It wasn’t too long ago, during the social revolution of the Sixties, that many elders in the West criticized the changing fashion trends of their younger generation as being “risqué” and indecent. Mothers taught their daughters to be modest, and to make sure that a man respects them for the right reasons, such as their intellect.
For the most part, anyone can look at Western civilization today and know that the parents of yesteryear lost that struggle. After all, there weren’t many miniskirts and string bikini’s to be seen in the Fifties as there are today. In fact, in an ironic example of how far we’ve come from those ideals, many Muslim American women living in North Jersey have actually been discriminated against for wearing the hijab (the Muslim head scarf).
“What we see is that women who wear the hijab are on the front lines of Islam, because they are easily identifiable,” said Afsheen Shamsi of the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “Just last week, we received a complaint from a woman who was told she could not wear the hijab at her job. She works for an airline, and was told that the hijab is not part of the airline uniform. They are taking several weeks to authorize her hijab while she waits without pay.”
According to Shamsi, the most severe case of discrimination involved a Muslim woman who was assaulted on the street because she was identified by the hijab as Muslim. The issue has sparked a good deal of debate in North Jersey, where the concentration of Muslim women wearing the hijab is the largest in the state.
But don’t nuns wear a kind of hijab, too?
A matter of choice
Contrary to the misperception of many in the West, the vast majority of Muslim women, like Catholic nuns, do not wear the hijab, but those who wear it do so out of choice. It is, therefore, not a symbol of subjugation.
“God has commanded us to be modest, so Muslim women believe that observing hijab is one way of being modest,” said Shamsi. “Some women consider it to be liberating in the sense that they are judged for who they are, not what they look like.”
The ideals of free religious expression, choice and the wish to be judged on the content of one’s character rather than beauty are at the heart of what being American is all about. So why do so many people have such a big problem with it?