Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Muslim women uncover myths about the hijab: CNN

Muslim women uncover myths about the hijab
By John Blake, CNN, August 12, 2009

(CNN) -- Rowaida Abdelaziz doesn't want your pity.

Rowaida Abdelaziz says wearing the hijab sometimes interferes with usual U.S. teenager activities, but that it's worth it to her faith.

She doesn't want your frosty public stares; the whispers behind her back; the lament that she's been degraded by her father.

What the Muslim high school senior wants you to understand is that she doesn't wear the hijab, the head scarf worn by Muslim women, because she is submissive.

"It represents beauty to me," says Abdelaziz, the 17-year-old daughter of two Egyptian parents living in Old Bridge, New Jersey.

"My mom says a girl is like a jewel," Abdelaziz says. "When you have something precious, you usually hide it. You want to make sure you keep it safe until that treasure is ready to be found."

The nation has heard plenty of debate over racial profiling. But there's a form of religious profiling that some young Muslim women in America say they endure whenever they voluntarily wear the hijab.

The hijab, also known as the veil, is the headscarf worn by Muslim women around the globe. It's a simple piece of cloth, but it can place young Muslim women in Western countries in difficult situations.

Some hijab-wearers say that strangers treat them as if they're terrorists. Others ask them if they're a nun -- or even allergic to the sun. In some cases, their worst critics are not Americans, but fellow Muslim Americans.

The pressure on Muslim teenagers in the U.S. who wear the hijab may be even more acute. Their challenge: How do I fit in when I wear something that makes me stand out?

Randa Abdel-Fattah, who has written two novels about this question, says wearing the hijab can "exhaust" some young Muslim women in the West.

"You can sometimes feel like you're in a zoo: locked in the cage of other people's stereotypes, prejudices and judgments, on parade to be analyzed, deconstructed and reconstructed," says Abdel-Fattah, a Muslim who has Palestinian and Egyptian parents but was born in Australia.

Abdel-Fattah says people should not assume that Muslim women who wear the hijab are being controlled by men. She, too, struggled with the choice of wearing a hijab when she was a teenager.

"When it comes to the hijab -- why to wear it, whether to wear it, how to wear it -- there is theology and then there is practice and there is huge diversity in both," says Abdel-Fattah, author of "Does My Head Look Big in This?"

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Women, Islam, and Hijab - Emory University
Women and gender in Islam By Leila Ahmed - Google books