“You’re free now.”
Statements like this make me cringe, however well intentioned.
This is because of the misconception that most woman who wear hijab are oppressed and don’t experience freedom. It’s also because I feel torn— I want to explain my decision without putting down my religion or the many beautiful people in my life who choose to wear hijab, while also being true to what pushed me away. I believe it’s possible to begin that conversation.
I didn’t choose to not wear hijab because I felt oppressed as a result of my religion. In fact, I embraced hijab for most of my life and loved that it lead to being a strong female advocate and ambassador of Islam and Arab women. Many factors went into my decision, not all that I’m yet willing to share.
Ultimately, I made the choice out of my own personal freedom, which I believe is encouraged in Islam. I want to live with intention and understanding. I want to choose and know why I’m choosing, or be okay with not knowing the “why.” I want to explore my questions without feeling shamed or judged. Do I wish this was less stigmatized in our families and communities?
I think many people do, regardless of gender or religion. Living for yourself versus others, or even God, can be a delicate balance, and often freedoms can get lost in the mix. Are you truly wearing what you want to wear? Saying what you want to say? In the job you want?
It’s scary to ask those questions. I understand why it’s easier not to. But there is power in discovering the answer, in recognizing your truth, even if you don’t yet feel ready to say it out loud.
In regards to woman in your life (or who you see in the news, or in your neighborhood) who make the decision to wear or not wear hijab, take a moment before imposing your own idea of what freedom looks like. What’s seen on the outside is not always reflective on the inside. For some, showing skin is empowering. For some, modesty makes them glow and feel free.
Take what’s happening in France, for example, with the ban on the burkini (a total body swimsuit, including head covering) on the beaches. In a non-Muslim country, women are fully CHOOSING to embrace hijab and modesty in a country that values secularism above all. As a consequences, there are instances of police stopping them on the beach and forcing removal of their clothing in front of others. FORCING. REMOVAL. To me, this is just as heinous as forcing someone to wear one.
It all comes down to freedom of choice. To not being policed by ourselves, our communities, our families, or society.
And that, that is what is liberating.