. Rather, you could really help a lot of women and men too, by creating a positive image of true beauty. If you could encourage just one girl to save herself from being used, because of the example you have set, think of how much pain and agony you will have helped her to avoid. And if you could teach just one person the beauty of Islam, isn’t that worth so much?

On that note, I conclude by saying, we are proud to be Muslim, so why hide it?

So, verily, with every difficulty, there is ease. Verily, with every difficulty, there is ease. Therefore, when you are free from your immediate task, still labor hard, And to your Lord turn all your attention. (94:5-8)



  1. University of Michigan website cites Maria:

    Hijab in America
    By: Matt Olsen

    Hijab in America is a frequently controversial topic. The wearers are subjected to legal complications and verbal or violent attacks. However it is also a way for women to identify and express themselves, and is a form of liberation for the wearers.

    Maria Hussain expresses this sentiment in her article entitled “Wearing Hijab in America. ”

    “This is an example of how we can go about quietly struggling against evil. And, hijab is precisely one of the symbols of this struggle. It is a sign that says, “I believe in Allah and I believe in forbidding what is evil and encouraging what is good.” It is an outward acknowledgement of an inner faith for which we are willing to sacrifice our egos and work hard for, in order to bring about positive social change.”

    The U.S government, media, and even Western feminist organizations often portray hijab as an oppression of women—but this is not the case. Samuel Cole explains the way that hijab liberates in his article “Donning the Hijab. ”

    “In part because of this apparent restriction from the public realm, many Americans see the Muslim hijab as a symbol of female oppression.

    Despite this perception, Islam is growing rapidly in America—and female converts outnumber males four to one. Indeed, according to my sister the hijab is not a symbol of oppression, but is instead a symbol of liberation. Naheed Mustafe, a Canadian woman who converted to Islam, writes that “young Muslim women are reclaiming the hijab. . . to give back to women the ultimate control over their bodies.” Yet to most Americans this is a strange assertion. How can a law that restricts a woman’s dress be liberating?
    To Muslims the answer is easy. The Islamic tradition of hijab frees women from being perceived primarily as sexual objects.”

    Unfortunately the legal disputes and violence concerning hijab in America disrupt the process of liberation and expression and can turn hijab into something negative.

    Fairly recently a woman was gunned down outside her home in Fremont California. She was 37 years old and had six children. Her brother suggested that hijab is the reason she was targeted. (LINK) This type of situation illustrates that animosity towards “terrorism” can lead to violence directed at symbols and ideology. It creates a conflict for hijab wearers in America because the fear of violence can cause people to hide their culture and religion. Faced with this type of deadly violence, a woman may have to decide between religious expression that can contribute to orientalism, and assimilation into mainstream culture.

    One other demonstrative case is that of a Palestinian American Muslim named Carol. (LINK) When attempting to get passports at a US Consulate in Jerusalem, her pictures were repeatedly denied, even when she met the requirement of “showing the face to the hairline and ears” while wearing hijab. Though these policies are reportedly stricter than those in the actual US, it is still distressing that the US has a hand in enforcing laws that violate religious freedom.

    Fortunately there are also positive legal decisions happening in the United States. In Oklahoma in 2004 the school district attempted to restrict a 12 year old student from wearing hijab. The U.S. Justice department backed her side in the legal battle. (LINK ). In Alabama the driver’s liscence photo rule was changed to allow hijab. (LINK). If one observes the global situation concerning hijab (LINK) it becomes clear that America is one of the better places to be an American Muslim woman; however the issue is more complicated.

    It is evident that hijab represents hybridity for many American Muslims. There is a connection between wearing hijab in America and wearing it elsewhere, especially in the Middle East. Here in America, hijab becomes a symbol of religious freedom in spite of verbal and physical abuse. It is a way for Muslim women to express what they believe, and generally the courts are supporting this right. However wearing hijab is also evidence of maintaining a culture that the mainstream does not understand and even hates.

    In other parts of the world, hijab is seen as a form of resistance to society; it has become a battleground for secular and religious points of view. It seems that countries that attempt to ban hijab (France, Turkey) are trying to secularize, or maintain secular society. In places without the guarantee of religious freedom it becomes difficult or impossible to observe hijab if it is banned. Furthermore, in the Middle East, the debate over the hijab demonstrates the intersectionality of religion and politics. The government of a country may want to ban hijab in order to Westernize. The question here is whether it is worth it to damage religion and culture in favor of expanding relations with the West.

    Thus there is also intersectionality between assimilation and Westernization in the issue of the hybridity of hijab in America. Wearing hijab in America can be an expression of religious freedom, while wearing it elsewhere can be construed as religious rebellion. The choice appears to be self-Orientalism, or assimination. However hybridity demonstrates that a person can have multiple and complicated identities. With a stronger program of education the Arab American community could successfully convince mainstream America that hijab is just one part of a Muslim identity, and furthermore is something that represents religious freedom in America in contrast to other parts of the world.

    Comment by mariahussain — March 12, 2009 @ 6:30 pm

  2. This is a great conversation yet quite controversial. Is there a way to educate them the importance of wearing hijab amongst Muslim women?



    Comment by Tudung — April 2, 2009 @ 4:57 pm

  3. Hi Maria. You quoted this:
    It seems that countries that attempt to ban hijab (France, Turkey) are trying to secularize, or maintain secular society.
    I thought secular societies were those that had what Jefferson called the wall of separation between church and state. That works in both directions: no interference from the State in religious matters, and vice-versa. If I’m correct, and I’m pretty sure I am, France was not trying to secularize, nor to maintain a secular society. To the contrary.

    Comment by littlehorn — April 6, 2009 @ 6:19 pm

  4. conducted a recent follow-up study among 1,431 Americans about their perceptions of woman wearing a traditional Muslim shawl, or hijab. The results revealed many positive changes in the respondent’s views with regard to the photo of a woman wearing a hijab. The woman with a shawl was viewed as more friendly, beautiful, and less strict, compared to an identical study that was run in January 2008. Respondents were also more welcoming of the idea of the woman depicted living in their neighborhood than in 2008.
    More in depth results can be seen at:

    Comment by Ben — November 6, 2009 @ 4:36 pm

  5. If the hijab were about valuing the body, and not exploiting it, then why wouldn’t men wear it? Is it not in fact about taking men’s responsibility of controlling themselves upon seeing an attractive woman away from them, and forcing her to cover up her tempting body? Is it not about protecting her husband’s ownership of the sight of her body? Why don’t men have to protect women from temptation of seeing them, why don’t they have to “value” themselves?

    Comment by Benjamin — July 21, 2010 @ 12:51 am

    • Great point. Hijab is plain ridiculous and as an American I consider it religious rebellion. It is stupid. Makes a woman small.

      You can be a westernized woman, practice celibacy, not sleep around, treat your body with respect and not be prone to damage if your mind is strong and you have good morals..

      haha, one does not need to dress in sill clothin to prove that point.. So dumb. I am not buying into such nonsense..

      Hijab is unacceptable period! Religion needs to disappear. The world may be better off without it!

      Comment by anon — September 11, 2010 @ 7:13 am

    • Dear Ben,

      There is ‘hijab’ for men also. Men are forbidden from looking at the bodies of strange women. “Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And God is well acquainted with all that they do.” (THE HOLY QUR’AN)

      According to Islamic law, men also have to wear loose clothes that should cover minimum from the navel to the knee. They should not wear transparent or tight clothes that show the shape of the body. These are the rules regarding men’s clothing. The rules for men are a bit different from women as their bodies are not as attractive as women’s bodies. Also men work mostly outside the house & engage in ‘heavy tasks’ (like construction) which makes it difficult to work if they are required to cover full.

      Women’s primary role in Islam is to take care of the affairs of the house and children which is an important task in itself. And in their homes they don’t have to wear the hijab.Islam considers making a woman do the work of two people(i.e taking care of the affairs of the house as well as working outside for a salary) to be gross injustice which will put unnecessary burden on her. But if a woman wishes to work outside she can do so. Also in this case women usually engage in ‘lighter tasks’ which can be accomplished even while wearing the hijab.

      Comment by muslimsister — April 13, 2011 @ 7:56 am

      • That men’s bodies are not as attractive as women’s bodies is a ridiculous statement. It depends on what you’re attracted to, and just as many people are attracted to men as are attracted to women. And these excuses about work are flawed, too. I live in America, and work in a plant with many Muslim Somali women who do all the same jobs as men do, but they still dress the traditional way. So why isn’t anyone saying that they should have more practical clothes like the men do?

        Comment by Benjamin — April 14, 2011 @ 8:44 am

  6. Hijab is simple ridiculous. It does not symbolize freedom. It is oppression.

    They are pushing their movement strong. Those women are brainwashed and weak. Don’t be deceived.

    Cover the men up instead! They can look tempting to both men and women,so it all makes no sense. People create a movement and masses of weaklings will follow sadly enough.

    Individuality is beautiful. The group mentality is for people with small minds, who are afraid of the world and cannot fend for themselves. Sad but true!

    Hijab and muslim culture is all about Narcissistic/psychopathic power and control. No beauty in controlling women, circumcising them and beating and stoning them.

    Hijab says I like to be controlled beaten and treated as a second class being..

    Who in their right mind wants that? Think..Think you have brains use them.

    Comment by boo — September 11, 2010 @ 7:20 am

  7. “My mother, who has a PhD and works as a university administrator, was actually told that it is a department rule that all female employees must wear pantyhose. This is so sick. This is saying that no matter how hard you work or how educated you are, first and foremost, you must show your legs.”

    No, it’s exactly the opposite. Women in professional settings are asked to wear stockings rather than having bare legs when they are wearings skirts or dresses.

    You seem to have a great deal of hostility towards society in this country. Perhaps some introspective examination is in order.

    Comment by akw — January 3, 2011 @ 1:55 am

  8. I appreciate the great points you brought up and how you illustrated the importance of hiajb in a global and political perspective- as an American Muslim I feel hijab gives me a great opportunity to be an advocate for Islam. I also want to point out that I also appreciate the freedoms I have as an American to be protected by the law to practice my religion as required and pray for those hijabis and other believers who are facing discrimination due to their faith.

    Comment by Smiley — July 25, 2011 @ 11:30 pm

  9. The hijab is not about covering a women’s body so she is less desirable to men. It is for a women’s protection. It has nothing to do with a man. Allah speaks about this in the men wont bother us.. I like how men respect me on a deeper level when I am wearing hijab..How do most men feel when they see a nun. I dont want any man other than my husband looking at me in a sexual way. My husband is the only man that deserves that right..When I am wearing hijab, men dont flirt with me and even feel bad when they curse around me and will oftern apologize. Again, God wants women to be respected and not judged by their physical attributes, and this is why he has mandated the hijab..

    Comment by Mrs. Gaye — September 2, 2011 @ 1:25 am


    Comment by Sandra Aicha — September 22, 2011 @ 3:36 am

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