Two years ago Donald Trump, a then presidential candidate, spat Islamophobic rhetoric that depicted the religion of Islam and Muslims as un-American. The consequences of his unfiltered comments touched the lives of Muslims all across the United States, and beyond.
Trump becoming the newly-elected president of the U.S. signaled the start of four turbulent, emotional, and grim years for Muslim Americans. The negative voices of Trump’s voting base became amplified as a result of Trump’s election, making it a scary and difficult time for Muslims to openly practice their faith. The threat of hate carried out through verbal or physical abuse loomed like a dark cloud, particularly for veiled Muslim women. The hijab (for outsiders looking in, because it’s a fact that other faiths cover their hair as well) certainly confirms a Muslims woman’s religious identity. That being said, these women are often subjected to hate speech, physical violence, and emotional trauma on the grounds that they display their religious beliefs openly via the hijab.
How devastating is it to know that young veiled Muslim women are being forced to choose between their identity and their safety?
For centuries, scholars have been interested the meaning of the hijab. Given that the religious understanding of the hijab has undergone multiple interpretations, the scholarship on defining the hijab has experienced rapid growth and attention. The most common interpretations are those rooted in political theory and feminist ideology. The former traces the political aspect of the hijab back to the colonial era. According to Rethinking Muslim Women and the Veil, “during the colonial era, Europeans, men and women, be they colonialists, travelers, artist, missionaries, scholars, politicians, and feminists, were of one mind that Muslim women were oppressed by their culture.”
However, feminist interpretation of the hijab reframes the veil as a source of liberation of Muslim women. Numerous studies have shown that Muslim women do not tie the hijab (no pun intended) with oppression and gender inequality. These dynamic perceptions framework the existing complex discourse that surrounds the hijab.
In modern times, the interpretations and fascination with the hijab has spanned beyond the scope of academia. Global politics in the modern western hemisphere has complicated the perspectives and views regarding representations of the Islamic faith in the public sphere. Media responses and coverage of this changing political landscape has made Muslims increasingly visible. Therefore, by wearing the hijab, Muslim women are at the forefront of this (for lack of better words) battle. In this light, Muslim women are being subjugated to the relentless inquiries and threats from society.
The heightened threat against veiled Muslim women has forcibly reshaped identities. In the past two years, many women felt compelled to take off their hijab in fear that their veil would draw unwanted attention. How devastating is it to know that young veiled Muslim women are being forced to choose between their identity and their safety? This choice is perhaps one of the most difficult choices in life; one that honestly should never have to be considered, let alone carried out.
Yet, it would be foolish to deny facts: It is dangerous to show you are Muslim.
What is important then, is to help guide young women who are unfortunately coming face to face with an unanticipated identity crisis. Here are three tips to deal with this, should you find yourself in this situation.
Focus on your gut instinct.
Sometimes all the noise around you, no matter how well intended, could overpower your own opinions. Take the time to understand what you want before you embark on this journey. No one can tell you the right decision for you. Whatever path you take will be your own. Even though the world you live in has singled you out for reasons you don’t even fully understand, take solace in knowing the choice is yours.
Remember safety is important, but so is your identity.
Wearing the hijab day in and day out has a way of weaving that fabric into the ensemble of your identity. Taking it off could possible cause you to feel you are losing yourself. At times it may seem that the very thing that is integral to your identity has been reframed and misunderstood to represent violence and pain — thus causing some hypocritical, misguided, and hateful individuals to believe that you are a threat to them or that violence and pain need to be inflicted on you in order to “liberate” or “save” you from yourself. That does not mean that you are a manifestation of this hate, or that you need “saving” — and you certainly don’t need Islamophobic verbal or physical abuse. During those moment of self-doubt, and dare I say self-pity, hang on to the reasons that you are wearing the hijab.
Surround yourself with a strong support system.
These trying times call for a whole group of your strongest, wisest, bad-ass ladies who will support whatever decision you make. Being alone, when you already feel singled out, could complicate the choices you make. By surrounding yourself with friends and loved ones, you open the doorway to hearing their perspectives. Inviting this level of support into your life could help you feel safe in this fear-driven world.
This. Is. Not. Easy. Feeling like you have to change who you are in order to stay safe is a delicate choice that could make all the difference for you, but it is not the end of who you are. The core of your being does not depend on anyone but you — even if, sadly, you have to remove your hijab out to fear, you are still the same you. I say this in hopes that you read and be reassured that whatever choice you make, you will not be lost. Thankfully, no human, no law, no nation can take your essence!