Tradition or oppression?
June 15, 2007
In response to your June 12 article "A return to tradition: More Muslim women in metro Detroit defy stares and prejudice by wearing head scarves": Wearing of hijab is not a return to tradition, but an anachronism and a throwback to a time when religious differences were at their zenith and bred hatred, warfare, crusades, jihad and abuse of women, requiring them to be hidden from the sight of conquering hordes.
A nation's level of civilization is best measured by how safe its women feel in expressing themselves without fear of being attacked. The nations where the practice of covering women is most rampant are precisely the ones where women are treated like property and attacked for educating themselves, seeking financial independence, and finding a mate on their own by freely showing their full nature and intellect. Cultural diversity is all very fine, but the ones that negate enjoyment of life, encourage withdrawal from others, signal that you cannot make contact with me -- even look at me -- should not be encouraged. Such diversity is not expression of culture but of subtle hatred and undermines core American traditions.
I think that the head scarves worn by Islamic women are perfectly acceptable. They are considerably more appropriate in most circumstances, including an office, than the fashions displayed by our Paris Hilton wanna-bes who happen to subscribe to the "acceptable" religion.
I find that the scarves are usually very attractive, and I have yet to see a woman wearing a hijab look unkempt or improperly dressed.
Would men wear it?
I would be more inclined to regard the hijab as a statement of "religious awakening" and as "the flag of Islam" if the Muslim men were to start wearing it.
I doubt that any Muslim man would wear something to entirely cover his hair, ears, neck and part of his forehead for more than a few minutes, particularly in warm weather, despite being religious. And don't get me started about the abaya, the flowing black robe that covers everything but the face and hands.
Pearls, flowers or people?
So women are analogous to pearls that you have to keep hidden. At one Muslim meeting, it was said that that they are like flowers. What about women are persons who can stand up to men and don't have to hide behind their own skirts?
Connection to oppression
There is no comparison between a covered nun and Islamic hijab. No one living in a Christian community has to worry about armed gangs breaking into a family home to threaten, beat or kill them because their daughters haven't become nuns. Islamic women have to worry about that daily in the Islamic world, and even in European countries Islamic women are subject to "honor killings."
Dressing modestly is a worthy ideal in any religion, but the traditional Islamic hijab is not a command from God; it's a command from Islamic men trying to preserve what they perceive to be the value of a woman as property. If free Islamic women truly want to honor the ideal of modest dress yet break the thought process of women as property, then they'll innovate new fashions that are modest yet don't look like the traditional dress that is associated with female oppression.
Cast off the veils
Ladies, this is 21st Century America, not 7th Century Arabia. If anything, you should be casting off your robes and veils and standing proudly as free women in every sense of the word.
I don't believe women should flaunt themselves or dress provocatively, but to cover oneself completely from head to toe so men won't be tempted is ridiculous. Men need to be responsible for their thoughts and desires.
Not a simple decision
Though informative, your June 12 article omitted an important perspective. Just as many lifestyle factors, religious interpretations and personal reflections factor into the choice to wear hijab, they factor into the choice not to.
I have several Muslim friends who vary in styles of practicing Islam, just as my Christian friends do. As with Christians, heated debates can arise regarding religious interpretations, sometimes over hijab. Women who choose not to wear it are sometimes judged "less Muslim."
Reasons for this choice involve religious interpretation, beliefs about gender roles, and living life straddling two cultures. I can't make statements about the choice not to wear hijab, as I'm not Muslim. But I know many who would have had much to say had this article been balanced enough to ask. Instead, it reinforced judgmental concepts and oversimplified the decision.
Rachel Rennie Klingelhofer