It is a fundamental feminist conviction for a woman to have control over her own body, and a fundamental American one to protect the freedoms of others, including the freedom of religion. A Muslim woman’s choice to wear a scarf on her head as a way to practice her faith is no exception to either principle.
And yet Muslim women are still targets of confusion, misperception, and downright bigotry for this very simple choice of clothing. The latest episode of this is the infection of The Daily Illini with smug op-eds attacking the headscarf. It smacks of downright bigotry, and any pejorative judgment on an entire group of people or mainstream practice of faith should be seen as nothing less.
My own conviction in wearing the headscarf remains unwavering despite the stares, bogus airport pat-downs, intrusive queries attempting to prove I’m foreign and individuals pontificating absurd stereotypes at me. The headscarf is worn by me and millions of Muslim women as a cloth of dignity, an extension of modesty and a sign of God consciousness. It is a piece of clothing akin to traditions for both men and women in Judaism, Christianity and numerous other faiths that outwardly signify a heightened inner sense of humbleness and consciousness of God.
Such outwards signs are firmly grounded in each of the world’s great faiths, whether it is a Catholic habit or collar, a Jewish tichel or yarmulke, a Sikh turban, a Buddhist robe or a Muslim kufi, among the clothing of other faiths as well. And many devout practitioners of these faiths also wear no such items with no less sense of inner commitment, as is their right.
Consider Dr. King dressed to preach, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus in a business suit, Mohandus Ghanhi in a loincloth, Mother Theresa in a habit or the Dalai Lama in a robe. No matter what they wore, no matter their gender, color or faith, all stand as giants in history for their service to humanity.
Enough of the intellectually bankrupt, ahistorical attempts to paint Muslims or people of any other faith as foreign, other or inferior. Telling a woman that she cannot choose what she wears on her head is oppressive. And this Muslim woman, and millions the world over, deserve better.
In the same vein as Voltaire, whose searing conviction in free choice and liberty informed the founding of America, I would state emphatically: I may disagree with what you choose to wear, but I would defend to the death your right to wear it.
Reem Rahman is on the advisory board of CAIR-UIUC, a chapter of the largest Muslim Civil Rights and Advocacy Group in the nation.