Response to a Christian Sister

This morning, I awoke to quite a few emails from readers, especially concerning the hijab. I’ve decided to respond to the following email I received because, well, it was the least harsh, and it contains a number of assumptions Americans have of the hijab. The name and email of the sender are hidden out of courtesy.

The Hijab isn’t a fashion statement, the way I see it. It is an article of your faith. By wearing it you set yourself apart from the rest of the American community.

America has always been a melting pot. Each of us relinquishes a part of ourselves from where we came from.

Suppose you’re from Germany and wear a dirndl, or an Austrian and you wear lederhosen (imagine the Governor of California wearing them). We become Americans. Of course he would be stared at if he did that. So, as for being stared at, you are asking to be stared at by wearing the Hijab in any country where it is not customary for women to wear such attire. The other questions are ignorance. Do you explain to them why you wear the hijab or do you merely treat them as ignorant beings?

America believes in your right to practice your religion. America is predominantly Christian. The Christian Bible admonishes us not to make a show of our religion. So, your wearing your religious dress as everyday attire places you in contrast to the values of the society in which you are currently living. Why are you surprised if you meet with resentment? If an American woman goes to your country of origin, then she is required to wear head covering; she is required to adhere to the laws of male/female or Muslim/non-Muslim segregation. And, she adheres to them. Why can’t you do likewise?

The Jews for centuries have set themselves apart. The result has been a catastrophe throughout history. In America, they have assimilated and live free; they are respected members of the community. Jewish young men who wish to cover their heads have opted for wearing baseball caps; they obey their god, but they do not thumb their noses at the community in which they live.

I have a great deal of trouble with Christians who flout their religion with their speech. It shuts down communication. I have the same trouble with women wearing the hajib. I do not feel I can communicate with them, because they are telling me advance through their dress that they have an attitude which cuts me off as a non-Muslim.

If you understand all of the above, as your wearing of the hijab leads non-wearers to assume, then you should not be surprised in America why you are resented by many people.

P.S. I have the same difficulties with people who profess their political parties. We were taught as children that it is rude and dangerous to discuss religion and politics in public.

The hijab isn’t a fashion statement. It is an article of our faith. The sole reason why we choose to wear the hijab is because Allah (SWT) asked us to. We wear it because we believe that women are valuable for much more than their bodies or appearances. We choose to wear the hijab because it forces people to see our minds rather than the way we look. Unfortunately, there are some people who choose to only see the hijab.

America is the melting pot of the world, not because people have “relinquished a part” of themselves when they came here, but because they maintained adherence to their religion and pride for their culture. Being an American doesn’t mean giving something up; it means gaining something, because you’re part of a beautiful spectrum of faiths and backgrounds. The attribute which distinguishes our nation from any other in the world is its freedom. Purging the differences that make up our country is getting rid of what makes America so special and promising. Why must a person “assimilate” to be considered an American? I was born here, have lived here my entire life, and chose to wear the hijab when I was thirteen years old after visiting a Muslim country and having the chance to learn what it represents. I don’t feel any less American; in fact, I feel more patriotic because I’m practicing my right to free exercise, which was granted to me by the Constitution I believe in. Plus, there are plenty of Americans formerly of different faiths who chose to study about Islam, converted, and decided to wear the hijab on their own.

You’re right – there will always be people who are ignorant. Personally, I try to clear misconceptions about my religion every chance I get. But, look at it this way – do you ask us why we wear the hijab, or do you merely treat us like second-class citizens?

You are a Christian, but you are not living in a Christian country. This is a country of Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, Sikhs, and people of countless other religions. You don’t have to wear the hijab just because I believe you should, and I don’t have to take off the hijab just because you believe I should. Practicing our religion doesn’t place us at a contrast with American values, it places us in complete accord with them, because although our country is predominantly Christian it respects all faiths and has never sacrificed the rights of the minority for the sake of the majority. If we are met with resentment, it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with us practicing our religion – it means there’s something wrong with our society if it can’t tolerate differences amongst its people.

When a Christian woman visits a Muslim country, she doesn’t have to cover her hair. Muslim countries are also homes for many Christians, Jews, and people of other faiths, none of whom are forced to wear a hijab solely because they’re in a predominantly Muslim country. Actually, there are even plenty of Muslims who choose not to wear the hijab.

Besides, though the practice of covering one’s hair is commonly attributed to Muslims, it is practiced in numerous cultures and religions, including Christianity. Everyday we see nuns who respectfully cover themselves from head to toe, and Saint Mary is covering her hair in every image we see of her. This practice is also common amongst Orthodox Jews, and is a custom in many Asian countries.

Jews have always been devoted to their religion even in the face of the strongest adversity. Throughout history, that has met with “catastrophe” not because they were bold enough to hold their own beliefs, but because they were unfortunate enough to have been confronted with people like Hitler who show no tolerance or remorse for people different than them. Even in America, they have not “assimilated” – we still see Jewish men wearing yarmulkes, Jewish women covering their hair, and some Jews even choosing to wear black fedoras. They have not relinquished their religion and are still very active and valuable members in our society.

You say that when you see a woman wearing the hijab, you assume she wouldn’t be open to communicating with you. Before she even speaks a word, you think she has “an attitude which cuts [you] off as a non-Muslim.” As you can see on this website, our Muslim sisters are very enthusiastic about explaining to people what our religion is really about; we all just want the opportunity to be heard.

The root of resentment towards the hijab, or Islam, or any religion in general, is and always will be ignorance. If we all opened our hearts and minds to learning about each other, our beliefs, and our practices, then the darkness of hatred will inevitably be lit by knowledge. I can only hope for more interaction and dialogue between us, just like this email, so we can create more opportunities to teach each other and chip away at the prejudices that we unknowingly hold within ourselves. Thank you for starting the conversation.