The Freedom of the Hijab

By Nusrat, Ayesha | International Herald Tribune, July 14, 2012 | Go to article overview

The Freedom of the Hijab


Nusrat, Ayesha, International Herald Tribune


My hijab gives me the right to assert my body, femininity and spirituality as my own and under my authority alone.

It's been over two months since I decided to become a hijabi -- one who wears a head scarf and adheres to modest clothing -- and before you race to label me the poster girl for oppressed womanhood everywhere, let me tell you as a woman (with a master's degree in human rights, and a graduate degree in psychology) why I see this as the most liberating experience ever.

Prior to becoming a hijabi, I did not expect myself to go down this road. Although I knew modesty was encouraged in my culture and by my faith, I never saw the need nor had the opportunity to explore the reasons behind it.

My experience working as a Faiths Act Fellow for the Tony Blair Faith Foundation and dealing with interfaith action for social action brought me more understanding and appreciation of various faiths. I found that engaging in numerous interfaith endeavors strengthened my personal understanding about my own faith. The questions and challenges I encountered increased my inquisitiveness and drive to explore and learn for myself various fundamental aspects of Islam. Thus began my journey to hijab-dom.

I am abundantly aware of the rising concerns and controversies over how a few yards of cloth covering a woman's head is written off as a global threat to women's education, public security, rights and even religion. I am also conscious of the media's preferred mode of portraying all hijabi women as downtrodden and dominated by misogynist mullahs or male relatives who enforce them into sweltering pieces of oppressive clothing. But I believe my hijab liberates me. I know many who portray the hijab as the placard for either forced silence or fundamentalist regimes; but personally I found it to be neither.

For someone who passionately studied and works for human rights and women's empowerment, I realized that working for these causes while wearing the hijab can only contribute to breaking the misconception that Muslim women lack the strength, passion and power to strive for their own rights. This realization was the final push I needed to declare to the world on my birthday this year that henceforth I am a hijabi.

In a society that embraces uncovering, how can it be oppressive if I decided to cover up? I see hijab as the freedom to regard my body as my own concern and as a way to secure personal liberty in a world that objectifies women. …

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