*All opinions expressed by the writer are current and do not reflect the views of Muslimi or their respective parent company.*
The hijab is the subject of many conversations worldwide as governments have used it as a tool to enforce their own ideologies and beliefs. Whether it’s the right to wear the hijab or refuse it, the world divides into two different pillars. The neutrality on the freedom of choice is undermined, making the issue of hijab extremely sensitive to speak on.
I did not grow up Muslim, so I did not know much about the hijab and never even saw anyone in a hijab until college. One of the driving forces behind my curiosity about Islam was the hatred of the hijab. People’s hate for hijab and Muslims in general only made me want to learn more about them.
In college, I became friends with a Saudi Arabian woman who changed my life. Living in small towns with little to no diversity made people like my friend stand out, and I watched as she got dirty looks from strangers when we would go out together. I could not believe people would judge people without knowing them. Eventually, I began studying the hijab and Islam. This led me to accept Islam and become Muslim. I knew I wanted to be visibly Muslim, and I chose to wear the hijab. It was my personal decision, and to this day, I am very proud of my choice to wear the hijab.
Strangers often ask about my journey to Islam, and the next question is always, “how did your family react?” Some of my family were more accepting in the beginning than others. I tell people that being Muslim and being visibly Muslim are two different things. After I converted, I would take my hijab off when I went to see my family because I was not ready to tell everyone. I wanted them to see me as Muslim without knowing I was. I hoped they would later understand that although my religion had changed, I was still the same person they knew.
After telling all my family, I put my hijab on in front of them and kept it on. They were always ready to defend me when we went out, although some family members struggled longer with my choices. Wearing the hijab is a deeply personal choice, and I felt safe and protected in my hijab.
For the past three years, I have watched France, Austria, India, and other countries try to take the right to wear hijab away. Anti-hijab protestors claim that more women are being oppressed by being forced to wear hijabs, but only two countries, Iran and Afghanistan, enforce it. There are many unfortunate stories about women beaten and even killed for removing their hijabs or, in the case of Mahsa Amini, wearing it “incorrectly.” There are also stories about women beaten by their own families for putting the hijab on. The two pillars of hijab and anti-hijab are dominated mainly by a patriarchal system restricting women’s right to choose. This is not only a Muslim issue but an issue of secularism.
When I speak to people and give my perspective on women’s right of choice, I am often challenged by the two sides of the extreme with the idea that, according to the Quran, the hijab is mandatory. Yes, while it is compulsory, it is still a choice. No one should force a woman to put the hijab on or take it off. It is a sign of modesty and faith worn by women who choose to do so.
The Quran states, “let there be no compulsion in religion” (Quran 2:256). This tells us that no one can force another to do anything in Islam. You cannot force a man or woman to marry someone, you cannot force someone to convert to Islam, and you cannot force a woman to wear a hijab.
Society wants to argue about oppression and women’s rights, especially Muslim women. The truth is, in Islam, people have many rights and freedoms. As people of society, we are often subjected to government control–the actual oppression. Our bodies have been and probably constantly will be policed by those who think they know what we want or need by the two pillars of extremism. This creates a limited opportunity for free speech and mobility by the third pillar of neutrality, which firmly believes in women’s right to choose or refuse to wear the hijab.
Forcing anything upon people will drive them away from the matter and create animosity. The death of Mahsa Amini in Iran was a tragic example of that. Because of forced doctrines and hunger for power, the lines of culture and religion blur so much that the impact on Islam is negative.
In an ideal secular world, every person has a right to choose without others imposing their opinions. The most important thing is that the hijab should be worn out of conviction and not because of coercion. Wearing the hijab is an act of worship to God (Allah). When you force someone to wear it, it is no longer an act of worship.
Leave women alone and let them choose what they want to do with their bodies.