‘Hijab Is My CHOICE, Not My Compulsion’

‘Hijab is my choice, not my compulsion! I CHOSE this, no one forced me to dress this way!’

Ah, this was a sentence I uttered many times as a muslimah. Prior to converting(wow I almost typed ‘reverting’!) I was a pretty glamorous woman. Loved heels, loved sexy dresses, loved makeup. But as a proper muslim woman all that had to go. I began modifying my wardrobe before I took shahadah. My hemline dropped to my ankles, cleavage was gone and my hair was concealed. Adopting hijab seemed like a no-brainer; I just did it. Indeed it was my choice, no one forced me to do it. When I abandoned hijab that was my choice as well.

Muslim women in the West, especially converts, are passionate in their defense of hijab. You know what is ironic about this? We’re only able to do this due to the fact that we live in the West. It is the secularism of the West-which some Muslims criticize-which gives Muslim women this very choice! Hijab was only a choice for me because I’m American and came to Islam of my own free will. Had I been born elsewhere in the world, or had I been born into a strict Muslim family I wouldn’t have the privilege of defending hijab in such a flippant and self-righteous manner.

This was all brought home to me when I joined a messageboard for ex-Muslims. I had a lot of Islamic clothing that I wasn’t sure what to do with. I figured that I’d start a thread asking fellow ex-Muslimahs how they disposed of their old clothing. Some replied that they had done nothing with the clothing as they still had to wear it. They didn’t live in communities where removing their hijab was even an option. These ladies had completely broken away from Islam mentally and didn’t care for it. Yet they are forced to live a lie and perpetrate due to intense familial and societal pressures.

As I read their responses I realized how self-centered and spoiled I had been. When I argued with people about hijab and proudly proclaimed that I had chosen it, did I even stop to think of the millions of Muslim women that had not? Did I stop to think about my sisters who were forced to don khimars and abayas under duress and the threat of violence? Did I stop to think about the fact that this duress was done in the name of the faith I followed? Sadly, I did not. Hijab may have been a choice for me and other converts, but it was incredibly narcissistic for me to behave as if that was the reality of every Muslim woman.

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A native Seattleite and recent East Coast transplant, I have been interested in politics, religion, and race from the day I saw “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” on the bookshelf belonging to my BFF’s mom back in 1991. While my zealotry has thankfully diminished with maturity, I remain the deep thinking, passionate, and humble woman I have always been. I reside in the suburbs of NYC with my husband, daughter, and our two feisty but deeply loved cats.

10 thoughts on “‘Hijab Is My CHOICE, Not My Compulsion’

  1. Well in my personal opinion there will always be pressure upon a lady to look a certain way, just look how fashion sets so many standards here for us? Not only in the West but also within the East? Make-up, high-heels, skinny jeans etc. is part of consumerism.

    As for Islamic countries, one cannot generalise yes there IS some that mandate the hijab for women(namely Saudi-Arabia and Iran, though in Iran you can drape it loosely around your head), at the same time there is countries that force girls to not wear it when attending schools/universities(Turkey, Tunisia).

    From my own research I know Hijab used to be a custom in pre-islamic Arabia, Qu’ran tells us to cover our bosoms, women in pre-islamic Arabia did cover their heads at times but their chests were bare(meaning their breasts were visible), especially women of low status could be harrassed easily. The ayaat gave equality to them they could dress the same way as women from socially-respected families. Hijab as a head-covering continued to become a practice and at some point certain fools decided it was fard, though that is NOT supported by the Qu’ran itself. The ahadith concerning hijab are weak as well.

  2. Hi Sultana,

    Thanks for stopping by and posting. Yes I am aware that wearing hijab is not required by law in every single majority Muslim nation. However it does seem that there is often a lot of societal pressure on Muslim women to observe it.

    Also, if hijab is a pre-Islamic Arabian custom, why do some Muslims act as if it is something that must be universally observed? I am not Arab and neither were any of my ancestors. The way that Arab culture is mixed in with Islam was something that really frustrated me as a convert. It makes no sense to me that I should be expected to live and dress as people in 7th century Arabia did.

  3. I believe one has to consider how Islam reformed and changed the society of Arabia at that time, remember they were all tribes and basically battled each other and Islam united them? Imho the practice of veiling simply continued among them(just as it did among Christian, Jews), later when Islam spread that practice was adopted and by now some fools say it is supposedly fard. As you might have noticed the style of Hijab is different from each country/culture, e.g. on the sub-continent it used to be common to drape the scarf rather loosely around the head, veiling also used to be a sign of a certain social status(the more a lady was veiled aka. in pardah the more respect or money her family had).

    Among Arabs it is imho a social custom I really feel many wear it as a sign of fashion or out of peer pressure, hence you and I wear skinny jeans and it also makes us belong to a certain group right? Also the whole Hijab-phenomen in the west is something that has increased during the last few years if not the last decade, the reason is people have become more aware of their religion and they feel to make a statement, sometimes girls start wearing it and then realise all the consequences and the responsibilites attached to it and take it off and are scrutinised by their community which is definitely not right.

    Another example is that men should keep their gowns above their ankle, that is because at that time in Arabia it was a sign of arrogance to wear clothing that went down to your feet(at least for men it was), just like the mentioning of milk and honey in the Qu’ran, that is for it was something precious to them.

    See we have to check what is Islam, the theology remains eternal but certain practices/customs are specifically made for that time(so is my personal opinion many might disagree 🙂 ) .

  4. As I said in Kaleema’s blog recently, female converts are not helping us muslim-born women when they repeat slogans like how liberating Islam is or how empowering Hijab …etc. as these converts are often used to justify the anti-women rules and laws we face in our societies. It’s frustrating and offensive for us to hear women like these when we can’t have a say in many aspects of our life , when we are forced to do what we don’t believe in , when we are prevented from doing what we really want. A woman in Europe or US has no say in what empowers me or what doesn’t .

    I wish that every convert think really hard about this before starting a blog or spreading these ideas.

    1. Yeah I know what you mean, but I’d still say forcing someone to wear it or to not wear it is the same kind of force. However, I sense a strong social pressure in many Arab/Muslim countries, I also know there is girls who are “indirectly” forced to wear it over here. They are brainwashed into thinking it helps you keeping men at a certain distance which is the biggest bullshit ever…I was sexually harrassed in a full burqa by the Imam himself!(NO JOKE!)

      I mean in winter I too cover my head with a scarf at times, when it’s really cold and my ears hurt, so it keeps me warm, but in summer? Why would anybody not like to wear revealing clothes :S?

  5. Very good points Noor and I agree with you wholeheartedly. As a former convert I think that there is a major element of narcissism in how female converts foolishly defend Islam.

  6. “Hijab was only a choice for me because I’m American.”

    There are plenty of other countries in which you can choose to wear or not wear hijab. Globally, Muslim women covering are in a minority. In a number of places, women choose to cover out of political radicalization when their own mothers and grandmothers did not (Lila Abu Lughod has written about this for Egypt).

    You criticize yourself for having been self-centered and narcissistic in the past, but it seems to me that you are just as uninterested in non-Western women’s lives now.

    1. “You criticize yourself for having been self-centered and narcissistic in the past, but it seems to me that you are just as uninterested in non-Western women’s lives now.”

      No, not at all. As American as I may be, my child is bicultural. Her father’s side is East African, I’ve traveled to his homeland and my child will eventually live there. The issues of non-Western women are an area of interest for me, but obviously those issues will not be number one.

      And for goodness sake, this blog isn’t even a month old! So it’s a bit unreasonable for people to expect to glean all of my thoughts on an issue or determine what is/isn’t “interesting” to me based on less than thirty posts!

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