Wearing the Hijab.

Hijab.And since I seem to be all about perspectives tonight, I can finally segue into a post about India that’s inspired by the Hijab. I first learned to wear one in Jolo when this kind teacher offered to arrange my scarf into one as a means to protect me from the sun. The tarpaulin behind us reads, “Help Portrait” and its a project spearheaded by some photographers that allows students from various public schools to have portraits of themselves taken. We took over 300 photos and printed them all in time to give them to each individual student. For the lot of them, it was probably the first time such huge cameras inched close to their faces to capture their radiance. It was also the first time they got to keep portraits–or any kind of photographic proof of their existence. However, despite being told this, I don’t really buy it. There are cellphone cameras these days so I’m sure they’ve had some prints developed.

Nonetheless, as I am digressing yet again, wearing of the Hijab has always been a contentious issue in the West and in most of the world that doesn’t practice Islam. We’re often told that this is so because by shielding your crowning glory, oppression occurs against women. I recall an angry Marjane Satrapi mentioning it in Persepolis (or drawing a panel or two where she does away with the headscarf completely once in the US? I may have dreamed this up so please remind me if you happen to remember.)

Anyway, in India, during a panel on Gender and Development at the youth conference, a new-found friend bravely stood to offer an unpopular opinion which earned her my deep and abiding respect. She’s also my first Syrian friend and I could not be more proud of her. I will attach what she wrote below and if it’s not too much trouble, I’ve opted to keep her anonymous unless of course she reads this and decides that she wants her name on it.

Reading this has been inspirational for me and I wonder how many of you feel the same?

Today there was a session on gender and economic empowerment. To be honest, I didn’t know how these two are related. The combination of the two seemed rather random. The session started discussing how women contribute to all levels of economy especially the managing a microeconomic unit which is their families. Things became a bit clearer to me as the panelist went on with their presentation.

Women are often recruited in things like agriculture and trade but the acknowledgment is lacking. Women are the invisible solders in the society. However it became very apparent that because of this lack of appreciation for women, women started opting out of the work force which encouraged the mistreatment by the society further pushing women out of the work force. What was interesting about the proposed solutions for this problem is that it didn’t only target women to empower them but mainly target men as they are the main perpetuators of a lot of women’s’ rights issues such as child marriage, domestic violence and sexual abuse.

The conversation then progressed into giving examples on how inequalities for women develop. In a family with limited financial resources, boys are given the priority over girls in limited education opportunity and that’s how inequality starts. Less or non-existent education puts the woman in a disadvantage in terms of preparedness for the job market which ultimately gives women less opportunities for well-paid and recognized jobs. It was also brought up that in India, women need to provide dowry for the man. If the woman was educated, she needs to find a husband who is even more educated which means a bigger dowry that the girl’s family needs to pay which pushes family to not provide high quality education for their daughters.

 Another example of how women’s rights are violated was given by one of the panelist. She mentioned that in Islam a woman’s testimony is not as good as the man’s and that women are not allowed to be judges. That’s when I felt this is my time! Being the only woman from the Middle East I felt the obligation to speak out and set the record straight. Before I know it my hand was up high and the microphone was coming my way.

Yes, I am Muslim, I am from the Middle East and I wear the hijab. None of these things mentioned oppress me or restrain my development. I am who I am because of them; I am a well-educated doctor in training with passion for education. I have done a lot in my life to achieve my dreams supported by my family. Yes, not many women in the Middle East are judges but it’s not because Islam said they can’t be [judges]. There are few who become judges and a thousand times more who became successful lawyers, doctors and other professionals in the Middle East. I don’t feel like my rights have been violated by Islam. Culture, governments and politics robbed some of my rights and tried to oppress me not my family or my religion. Islam allows me to pursue my dreams and protects me in the process providing me with a safety net to fall back on if anything goes wrong. If one day I woke up and decided I don’t want to be a doctor anymore and that I want to stay at home then Islam gives me all my rights to do so with no stigma or other consequences. Islam gave me a choice not given to a lot of women in other places. I wasn’t oppressed to wear my hijab, I wore it on my own as a way for me to express my commitment to my religion and my sense of responsibility and maturity.

I was glad this issue came up in the discussion because it gave me the chance to correct some of the misinformed ideas about Islam which get perpetuated without someone stopping to ask about where this information comes from. This is what’s called being in the right place at the right time.   


11 thoughts on “Wearing the Hijab.

  1. This really connects to what you said before about understanding, or lack thereof. I admire women around the world who are so courageous to stand up and share their stories. It’s so incredibly inspiring and motivating.

  2. Fearless Freddie says:

    She comes from Syria, where despite it’s savage dictatorial rule, it is a secular government. The rule in Syria is about the reign of the Assad Clan and not about the Muslim faith. The Assads were close allies to the Soviets and now the Russians, avowed enemies of Muslims of any level of orthodoxy. If she was from a country like, Saudi Arabia, where there is no, or very little difference between religion and government, she would not be so proud. She would face the death penalty for only the suspicion of infidelity. She would be subjected to many unspeakable, misogynistic horrors. The fact that she is a doctor shows the Russian or Soviet influence, as in Russia, women are encouraged to become doctors. Women were also encouraged to be doctors in countries influenced by the former Soviet Union. It is not accurate to try to represent her as a valid representative of Muslim women.

    • Hello, apologies for the late reply. Though she was born in Syria, she was raised in Qatar and yes, I do understand that there are nuances even among those that wear the veil. It’s not my intention to make her the poster girl for Muslim women but in the spirit of understanding and because these issue must indeed come to light, I thought to post her response as a woman who must wear the Hijab. –It was educational for me to hear what she had to say because in the Philippines, I feel programmed to think otherwise.

      Thank you though for sharing and taking time out to reply. Are you also from a Muslim country?

    • Dear Toynbeeconvector, thank you for this post, and for sharing your experience. I personally would have also loved to be friends with the one whom you have met.

      As with Fearless Freddie, I hope that you try to understand more about the Islamic faith before you come up with such conclusions. First of all, the Syrian friend that was discussed in this blog actually, in my opinion, gives a cohesive representation of what Islam is supposed to be–and that is, a way of humbled and modest living that is NOT forced upon any person. The Qur’an states that “there is NO compulsion in religion.” From here, it can be understood that Islam can actually flourish in a secular state, since religion cannot be forced upon people. I assume that since she lives in a secular state–which is Syria–she is able to choose between wearing the hijab or not. She can opt to practice her faith, in the way that she deems so, without it being forced upon her–again acting on the Islamic principle that religion must not be forced unto anyone.

      Given this, states like Saudi Arabia or Iran–which claim to actually impose the rule of Islam (and thus, force women to wear the hijab, for example)–can be said to be going against the fundamental principle of not enforcing religion upon any person. For me, if ‘real’ Islam were to be implemented, it must therefore flourish in a secular environment. Malaysia, for instance, can be an example (although not the perfect example) of how a predominantly Muslim country has a rule of law that is separate from religion.

      Going back to that Syrian woman who was cited, I believe that what she said is actually correct. It is NOT Islam that hinders women (or people in general) from becoming doctors, lawyers, and such, but in most cases, the despotic governments that bear arbitrary power. Unfortunately, many non-Muslims have the idea that “Islam” is an oppressive religion that “forces” women to wear the hijab, or “forces” them to stay at home. This is such a misconception. This reflects a lack of understanding of the true tenets of Islam.

      However, I am not putting the blame on people who are not part of the Islamic faith. Sadly, predominantly Muslim countries with oppressive governments utilize religion and twist its concepts in order to attain more power and control. Although again, Islam must not be forced upon people, such despotic regimes claim to “implement Islam” so as to attain political ascendancy and domination. It is a pitiful condition because Islam is being hijacked by arbitrary, despotic rulers.

      Now, let me just quote you on this: “The fact that she is a doctor shows the Russian or Soviet influence, as in Russia, women are encouraged to become doctors. Women were also encouraged to be doctors in countries influenced by the former Soviet Union.” I actually find this reasoning very faulty. Even if Soviet Russia NEVER influenced Syria, Syria–just like any other country, be it secular or not–can and will always have people (women and men alike) who would aspire to become doctors. The field of medicine is not only limited or brought by the “Western modern world”, you know.

      During the time of the Prophet Muhammad, and as Islam was flourishing, the sciences–specifically, the medical field–also became rich because of the many contributions of various Muslim scholars. The Western world benefited in these medical studies–centuries before Soviet Russia came into being.

      Furthermore, I think it would be enlightening to know that when Prop. Muhammad lived, Arabian women then had little to no rights at all. But then, as he preached the principles of Islam (such as equality of men and women), many Arabian women soon gained more rights–such as access to education and economic development. As you can see then, the practice of this ‘genuine’ version of Islam has even supported the empowerment of many women.

      As such I fully support what the Syrian woman stated when she said: “Islam allows me to pursue my dreams and protects me in the process providing me with a safety net to fall back on if anything goes wrong.” I understand her in this sense, and I am glad that she is able to practice her faith in a secular environment. I am also glad that she takes an active role in trying to debunk the misconceptions people have about Islam.

      Thank you for your time reading this, Fearless Freddie, and I wish you peace.

      • Fearless Freddie says:

        Dear Forward Sojourner,

        Someone much smarter than both of us insisted that “Existence Precedes Essence.” I believe that person is correct. Islam as depicted or described in the Qur’an is meaningless and has no merit. Islam is what is practiced by people who call themselves Muslims and they are a very sad group to be sure. Islam is, as practiced in most countries, is a religion which is steep in antiquated and horrific violence, which oppresses and routinely commits crimes against women and children. The practice of Islam still get women stoned to death and makes them subject to “honor killings.”

        You cite Malaysia as a place with a secular environment where Islam can flourish. My dear friend, that is only true in certain parts of Malaysia. Much like the Islamic laws are a far more lenient in Bali than they are in the rest of Indonesia, for obvious reasons. We don’t want to scare away those drunken-horny Aussies……

        The same is true for Christianity. The Jesus that I read about in the Gospels in no way represents any Christian I have ever met or even read about, with the possible exception of Dorothy Day. I may make an exception in her case and her case alone, and call her a Christian, by scriptural standards. Therefore, I can not say that Christianity is what is written in the new testament. Christianity is what people who call themselves Christians actually practice.

        Your problem is you wish to quote words in an ancient book rather than look out your window and see what these monsters are really doing. You remind me of these misguided historians who like to refer to the Codes of the Bushido and the Shinto Laws rather than look at what the Japanese Army truly did during WW II. The actual ancient Codes of the Bushido and Shinto Laws were irrelevant. The Japanese military were a group of sociopathic murderers and rapists.

        After all these years, religion has not changed the way we treat each other. It only serves to make sure that the people of wealth and power remain wealthy and powerful. Stop reading and look out your window.

        You criticize me for saying that the fact that the woman is a doctor shows the Russian or former Soviet Union influence in Syria. You say, “I actually find this reasoning very faulty.” That information is empirical data and has nothing to do with the deductive or inductive process. It is a fact, in Russia and in the former Soviet Union, and in countries under their sphere of influence, women were encouraged to become doctors. It is also a fact that in most, if not all, Muslim countries, women are completely subservient to men and are not allowed to compete against them in the job market. If you deny that, then I simply do not know what to say about you.

        Also, to my knowledge, Muslim countries tend to have “state religions.” If there are secular Muslim countries, they are the few who were influenced by the Russians or other western countries.

        Look out your window…. Do your part to free women from Burkas and Hijabs, and death by stoning.

        Fearless Freddie
        “Infidel and Ferrell and Proud of it.”

      • Dear Fearless Freddie,

        Believe me, I would want to engage in a more lengthy discussion with you. I would truly want to help shed away the many misconceptions that you have. However, it seems like you have already boxed yourself up with your own conclusions that you aren’t willing to be reasonable, and understanding enough, at the very least with how you treat other people, and their religious ideologies.

        I guess, the only point that I would want to raise here is a reaction to your last paragraph. You said: “Do your part to free women from Burkas and Hijabs, and death by stoning.”

        First of all, many Muslim women who wear the hijab wear it out of FREE-WILL. It is by their own decision that they would want to wear such a covering. Who am I to interfere with this choice? If wearing the hijab is a way for them to express modesty or if it is just simply their personal fashion statement, then again, who am I to interfere with their choice? So long as their choice does not harm me, and other people around me, then let them be.

        In fact, many women may even find security and more freedom through the hijab–because they are able to live their lives without “needing” all the temporal luxuries the consumerist world presents and without having to “bend down” unto shallow definitions of beauty and sex appeal. Possibly, they find themselves more free because they get to value the more important things in life–such as humility, simplicity and modesty.

        You say that I should help “free” women from these things. I think, what’s MORE important is for all of us to free ourselves from close-mindedness. Try to understand that Islam, again, is not supposedly a religion that is enforced upon anyone. Likewise, the hijab, should neither be forced. If we’re all living in a secular democratic state, and I see a woman choosing to wear the hijab, then I have no right to infringe upon her personal liberties. Come on. Do you think that an American Muslim woman wearing the hijab brings destruction in her society simply because of her practice of modesty? If that’s what you think, then my friend, you really have to re-evaluate your stance on freedom, justice, and liberty.

        Now, all I wish is for you to to gain more understanding of other peoples’ faith. I see how Islam happens to be a very unfamiliar subject to you. You make many hasty generalizations, and put all the blame on this faith–when in fact, as I’ve shared in my first post, it is often not the faith that is evil but the people who manipulate and twist the teachings.

        Peace be upon you.

  3. Fearless Freddie says:

    No, I am from the US and an atheist. I oppose all religions who feel they have the right to oppress and subjugate people. Monotheists are by far the worse, both historically and in the present.
    It had to be believers in some religion (or God) to have hijacked those planes and flown them into the towers in New York, killing thousands. The Kamikazes during WW II use to toast each other before their suicide missions, “We shall meet in Yasukuni.” I won’t bore you with the other religious based slaughters throughout history and in the present. I am sure you know them. They are inexcusable.

    I don’t find clerics, of any flavor, or their followers charming in any manner or fashion. Any woman who feels the need to wear a hijab and tries to rationalize her need to wear a hijab is a militant idiot or a very sad programmed soul. It is more than just nuances.

    I have lived in the Philippines and I do understand that priests have way too much power in that country. They are one of the last vestiges of Spanish colonial rule and Spanish oppression.

    It is no coincidence that in every group of around 600 to 1,000 military men (in the US military). they assign a chaplain to make sure that they can continue killing.

    • Fearless Freddie says:

      Dear Forward Sojourner,

      If you approach the world with an unabated open mind, everything will fall out of your brain. You will be left with only drool and babble.

      Your drool and babble over women who wear the hijab out of free will reminds me of the morons in my country who try to argue that the confederate flag they like to display represents liberty, freedom, and State rights. Well, they are wrong. The confederate flag represent slavery and treason. All that nonsense about liberty, freedom, and State rights is simply drool and babble to try to justify their racism and their hatred of the US government that no longer, at least legally, allows them to be racist.

      It is an inherent contradiction, as well as an act of stupidity, for anyone to choose with their free will to enter into submission. For the simple reason that once you are in submission, you forfeit your free will. It is like having sex to preserve your virginity. It does not work that way.

      The hijab is first and foremost a symbol of submission. All that nonsense about modesty is simply male sophistry to keep women under their thumbs. If a woman shows her hair, she may attract the attention of another male, which could empower her to leave and seek the affection of another. “Damn it,” says Mohamed, “women can not have such freedoms.” No Muslim male will tolerate such insolence. How many wives is the Muslim male allowed to have? Why are Muslim women not allowed to have several husbands? It is as clear as the bright sun in the summer months.

      “Reason is resigned
      When chained by religion
      The tyrant of the mind.”

      Fearless Freddie

  4. 2 fen says:

    I like how Forwardsojourner believes enough in Fearless Freddie’s “essence” to make apologetic comments for him and wish him peace, rather than judge him for how he presents himself.
    For all the truth in his citations, he forgets that religion also gave us the capacity to forgive the unforgivable, and offer the other cheek.
    Also, history is pretty unambiguous about the fact that religion has most often been the excuse for, and not the cause of, conflict. Religion having fallen out favor for many, the new excuses are things like democracy.

    America! F*** yeah! Comin’ along to save the motherf***ing day yeah!
    – Bummer Remix

  5. Fearless Freddie says:

    Read it. I don’t need to comment.

    Norwegian woman who reported being raped in Dubai is jailed for 16 months
    • Norwegian woman, 25, was in Dubai on a business trip
    • She was raped and reported the incident to the police
    • At the station, police took her passport and jailed her
    • She will now serve 16 months for illicit sex outside marriage
    By Sara Malm
    PUBLISHED: 11:06 EST, 17 July 2013 | UPDATED: 12:35 EST, 17 July 2013

    A young Norwegian woman has been sentenced to 16 months in jail after she reported a rape in Dubai.

    The 25-year-old was in the United Arab Emirates on a business trip when she was raped and reported the assault to the local police.
    Dubai police did not believe her, and instead took her passport and jailed her on suspicion of having had sex outside marriage.

    The Norwegian woman reported the sexual assault in March this year, after which she had to spend days in a cell before she was allowed to use a telephone.
    With the help of family members, the Norwegian consulate was able to negotiate a release and she has been living under the protection of the Norwegian Sailor’s Church until her sentencing this week.

    I received the harshest sentence for sex outside marriage, harshest sentence for drinking alcohol and on top of that I was found guilty of perjury,’ the woman told Verdens Gang.
    ‘It is a terrible situation she is in,’ said Gisle Meling, the priest at the Norwegian Sailor’s Church.
    ‘We are very surprised and had hoped it would go another way, but we live in a country which has a justice system which draws its conclusions with the help of Sharia law.’
    She was sentenced to one year and four months in jail but as Norway has no extradition treaty with Dubai, her future is uncertain.

    The young Norwegian woman’s story is not unique.

    Earlier this year Australian Alicia Gali, 27, spoke of how she was thrown in a Dubai jail for eight months after she reported a rape.

    Miss Gali was working at hotel chain Starwood when her drink was spiked in the staff bar.
    She awoke to find that three colleagues had raped her, but when she went to a hospital for help, they turned her over to the police and she was charged with illicit sex outside marriage.
    Under UAE law, rapists can only be convicted if either the perpetrator confesses or if four adult Muslim males witness the crime. (Great Standard!)

    Under the Sharia-influenced laws, sex before marriage is completely forbidden and an unmarried couple holding hands in public can be jailed.

    Foreigners jailed in Dubai are deported immediately after completing their sentences.

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