Issues with women‘s and LGBT rights are constantly brought up within Muslim circles. Niqab has become a political speaking points for so-called “secular” governments. All the while, Western society struggles with a steep rise in and awareness of violence from islamophobia and racism. Here I stand, 8 years after I first began to explore Islam, 5 years after my conversion: still the daughter of two atheist gay men and a Catholic mom, all of us settlers of Turtle Island, still navigating Islam, nationalism, human rights activism, and white privilege.
When my partner, a Canadian-born *Hindu*, became the target of hostility from strangers, I had to take a serious look at the impact of my wearing hijab. Learning about power dynamics in relation to race and especially whiteness, I could not longer ignore that wearing hijab as a white woman meant making non-white folks around me much more visible, and, unfortunately, more vulnerable.
Because of negative stereotypes surrounding people of colour, I noticed that my non-white friends , regardless of their denomination, automatically absorbed my “Muslimness” in strangers’ mind. Why would a white woman hang out with people of colour if they don’t share the same faith? Would a white woman ever wore hijab if it weren’t that her brown partner was making her?
People of colour don’t need my white guilt or for me to become a white saviour of some sort – and that’s by no means what I’m advocating. Being confronted with the impact of hijab on my loved ones, I had to re-evaluate all of the pros and cons. Sure, hijab often feels like a hug for my face and my soul, but what are the greater implications on my faith, on my community, on my loved ones, on my society?
I’ve never believed hijab to be mandatory but rather an option amongst many. I chose to relegate hijab to religious and ritualistic purposes; prayer, mosque attendance, etc. I am still vocal and unapologetically Muslim. I still greet my Muslim sisters with salaam, and pray for the greater community of Muslim [Ummah]. I keep hijab in my heart and my soul, and I look fondly onto the years I spent covering, and look forward to each time I put on a head scarf.
I can’t explain to you how much it hurts when I am told “You look so much better without hijab!”, because not wearing hijab full-time was a decision that stemmed from the knowledge that white privilege can be wielded dangerously, that islamophobia is increasing, that mysoginy is rampant in and out of the Muslim community, and that pretty much everybody and their governments have opinions on what women should or shouldn’t wear.
“You look so much better without hijab!” reminds me that you – stranger, acquaintance, family member – have not bothered to get to know me beyond my appearance, have not considered the context in which I and we exist, do not realize the impact of your remark, and do not recognize that clothing choices can be and are political.
“You look so much better without hijab!” tells me that you do not care or haven’t bothered to ask why I removed hijab, because removing hijab is seen as “logical” and deliberate while wearing it is seen as “extreme” and “cultural”.
Please stop telling me the value you put on my not wearing hijab, and look instead how the value you put on acknowledging the realities of others. Listen to women, listen to people of colour, listen to LGBT folks, listen to indigenous folks, listen to the poor and the marginalized. and most importantly: BELIEVE, BELIEVE, BELIEVE!
We are not “more beautiful” when we are ripped from the things we love for the sake of conformity, respectability, and uniformity. We are beautiful when we stand together, radiant in our diversity, knowledgeable of each other’s challenges, and compassionate towards each other’s differences.