Below are a list of things you should avoid saying to/asking a hijabi woman:
- Don’t you get hot in that thing, especially in the summer?
- I bet your hair would look gorgeous if you just let it out!
- Just get that rag off, and you’d look so much better.
- Poor thing, it must be so difficult for you to do your workouts with that on!
- I don’t understand why you go through the hassle of getting your hair done, nobody’s going to see it anyways.
- Did your family force you to wear it or…? And do they usually tell you what to do?
- Are there ever times you just take it off?
- How will you ever find a husband if nobody can see what you look like?
- I’m sorry you have to wear that all the time. It must get frustrating.
- I see a lot of Muslim women who don’t wear it, so why put yourself through all that?
- You know if I wore the veil, I probably wouldn’t care too much about what I looked like. You have it so easy!
- So do you sleep or shower with it on?
- I’m surprised your parents allowed you to be so independent and get a higher education.
- Are your parents going to choose your husband for you? Is it an arranged marriage? Do you have a say in the matter at all?
- Do you have to do whatever your future husband tells you to? I mean Islam seems pretty patriarchal.
- Why aren’t women treated as equals in Islam? Don’t you feel like you have less agency because of the hijab? And isn’t the hijab imposed by men looking to control women?
- Do you like it in the US better than in the Middle East/South Asia because you have more freedoms here? Because here you aren’t forced to wear the hijab.
- *Male colleague/student*: Oh, you’re looking for a roommate? I am too!
- But Islamic feminism isn’t real.
- You know, you don’t really act how I was expecting a veiled woman would.
I have been asked or told a variation of ALL of these statements, as I am sure other hijabi women have. It’s funny because people will tell you that identity politics is a waste of time, but don’t realize that people live out their identities every single day. The questions/statements are problematic because they a) begin with the premise that the hijab is a negative factor in a woman’s life, as opposed to taking a neutral intellectual approach, b) make it seem like hijabis are ready to answer any and every question whenever you need them answered, and c) show that you are incapable of understanding the obvious (no, I don’t sleep or shower with the hijab on…). It’s one thing to ask questions with sincerity and with the desire to acquire knowledge; it is a completely different matter to mock.
And if you’re thinking that the ignorance that inspires these ridiculous conversations is limited to Republicans, you’re wrong. Just because Democrats claim to be inclusive and want diversity within their communities does not mean that they aren’t Islamophobic. Liberals often struggle to reconcile with the idea that religion can dictate what a woman should wear in front of men, because it sounds…conservative. While liberals may fight for someone’s right to wear the veil, many still see it as an oppressive garment. I personally don’t agree with this, but everyone has their opinions.
Hijabis don’t need people to pity them, insult them, tokenize them, or make weird assumptions about their beliefs or their role in this world. What veiled women need is for people to understand that they are human beings with a unique way of living. For many of us, doing the right thing outweighs the challenges that come with it. Many of us face internal battles and consider how different life would be if we just one day decided to walk out on the street without it. The hijab was never meant to be easy or convenient, and we are very clear of this fact. We want American society to be accommodating of our needs, and for the people around us to respect our decisions (women’s fashion and hair salons would be a good start). And in order to do that, you have to be willing to get out of your comfort zone and take the time to listen. You have to recognize that every hijabi has unique experiences that are heavily context-based, and so blanket statements erase the diversity within the hijabi community.
And if you’re still wondering why I wear the hijab, it’s because I believe that Allah told me to for my own benefit. I’m worth more than my body, and I don’t need to fit into any societal standards to prove that I’m worthy of dignity and respect. It reminds me that I’m not perfect, and that before I criticize others I should look to my own actions and words. And I believe that in many ways, it helps me achieve that balance between confidence and humility (though I’m still far from it). I don’t want to be part of a world that tells women that they have to please men’s eyes and sensibilities in order to rise to the top of their game. The hijab to me is not just a piece of cloth; it represents a way of life.
The next time you want to ask a woman questions about her veil, think about your intentions. And think about whether or not the question makes sense.