To veil or not to veil

On the other hand, Samar decided to remove her hijab after she was beaten last week. She says she made this decision for her daughter. “The last thing I want is for my daughter to witness me receiving any more verbal or physical abuse just because of my religion or my choice of clothing,” she explains, adding, “That would affect my daughter, and as a responsible mother I can’t allow that to happen.”

The hijab is a controversial topic whether we like it or not. As a Turkish-American, for me writing about hijab issues is not new, but this is the first time in 20 years I felt the urge to write an entire piece about the hijab in the United States. Unfortunately, the plain truth is I am not talking about only social injustice to veiled woman but also more importantly the life-threatening danger they face in their everyday lives.

Actually, some research has shown that after 9/11 many veiled women took off their hijabs because they became an open target for Islamophobes. Ironically, other research proved some American Muslim women became more pious and chose to wear the hijab after 9/11. Actually, the situation has recently become worse, especially since the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris last January. As you know, when three young people were murdered in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in February, it was crystal clear that they were Muslim and the two sisters’ hijabs were a clear marker of their Muslim identity. Many Americans felt those young people were the victims of hate crime. However, after the Paris attack last month the issue has become even more key among American Muslims because of the increasing number of attacks.

American Muslims who have female relatives who wear the hijab agree that headscarved women are at risk when they step out of their homes in a religiously intolerant environment. “When my wife arrived from Indonesia we received glares and dirty looks, even in D.C., of all places! I had never before in my life experienced this on the same frequency as I do now. That is why they say it is very difficult to be a veiled Muslim woman in the US,” says Ruben, an American Muslim convert. Umar thinks in the tense atmosphere a hijab is very different than the norm and the circumstances should be evaluated carefully. “Protecting lives is more important than risking them,” he says, persistently recommending that his wife take off her hijab.

American Muslim scholars agree that in the current situation Islamic law gives headscarved American Muslims the option to remove their hijabs if their safety is under threat. Regardless, most women believe the question is not about whether Islamic law permits it for necessity and prefer to deliberate more before making a decision. An African-American Muslim colleague told me she can easily take off her hijab in order not be oppressed but cannot change the color of her skin so why should she dishonor her religious identity just because it is convenient. It is very obvious that if you chose to wear the hijab, it becomes a very significant part of your identity. It also brings an empowerment to the sisterhood. Many veiled women are keeping their hijabs on not only to defend their honor but also to support the millions of other women who are making the same choice. This is not meant to be disrespectful to those who prefer to remove their hijabs, but ultimately it is up to everyone to evaluate and make the right decision for themselves.

Interestingly, while doing my research I realized there is also remarkable discouragement of veiled Muslim women from uncovered Muslims. They defend that Islam is just a part of their culture and is incompatible with modern life so it is not necessary to veil. On the other hand, for converts or second-generation Muslims who choose to wear the hijab, the hijab is untouchable because it has a very important mission for them in representing their core identity. No question, attire has a crucial role when it comes to dealing with society and its issues. In spite of the rise of Muslims in the American landscape, Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab often face greater challenges whether they are at school, work or outside shopping when compared to their male counterparts. Their choice of dress “marks” them and makes them stand out from others. Today in the US not only immigrant Muslim women wear the hijab widely but also the majority of second-generation young American Muslims and converts choose to wear it not because they are forced to but because they have identified themselves with it to preserve and demonstrate their faith through it. The hijab has somehow become a flag, a symbol, a source of such demonstration. So they feel obligated to keep maintaining and protecting their religious identity.

Under these circumstances, since Islamic law has given Muslim women options, the choice should be personal. Fear cannot be imposed. Every individual has their own level of fear and risk. It is nonsensical to discuss if women should remove their hijabs or not. Let women freely decide what to do and respect the outcome.