Q: Recently my friend started wearing the hijab, since she started, a lot of people she used to be close with have stopped talking to her, and as her friend I am concerned, especially in political and social climate where a hijab can become a target; I don’t understand why she would choose to wear it and I want to talk to her about it, how do I approach the situation?
A: As someone with many friends who choose to dawn the hijab, I understand your concern completely, wearing the hijab in modern times can be difficult and even dangerous. I have family members who have had their parents ask them to remove their head-covering out of fear for their safety, and I’ve had friends face harassment for making the choice to cover themselves; and yet, none of them have chosen to stop wearing the hijab. Now the first question one may ask is why? Why put a “target” on yourself? Why put yourself in a difficult position on purpose? To understand this, we must try and understand the purpose that the hijab serves in the eyes of the women who wear it. While many women, both Muslim and non-Muslim choose to wear a head covering, their reasons are not all alike, the hijab can be worn for many purposes. In my own experience, I have received three common responses as to why some women choose to cover their hair in the name of faith.
The first reason, and the most common, being that the hijab provides a message to the world and the people around you. To many Muslim women, the hijab asks those around them to judge them by the quality of their being, and not their physical attractiveness or appearance. In addition to this, many young girls of today’s generation see the hijab as a symbol of feminism, a claim to her rights that announces loud and proud to society that a woman’s body is hers and she can dress it how she likes, she does not have to cover up for anybody but at the same time, she does not have to uncover herself for anybody either. Another part of this feminist perspective is that the hijab strongly rejects the use of women’s bodies from being sexualized for sale, a common practice in many marketing schemes. The hijab fights this objectification and inherent sexualization of the female body solely for entertainment purposes, it lets women determine how they want their bodies to be seen; so, while some may view covering and dawning the hijab to be oppressive to many Muslim women, the hijab is the exact opposite, it is a symbol of freedom.
The second response that I have received about this topic relates to the internal reflections of wearing a hijab. My friend recently spoke to me about how, for her, when she wears a hijab it works as a constant reminder of the faith that she is representing, it encourages her to be the best version of herself so she can help elevate the Muslim community as a whole by representing Islam in a positive light. For a large number of Muslim women, the hijab sets a precedent for future interactions, it allows those around you to be aware of the values and morals you carry with you. For these women the hijab represents them, it is a part of their identity, whether it be cultural or religious, and they choose to wear it for that reason; for other women the hijab serves as a constant reminder to them about their love – not fear- for god, and this is how they honour that love.
Lastly, and arguably most importantly, Muslim women can choose to wear the hijab for the sole reason that Islam has said that they must. They wear the hijab because that is what their religion asks them to do and while some may view that as oppressive, it is not up to others to tell someone how to practice their religion. As practicing Muslims, many women see wearing the hijab as part of their responsibility to their religion and that too is a respectable reason to choose to dawn the head-covering because at the end of the day, they alone have the right to choose what they wear. While yes, wearing the hijab can be controversial especially in today’s social and political climate, people must understand that the hijab is much more than a piece of clothing, and the reasons behind and individual’s choice to dawn it can be wide and varying. Hopefully these few explanations helped you to understand some of it and your friend can also explain more to you in further detail.
In the end though, your worry for your friend is understandable and well intentioned, your concerns are valid, and I encourage you to approach the situation in a calm and respectful way. I would also recommend doing some research on the subject beforehand, hopefully this article helps! But in the end the most important thing to remember is that whether or not you agree with how she chooses to dress herself, you must respect that she alone reserves the right to decide.
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