The Fear of Hijab: Nothing strikes
fear in the Western psyche like a piece of cloth on a woman's head
by Naheed Mustafa
In September 1994, 13-year-old Emilie Ouimet was sent home from Montreal
(Quebec, Canada)’s Louis Riel High School because her Hijab did not conform to
the school's dress code.
Two months later, a second Quebec girl, 15-year-old Dania Baali, was told
she would have to transfer to another school from College Regina Assumpta if
she wanted to observe Hijab.
It is incredible to know nothing strikes fear in the hearts of Western man
like a piece of cloth on a woman's head.
The Hijab is Perceived As A Radical Statement
To some, she is making a radical statement about her violent political
To others, she is the symbol of absolute subjugation and is in dire need of
For them, having such women as part of the North American landscape is
She is “the veiled woman,” belonging in a foreign place, an actor on an
We are seen as poisoning this “free and democratic” culture with our “weak
and submissive ways.”
Thus, various school boards in Quebec have decided that rooting out the
unwanted influence at the earliest point possible is the best way to avoid
contaminating their haute culture.
The Fear of Hijab is Legitimate
I have often wondered why a woman in Hijab participating freely in this
society is perceived as so threatening.
I have always thought that fear of such women was unfounded. After all, her
wearing Hijab has nothing to do with anyone else-it only has to do with her
commitment to Allah. But now I realize the fear is legitimate.
Muslim women are a threat.
Hijab Sends a Message of Acceptance and Rejection
A woman who covers herself out of the love of Allah is not just stating
something about what she accepts but she is also saying something about what
Any woman who refuses to play the gender games that are so basic to all
societies is going to be pushed out.
Women have always been expected to play some kind of role in every society.
In North America, a great part of this role revolves around sex and the aura
of sexuality. Any relationship involving men and women has some kind of sexual
When a woman covers herself she is rejecting that role, she is saying sex
will have nothing to do with her public life. It is the fact that she has taken
out of the discussion her physical self that people find so upsetting.
A Woman in Hijab : More than "Just a Woman"
A female doctor, writer, electrician or plumber may be appreciated in the
work environment for her skill, but is still basically seen as “just a woman.”
But put her in Hijab so that what makes her a woman cannot be appraised and
all of a sudden you are dealing with a person.
It is a radical idea not liked by many.
She is Rejecting The Politics of Gender
This person is not only rejecting preset gender roles but also the
associated politics of gender.
She is therefore rejecting the basic social structure which also means she
is seen to be rejecting the political system and its tied economic setup.
So educators in Quebec should feel threatened. Emilie and Dania are more
than just two girls whose headgear does not conform to school dress code. They
are representatives of something bigger, of a different way of life and of
It took me some time to come to this conclusion.
Hijab : An Act of Faith
I had always seen Hijab as a private matter between myself and Allah.
I chose to wear Hijab because I felt my Iman (faith) had to be translated
into action and if Allah asks me to cover, then I should.
If I could not act out my faith then what was the point of saying I had any
But, unfortunately, those around me did not see my wearing Hijab as a
personal act of worship.
Rather, they saw it as a personal attack on them. I wore Hijab and that
automatically meant I disapproved of everything they did.
I found the hostility difficult to understand. Just because my head was
covered, people were unable to relate to me.
I had a newfound freedom and a greater sense of confidence in myself as a
Muslim but most others saw me as a throwback.
Women's Progress Still Tied To Appreance
Progressiveness for women is unfortunately still defined by how much they
are willing to reveal.
The more power women seem to gain, the more compelled they are to take off
This paradox is at the root of the confusion faced by North American women.
They are supposed to be strong, independent and assertive yet, at the same
time, they are made slaves to an ideal physical image which cannot be achieved
by the vast majority of women. This duality is a marketable commodity.
Take the fashion industry for example; the latest from Paris says “glamor”
is the hottest look of the season with its glossy lipsticks, slip dresses, and
Women object saying that fashion designers are expecting them to dress like
prostitutes at the office.
They loathe the fact that the female body is used for selling everything
from cosmetics to clothing to cars.
Yet when Muslim women cover themselves up and protest the very same thing,
they are conversely regarded as being oppressed.
Terminal Confusion About Women's Freedom
The confusion is terminal. While some fight against what they see as
objectifying women, others feel the ideal way to ultimate freedom for women is
the right to got barechested in public.
The rationale seems to be that once our bodies are desexualized then it will
be safer for us to go out on the streets.
We just have to give up our dignity, our modesty and our privacy.
And it is in the midst of all this confusion that women in Hijab have
arrived. Their unwillingness to play into the hands of either side has earned
Hijab has become a Political Statement
Hijab is fundamentally part of worship but, right or wrong, it has become a
political statement as well.
We may only be expressing our commitment to our Deen (religion) but Hijab is
seen to symbolize a rejection of the West.
The Mistake of the Secularists
This perceived rejection has affected liberal secularists so profoundly that
they are willing to push aside their own basic principle of individual freedom
to stave of the “oppressive” influences of Islam.
It would be a wise person indeed who would realize that it is the very
culture secularists are trying to preserve that has led people to search for
And for those who are truthful to themselves, they will see that Emilie and
Dania have it figured out.