By: Hawraa Rikan, Contributor
We all agree that free speech is fundamental for a civilized society, but who gets to draw the line between hate and free speech? When I transferred to the University of Southern Maine last semester, it was baffling to me what people found offensive. Free speech has become limited to the point that many people do not speak their minds because they fear being called a bigot. There was one specific topic discussed at the University that made me reflect deeply; I did not have the courage to talk about it last semester, but now I do. This topic is the hijāb.
The hijāb has been a controversy for decades. We are constantly bombarded with statements such as, “the hijāb is a woman’s choice,” which may be true for thousands of women, however, these kinds of statements perpetuate the injustices faced by women who are not free to make that choice. Women are still policed on how they should dress in many parts of the Middle East. In Iran, for example, the morality police are hired to enforce Islāmic laws regarding dress code and behavior. It may not be obvious to some, but these morality police are all men telling women how to dress. It is almost as if men are born with perfect morality and do not need to be policed.
According to an article written by Melissa Etehad and Nabih Bulos on Saudi Arabia’s recent decision in allowing women to drive and its effect on Saudi’s economy, women who drove before this decision was made ‘lost their friends, jobs and even their passports.’ It is important to note that Saudi’s recent decision was not driven by their belief that women and men should both have the right to drive but because of the contribution that it makes to their economic growth.
Now, while Muslim women in the United States do not lose their jobs or passports, they risk losing their family, friends, and their reputation being tarnished. Many women whom I had the honor of speaking with do not want to wear the hijāb, but due to family and community pressure, they are silenced and forced to keep it on. When asked, these women say it was their choice to put it on because they are fearful, concealing the deeper issue that we have in our Muslim community. It becomes everyone’s business when a woman chooses to take the hijāb off and her family’s honor and reputation is the talk of the town. You will hear a lot of statements such as, “she became Americanized,” or “she lost sense of her culture and religion and became a kafir (infidel).” When a woman chooses to wear the hijāb, she is stereotyped and ridiculed by Westerners, and when she chooses to take it off, she gets ridiculed by her own people. So, is it really a woman’s choice?
I am writing this article to shed light on women who do not wear it by choice but by coercion or societal pressure. Folks, these women exist! For every thousand women who wear the hijāb by choice, there is another thousand who are coerced into wearing it. We cannot solve this problem without talking about it. Stop political correctness and think about the women going through this issue.
I have good news for you. You can be part of the solution. Anytime you hear someone say, “the hijāb is a choice,” please refer them to this article and remind them that these kinds of statements, once again, silence the struggle of women who are not wearing it by choice. I suggest using statements such as, “the hijāb SHOULD be a woman’s choice,” or “the hijab is MY choice,” Also, remember that women who do not wear it by choice should be a more significant priority for you than to advance your own political or religious agenda.