The single most controversial issue facing young Muslim women everywhere is the ‘hijab’. The issue of the hijab is surrounded by many myths, misunderstandings and misconceptions, and no doubt this means everyone has an opinion on it.
For some the hijab is considered an act of faith, to others simply an inconvenience. So…what is it about the hijab that makes some smile and others frown and shake their heads with disapproval? How do you feel about the hijab and how much do you really know?
We interviewed a group of twenty 13-18 year olds (male and female) and found out how much they knew and what they really thought, and no doubt some were surprised to find out they really didn’t know much about this greatly misunderstood act of faith.
About the only thing we all agreed upon in the discussion room was that “Muslim women” wear the hijab. For a discussion that lasted an entire hour that really doesn’t say much for our so-called “multi-cultural” society. A sixteen year old female from Sydney says “If people want to look at Australia as being only for white Anglo Saxon Australians, then maybe you should look into it a little more closely and you’ll realise that we white Anglo Saxon “Australians” shouldn’t be here anyway, considering this land belongs to the founders and we should follow their customs and beliefs and not those of Europeans. This would mean that we’d be living as the Indigenous Australians did hunting and gathering and taking from the land only what we needed. The whites took the land unjustly from the Aboriginals anyway. So to put it plainly, we’ve got double standards and it’s not fair to those involved.”
Others had very different views and didn’t think that there was a place for Muslim women in today’s society. A 17 year old male from Sydney says “…I feel it is not appropriate in Australian society and culture (to wear the hijaab). If it is not necessary to wear it, why separate yourself from the community you’re trying to fit into….”
But my fellow Australians, if you remember, we do live in a multi-cultural society and we did decide to abolish the White Australia Policy sometime last century. Remember the Whitlam era. So in fact what you’re saying is that you should not openly express your religion because in this multi-cultural society, where one should be accepted regardless of their skin colour, religion or cultural background, they aren’t going to be because people don’t like the fact that they’re covering their body from undesired attention. I think it is a bit hard to exclude certain people from our society due to their religion and still call ourselves a multi-cultural society, don’t you?
|Although there was some negativity towards the hijab there were also some positive attitudes, and I recall a few people saying how they admired a girl who wore the hijab and saw her as being strong for doing so.|
Many also said that one of the reasons people disapproved of young women wearing the hijab was because they felt threatened by it, as this is alien to them: “…There are some people in today’s society that feel threatened by difference and this feeling makes them uncomfortable, and so they don’t want to ask questions and find out the truth, they just want to be as far from it (the hijab) as possible….”
This feeling that makes a person uncomfortable is creating a division in our society. Everyone that was asked agreed that the best way to re-unite parts of our community would be to educate them about the hijab and the Islamic religion in general.
The next step however wasn’t such an easy one. We found it was a lot harder to come up with ways to educate people in our society because there are so many people who don’t want to know. There are those arrogant and ignorant members of society who aren’t going to listen to you no matter what you say, and they’re only ever going to hear what they want to hear.
Many also agreed that the media could be deemed responsible for the creation and spreading of some of the misconceptions of the hijab. They thought that certain documentaries, current affair programmes or articles written about the hijab were misleading and this had a negative effect on the girls wearing the hijab, as people don’t understand the reasons behind it.
During our discussion it was suggested that often people saw the wearing of the hijab as a sign of oppression. They said that this was mainly due to the stereotypical images of Muslim women created by the media. However, I don’t want you to mistake what I am saying. Don’t think that I’m saying that every single Muslim woman out there is free. No, certainly not, there is no way I could say this, just like I couldn’t say that every single Christian, Catholic, Jewish or Buddhist woman is free.
The question then came up: ‘is your first impression of a Muslim girl wearing the hijab different to that of a girl not wearing the hijab?’ There were a wide variety of answers, but the one that was said with the most negativity is that a girl wearing the hijab is instantly recognised as being different from everyone else. This then allows people to sub-consciously label her as Muslim, not Black, or White, or Yellow, but Muslim.
But now think about that. Obviously the woman is proud to be a Muslim, for she is wearing the hijab. So maybe it’s not really such a negative thing. In fact for a girl wearing the hijab it’s certainly not a bad thing; it’s probably the biggest compliment you could give her.
Hopefully after reading this article you are now more open to the complexity of the world and the way we human beings think, but also the simplicity of the hijab. This hijab is a simple piece of cloth that a woman wears on her head to show how strong her faith and dedication to God is. Yet, this simple and often very beautiful piece of material would have the ability to cause so much controversy and misunderstanding. Still after all that’s happened, Muslim women continue to wear the hijab which shows that their faith is still strong and their dedication, even stronger. I think that’s saying something, don’t you?
By Mehal Krayem