The Fear of Hijab in the West |

The Fear of Hijab in the West

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 ideas.

To others, she is the symbol of absolute subjugation and is in dire need of rescue.

For them, having such women as part of the North American landscape is frightening.

She is “the veiled woman,” belonging in a foreign place, an actor on an exotic stage.

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 she rejects.

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 undertone.

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 living.

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. There are many Quran Hijab Quotes for those who are looking.

If I could not act out my faith then what was the point of saying I had any faith?

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 appearance

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 their clothes.

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 spiked heels.

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 them scorn.

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 something else.

And for those who are truthful to themselves, they will see that Emilie and Dania have it figured out.

This article was originally published in The Message-Canada in January 1995 and has been reprinted with the permission of the author.


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Assalaamu Alaykum I am 24 year old Female who has reached a point in my life where I feel the need and urge to go into Hijab. I have been thinking about it for a while and always admire those women in hijab. This article has shed such a lot of light on the hijab and the importance of wearing hijab. Shukran.


Cape Town

Thank you for sharing this article with those of us that do not understand the traditions of the Muslim world. I am ashamed that I may have played some part in the hypocrisy that we as Christians from time to time choose to embrace when we view those who we deem to be different than ourselves. I pray that Allah will enlighten all who seek enlightenment.



As Salaam Alaykum. Shukran for the wonderful, informative article. i have been trying to understand why my hijab poses such a threat and the article really gives me a view from the chrisitian and their belief.MAy Allah rewad you. Ameen


Cape Town

The Veil in Christianity A common misconception is that Muslim women are the only ones who cover their hair. It may be true that Islam is the only religion in which most women follow its directives to cover the hair, but it is not the only religion to have such directives.It is particularly interesting to look at the case of Christianity, since Christianity is the predominant religion in the West, and it is Westerners, including observant Christians, who are often the first to criticize Islam because of the hijab (modest dress, including headcovering).Is Covering the Hair a Religious Commandment for Christian Women?There can be only one answer to this: yes, it is! Simply open the Bible to the First Epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 11. Read verses 3-10.But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying with his head covered, disgraces his head. But every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered disgraces her head, for it is the same as if she were shaven. For if a woman is not covered, let her be shaven. But if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, let her cover her head. A man indeed ought not to cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God. But woman is the glory of man. For man was not created for woman, but woman for man. This is why the woman ought to have a sign of authority over her head, because of the angels.The meaning of this passage is plain enough. We can make the following syllogisms:Syllogism 1Praying with an uncovered head is a disgraceHaving a shaved head is the same as praying with an uncovered headTherefore, having a shaved head is a disgraceSyllogism 2If it is a disgrace for a woman to have a shaved head, she should cover her headIt is a disgrace for a woman to have a shaved head - see syllogism 1Therefore, a woman should cover her headIn other words, the passage means what it says. Have you ever wondered why Catholic nuns dress like they're wearing hijab (Muslim hijabi women, have you ever been mistaken for a nun? I have, more than once). Have you ever wondered why Mary the mother of Jesus (peace be upon them both) is always depicted in Christian art with her hair covered? Did you know that until the 1960s, it was obligatory for Catholic women to cover their heads in church (then they "modernized" the service)?There are some interesting points that can be made about the Christian directive.1) The explicit purpose of the Christian woman's headcovering, as stated by Paul, is that it is a sign of man's authority over woman. The explicit purpose of Islamic hijab is modesty. Strange how so many Westerners think that the purpose of hijab is a symbol of male authority. Maybe they know that that's what it is in their own religion (Christianity) so they assume that Islam must be the same...!2) The Christian woman is to cover her head whenever she is praying, whether it be at the church service or just personal prayer at home. This may mean that if she is not praying at home, she is uncovered around male guests who are not related to her; or if she is praying at home, that she is covered around her own husband and family. If any more proof were needed than Paul's own words that the Christian headcovering is not about modesty, this must certainly be it!This puts hijab in a whole new perspective, doesn't it! To my non-hijabi Muslim sister who feels that hijab is a sign of oppression for the Muslim female, please do read the above and then read the Quran. Believe me, if Allah SWT meant for hijab to be a sign of male authority, the Quran would be as unambiguous about it as Paul is in the Bible. Isn't this difference the kind of thing that attracted you to Islam in the first place?Do Any Christian Women Today Cover Their Heads?It is true that most Christian women do not, and many don't take other teachings of the Bible (against pre-marital sex, adultery, etc) literally either. However, there do seem to be a growing number of Christian women out there who are committed to following the Bible as it is written.



This is excellent what you have posted and may Allah provide you with light.



This is very nice and enlightening article. Being in western society, we should prepare ourselves to protect our baisc rights and fight the discrimanation.



asSallaamuAlaikum, may Allaah reward those on the true path and if it is to be guide the rest to true peace...the women of this small N.C. town except mabe 2 have decided to not is shocking to go into thier stores or other public places or even entering our masjid and see wife embraced Islaam, born hindu!!..she says these people remind her of the hindu community she detested, how they are just blending into the norm of america.certain cultural garb definetly no hijab beards on men and next to no attendance at our masjid.please make dua for our community and other muslims caught in this delima.



masha allah, i wiped my tears out after read that article becouse i realy surport the idea of keeping Hijab on and my comment is both of you Allah will pay forget about the life of today and remember hereafter as you did. thats all



This is a great article. I found it needs to explain a bit more on the history and more on the purpose of the headscarf and why it is so important to wear. I feel there is no harm in the scarf itself, only when the face is covered does it pose as more of a threat. I feel it is much more appealing to see than ungodly and unsightly baggy pants boys wear down to their knees.



This is an excellent article. It really explains everything very clearly. MashAllah.


bridgeview, IL

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