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The Hijab: Not a Symbol of Oppression

In the West we have no understanding of the Islamic headscarf, also known as the “hijab.” That it is said to be a symbol of oppression of women shows the limited nature of Western mentality and how closed to alternative, conservative life choices Western society is. Our society welcomes all varieties of liberal lifestyles and practices—homosexuality, bisexuality, casual sex, feminism, transsexualism, cross-dressing and so on. But if you choose to refrain from premarital sex, you are often judged to be oppressed or brainwashed. Indeed some people will make arguments which either implicitly or explicitly posit that you are not mentally competent enough as an adult to be making your own life choices.

The hijab is not a symbol of oppression. Like any liberal lifestyle, it is a choice. The hijab is a symbol for a principle that doesn’t exist at all in the West anymore: celibacy. After over five decades of feminism and the so-called sexual revolution, many still perceive the choice to engage in sex solely within the frames of marriage as a threat to their liberal lifestyle choices, despite the fact that only a minute fraction of people in Western society choose to save sex for marriage.

The emotional fixation in the West against the concept of a patriarchal society blinds people so much that they are prepared to deny others their freedom of choice, forcing their own values onto them. The knee-jerk response against what is perceived in the West as oppression of women actually leads to real oppression, as, for example, the ban on hijabs in schools in France.

Muslim celibacy

In Muslim societies, there are dress codes for both Muslim men and women. Men are not to expose their bodies from the navel to the knees. This means that Muslim men are never to go without a shirt in public, nor wear shorts that go above the knee. Meanwhile, women are to cover their bodies, with the exception of their hands and face.

One fact that is rarely considered when Westerners criticize the hijab, is that Muslim men are expected to refrain from premarital sex. With respect to this fact, it seems reasonable for Muslim women to refrain from dressing provocatively, which would make it significantly more difficult for men to remain celibate. I have often wondered how Western men would fare if they were obligated to remain celibate while surrounded by the sex of Western TV and commercialism and the plethora of scantily-clad and heavily made-up women.

Discovering the hijab

Independent of dogma and religion, I have always been one of the few people in Western society who does not engage in sex outside of marriage. This is a foreign concept in the West nowadays, but it is a principle I live by and have always lived by to the best of my ability. From my unique perspective as a Westerner living celibately in societies where one-night-stands are deemed normal and saving sex for marriage is abnormal, I am able to appreciate the hijab for its true value in a way that neither Muslims nor Westerners are in a position to do.

I lived alone for ten months in Algeria, during which I was free in a way I had never experienced before. I was able to avoid the annoying problems I am forced to put up with in the West when interacting with men.

When I first arrived in Algeria, naturally, I was not wearing a hijab. When I walked outside on the street, men would often come up to me and begin talking to me. On one occasion, one man followed me for a long stretch of road, until I tried to get rid of him by going into a hotel, where I told one of the staff members that a man was following me and I was scared to go back outside where he was waiting for me. After going out and talking to the man, the staff member told me the man was just interested in me and that he had told the man to go away so I could go back outside.

Not really wanting this kind of attention, I began to go out wearing a hijab, thinking that if I did not stand out so much with my conspicuous long red hair, men might not feel the urge to come and talk to me. I noticed a great difference in how men treated me when I wore the hijab. They were wonderfully respectful and polite, even gentlemanly. Men who I had first met without a hijab treated me with a great amount of respect when they later saw me with it on. I really loved how the men I did interact with treated me, while men who I did not interact with were no longer uninhibitedly coming up to me in the streets.

In addition to my own personal experiences, I also observed the behavior of young men and women walking outside. For example, I observed that young men would eyeball a young woman, who was not wearing a hijab, like a wolf salivating over a sheep. Meanwhile, said young woman would look back leeringly at the man. No such eyeballing by men or backward glances by women occurred with women wearing a hijab.

My observations led me to conclude that a hijab is an unspoken message and a convenient custom to facilitate celibacy; a woman who wore a hijab was sending a clear message to men that they were not allowed to touch her, while a woman who did not wear a hijab was sending out a message that she was open to physical intimacy and even sex.

As someone who has lived celibately almost her entire life in Western society, I can say that the hijab freed me from having that inevitable awkward and disheartening moment where I have to tell a man that I will not have premarital sex with him, resulting in his disappointment of not being able to get into my pants and my feeling hurt and rejected, because, inevitably, he will abandon me to go to someone who will “light his fire” and then put it out for him, all commitment-free. In the most annoying cases, the man may ignore my words and hang around me, thinking he can wear me down.

Where do you draw the line?

Many people often argue that, despite the fact that a Muslim woman may consciously choose and want to wear a hijab, she is still oppressed. According to people who claim the hijab is a form of oppression, women who wear hijabs have been brainwashed or manipulated and, therefore, should not be allowed to preside over their own bodies and choice of clothing.

I rarely show my legs in public. Does that mean that I am oppressed? I am most comfortable not showing my legs. People who claim that the hijab is a symbol of oppression of women could force me to wear miniskirts and shorts on the basis that it is their personal opinion that I am oppressed and, therefore, mentally unfit to be allowed to decide what clothes I do or don’t wear.

Western criticism seeks to control Muslim women, not to free them

Despite all of the aforementioned considerations, many Western people use the hijab to vilify Muslims and Islam, arguing that the hijab is oppressive to women. People who claim the hijab is a symbol of oppression and put forth arguments for forbidding women from wearing hijabs would have us believe that they are fighting to save Muslim women from oppression. Far from having any truth to it, this belief is merely a smoke screen for the fact that Westerners are afraid that religious conservativism, which is usually at the root of abstinence from sex, will rob them of the fruits of their sexual revolution.

Thus, the real problem that most Westerners have is not really with the alleged oppression of women, but with the fact that the hijab is a manifestation of a principle or lifestyle that Westerners are against. Calling the hijab a symbol of oppression of women is nothing more than a devious attempt to control the value systems of people who wish to live more conservatively.

There is no reason why people who choose not to have sex before marriage should be forced to abandon customs, like the hijab and other dress codes, which facilitate the practice of abstinence, simply because Westerners have an irrational fear that their own sexual freedoms will be taken away from them as a result.

It is actually possible for people to live in the same society according to differing value systems without encroaching on the right of someone else to decide on and live by the values he or she wants to live by. And I should know, because I’ve been doing it against the odds my whole life.

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