The Headscarf, Fear, And Islamophobia

Source: Huffington Post

By Zainab Salbi

Founder of Women for Women International, Media Host of The Zainab Salbi Project and Nida’a Show

If you want to understand the rise of Islamophobia in America, just talk to a Muslim woman. Those who choose to wear the headscarf, also known as a hijab, often face verbal insults and threats, and even physical intimidation and violence.

For many Americans, the hijab has become a stark physical reminder of “difference” and otherness.

Of course, not all Muslim women choose to wear the hijab. But for those who do, they are often assumed to be oppressed, or even “forced” to wear it. And many have been the target of physical attacks in the heart of America.

In reality, there is no correlation between the hijab and the oppression of women. As a matter of fact, American Muslim women who wear the hijab choose to do that as a statement of identity.

They are making the point that they can be independent, strong and free and choose to wear the hijab as part of their freedom of choice as an American.

Decisions to wear the hijab vary from one woman to the other and from one culture and country to the other. Immigrants such as myself who grew up in Iraq, did not think of the hijab at all in our upbringings. Friends who wore it later in life chose to do that for various reasons: some as a reflection of piety, some as a measurement of security when the streets of Iraq turned into a battleground, and some as a fashion statement or solidarity with other friends, among other reasons.

Those who wore it and those who didn’t coexisted in the same families and social circles. Yes, there were some judgments between them, but not enough to get in the way of any social relationships.

In reality, there is no correlation between the hijab and the oppression of women. As a matter of fact, American Muslim women who wear the hijab choose to do that as a statement of identity.

Out of the 49 Muslim majority countries worldwide, only two force women to wear the headscarf by law ― Iran and Saudi Arabia. In countries such as Afghanistan they are indeed still dealing with the cultural consequences of years of Taliban ruling and its impact on the wearing of Burqa and the fear that was implanted in women’s hearts. We cannot generalize these countries as the entire Muslim population of 1.6 billion people ― whose drive for decision-making differs from one culture to the other and one country to the other.

Indeed, the wearing of hijab has increased significantly in the past two decades. That is due to many reasons around the world, including an expression of political opposition in countries like France, social norms in countries like Somalia, and economic and security reasons in countries like Iraq. Women in America who chose to wear the hijab have their own reasons as well.

Needless to say, oppression of women does take place in many countries. But oppression of women is a cultural issue and a family oriented. To say that Muslims oppress women is to deprive every Muslim family of their integrity, their dignity and their love. Women’s issues are only one of the disconnects between Muslims and non-Muslim assumptions of Islam.

The gap between what Islam is and how the vast majority of Muslims practice it, and between stereotypes, projection and fear of the religion from non-Muslims is vast.

During my journey to explore women and Islamophobia in Minnesota, I asked every single Muslim about how they define Islam. All the answers I got were related to human behavior: be good to your neighbors; be good to the animals, to Earth; be kind; be clean.

When I asked them about the role sharia played in their understanding of Islam (as many outside of Islam fear the term), Haji, a Somali store owner explained that “sharia simply means law, and to think the sharia is only about the death penalty is like thinking that the U.S. constitution is only about the death penalty, which it is simply not correct.”

If you want to understand the rise of Islamophobia in America, just talk to a Muslim woman. Those who choose to wear the headscarf, also known as a hijab, often face verbal insults and threats, and even physical intimidation and violence.

For many Americans, the hijab has become a stark physical reminder of “difference” and otherness.

Of course, not all Muslim women choose to wear the hijab. But for those who do, they are often assumed to be oppressed, or even “forced” to wear it. And many have been the target of physical attacks in the heart of America.

In reality, there is no correlation between the hijab and the oppression of women. As a matter of fact, American Muslim women who wear the hijab choose to do that as a statement of identity.

They are making the point that they can be independent, strong and free and choose to wear the hijab as part of their freedom of choice as an American.

Decisions to wear the hijab vary from one woman to the other and from one culture and country to the other. Immigrants such as myself who grew up in Iraq, did not think of the hijab at all in our upbringings. Friends who wore it later in life chose to do that for various reasons: some as a reflection of piety, some as a measurement of security when the streets of Iraq turned into a battleground, and some as a fashion statement or solidarity with other friends, among other reasons.

Those who wore it and those who didn’t coexisted in the same families and social circles. Yes, there were some judgments between them, but not enough to get in the way of any social relationships.

In reality, there is no correlation between the hijab and the oppression of women. As a matter of fact, American Muslim women who wear the hijab choose to do that as a statement of identity.

Out of the 49 Muslim majority countries worldwide, only two force women to wear the headscarf by law ― Iran and Saudi Arabia. In countries such as Afghanistan they are indeed still dealing with the cultural consequences of years of Taliban ruling and its impact on the wearing of Burqa and the fear that was implanted in women’s hearts. We cannot generalize these countries as the entire Muslim population of 1.6 billion people ― whose drive for decision-making differs from one culture to the other and one country to the other.

Indeed, the wearing of hijab has increased significantly in the past two decades. That is due to many reasons around the world, including an expression of political opposition in countries like France, social norms in countries like Somalia, and economic and security reasons in countries like Iraq. Women in America who chose to wear the hijab have their own reasons as well.

Needless to say, oppression of women does take place in many countries. But oppression of women is a cultural issue and a family oriented. To say that Muslims oppress women is to deprive every Muslim family of their integrity, their dignity and their love. Women’s issues are only one of the disconnects between Muslims and non-Muslim assumptions of Islam.

The gap between what Islam is and how the vast majority of Muslims practice it, and between stereotypes, projection and fear of the religion from non-Muslims is vast.

During my journey to explore women and Islamophobia in Minnesota, I asked every single Muslim about how they define Islam. All the answers I got were related to human behavior: be good to your neighbors; be good to the animals, to Earth; be kind; be clean.

When I asked them about the role sharia played in their understanding of Islam (as many outside of Islam fear the term), Haji, a Somali store owner explained that “sharia simply means law, and to think the sharia is only about the death penalty is like thinking that the U.S. constitution is only about the death penalty, which it is simply not correct.”

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