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Why Muslim Women Veil (Hijab) 


Angela's grandfather fought in the American army during WWI. She can usually be seen wearing jeans and a baggy long sleeve shirt either dropping her kids off to school or picking them up. She was born and raised in the United States, a typical American woman, except Angela, 32, (who asked that her last name be withheld) is a Muslim woman who wears the hijab (veil).

"I decided to wear a hijab (veil on her head) when I started thinking about who God is, what God is about religion-wise, understanding the religion more," Angela said. "And in the Holy Quran, it says, ` a lady should be modest and cover herself and not show too much skin' in short, it asks that a woman be modest.

Angela was 23 when she decided to wear the hijab.

"If I wasn't sure of it (the decision to wear the hijab), I wouldn't have done it. I wasn't pressured into it, my parents never forced it on me, though they told me it was something I should do."

Angela was already married when she decided to veil and her husband played no role in her decision.

"Nobody had a role in my decision (to veil) except God," she said. "It was between me and God and that's it." 

She said many things changed for her after she decided to wear the hijab.

"I had to throw out 90 percent of my clothes," she said laughing. And although she prefers jeans and casual long sleeved shirts that cover her up, occasionally she will indulge herself in the new fashions aimed specifically at Muslim women who don the hijab.

"A women who decides to wear the hijab has to wear shirts that cover her and not show any skin, it's not just about covering your hair," Angela said. "Unfortunately there are a lot of people who don't take it (the hijab) seriously. They are covering their head, I feel and in my opinion, they are covering it because it was forced on them and it wasn't something they chose to do willingly, that's why you see a bunch of them covering their heads, but their whole bodies are showing, they are wearing spandex and you can see every curve in that body.

"Then you have the other ladies who cover their faces and only their eyes are showing. I still don't understand why they do that, I don't think that's something prescribed by the Quran, but it's cultural."
Angela also mentioned that whenever one sees a portrait of the Virgin Mary, her face is showing but her hair, arms and legs were always covered and was always wearing a dress.

"Back before Islam even started, Judaism, Christianity and then Islam, in all these religions, the ladies at that time had to cover their heads and dress modestly," Angela said. "Technically we aren't even supposed to wear pants because now a lady is trying to dress like a man and you are supposed to distinguish between the sexes.

"That's not just in Islam, Jewish people are supposed to wear modest clothing and cover their heads and in Christianity, it is the same exact thing and also you see it in Islam, except Muslims are still following the religion and practicing what their culture and religion tells them, whereas the others, maybe 20 percent do it."

Just like Angela, Nisreen, 28, also chose to wear the hijab, with one exception, Nisreen converted from Christianity to Islam.

"It was on a Friday," Nisreen said, recalling the day she chose to wear the hijab. "It seems many people who decide to wear it (the hijab) tend to do it on a Friday."

Nisreen said she chose to wear the hijab because "it is more respectful for a woman to cover herself."
She has been wearing the scarf for almost two years now and said there is a huge difference in her life.
"I prefer it this way (with the hijab) and I would never take it off, although I do admit the first few days, I felt strange, but now I can't leave home without it.

"For me, when I see others who don't cover and show too much skin, it effected me and I didn't like it," she said.

She chooses to wear clothes that cover her back and baggy pants or a long skirt. She said it is most important that the neck and arms not show.

Nisreen also said "St. Mary wore a scarf; I am like her in a way. This is not a style; it is prescribed in all religions. God didn't give a woman a body to show it to everyone."

Nisreen recalls that even in church, Christian woman would cover their heads.

She said the decision to veil was a difficult one for her because she used to live near her family and they didn't accept it.

"I said this is my choice and it was my own personal decision," she said. Nisreen, who lives in Canada also said she was looked upon very suspiciously after Sept.11.

She said as a Muslim she was blamed for something and branded a terrorist.

"Some people question why I wear a scarf, especially since my parents have Christian names, government officials always ask me, `why you wear that on your head' in a disrespectful or scornful way," she said.

Nisreen now resides in a Muslim-Canadian neighborhood and said Canadians seem more respectful, they don't judge.

"Maybe they think I've always been a Muslim," she said wistfully.

Like Angela, Nisreen also sees a problem with those who don't take their hijab seriously or take it too far.

"I think those who wear a scarf, wear a lot of make-up and tight clothes should take the scarf off," she said. "They are giving the rest of us disrespect and doing us a disservice.

"The ones who cover up too much are taking it too far and it is not what is prescribed."

Although she wears the new fashions once in a while she said, "I believe that the iman (belief) is in the heart, there are a lot of women who wear a scarf because they think it is the new style or it is forced upon them and both are wrong.

"It's better to cover, but that doesn't mean that those who don't are worse than those who do."
Haji Mariam decided to wear the hijab in Dec. 1992 when she had a dream.

"I had a dream I was walking in a garden and the leaves fell and covered my head and I took it as a sign," she said.

She said although the dream pushed her to wear the hijab, she had always wanted to do it.
"I felt more complete, that I completed myself by wearing on my head," haji Mariam said. "People have asked me why I am covered, a Jewish lady in Florida once stopped me and I explained it to her, once I explain it to them, they are more understanding.

"Whey people look at you, they don't know why you are covering your hair, but for me it was done by choice."

She said she wasn't really intimidated by people after Sept.11., although people would stare at her.
"It didn't bother me, it didn't intimidate me, the dirty looks," she said.

As for women who don't take hijab seriously or those who cover too much, Haji Mariam said, "Anything taken to the extreme is not good. I don't like extremism at all. The ones who wear tight clothes and make-up, I think it defeats the purpose of the hijab and the ones who cover all over, I think it's a cultural thing but to each his own."

Haji Mariam said she goes by what the Quran and Islam prescribe.

"We are supposed to cover our hair and bodies and not attract attention," she said. "If it doesn't come from the heart and it's forced, it's hypocrisy, I won't force my daughters to wear it, it is something that comes from within that you have to be content with."

She also used the example of the Virgin Mary as someone who covered up.

"If all people follow the word of God, no one would think oddly of the hijab, the Virgin Mary was covered," she said.

She also added that there would be "less violence against women outside the home."

She also said the modesty of the hijab contrasts heavily to what we see in the media.

"In today's age, with the TV, it's sickening, we should have more modesty and women should and would be treated less as sex objects.

"We live in a society where sex sells and there should be more modesty, a woman should be treated with respect and dignity and not as a sex object.

"When a woman is covered, you begin looking at her as a human being and not a sex object, I think it makes one more dignified but it doesn't mean that a woman who doesn't cover isn't good or dignified."
Like Haji Mariam, Angela and Nisreen agree that covering the head is just one aspect of modesty.
"It's a start, but it's not everything, there's also respect, kindness and character, for yourself and others, of course," Haji Mariam said.

Nisreen said, "Religion is not up for change according to people's whims, they should follow it."

Angela said that although she was born and raised in the United States, she is "American-Lebanese, but I still have my culture, still have my traditions and I still have my religion.

"The most beautiful thing about America is freedom of expression, freedom of religion and I take pride in that."

Since the interview with Angela, her daughter has decided to wear the hijab at 9-years-old. Angela said this was done by choice and understanding and she wouldn't force anyone, including her daughter to wear the hijab, because like Haji Mariam and Nisreen, she believes it has to come from within. 

While non-Muslims might see the wearing of the hijab, or veil-like head covering, by Muslim woman as strange or exotic, it is part of a "code of modesty asked of all people, not just Muslims," said Imam Mohamad Mardini of the Muslim Center in Dearborn.

Mardini a prominent Sunni Imam pointed out that most Jews cover their heads in synagogue, and observant Jewish men wear the "kippa." Orthodox Jewish women also cover their heads and show reverence to God by dressing modestly.

"Christians also had the code of modesty in the veil," Mardini said. "It is seen in the Virgin Mary -- the best example. She is never drawn in pictures or paintings without a veil, which is essentially a hijab."

Some might say that by not donning covering everyday, Christians and Jews have westernized, leaving their Muslim counterparts to follow rules that are not in step with today's society. But many Muslim women who veil disagree, as does Mardini. 

"The meaning of the hijab is one of honor," he said. "In Islam, as it is with the other religions of the people of the book, Christians and Jews, the hijab helps a woman maintain her modesty."  

Yet it has also been seen as a problem. France, Turkey, Morocco and Tunisia have banned the wearing of the hijab in public places, such as government offices and schools, because the covering is seen as a distraction or as a symbol of religious separatism.

The hijab should be introduced to a Muslim girl's life when she hits puberty. "It is ordained that she wear the hijab when she gets her period," Mardini said. Some translate that as the age of 9, and Mardini said that is the age when a girl traditionally is considered mature.

But the hijab should never be forced on a young Muslim woman. "There is no force at all on anyone, even the wife, even the daughter, even the sister or mother, by any male in the household," Mardini said. "You don't force it on them, what you do is you explain to them why it is important for them to veil."

Mardini said that forcing a female to cover is not only going against the tenets of the Quran, but also the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed. Force might actually lead a young woman to do the veil a dishonor by unveiling when she leaves the house because she never understood why she had to wear it.

"You have to teach by example and the best way to do that is to teach them yourself, introduce them to the religion and the hijab as a means of modesty, protection and honor," Mardini said.

He explained that modesty is in how one wears the hijab and it isn't necessarily in the fashions that are prevalent in some of the Persian Gulf States and Iran. There, women generally have to wear one of several different types of covering:

The chador, the billowing black dress that covers most everything from head to toe, leaves the face exposed. The burqa, which is worn in Afghanistan, covers everything including the eyes. And the niqab leaves only the eyes exposed. All these fashions, however, are not following the Quran or even the Muslim religion, Mardini said, but are mere cultural definitions of how to cover.

"The hijab is not meant to restrict or confine a woman, it's a code of modesty," said Mardini. "The hijab is worn so as not to cause attractions; this means the woman has to make sure her hair and neck are covered and wears modest clothing that cover(s) the physical body. You don't have to have the chador or niqab or any of that, those are merely cultural."

But hijab-clad females who don makeup, lots of jewelry and tight clothes defeat the idea. "The hijab's purpose is to not draw attention; when wearing it, one has to be simple, not colorful or stylish," Mardini said.

Part of the symbolism of wearing the hijab also is in "the gaze, the way a woman looks at other people, especially men, particularly strangers," Mardini added. A woman's gaze should be modest, along with "very modest dress and demeanor." And she should "be mindful of God" when veiling.

Mardini said the Quran also calls for conservative cover for men: "They are supposed to cover their bodies in public, be decent in public and not wear tight clothes." 

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