Life of a Hijabi: Oppression or Liberation?

As many of you may already know, Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the world, and yet it is believed to be the most oppressive. Why? Because it requires modesty from women in the form of covering their hair, as well as their behavior, manners, speech, and public appearance. But no one sees past the hijab.
Why is it that a simple piece of clothing causes such a commotion? This simple piece of clothing, hijab, is derived from an Arabic word “hajaba”, which means to cover up from plain view. Referring to the modest dressing for Muslim women, it has come to be known as the headscarf which not only covers the head but the neck and usually the bosom, and a woman who wears a hijab is called a hijabi. There is no specific detail layout of what a standardized dress for Muslim women is. However, there are certain conditions laid out in the Quran and well as Hadith, confirmed sayings of the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him), inform that whatever is worn, should be done in a modest way. The key thing to realize is that being modest doesn’t just involve the way one dresses, but the way a person’s character is shaped. Modesty is a mix of bits and pieces of everything from small to big details with dressing just being one of them.
One of the biggest misconceptions about the hijab is that it is forced upon a woman by the male population of the house whether it is the father, husband, or brother. But the truth of the matter is that men have nothing to do with the decision; it is entirely up to a woman whether she chooses to wear it or not. When a woman does however choose to cover, it should be done with the pure intention of being submissive to her religion. It’s a fundamental human right to be able to feel safe and secure; being a hijabi myself, I don’t consider it an extra task, to me, it’s that right given to me by my Creator.  So why do women choose to cover themselves with a hijab? Well, moving away from the submissive intention and going back on personal choice, many feel covering up gives them a sense of safety and the freedom to move around without being judged about their physical appearance.
In a world where being fake is the new trend, our appearance is emphasized to such a degree that what we are as an individual counts for nothing. What today’s society defines a woman being liberated is total hypocrisy. What kind of freedom is it if a woman can’t walk out of her house without being “checked out” in every physical aspect? In my point of view, when a woman is covered, she isn’t judged by her appearance; instead, she is assessed by her character, morals, and personality. I mean, look at the world we live in today. We’re so materialistic and self obsessed in trying to make ourselves better to please other people. Continuously passing comments about each other on the basis of what type of jewelry is worn, the hairstyle, and makeup.
One of the saddest truths in this day and age is the manipulation magazines put out there for young females about beauty myths and self-image. The media causes low self-esteem and insecurities in teenagers. Model agencies become well-known and make more money through maintaining a reputation of providing unrealistic Barbie models. Diet industry booms due to its number of consumers using pills, supplementary, specific dietary meals, etc. only to give nothing but high hopes and disappointment. People see the models shown in the media and want to look more like them with different products and diets.
Look at any advertisement. Is there a woman selling the product? Now look at what she’s wearing. Is she wearing skimpy clothes?  Does she have flawless skin? Does she have a slimmer waist than the average woman?  Is she too good to be true?  If the models were to look heavier than the “ideal” body, it’d disgust the already media-prone customers. Women get so interested in media, especially in advertising, fashion, and dieting industries and find themselves in a slump of low self esteem. A Muslim girl isn’t affected by the media because her values teach her to cover her hair for those who will judge her based on her hairstyle and to wear loose fitting clothes that won’t display her figure for the world to criticize. The “ideal” body image the media creates is one that many try hard but are not able to reach because of the simple fact- it doesn’t resemble the average woman. Yes, there are people who can achieve it, but the percentage is very low. Why do we allow ourselves to get manipulated in such ways?
There was a study done at the University of California which initiated that “media photographs emphasize the faces of men but the bodies of women”. If looked at a typical picture of a woman, only about 35% of her the photograph was towards her face. On the other hand, when looking at an average picture of a man, about 65% of the photograph was devoted to his face. That same article also reported that there was an experiment conducted with a group of 40 male and 40 female college students in which their task was fairly simple. All they had to do was sketch out “the character of a real person” of either a man or woman. This observed study showed that the pictures drawn of men had specific facial structure details, while sketches of women were mainly body based with barely any attention paid to the facial features. So who’s in question of oppression here? The one who covers or the one who doesn’t?
If someone were to ask me if I was oppressed because of the fact I wear a hijab, the answer would be absolutely not. This decision wasn’t forced upon me; I did it out of free will because to me, my beauty is for a man, not for the mankind. The first time I stepped out of the house in a hijab, I went to the mall with my family. Having been there so many times, making eye contact with the people there gave me a sense of familiarity. When I’d go, there would be random men watching me until I was out of their sight. However, the day I stepped out in a hijab, I remember passing a specific phone booth where I recognized a man who has been working there for some time. As he saw me, his gaze went down towards the floor as a sign of respect, and the feeling I got hasn’t left till this day. As young women, we need to recognize our assets. Our most admirable asset shouldn’t be our beauty; it should be our character. Another thing I grasped is that you start to realize who your true friends are. If people are friends with you only because of the way you look, then they aren’t someone you should be even calling a friend. Wearing a hijab is a decision I was proud to make, and can thankfully say, that I’ve gotten out of the traps the media and fashion industry has set out. No longer do I have to worry what shade of lip-gloss matches my skin tone, nor do I have to worry about being labeled as a brand name. Islam dignifies and honors its’ women. They’re not an object to be used to sell the concept of materialism, rather an equal body to everyone they encounter with their thoughts, traits, and personality.

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