[MULTICULTURAL VOICES: A Canadian-born Muslim woman has taken to
wearing the traditional hijab scarf. It tends to make people see her
as either a terrorist or a symbol of oppressed womanhood, but she
finds the experience LIBERATING. The Globe and Mail Tuesday, June
29, 1993 Facts and Arguments Page (A26)]
I often wonder whether people see me as a radical, fundamentalist
Muslim terrorist packing an AK-47 assault rifle inside my jean
jacket. Or maybe they see me as the poster girl for oppressed
womanhood everywhere. I'm not sure which it is.
I get the whole gamut of strange looks, stares, and covert glances.
You see, I wear the hijab, a scarf that covers my head, neck, and
throat. I do this because I am a Muslim woman who believes her body
is her own private concern.
Young Muslim women are reclaiming the hijab, reinterpreting it in
light of its original purpose to back to women ultimate control of
their own bodies.
The Qur'an teaches us that men and women are equal, that individuals
should not be judged according to gender, beauty, wealth, or
privilege. The only thing that makes one person better than another
is her or his character.
Nonetheless, people have a difficult time relating to me. After all,
I'm young, Canadian born and raised, university educated - why would
I want to do this to myself, they ask.
Strangers speak to me in loud, slow English and often appear to be
playing charades. They politely inquire how I like living in Canada
and whether or not the cold bothers me. If I'm in the right mood, it
can be very amusing.
But, why would I, a woman with all the advantages of a North
American upbringing, suddenly, at 21, want to cover myself so that
with the hijab and the other clothes I choose to wear, only my face
and hands show?
Because it gives me freedom.
WOMEN are taught from early childhood that their worth is
proportional to their attractiveness. We feel compelled to pursue
abstract notions of beauty, half realizing that such a pursuit is
When women reject this form of oppression, they face ridicule and
contempt. Whether it's women who refuse to wear makeup or to shave
their legs, or to expose their bodies, society, both men and women,
have trouble dealing with them.
In the Western world, the hijab has come to symbolize either forced
silence or radical, unconscionable militancy. Actually, it's
neither. It is simply a woman's assertion that judgment of her
physical person is to play no role whatsoever in social interaction.
Wearing the hijab has given me freedom from constant attention to my
physical self. Because my appearance is not subjected to public
scrutiny, my beauty, or perhaps lack of it, has been removed from
the realm of what can legitimately be discussed.
No one knows whether my hair looks as if I just stepped out of a
salon, whether or not I can pinch an inch, or even if I have
unsightly stretch marks. And because no one knows, no one cares.
Feeling that one has to meet the impossible male standards of beauty
is tiring and often humiliating. I should know, I spent my entire
teenage years trying to do it. I was a borderline bulimic and spent
a lot of money I didn't have on potions and lotions in hopes of
becoming the next Cindy Crawford.
The definition of beauty is ever-changing; waifish is good, waifish
is bad; athletic is good - sorry, athletic is bad. Narrow hips?
Great. Narrow hips? Too bad.
Women are not going to achieve equality with the right to bear their
breasts in public, as some people would like to have you believe.
That would only make us party to our own objectification. True
equality will be had only when women don't need to display
themselves to get attention and won't need to defend their decision
to keep their bodies to themselves.
Naheed Mustafa graduated from the University of Toronto with an
honours degree in political science and history. She is currently
[at the time this was written] studying journalism at Ryerson