Many Westerners fear the hijab, a simple headscarf, as a result of their ignorance. People discriminate against women who wear one and even go as far as to make derogatory comments. However, even though women who wear a hijab know that they are more likely than women who do not wear one to face discrimination when looking for work, lodging, or simply going about their errands, they stand their ground and face up to the pervasive opposition unflinchingly. That is the definition of self-confidence and courage.
I now see women who wear hijabs as the epitome of feminism and feminist principles.
As a child, growing up with a Moroccan mother, I was used to seeing friends and some distant relatives wear the hijab. But with a Latvian father and an American up-bringing, it took me time to wrap my head around the concept of concealing an attribute that is often flaunted in American society—a woman’s hair. It is only as I grew up and learned some of the principles of Islam and feminism that my views shifted and that gave me a new degree of respect for these women. I now see women who wear hijabs as the epitome of feminism and feminist principles.
The hijab in Islam is a symbol of humility and modesty and it keeps a woman protected. While this may seem to be limiting and old fashioned, it still has practical uses. The hijab is supposed to shield a woman from the invasive view of men, the so-called “male gaze”, which often dehumanizes her as a sexual object at a man’s disposal. Instead of judging a woman based solely on her looks and beauty, one must assess a woman who wears a hijab by her character, personality, ideals, and intellect — in other words, the same characteristics by which a man is judged.
Wearing a hijab, a woman becomes more than her physical attributes; she becomes a person with valid thoughts and feelings. It would be ideal for one to not have to wear a hijab in order to be valued as a human being; however, society is not perfect and does not change overnight. This is not to say that everyone discriminates based on looks, but it is the most common way to take the measure of a person. Expressing support for hijab-wearing women is a giant step towards improving society and Muslim women expressing their individuality becoming a norm.
Many supporters of the hijab debate, especially on social media platforms, whether women who wear them should “model.” Some say that if a woman chooses to be “modest,” modeling goes completely against this concept. I disagree.
In the 21st century, a woman should not have to pick between feeling beautiful and honoring her individuality and wearing the hijab for religious and personal reasons. Both of these choices have one thing in common: they both are about empowering women. A woman who can choose to wear what she pleases—including a hijab—for reasons that suit her, combined with the ability to access a community of understanding allies, is living in the most empowering environment a person can have.
In addition, these women demonstrate to younger generations that they can be proud to wear their hijab any way they want and practice Islam, even though they are surrounded by people who question their beliefs and customs. Hence, hijab modeling takes yet another stride towards society’s wider acceptance of the practice: the more people who see these empowered women, the more comfortable Western society will get with the concept.
The hijab wearing woman is not only a feminist in the sense that she is expressing herself as she pleases and shielding herself from an intrusive male gaze, she is also the personification of courage and bravery. Each morning, she walks out her front door and continually stands for her beliefs, no matter how “controversial” and even dangerous to her safety. Her bravery is manifested in the knowledge that she may be looked down upon by others and even be called a “terrorist” for just wearing an article of clothing. Her bravery is to keep her head up high and continue dressing as she pleases, because she knows she has every right to.