There is a Muslim family that lives on my street. When I was growing up, I never knew they were Muslim. Their father is from Ethiopia. We’ve lived on this street for over 15 years now. My brother was friends with their son, Anton*, and we all used to play together as children. Anton’s two younger sisters used to come over often; when my brother, Anton, and the other neighborhood boys were playing in our treehouse Anton’s sisters and I would paint each other’s nails and gossip, indulging in girl talk. They were just like me, beautiful American girls; they Muslim, and I Jewish. Years later, I left for college and then for work. Eventually my brother also left for college, and as friends often do – Anton and my brother grew apart. Now I’m living back home, finishing up my Masters degree, and when I drive past Anton’s house I see the two daughters coming and going, and they are wearing the hijab. They never did before 9/11. They are beautiful, and Anton is handsome – they were blessed with good genetics, what can I say. I wonder what it is like to wear the hijab on a daily basis when these girls attend classes at university. One day, Nancy* (the youngest of the two daughters whom I always cared for dearly) was washing her car in the driveway – without her head scarf. It was lovely to catch up with her and to see how she’s blossomed into a young lady. I look forward to reaching out to her and reconnecting.
Some female Muslim activists think that those who object to the hijab think that we see it as some sort of forced requirement, in which the father is usually the authoritative figure deeming what is appropriate or not for the girl to wear. But that is not the case for me.
My objection to the hijab is not as simple as that. Yes, I do feel alienated when I see a woman in a hijab in Los Angeles – I’d be lying if I pretended it didn’t bother me. But I get sad when I see Anton’s sisters wearing the dark colored veil. Because they stick out of a crowd now, and no one notices their beauty, their kindness, and their laughter – the outsider can only see the head covering and identify them as Muslim. Why do Muslim women hold all the weight on their shoulders of representing their religion and family’s honor and piety? It’s such a huge responsibility, and in western culture, it simply seems unfair.
They are unique and independent women – but the hijab masks that freedom of identity and puts them in a confined box. When I walk out the door I can be anyone I want to be – isn’t that a key element of what the American dream is? And let’s say I want my religion to be a part of my identity – then I’ll wear my star of David necklace. But it’s modest and simple and doesn’t overpower my image to the outside world – it doesn’t become my only and key identifier. When a women covers her head so tightly you can not see her neck and hair, she is hiding from the world. And just like the Qu’ron states, she is bowing her head and eyes down. But why must any women bow her head and eyes down resulting in her becoming invisible? She should look straight ahead and take on the duties and challenges of the day. She should rely on her strength of self, and not the false strength her head covering gives her. (That is after all what many hijab wearers believe now a days isn’t it? That her hijab is her freedom from the oppressive western culture which pressures a woman to reveal her flesh like meat for men to delight in?)
This is such a loaded issue today, it bears heavy on my chest. I realize I am venting to the vast blogging community, but maybe this is the first step in beginning some form of discourse. Sharing what bothers western women about the hijab, and for hijab wearers to try and understand why we feel so alienated. Hijab wearers must understand that when western women visit Islamic countries, we respect the culture of the land and cover our heads. We do not try to force our “lack of religious customs” on them – so why must Muslim women try and force their religious customs on us? I can’t help but feel so hopeless and alone in this endeavor. If we can respect Muslim culture by wearing the head covering in their respective countries, why can’t Muslim women show the same respect for us by not donning the hijab? The burden of family honor does not lie solely on the female here in the west. Why can’t Muslim women embrace the freedoms and equality America promotes and join us in being equal to men?
*Names have been changed to protect the children’s identity