Two American Muslim seniors at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. presented an eloquent defense of why Muslim women should wear a headscarf. Hafsa Kanjwai and Khadijeh Zarafshar, defend wearing of the headscarf on several grounds. They charge the West has distorted reasons why Muslim women wear one and connect the Hijab to some sort of male oppression of women. “In modern times, the veil has become an emotionally charged symbol of the struggle between tradition and modernity, betwen Islam and the West. It has arguably served as a partial political justification for certain policies spearheaded by the United States to ‘liberate Muslim women’ in Afghanistan or Iraq. We, as Ameican Muslim women, simply by living our dual identity, demand a re-evaluation of this externally imposed dichotomy. As Americans, it is not our place to speak on behalf of women of other nations.”
They argue there is not such thing as “Muslim women” since that expression attempts to create an image of a monolithic entity. They argue reasons for wearing the Hijab arise from varied reasons. “Many assume that a covered woman is a repressed woman, forced by some male authority figure to dress a certain way. In reality it is this profoundly prejudiced projection of ignorance onto our beliefs that is constraining, insulting, and, in a twisted, hypocritical gesture of concern, serves only to undermine our autonomy and intelligence.” They point out wearing a Hijab is not a pillar of the Muslim religion but is connected to the value of modesty.
The two seniors believe Muslim women who wear the headscarf do so from a “sincere conviction– women believe it is obligatory to the teachings of Islam and reference the Quranic verse in which women are instructed ‘not to display their charms(in public) beyond what may be apparent thereof, let them draw their head-coverings over their bosoms.” The headcovering is an attempt to set oneself apart from societal demands for blatant public sexuality and demands for being physically attractive.
Those who refuse to wear one believe it is merely a cultural tradition having no connection to religion and it does not reflect “their personallevel of spirituality or religious practice. There is a somewhat prevalent perception that women who wear the headscrarf must abide by a certain standard of behavior, this view often times deters women from covering their hair.” They note some have concluded wearing a Hijab attracts more attention which thus goes against the original reason for wearing one.
“At the end of the day, why a woman wears the headscarf is her personal decision. It is important that those looking at the headscarf from outside the tradition keep an open mind– open enough to let the true reason and motivations of Muslim women in. To do anything less is a profound injustice.”
We believe these two Muslim women have presented a powerful case both for wearing or not wearing a headscarf. However, we suggest they have ignored why there is such a passionate debate in Turkey over the issue. For example, thirty years ago, few Egyptian females in college wore a hijab, but today it is rampant on college campuses. Religious figures exerted pressure to force the change. Turkish women, who do not wear a hijab fear the same thing will occur in their universities if the ban against wearing them is ended. Ms. Kanjwai and Ms. Zarafshar present a powerful case for being objective, but they ignore, in the reality of many Muslim nations, women lack the right NOT to wear a headscarf. In presenting the issues as one of West vs the Muslim world, they ignore it is also secular minded Muslims who are being persecuted for attempting to refuse wearing a head covering that is not consistent with their Muslim beliefs.