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The Veil of the Muslim Woman

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The Veil of the Muslim Woman
Generalizations about Islam and Muslims are replete in today's media and the subject of the veil of the Muslim woman is no exception. Veiled Muslim women are frequently unfairly stigmatized. They are regarded on the one hand as oppressed, and on the other, as fanatics and fundamentalists. Inflammatory slogans and statements for banning the veil are commonplace in the media.
Islam coerces females into wearing head scarves, veils, niqabs, and burqas, for women are deemed responsible for men’s sexual restraint.


Islam requires all women to dress like zombies!


Veil and headscarf make women invisible, transform women to zombies, invalidate women's participatory rights, flag women as evil temptresses, oppress women with barbarity, are brands of misogynist Islam, and are a security threat.




Are Muslim women who wear the veil fanatics and fundamentalists?

Is it only Islam which teaches women to cover? What do other religions say about it?

Is wearing hijaab a sign of oppression, humiliation and discrimination? Or is it a sign of piety, modesty and honour?

Are Muslim women forced to wear them? What do Muslim women themselves have to say?



InshaAllah we will compile a series of posts with the answers...

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hijab caligraphy.jpg


     What is Hijaab?



It's literal meaning is to veil, to cover, or to screen


The Hijaab: generally refers to clothing such as the veil (which covers the face) and the headscarf (which covers the hair and not the face), worn by Muslim women as a symbol of modesty.



The Headscarf

hijab face.png




The Niqaab: face covering





The Burqa: a long, loose garment covering the whole body from head to feet, worn in public by women in many Muslim countries. The face-veiling portion is usually a rectangular piece of semi-transparent cloth with its top edge attached to a portion of the head-scarf so that the veil hangs down covering the face and can be turned up if the woman wishes to reveal her face.


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Hijaab in the Qur'an and Hadith


The Qur'an


[Al-Ahzaab 33:59]

O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them (when they go abroad). That will be better, so that they may be recognised and not annoyed. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful.



[An-Noor 24:31]

And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment save to their own husbands or fathers or husbands' fathers, or their sons or their husbands' sons, or their brothers or their brothers' sons or sisters' sons, or their women, or their slaves, or male attendants who lack vigour, or children who know naught of women's nakedness. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And turn unto Allah together, O believers, in order that ye may succeed.



[Al-Ahzaab 33:53]

O Ye who believe! Enter not the dwellings of the Prophet for a meal without waiting for the proper time, unless permission be granted you. But if ye are invited, enter, and, when your meal is ended, then disperse. Linger not for conversation. Lo! that would cause annoyance to the Prophet, and he would be shy of (asking) you (to go); but Allah is not shy of the truth. And when ye ask of them (the wives of the Prophet) anything, ask it of them from behind a curtain. That is purer for your hearts and for their hearts. And it is not for you to cause annoyance to the messenger of Allah, nor that ye should ever marry his wives after him. Lo! that in Allah's sight would be an enormity.





The Hadith


Sahih Al-Bukhari Volume 6, Book 60, Hadith # 282

Narrated Safiya bint Shaiba (Radhiallaahu Ánha)  "Aisha (Radhiallaahu Ánha) used to say: "When (the Verse): "They should draw their veils over their necks and bosoms," was revealed, (the ladies) cut their waist sheets at the edges and covered their faces with the cut pieces.


Abu Dawud transmitted it in Kitab al-Hajj (no. 1833)

It was narrated from ‘A’ishah, she said, “Riders would pass us when we accompanied the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) while we were in ihram. When they came by us, one of us would let down her jilbab from her head over her face, and when they had passed on, we would uncover our faces”.

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The Veil in other Religions


A common misconception is that Muslim women are the only ones who cover their hair. It may be true that Islam is the only religion in which most women follow its directives to cover the hair, but it is not the only religion to have such directives.



In Judaism, Christianity and Islam the concept of covering the head is or was associated with propriety and modesty. Most traditional depictions of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ, show her veiled. During the Middle Ages most European and Byzantine married women covered their hair rather than their face, with a variety of styles of wimple, kerchiefs and headscarfs. Veiling, covering the hair rather than the face, was a common practice with church-going women until the 1960s, typically using lace, and a number of very traditional churches retain the custom. Lace face-veils are still often worn by female relatives at funerals.

From wikipedia



Different cultures have adapted the commandment of hijab and have come up with different outfits to cover themselves with. Some use a chaddar, a scarf, burqa, or a simple coat of a length that reaches below the knees with a covering that covers the head and chest. In the history of Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and other religions, we see that many times women wore head coverings and modest attire. Virgin Mary, a symbol of piety, is always depicted wearing a long cloak covering her head and body. Nuns, who are a symbol of righteousness, piety, and modesty, always cover themselves with a head covering and outer cloak. Islam is not new in spreading the idea of hijab. Islam has made it possible and has commanded all women to take their power in their own hands and reach the highest state of modesty by wearing hijab. (Ramlah Malhi - Santa Barbra Independent)




The Head Covering in Christianity

Pictures from Christian Modesty


christianity.jpg  christian modesty.jpg  christian head covering.jpg 



Christian headcovering is the veiling of the head by women in a variety of Christian traditions. Some cover only in public worship, while others believe they should cover their heads all the time. The Biblical basis for headcoverings is found in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.[1] Though head covering was practiced by most Christian women up until the 20th century,[2] it is now a minority practice among contemporary Christians in the West. Wikipedia



In the Bible: First Epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 11. Verses 3-10.


But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying with his head covered, disgraces his head. But every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered disgraces her head, for it is the same as if she were shaven. For if a woman is not covered, let her be shaven. But if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. A man indeed ought not to cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God. But woman is the glory of man. For man was not created for woman, but woman for man. This is why the woman ought to have a sign of authority over her head, because of the angels.




The Habit of the Nun

nun.png nun2.jpg


Regarding a nun in her habit, is that a symbol of oppression or a dress that demands dignity and respect? The habit of a nun is a complete hijab.  When a Catholic nun dresses in that way, she becomes dignified, but when a Muslim woman dresses in that way, she becomes the symbol of oppression?!



I remember the day I decided I was a Muslim

The thing I started with was wearing hijab because that was the only thing I knew anything about.


I knew Muslims had to pray five times a day (and I did that), but I didn't know that there was a way to do that (I didn't know to say Al Fatihah or make ruku etc. and I didn't have a book or computer yet with which to look that up) but I did know (from a trip in the Gulf and having known African Muslim women) that a Muslim woman should wear a headscarf that some call "hijab" when she left her home or went out among those who she could never be certain of their intentions towards her.


I knew she should do it, because the Qu'ran said "pull your headress [khimar] so that it covers your chest [jube]". It was quite clear to me then (when I was a person who ignorantly said I believe in the Qu'ran but not the ahadith), as it remains even clearer to me now, that covering one's hair, neck, ears, AND chest are compelled in this verse. I still don't understand how some can try and say, that this was just a historical way of getting believing women not to show cleavage. Women at this time period DID cover their hair (so commanding this a second time would have been unnecessary as it was already as obvious to these women as it was to me and many others upon first reading). During this time period when Surah an-Nur was revealed, women were already compelled by revelations in the Jewish and Christian scriptures to cover their hair.

Since I was fostered a few months out of the year, by a practicing family of the book, I know the commandments in the Bible very well in memory: But every woman that prayed or prophesied with her head uncovered dishonoured her head for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.

Corinthians 11:4-16 (King James Version)



53 Bible Verses about Modesty




The Head Covering in Judaism

Praying Jewish women wearing Tichel.jpg

Praying Jewish women wearing Tichel



The tichel (Yiddish טיכל tikhl), also called a mitpachat (Hebrew מִטפַּחַת miṭpaḥat), is a headscarf worn by many married Orthodox Jewish women in compliance with the code of modesty known as tzniut. Tichels can range from a very simple plain color cotton square with a simple tie in the back to very elaborate fabrics with very complex ties using multiple fabrics. As with any other form of clothing, the tichel is influenced by fashion.



The Tichel in different styles



Modesty in Judaism


Tz'ni'ut means modesty, simplicity, a touch of bashfulness, and reserve.


The classical symbol of tz'ni'ut is the veil. It bespeaks privacy, a person apart; Isaiah (3:18) calls it tif'eret ("glory"). The Assyrians ruled that a harlot may not wear a veil, to imply that she is on public exhibit (Code of Hammurabi). The veil was instinctively donned by Rebecca as soon as she observed her future husband in the distance (Genesis 24:65).


The principle of tz'ni'ut rejects all nudity, not only in public, but also before family members at home. (Thus one must not pray or recite the Sh'ma prayer while one is naked or standing in the presence of a naked person.) The rejection of nudity recalls Adam and Eve who, after committing the first sin, realized they were naked and instinctively felt ashamed and hid (Genesis 2:25). (MyJewishLearning)






The Veil in Hinduism


Indian women with the Ghoongat



In North India, Hindu women may often veil for traditional purposes. It is often the custom in rural areas to veil in front of male elders. This veil is called the Ghoonghat or Laaj. This is to show humility and respect to those elder to the woman, in particular elder males. The ghoonghat is customary especially in the westerly states of Gujarat and Rajasthan. These customs are believed to have come from the Islamic influence over Northern and Central India during the Islamist reign of these regions.


Although religion is a common reason for choosing to veil, the practice also reflects political and personal conviction, so that it can serve as a medium through which personal character can be revealed.[9]



Ghoonghat or Ghunghat, also known as jhund, is a Hindi word which describes a veil or headscarf worn by women in parts of northern India to cover their head, and often their face. Generally a pallu (the loose end of a sari) is pulled over the head to act as a ghunghat. A dupatta (long scarf) is also sometimes used as a ghungat.


Purpose In ghungat, a woman will veil her face from all men to whom she's related by marriage and who are senior to her husband. This would include, for example, her husband's father, elder brother and uncles. The effect of ghungat is to limit a young woman's interaction with older men. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghoonghat


Modesty in Hinduism


It is mentioned in the Rig Veda Book no. 8 Hymn no. 33 V. no. 19

“When Brahma has made you a woman, you should lower your gaze and should not look up. You should put your feet together and you should not reveal what the garment and the veil conceals.”


It is further mentioned in the Mahavir Charitra Act 2 Page 71 that
When Purshuram comes, Rama tells his wife Sita that “He is our elder, please lower your gaze, and put on the veil."


Veiling and the Seclusion of Women


A particularly interesting aspect of Indian family life is purdah (from the Hindi parda , literally, curtain), or the veiling and seclusion of women. In much of northern and central India, particularly in rural areas, Hindu and Muslim women follow complex rules of veiling the body and avoidance of public appearance, especially in the presence of relatives linked by marriage and before strange men.

James Heitzman and Robert L. Worden, editors. India: A Country Study.

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Hijaab: A Sign of Piety & an Expression of Faith


There are a myriad of reasons why a Muslim woman wears the hijaab, however in most cases it is because they believe God has made it an obligation for believing women. It is an expression of their submission to their Lord. 


Muslim women choose to wear the hijab or other coverings for a variety of reasons. Some women wear the hijab because they believe that God has instructed women to wear it as a means of fulfilling His commandment for modesty. For these women, wearing hijab is a personal choice that is made after puberty and is intended to reflect one’s personal devotion to God. In many cases, the wearing of a headscarf is often accompanied by the wearing of loose-fitting, non-revealing clothing, also referred to as hijab.




Hijaab from a Muslim understanding, is more than just a headscarf. It is using modesty as an expression of faith; through both clothing and character.



Hijab should not just be seen as a cloth one puts on the head. Rather hijaab is a symbol of our worship and servitude to God. It is a symbol of modesty, that is not just about our attire; it extends to our whole demeanor.
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Hijaab: A sign of Modesty


Modest clothing and hijab are precautions to avoid social violations. The following verses of the Quran highlight that this is not limited to women only.


"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 that 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…."

(Qur'an 24:30-31)


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Hijaab: A Protection


"Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them (when they go abroad). That will be better, so that they may be recognized and not annoyed. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful."

(Qur'an 33:59)

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Hijaab: A sign of a Woman’s Honour


Hijab is a special outfit of honour.


When a woman prays in her home while no one else present, not even a child, she must still wear hijab when she is standing before Allah (swt), the Lord of all the worlds. If hijab was something only intended to protect a woman from men who are not relatives and may have bad intentions, then why should she wear it when she is standing alone before Allah (swt)?


A further piece of evidence is as follows. Slavery was a phenomenon that existed all over the world and Islam managed to end it relatively quickly and indeed centuries earlier than it ended in other parts of the world. During the era in which slavery still existed but was being tackled and was finally stopped by Islam, the female slaves were not obliged to wear hijab. For them, hijab was not compulsory though they could choose to wear it.


However, a free woman, or the mistress of a house, was required to observe hijab. So if hijab is a burden or is only a form of protection, why must a free woman observe it? Many people who do not understand hijab think that it is a sign of a woman’s inferiority and that they are to wear hijab because they are inferior to men or to unveiled non-Muslims. On the contrary, those in higher positions are supposed to observe hijab more. Thus, whoever is closer to Allah (swt) should observe hijab more.

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Hijaab: A Liberation


Women in hijaab find freedom from the shackles of the ever changing fashion trends. It is a means of saving time and money. How many people in the women sacrifice financial savings and health in a desperate attempt to meet up to an unrealistic standard of beauty?


Hijab frees women from being thought of as sexual objects of desire or from being valued for their looks, or body shape rather then their minds and intellect.  No longer slaves to consumerism, hijab liberates women from the need to conform to unrealistic stereotypes and images dictated by the media.  islamreligion



"Hijab has liberated me. Not only am I following the commandments of my religion, but while wearing hijab, I am taking the power into my own hands of how much physical appearance plays a role in our society. Hijab gives me a sense of freedom: Freedom from the norms of what is “acceptable” to wear. Freedom from the need to fit in and starve myself to look model thin. Freedom from the prying eyes of the opposite gender."  (Santa Barbra Independent)



"Before I started covering, I thought of myself based on what others thought of me. I see that too often in girls, their happiness depends on how others view them, especially men. Ever since, my opinion of myself has changed so much; I have gained (a lot of) self-respect. I have realized whether others may think of me as beautiful is not what matters. How beautiful I think of myself and knowing that Allah finds me beautiful makes me feel beautiful,"  Saba M. Baig (Hijaab: Unveiling the Mystery)



In Islam a woman is assessed for her piety, knowledge and contribution to society and not just superficial physical traits.

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Hijaab: An Expression of Identity


While some Muslim women do not perceive the hijab to be obligatory to their faith, other Muslim women wear the hijab as a means of visibly expressing their Muslim identity (Haddad, et al, 2006). In the United States, particularly since 9/11, the hijab is perceived to be synonymous with Islam. Some Muslim women choose to appropriate this stereotype and wear the hijab to declare their Islamic identity and provide witness of their faith. Unfortunately this association has also occasionally resulted in the violent assaults of Muslim women wearing hijab.


While most Muslim women wear the hijab for religious reasons, there are other Arab or Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab as an expression of their cultural identity. By wearing the hijab, Muslim women hope to communicate their political and social alliance with their country of origin and challenge the prejudice of Western discourses towards the Arabic-speaking world (Zayzafoon, 2005). In many cases, the wearing of the hijab is also used to challenge Western feminist discourses which present hijab-wearing women as oppressed or silenced. (Arabs in America)

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Hijaab: My Choice!


hijab my choice.png


Another misconception is the belief that Muslim women are forced to wear hijab. For the vast majority of Muslim women, nothing could be farther from the truth. Indeed, deciding finally to wear hijab is often difficult. Days of meditation, fear of negative consequences and reactions from family and/or the wider American society, and ultimately, the need for plenty of courage weigh heavily in reaching the decision. Wearing hijab is a very personal and independent decision, coming from appreciating the wisdom underlying Allahs command and a sincere wish to please Him. whyislam



There is no compulsion in Islam

It is true that in some families and in some cultures women are forced to wear hijab but this is not the norm.  The Quran clearly states that there is no compulsion in religion (2:256).  Women who choose to wear hijab do not make the decision lightly.  In fact many women testify that they faced great animosity from their Muslim or non-Muslim families when they decided to cover.  Across the globe there are numerous instances of women having to defend their right to wear the hijab.




Let us see what Muslim women themselves have to say...


Kenza Drider - French housewife: The voice behind the veil in France where the veil is banned

"I never covered my head when I was young. I came from a family of practising Muslims, but we were not expected to even wear a headscarf.


"Then I began looking into Islam and what it meant to be a Muslim and decided to wear a headscarf. Afterwards in my research into the wives of the Prophet I saw they wore the full veil and I liked this idea and decided to wear it. Before, I had felt something was missing. Then I put it on and I felt serene and complete. It pleased me and it has become a part of me."




My dress tells you that I am a Muslim and that I expect to be treated respectfully, much as a Wall Street banker would say that a business suit defines him as an executive to be taken seriously. Yvonne Ridley



When asked about bans on wearing hijab:

Aminah Assilmi, a Christian convert to Islam, said: To ask me to go out without my hijab would be like asking a nun to go topless. It amazes me, and I cannot help but wonder, if they would have ordered Mary, the mother of Jesus (pbuh) to uncover her hair.



Being brought up wearing the hijab means that I have always perceived it as an inseparable part of myself. Although you could say, at the time, it wasn’t necessarily a ‘conscious choice’, I became mindful of the hijab as I learnt of its deeper purposes (as an act of worship, and the tranquility/spirituality that comes with it) and I feel that was when the decision to wear it happened. During my A-levels, a teacher commented that because of the way I dressed, “it was a shame that my identity couldn’t be seen”. I told her that what I was wearing was a core element of my identity. Ruqiya Mohammed



Nadia (who asked that her last name not be given) similarly covers most of her body and goes a step further by covering her face—excluding her eyes—with a piece of fabric known as the niqab.


The 25-year-old mother of two doesn’t believe it’s a practice that Islam mandates, but that it draws her closer to God.

“When you love someone, you want to be more pleasing to them,” she says. “…You want to do anything you can and constantly talk to them and know more about them, and that’s how I feel also with my creator.”



The reason I began to wear hijab was simply that I believed (and still believe) it is mandated in Islam. When I first became Muslim I lived in a town that was full of Muslims, most of whom dressed in the traditional ways. Putting on a headscarf (and at that time even a veil) was not a hardship. It was the norm where I was, and I understood it to be required.


I can only answer to what I believe the purpose and benefits of my headscarf achieve.

  1.  Modesty. When dressed in a covering way, I am not showing my physical attributes (or perhaps lack of) to anyone. People are forced to judge me by my actions and speech, by how well I do my job or how I interact with others, rather than by whether or not I am “good looking” and interest them.
  2. To that same end, my beauty is then saved for my husband’s full enjoyment and he knows he does not share me with anyone. I am not out getting a lot of attention from others that may make him feel insecure or that is disrespectful to me.
  3. I am noticeably different, a Muslim. Most people respect that. They can clearly see that I am not the kind of woman that you whistle or cat-call at, nor am I going to agree to meet you in a bar or club, nor can you proposition me on the street or in the office. There is a level of respect that men give me whereby they do not treat me in the same way they might treat other women they meet and believe they can “get with”. In fact, in my case, I find that many men (yes, non-Muslims) are more gentlemanly with me in general. I have more doors held open for me, paths cleared for me, more assistance when needed, and an overall respect given to me.
  4. Wearing the head covering works to remind me of my duties. I am more likely to be a better person when I am covered because the headscarf is a potent reminder to me of what type of behavior and attitude is expected of me. I am less likely to lose my temper, more likely to be kind and forgiving, in difficult situations.

In my experience, the hijab or headscarf is beneficial to me. Not only do I have the security that I am following a mandate set by God and thereby pleasing God, but I also experience great comforts in this life because of my coverage.


Contrary to what many think, I am not forced to wear it (I chose it for myself while still single, and as a convert I am not being forced by family to wear it), it is not an obstacle or a discomfort to me, and it does not in any way impair my opportunities or abilities.

I am an independent American woman with a high degree of personal freedom and fulfillment. The headscarf has never stood in my way of doing or achieving anything, but has instead made me more comfortable as I interact in society and my community.

Aaminah Hernandez



“I wear the hijab mainly because of my religion and also because I grew up wearing the hijab. In Islam, the hijab is not necessarily mandatory like you have to wear it. It is more like a choice either you wear it or don’t wear it depending on the person,” says Zeinab Ahmed, a hard-working Somali Muslim student at UMR.


"Who I Am"


Zeinab has been wearing the headscarf since kindergarten. Growing up she wore it only occasionally as she was “jealous of the other kids who would have their hair out,” she adds. “Now it’s a part of who I am.”


Another student at the UMR, Khadra Hussein, wears a scarf for personal and religious reasons. 


“When I say religion, it does not necessarily mean that I was forced to wear the headscarf,” she explains. “It means that I am following what any good Muslim would or should do by wearing the headscarf. 


“I am also wearing it for personal reasons such as modesty and protection,” she adds. “When I cover myself, I feel as if I am not asking for attention, and others treat me for who I am rather than my figure or my looks.



As a revert, I can appreciate that many new Muslim sisters don't wear hijab at first because of their circumstances. This is what happened in my case; I converted in November 2010 and kept my conversion a secret from my family which made wearing hijab very difficult. I understood that I needed to put God first, so I compromised to the best of my abilities. I used to leave the house without hijab and then run around the corner and put it on, the situation was not ideal, but it was what suited me at the time.


Another reason why I wore hijab is to be recognized as a Muslim, as I was proud of my religion. As soon as I wore my hijab, sisters who were Muslims but kept it secret also became public about their conversion and often come to me for help or questions about Islam.






By Tina Almoghalliq (Indiana (USA))

 I became Muslim in October of 1999 Alhamdulillah. When I converted to Islam, my family didn’t agree with my decision at all. I even provided them with literature about the fundamentals of Islam and what’s required of a Muslim. But that meant nothing to them. Like all Muslim women in western society, I experienced hardships because of idiocy and the severe lack of knowledge of Islam. One predicament was on September 12, 2001. I was driving to school and when I stopped at the traffic light, a man in a truck pulled up beside me and yelled profanities to me and said,”Go back to your own country!” Being an American woman… my instinct at that time was to answer him. So, I did. I said,”This is my country.” As soon as I said that… he threw an apple at me which hit my face and left a huge bruise on my face. I didn’t go to school as planned. I went to my mother’s house because of how upset I was. My mother of course persuaded me to take off my hijab. And so… I did.


I didn’t start wearing it again until September 11, 2012 (the date was purely coincidental by the way). I am happier with my hijab. It is apart of me and who I am. I am a MUSLIM woman and I am proud! Non muslim society believe that muslim women who wear hijab are oppressed. Where in fact, it is those same non muslims who oppress us by trying to force us not to wear hijab. I wear hijab anyway and endure being teased and made fun of by people (including my family) but I wear it to please Allah and Him alone. Alhamdulillah.

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Hijaab: Oppression?





Aliya and Nadia feel that the biggest hardship they face is others’ assumptions about their beliefs.


Both say that the most common misconception about Muslim women is that they are oppressed, and that their religion views them as inferior to men.


For instance, French President Nicolas Sarkozy referred to the burqa as “a sign of subservience… a sign of lowering,” earlier this year.


Nadia disagrees.


“I’ve never seen anybody interview a Muslim woman and ask her if she’s oppressed. Or if she feels oppressed for wearing what she wears, or if she’s oppressed in her home,” said Nadia.


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