I often forget how important image is to some people — and then it came creeping back to me today. I was told not to wear black to work because as a Muslim woman it can look “too extreme.”
When a non-Muslim wears black it’s seen as smart, sleek and stylish, but when a Muslim does the same it suddenly becomes a statement of extremism.
Image sets the tone of how people recognize or identify us in society, but beyond that, image also dictates the way people will treat us based on our external appearances. Image plays a central role in our daily interactions with one another.
There still seems to be so much stigma around what Muslim women choose to wear, and I am really sick and tired of having people feel it is necessary to dictate our fashion choices. This kind of attitude is still prevalent in both Muslim and non-Muslim communities. But if we break it down, it becomes very simple. If as a Muslim woman, I choose to go out wearing a headscarf with an abaya or dress, whether it is black or not, it should not make me look any more or any less menacing than a woman who is wearing trousers with a shirt.
By judging people and boxing them into categories at first glance, we immediately disregard their personalities. We need to strip away from these preconceptions that define us in materialistic ways. We need to strip away all the labels and barriers that society has shaped as the norm, in order to create a society where image does not become the dominant feature that defines us. Rather, we should be defined by our actions and speech.
If we don’t challenge the mainstream misconceptions and stereotypes in the media and society, we fall into normalizing the status quo ourselves. Every culture, religion and tradition should be respected and if someone wishes to dress a certain way they should be able to do so, without fear of being discriminated against.
Sadly, even within the Muslim community, we have become so scared of what people will think of us, and fail to respect the diversity amongst us. We have a problem with image and it needs to changed. To be clear, it is not obligatory for a Muslim woman to wear black, but if I choose to wear it, I should not be labeled as more extreme for doing so.
Written by Sara Chaudhry