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.
CONFRONTING THE CHALLENGES
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)