An Open Letter To The Muslim Women Of America About The Hijab

Jenna Mayzouni '19 shares her thinking about Muslim women and their decisions to wear (or not) the hijab.

This Open Letter from Jenna Mayzouni '19 was previously published on Odyssey.com. Mayzouni hails from Chicago and is majoring in international studies and English literature.

An Open Letter To The Muslim Women Of America About The Hijab.

It's about time someone said these things

Dear Muslim Women of the United States,

Look, I would love to lie to you and say tolerance and acceptance in the United States for Muslims is on the rise. I would love to tell you that people are becoming more accepting of “non-white” minorities period. In a perfect world, a person’s religion would not matter. The scarf I wrap around my head would be, well, just a scarf to the majority of people.

But, here’s the thing: we don’t live in a perfect world. Especially with the events happening in the election, Donald Trump, and the events transpiring in the world, it’s really not a fun time to be a Muslim. And unfortunately being a Muslim woman who wears the hijab, somehow your choice has not only turned you into a political symbol but also a prime target for people out for revenge. In light of the recent developments in the election, I wanted to tell you a couple of things about your choice to wear/not wear the hijab.

1. It’s OK if you feel like you to want to take it off.

Look, the truth is that we are living in a time where Muslims and people associated with Muslims (so basically other non-Muslim Arabs and a lot of brown people) are being persecuted. While wearing the hijab is supposed to be about you and your individual self, unfortunately for a lot of people, not only are you a political symbol, but also somehow a representative of your entire religion (yes, I too question the logic of humanity at multiple points during my day).

It is a heavy thing to go through, because there are people out there who see the scarf and don’t bother to see the person underneath. A really good friend of mine told me that just because you choose to take it off, does not mean you are compromising your values.

Especially if you are in a more rural area in the U.S., your safety does become a factor when wearing the hijab. You are no less of a Muslim for deciding to take it off. While it’s nice to wear the hijab, consider this: it’s not the five pillars. I’ve met plenty of Muslim women who do not wear the hijab who are far superior in their humility, piety, religion and kindness towards others than any Muslim women wearing the hijab (including myself).

2. And it’s OK to want to keep it on.

Putting safety aside, if you feel that the hijab is how you want to express yourself and what your identity needs to be, then don’t take it off. While there are tons of struggles while wearing the hijab in the United States, it is still a very empowering thing. It is a way to be unapologetically you, so you rock it. And wearing the hijab exposes you in a really beautiful way to the Muslim community in the United States.

I’ve often been stopped in the street with smiles and hellos from other Muslims. I went to Atlanta, Georgia, one time and at multiple points during my trip, I was stopped by men and women whom would never have talked to me had I not been wearing the hijab. It opens up a powerful and endearing community to oneself that would be harder to come by without the hijab.

If you feel like it’s something that empowers you, then I applaud you and encourage your strength. Also consider the fact that despite all the hatred, Ibtihaj Muhammad is going this year to the Olympics. She's the first Muslim women to compete in the hijab for the USA Olympic fencing team!

3. And it’s OK to be utterly confused.

If you, like me, have no idea how to feel or what to do about your hijab, I would like to formally let you know: you are not alone. And if the rest of the world does not want to admit it, well, here’s my confession: I have no idea if I want to keep wearing my hijab. On one hand, it’s a comfy identity that symbolizes a religion and a community that I feel a strong tie towards. It gives me strength in times of strife and reminds me of who I am and the love I have for myself, community, and family. On the other hand, it’s a really rough time.

 

The country and the events transpiring at the moment were nowhere near my vision when I first decided to wear the hijab. And maybe I’ve changed, because it’s very tiring to not only be confused about who you are and what you want in life, but to add to that pressure the idea that you somehow are the spokesperson for your entire religion is quite draining. Not everyone has the strength or the endurance or even the will to deal with that ridiculous notion all the time. And that’s ok. But let’s say that you want to actually wear the hijab now, that’s ok. Or maybe even that you want to wear it some days and take it off other days (questionable, but hey that’s up to you).

I guess at the end my message is just really this: Muslim Women of America, you just keep being you. There has to be a storm in order for a rainbow to shine.

With Love,

Jenna Mayzouni

August 5, 2016