14 January 2012
The Veiled Truth
When I heard that a friend of mine, Sabiha, was working on an hijab article/documentary I asked whether I could give a perspective from a westerners (my) point of view. So, without further ado, here it is.
What is my view on women who wear hijab (headscarf) and dress moderately? Do I think they are treated as lesser beings for doing so? Or are they generally passionate about their role as Muslim women in respect to their faith?Read on and I will put forward my own unique western view on this rather, at times, over-debated topic.
I suppose like most westerners, I didn’t really think a great deal about Muslim women who wore the veil prior to the events of 9/11. Then Islam became front page news for all of the wrong type of reasons. Sabiha herself was attacked on a bus as strangers kicked and punched her whilst trying to remove her veil. Thankfully for her she survived this brutal attack with headscarf still intact. To hear about this more than 10 years later still sickens me as we are all humans regardless of colour, religion or sex. The western media made a big fuss, following the Twin Towers attack, about Muslim women being oppressed and forced to wear the hijab, niqab and even the burqa.However, my experience since then is that hijab wearing women are some of the nicest people I have ever met. At this point I would like to make a few side observations. If we see a nun wearing a habit we do not take a second look, but think that she is a devoted servant of God. If we see a Sikh man wearing a turban we know that he is being loyal to his religion and is certainly not oppressed. Even my mother used to wear a scarf when we used to go out when I was a young boy. Even then, no one thought anything about that. However, at that time of my life, I was more embarrassed to be wearing short trousers in the middle of winter than to worry about my mother!
In my working life I have come across a few hijab wearing co-workers and can confidently say that the veil was not a barrier to them being able to perform their role. After all, what hindrance can a hijab be if you are, say, working as an accountant, fashion designer or even driving a bus? The answer is it is not a hindrance. Work is all down to your ability and not what you wear. I can easily work at the same level if I am in a t shirt and shorts in comparison to wearing a suit! It is my ability that is the important thing.As a result of the GFC I started doing some part time evening work in a local call centre. I can easily say wearing headphones on a hijab was not a problem for my Muslim co-workers. Again, it was their mannerisms in dealing with irate customers that was important. Maybe Islam made them even better prepared to deal with customer complaints. As fellow workers they were the nicest people to talk to and work with.
My optician is a hijab wearing professional. When she checks my ageing eyes she does so in a friendly and easy going way. Again, I can’t remember her hijab getting in the way of the optical equipment. Oh, I should add that she also wears an abaya. Does this change my view of my optician? No, in fact, it cements my opinion of her.At my daughters first Catholic school, I met a mother who is Muslim and wears a hijab but in a different style to most other Muslim women. Over the past few years I have got to know her very well. She is now a really close friend to my family and I. She is a very hard working mother who naturally wants the best for her family. She dresses moderately, and gives her time to help others when possible. When my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer she sent me a text message telling me she was praying for her recovery. Did I see her headscarf ever as being a sign of oppression? No, I saw her as a truly wonderful giving human being who I am glad to call a friend.
The Quran states that women should dress moderately. Now I am sure there are many interpretations of what modesty means and how it should be interpreted. I am not going to make judgement on this as I am the last person to suggest how women should dress. However, I have seen young Muslim women wearing a headscarf, short skirt and leggings. I am not sure in my humble opinion that is what you would call dressing moderately.As I have gotten older, but still young at heart I hasten to add, I have a greater respect for women who do not reveal their bodies to the public. I can’t say I fully respect women nowadays who show lots of cleavage and wear clothes so short that a Barbie doll would struggle to fit into them! The fact that men will comment on scantily clad women is surely a sign that the wearer does not totally respect herself.
Interestingly, the majority of western female converts (reverts) to Islam appear to dress more conservatively than those females born into Islam. Maybe they have seen that wearing revealing clothing is not the best option.Finally, all of the Muslim women that I know cover up do so because they want to, rather than being forced to. It is out of their respect to their religion and also their family as to why they do so.
As westerners we must stop looking at the material that a Muslim woman puts on her head but look at THE person beneath it. If we can do that then I am sure a lot of barriers will be broken down and we can all get on much more harmoniously than at present.
For more information about the hiajb project then please go to www.duniyaphotos.blogspot.com