and Muslim Women
Ms. Naheed Mustafa
"My body is my own business."
A Canadian-born Muslim woman has taken to wearing the
traditional hijab scarf. It tends to make people see her as
either a terrorist or a symbol of oppressed womanhood, but she
finds the experience liberating.
I often wonder whether people see me as a radical,
fundamentalist Muslim terrorist packing an AK-47 assault rifle
inside my jean jacket. Or may be they see me as the poster girl
for oppressed womanhood everywhere. I'm not sure which it is.
I get the whole gamut of strange looks, stares, and covert
glances. You see, I wear the hijab, a scarf that covers my head,
neck, and throat. I do this because I am a Muslim woman who
believes her body is her own private concern.
Young Muslim women are reclaiming the hijab, reinterpreting
it in light of its original purpose -- to give back to women
ultimate control of their own bodies.
The Qur'an teaches us that men and women are equal, that
individuals should not be judged according to gender, beauty,
wealth, or privilege. The only thing that makes one person
better than another is her or his character.
Nonetheless, people have a difficult time relating to me.
After all, I'm young, Canadian born and raised,
university-educated -- why would I do this to myself, they ask.
Strangers speak to me in loud, slow English and often appear
to be playing charades. They politely inquire how I like living
in Canada and whether or not the cold bothers me. If I'm in the
right mood, it can be very amusing.
But, why would I, a woman with all the advantages of a North
American upbringing, suddenly, at 21, want to cover myself so
that with the hijab and the other clothes I choose to wear, only
my face and hands show?
Because it gives me freedom.
WOMEN are taught from early childhood that their worth is
proportional to their attractiveness. We feel compelled to
pursue abstract notions of beauty, half realizing that such a
pursuit is futile.
When women reject this form of oppression, they face ridicule
and contempt. Whether it's women who refuse to wear makeup or to
shave their legs, or to expose their bodies, society, both men
and women, have trouble dealing with them.
In the Western world, the hijab has come to symbolize either
forced silence or radical, unconscionable militancy. Actually,
it's neither. It is simply a woman's assertion that judgment of
her physical person is to play no role whatsoever in social
Wearing the hijab has given me freedom from constant
attention to my physical self. Because my appearance is not
subjected to public scrutiny, my beauty, or perhaps lack of it,
has been removed from the realm of what can legitimately be
No one knows whether my hair looks as if I just stepped out
of a salon, whether or not I can pinch an inch, or even if I
have unsightly stretch marks. And because no one knows, no one
Feeling that one has to meet the impossible male standards of
beauty is tiring and often humiliating. I should know, I spent
my entire teen-age years trying to do it. It was a borderline
bulimic and spent a lot of money I didn't have on potions and
lotions in hopes of becoming the next Cindy Crawford.
The definition of beauty is ever-changing; waifish is good,
waifish is bad, athletic is good -- sorry, athletic is bad.
Narrow hips? Great. Narrow hips? Too bad.
Women are not going to achieve equality with the right to
bear their breasts in public, as some people would like to have
you believe. That would only make us party to our own
objectification. True equality will be had only when women don't
need to display themselves to get attention and won't need to
defend their decision to keep their bodies to themselves.