During this time of widespread Islamophobia, when the dehumanization of Muslims has become justifiable, one of the most important things to do is to diversify the narrative of Muslims. We must convey that individuality is present in Islam, just like it is in any other religion. In order to do this, a Muslim should not separate his or herself from Islam, but should rather understand that there isn’t a single version of a Muslim.
Here are some microaggressions that imply stereotypes regarding Muslim women:
Are you bald under your hijab?
Of course there is nothing wrong with being bald, let alone having short hair underneath a hijab. But why is there an assumption that covering oneself means they are lacking something? If I’m wearing a hoodie, does that mean I don’t have hair? If I wear a scarf to keep my mouth warm, does that I mean I have no mouth? If I wear sunglasses, does that mean I have no eyes? No? Alright then. There isn’t much mystery with a hijab. I’m just covering my head.
So is your marriage going to be arranged?
By asking this, there is an assumption that there is no agency in a Muslim woman’s decision, let alone in a decision such as marriage. This suggests that in Islam, there is no such thing as making your own decisions and feeds into the stereotype that Muslims are oppressed, which serves as justification for Islamophobia. Arranged marriage is cultural, not religious, and the answer to that question varies based on an individual’s choice.
Is your husband old?
Although seemingly harmless, this statement enforces the stereotype that child marriages are condoned by Muslims, when that is far from the case. The implication of a large age gap in a marriage also implies that there is a power dynamic in which the woman is completely submissive to her husband because of his age.
Are you Middle Eastern?
Islam isn’t limited to one culture or geographical location. In fact, the country with the largest population of Muslims isn’t in the Middle East, but in Southeast Asia (Indonesia). With 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, Islam is diversified, so it’s not fair to assume a Muslim is Middle Eastern. This is also another attempt to enforce a single image of what a Muslim looks like.
Did your dad make you wear that hijab? I think he forced it on you.
The problem with this statement is that you’re assuming a Muslim woman has no agency when it comes to wearing the hijab. It forces a binary in which a woman who doesn’t wear a hijab is liberated, while a woman with a hijab is oppressed and is subordinate to the male figures dominating her life. The reality is that the way a woman dresses is not an indicator of how independent she is.
For Ramadan, do you ever like, sneak an Oreo?
Ramadan is important, not only because it is a religious requirement, but because it teaches patience, selflessness and improves one’s character. A Muslim is not going to sacrifice all of that just for a quick snack and even if they do, they’re human. We make mistakes. There shouldn’t be an expectation or praise for breaking the rules during a religious holy month.
You don’t wear the hijab. You’re not really Muslim.
A Muslim woman’s validity of her identity isn’t based on your narrow view of how a Muslim woman should look. Wearing a hijab is a woman’s choice and her beliefs, morals and character are greater indicators of whether or not she is Muslim than how she dresses. Therefore, it isn’t your place to determine someone else’s relationship with Allah.
Do you shower in your hijab?
The hijab is only mandatory to be worn in front of non-mahrams. This means that it is not meant to be worn in the shower and just like with any other article of clothing, it is taken off.
Wow, you don’t even look Muslim!
This. Is. Not. A. Compliment. Not only because it goes back to the fact that there isn’t a single version of a Muslim, but because there is nothing praise-worthy about not looking enough like your own identity because you don’t fit someone’s stereotypical expectation of your community.
You’re not really allowed to say how you feel because Muslim women are oppressed, right?
Similar to the hijab statement, the notion that Muslim women are oppressed doesn’t empower them but instead removes their right to advocate for themselves as a Muslim and a woman. Rather than allowing them to speak, you assume they are oppressed, and therefore speak over them regarding their own experiences. Stop speaking for Muslim women, and let them speak for themselves.
Don’t you feel like you’re missing out on bacon, though?
Here’s the thing: if someone has grown up without eating something, they’re not going to feel like they’re missing out on it. Similar to growing up without eating frogs, snails, or any other foods that you may not have grown up eating, there’s not much temptation in eating it if you’ve never experienced eating it.
Even with good intentions and despite how small these actions are, microaggressions enforce stereotypes that Muslim women are tired of hearing. In a time where these assumptions have been used as justification for violence toward us and the silencing of our narratives, now is the time to unlearn and relearn your perception of what Islam is. Don’t treat Muslim women based on what you think we are, and just listen.