Sadly, many people’s perception of Islam is still dominated by prejudices and misconceptions. One of the biggest misconceptions existing today is that Muslim women have no rights and liberties and that they are merely objects. This view seems to be strengthened by the wearing of the hijab, which is the veil and modest covering of the head and body of a Muslim woman. Unfortunately, the veil symbolizes the oppression of women. The veiled woman also is believed to be ignorant, uneducated, voiceless and lacking self-confidence.
In reality, quite the contrary is true. Islam and hijab have elevated the status of Muslim women and liberated us. Most Muslim women I know around the world are sophisticated, well-educated, highly intelligent, and quite influential. We are strong women with loud voices. Many of us are doctors, teachers, lawyers, scientists and businesswomen. We are involved in and contribute to all aspects of society. The hijab has filled us with dignity and self-esteem and we are proud to be identified as strong Muslim women.
So, why do Muslim women cover their heads and bodies? It is because God has ordered us to do so. Simply put, it is submission to God and His will.
In the Quran, the book that contains the divine words of the Almighty God, God has instructed us:
“O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the believing women to draw their outer garments around them (when they go out or are among men). That is better in order that they may be known [to be Muslims] and not annoyed …” (33:59)
“Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that will make for greater purity for them; and Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; and they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands” (24:30-31).
Nevertheless, there are many other perks to wearing the hijab. Recently, I started wearing the hijab myself. It has been a rather empowering and liberating journey, to say the least. Many friends, neighbors and even strangers have approached me with questions and curiosity — many wondering why someone like myself, a young, outgoing, intelligent, well-educated American, suddenly wants to cover myself up like this.
I happily explain that, first of all, it is a religious duty that I do. Furthermore, I am proud to be identified as a Muslim woman. I am also ecstatic about embracing this new freedom from trying to conform to and meet society’s standards of beauty. It is something that I worked hard at while growing up here in America. Young girls from a very early age are taught that their worth is proportional to their attractiveness. This is evident by all the cases of anorexia, bulimia, depression and suicides that are widespread in our society today.
Islam, on the other hand, elevates women to a position of honor and respect. The veil that many people see as oppressive actually rejects the degradation and belittlement of women as mere sexual objects. Our lives are not influenced by male approval, but rather, we define our role in society and the interactions with men outside our families. We put limits and boundaries on those exchanges and we will make sure that they are based on mutual respect. We will demand that the attention is on our minds, personalities, and what we have to say, and not on our bodies and sexuality.
So, the next time you see any one of us Muslim women wearing the hijab, please don’t feel sorry for us. We are proud of our religious identities, convictions and submission to God. I humbly ask you to re-evaluate the concept of oppression and ask yourself if we truly seem to be oppressed. We have all exercised our right to choose and feel very confident of our choice.
Lastly, please feel free to approach us should you have any questions. We would love to discuss them with you.
This Voices column was written by Marwa Elkelani, who has a master’s degree in linguistics and lives in Brewer with her husband and three young children. Columns on Islam are published in cooperation with the Islamic Center of Maine in Orono. Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.