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A Veiled Life

By Ammarah Rehman | 9/10/17 6:33pm | Updated 9/10/17 6:35pm
Jaclyn Merica and Julienne DeVita / American Word Magazine

When I wear my Chanel hijab in a turban, people perceive me as fashionable; the fabric is an iconic accessory over my head. But, when I wear my solid black hijab, people perceive me as a threat. They inform me that I do not have to wear ‘this’ in America. They think I can’t speak on my own and that I am being oppressed. I am harmless when seen as fashionable, but a pariah when seen as Muslim.

Growing up in a world post-9/11, there have been many accounts of Islamophobia that shaped my identity. I’ve experienced the Western perspective of the hijab as the more “covered” a woman is, the more oppressed she must be. But, for many Muslim women, a veiled life is considered a sign of empowerment.

The hijab is a veil or headscarf covering the head and chest of a woman. The Holy Quran does not force or even implement the use of the hijab, rather it is stated in the Hadith, which are the words and actions of Prophet Mohammad. Every woman has a different reason for wearing her hijab, and no one way is better than the other.

Yvonne Haddad, a professor of the history of Islam at Georgetown University, said there was an increased number of women wearing a hijab post 9/11, in a study published in the journal “Sociology of Religion.” It was a sign of activism and protest against the American eye and a symbol used for solidarity and Muslim identity. Muslim women were not going to allow the media or war propaganda to define Islam.

Noor Tagouri, aspiring to become the first hijab-wearing news anchor, was recently featured in “Playboy Magazine.” Tagouri was fully clothed, wearing her hijab and was named the “2016 Renegade” in the magazine. She portrayed modesty in an outlet known for doing the opposite. She talked about wanting greater representation in her field of journalism, and how more Muslim representation could change the narratives of journalistic stories.

However, Tagouri did receive a lot of backlash for her feature. Nishaat Ismail, a hijab-wearing Muslim blogger, asked, “Do we really need to go down the route of associating with an institution based on the objectification of women in the name of challenging perceptions and celebrating female empowerment?”

Some women wear a hijab to be visibly Muslim to others; this has to do with identity and the importance of expressing it. Nursel Hussain, a junior at American University, wears the hijab as a personal choice. Hussain said, “It is a constant reminder that I want to be closer to God and have a spiritual connection with God.”

Not every Muslim woman would agree that wearing the hijab is a sign of empowerment. Some women worry about being seen as “outcasts” or being unable to think for themselves. One interviewee, who asked to be anonymous for personal reasons, expressed that she felt being perceived as unable to speak English or as taking part in “terrorist activities.” This can take a toll on a young female's identity and result in her opposition of the hijab.

Bakhtawar Mirjat, president of the American University Islam Awareness Coalition, spoke about the different beauty implications that come with wearing a hijab. “I can still be beautiful without the conventional signs of beauty,” Mirjat said. “It has been very difficult for me because I do sometimes get bogged down by society's expectations, and I don’t feel as beautiful as I did before wearing a hijab. I did grow up without wearing a hijab, but I do believe that I need to continue wearing one because I never had a hijabi role model growing up.”

Regardless of the perspective the West may create about veiling as a sign of oppression, Muslim women will continue to fight against this narrative. They can either be seen as terrorists, outcasts and unable to speak for themselves, or they can be associated with the positive attributions that they choose, such as empowerment and enlightenment.