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Hijabed Like Me
A Non Muslim Woman Experiments with Hijab
by Kathy Chin

I walked down the street in my long white dress and inch-long, black hair one afternoon, and truck drivers whistled and shouted obscenities at me.

I felt defeated. I had just stepped out of a hair salon. I had cut my hair short, telling the hairdresser to trim it as she would a guy's.

I sat numbly as my hairdresser skillfully sheared into my shoulder-length hair with her scissors, asking me with every inch she cut off if I was freaking out yet. I wasn't freaking out, but I felt self-mutilated.

I WAS OBLITERATING MY FEMININITY

It wasn't just another haircut. It meant so much more. I was trying to appear androgynous by cutting my hair. I wanted to obliterate by femininity.

Yet that did not prevent some men from treating me as a sex object. I was mistaken.

It was not my femininity that was problematic, but my sexuality, or rather the sexuality that some men had ascribed to me based on my biological sex.

They reacted to me as they saw me and not as I truly am.

Why should it even matter how they see me, as long as I know who I am? But it does.

I believe that men who see women as only sexual beings often commit violence against them, such as rape and battery.

Sexual abuse and assault are not only my fears, but my reality.

I was molested and raped. My experiences with men who violated me have made me angry and frustrated.

How do I stop the violence? How do I prevent men from seeing me as an object rather than a female? How do I stop them from equating the two? How do I proceed with life after experiencing what others only dread?
The experiences have left me with questions about my identity.

Am I just another Chinese-American female? I used to think that I have to arrive at a conclusion about who I am, but now I realize that my identity is constantly evolving.

MY EXPERIENCE OF BEING “HIJABED”

One experience that was particularly educational was when I “dressed up” as a Muslim woman for a drive along Crenshaw Boulevard with three Muslim men as part of a newsmagazine project.

I wore a white, long-sleeved cotton shirt, jeans, tennis shoes, and a flowery silk scarf that covered my head, which I borrowed from a Muslim woman.

Not only did I look the part, I believed I felt the part. Of course, I wouldn't really know what it feels like to be Hijabed-I coined this word for the lack of a better term-everyday, because I was not raised with Islamic teachings.

However, people perceived me as a Muslim woman and did not treat me as a sexual being by making cruel remarks.

I noticed that men's eyes did not glide over my body as has happened when I wasn't Hijabed. I was fully clothed, exposing only my face.

I remembered walking into an Islamic center and an African-American gentleman inside addressed me as “sister”, and asked where I came from. I told him I was originally from China. That didn't seem to matter.

There was a sense of closeness between us because he assumed I was Muslim. I didn't know how to break the news to him because I wasn't sure if I was or not.

I walked into the store that sold African jewelry and furniture and another gentleman asked me as I was walking out if I was Muslim. I looked at him and smiled, not knowing how to respond. I chose not to answer.

BEING HIJABED CHANGED OTHERS' PERCEPTION OF ME

Outside the store, I asked one of the Muslim men I was with, “Am I Muslim?” He explained that everything that breathes and submits is.

I have concluded that I may be and just don't know it. I haven't labeled myself as such yet. I don't know enough about Islam to assert that I am Muslim.

Though I don't pray five times a day, go to a mosque, fast, nor cover my head with a scarf daily, this does not mean that I am not Muslim. These seem to be the natural manifestations of what is within.

How I am inside does not directly change whether I am Hijabed or not. It is others' perception of me that was changed. Repeated experiences with others in turn creates a self-image.

HIJAB AS OPPRESSION:
A SUPERFICIAL AND MISGUIDED VIEW


I consciously chose to be Hijabed because I was searching for respect from men.

Initially, as both a Women's Studies major and a thinking female, I bought into the Western view that the wearing of a scarf is oppressive.

After this experience and much reflection, I have arrived at the conclusion that such a view is superficial and misguided: It is not if the act is motivated by conviction and understanding.

THE MOST LIBERATING EXPERIENCE OF MY LIFE

I covered up that day out of choice, and it was the most liberating experience of my life.

I now see alternatives to being a woman.

I discovered that the way I dress dictated others' reaction towards me. It saddens me that this is a reality.

It is a reality that I have accepted, and chose to conquer rather than be conquered by it.

It was my sexuality that I covered, not my femininity. The covering of the former allowed the liberation of the latter.

This article was originally published in Al-Talib, the newsmagazine of the Muslim Students' Association of the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) in October 1994. At the time of its publication, Kathy Chin was a senior at UCLA majoring in Psychobiology and Women's Studies.


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Your Comments

zahida shaik, kurnool - wrote on 3/17/2011 7:04:57 AM
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Comment: sister a very gud change.may allah give u hidaya.ameen.


zahida shaik, kurnool - wrote on 3/17/2011 7:03:53 AM
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Comment: sister a very gud change.may allah give u hidaya.ameen.


zahida shaik, kurnool - wrote on 3/17/2011 7:03:18 AM
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Comment: sister a very gud change.may allah give u hidaya.ameen.


sadie, - wrote on 11/13/2010 12:36:46 AM
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Comment: according to islam every human being is muslim. because this is the religion that is completed. i recently converted to islam and recently started to wearing hijab. i finally feel free from men learing at me and thinking of me in a disrespectfull way. i feel my personality is showing and i feel more beautiful than ever. i also beieve that wearing tight pants and low tops is OPRESSION. your body is only for urself and ur husband if u marry. this girl needs to look into islam more, considering she saw the affects of the hijab. theres no time like the present beleive me i know.


sadie, - wrote on 11/13/2010 12:36:23 AM
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Comment: according to islam every human being is muslim. because this is the religion that is completed. i recently converted to islam and recently started to wearing hijab. i finally feel free from men learing at me and thinking of me in a disrespectfull way. i feel my personality is showing and i feel more beautiful than ever. i also beieve that wearing tight pants and low tops is OPRESSION. your body is only for urself and ur husband if u marry. this girl needs to look into islam more, considering she saw the affects of the hijab. theres no time like the present beleive me i know.


sadie, - wrote on 11/13/2010 12:35:51 AM
Rating: Rating

Comment: according to islam every human being is muslim. because this is the religion that is completed. i recently converted to islam and recently started to wearing hijab. i finally feel free from men learing at me and thinking of me in a disrespectfull way. i feel my personality is showing and i feel more beautiful than ever. i also beieve that wearing tight pants and low tops is OPRESSION. your body is only for urself and ur husband if u marry. this girl needs to look into islam more, considering she saw the affects of the hijab. theres no time like the present beleive me i know.


Roxanne, Toronto - wrote on 11/5/2010 1:55:58 PM
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Comment: What bothers me about this article is the conclusion that "Men disrespect me because of my sexuality, therefore to be respected, I must cover it up". THAT is oppression right there. Do men ever treat their sexuality as something shameful, to cover up? Do they view modesty as essential to their respectability? I wear low-cut tops, tight jeans and short skirts. I speak openly about my identity as a bisexual woman. I volunteer at a sexual education center and often relate back to personal experiences with different birth control methods, sex toys and the like to make my point. According to this woman, this criteria should leave me expecting to be disrespected by men. To that statement, I say SCREW YOU. I am an intelligent, educated, tenacious, powerful woman who's done beautiful work for her community. For THIS, I demand respect. My sexuality and how I choose to express it is MY choice and NONE of your business. If you see any of what I said here as an invitation for me to be disrespected, that is YOUR problem and YOURS to resolve. To put on a hijab for this reason is to submit to man and NOT a feminist decision.


Roxanne, Toronto - wrote on 11/5/2010 1:55:10 PM
Rating: Rating

Comment: What bothers me about this article is the conclusion that "Men disrespect me because of my sexuality, therefore to be respected, I must cover it up". THAT is oppression right there. Do men ever treat their sexuality as something shameful, to cover up? Do they view modesty as essential to their respectability? I wear low-cut tops, tight jeans and short skirts. I speak openly about my identity as a bisexual woman. I volunteer at a sexual education center and often relate back to personal experiences with different birth control methods, sex toys and the like to make my point. According to this woman, this criteria should leave me expecting to be disrespected by men. To that statement, I say SCREW YOU. I am an intelligent, educated, tenacious, powerful woman who's done beautiful work for her community. For THIS, I demand respect. My sexuality and how I choose to express it is MY choice and NONE of your business. If you see any of what I said here as an invitation for me to be disrespected, that is YOUR problem and YOURS to resolve. To put on a hijab for this reason is to submit to man and NOT a feminist decision.


Fatemeh, London - wrote on 9/4/2010 6:42:24 PM
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Comment: MushAllah


sara, chicago - wrote on 8/3/2010 7:13:12 PM
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Comment: you have to pray five times a day and fast in order to be a muslim you are totally wrong about that you are not muslim if you do not pray or fast a woman is obligated to cover herself praying and fasting are one of the 5 pillars of faith


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