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Editorial-More than just a scarf

Editorial-More than just a scarf

Issue 4 Mar / Apr 2004

When I took on the hijab in 1988 it was a problem. It was not as popular as it is now, although increasing numbers were wearing it. I had just embraced Islam and my family found it incredibly disturbing and quite frankly unacceptable. It caused a lot of heartache but I was determined to wear it for a number of reasons.


It made sense to me, not as a mere piece of cloth but in its true meaning. The scarf is an external manifestation of the hijab, but the word itself means much more. It is an attitude, an outlook, a demeanour that reflects dignity and grace. This was in contrast to the modelling industry that I had been brought up in. I had seen at first hand the superficiality of the way beauty was externalised. Nothing was what it seemed. Beauty was manufactured. The hijab stood against that. It was authentic and wholesome. It meant the end of being judged according to the superficial and subjective criteria of beauty. It meant a lot.

It was also a sense of identity – there’s no denying that. As a new Muslim coming into the faith it made it easier to be accepted into the community. Acceptance is something we all crave for and as an “embracee/convert/revert” it can be difficult to find acceptance. At least it felt that way back then.

Ultimately though I wore it because I believed it was a requirement of Islam and God required it of me. I asked Him to take the burden from me, because to take off the scarf would have meant a great deal to my family. I hated hurting them. I hated feeling isolated from them. I hated feeling less in their eyes. And yet, every time I prayed for guidance that might mean I could remove the hijab I would feel a greater desire to wear it. One day I asked God to take this requirement from me. On opening the Qur’an I read the verse of covering (24:31). That settled it for me. Eventually my family came round. They knew I wasn’t going to take it off and they gradually accepted that my motivations were sound and rational. Indeed, to their credit they now support and value my way of life.

To be honest I could never understand what all the fuss was about in many ways. I had had a liberal ‘find your own way, make your own decision’ type of upbringing. So it was a shock to me that my family regarded the scarf so badly. I suppose me wearing the scarf was a shock to them! I know that for my grandmother it was that I “looked foreign” she found the hardest; that and you shouldn’t wear your religion on your sleeve (or your head, for that matter!) For my Mum it was because she had worked for thirty years for female liberation and then I did this! I suppose that these attitudes sum up the prevailing sense of all the brouhaha in France right now: the scarf is foreign, un-French; religion should be private and the scarf oppresses women.

For my family I had to slowly show them that my life was not foreign but a continuation of the great values they had instilled in me. I had to demonstrate that religion had a place in social discourse and action. And finally, I had to show that I was not living a life of servitude and oppression but rather positively contributing - fully, widely. I had to show with actions that although some Muslim women are oppressed, and that some are even forced to wear the scarf, this goes against the spirit of Islam.

This is the great task ahead for Muslim women and men. We must contribute to society today as did our illustrious ancestors before us. We must show that our values are dynamic and constructive. We must show that religion has a place in everyday life. We must make plain that religion can provide a framework for the common good and community cohesion. We must demonstrate with deeds not merely words that Islam does not oppress women.

In this hard work I believe the answers will be found. The piece of cloth will matter less because the contribution will be so great. It will not happen overnight. It took many years of hard work to find family acceptance and still I have extended family telling me that I am living in “self-imposed repression”. But regardless, we must carry on and show that the scarf is a scarf, not a ball and chain. And that Islam is a force for good not destruction.

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1 Comment



3 Mar 10, 19:53

Assalam Alaikum,
NIcely you have written sister. It gives me strength for I am going to tell the eternal truth to my family. Please make dua for me. May Allah help us all in our affairs.

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