It had been ten years since she had set foot in a mosque.
Being at university had broadened her mind in many ways, one of them being her reconnecting with Islam. She had begun praying five times a day a month ago, and now felt ready to pray in public, at the university’s Juma prayer.
She paused and stood a few feet away from the women’s entrance. Taking a deep breath, she pulled the silk scarf out of her purse and tied it carefully on her head. Her ponytail stuck out a bit. She smoothed the creases on her long-sleeved beige shirt and tugged at the bottom of it to make it longer over her pants.
The prayer was great. She had never felt this sense of inner peace. Afterwards, she tried mingling with the sisters, but nobody even looked her way.
A few of them even pretended not to hear her greeting. The only sister who did talk to her said in a huff: You know your prayer is not accepted in those pants and that tiny thing you pass for a Hijab. I suggest you get more Islamic knowledge and dress properly before coming back here. The words stung her like a million bumble bees.
Too numb to respond or speak, she charged out of the hall. Never again would she associate with these people, she told herself. And never again would she return to Juma. Are you shocked reading about this incident? Don’t be. It has been a reality in almost every Muslim community in North America. This harsh judgment and intolerance shown towards Muslim women who do not wear Hijab can lead to at least some Muslim women to become alienated from the Muslim community, and could lead to a loss of Islamic practice.
While Hijab is an obligation clearly ordained in the Quran and Sunnah, the above- mentioned method of its enforcement and encouragement is not Islamic, according to Muslim scholars, researchers and activists. Muslims have to start seeing the issue from a different perspective, they say.
SOME ARGUMENTS IN SUPPORT OF NON-HIJABI SISTERS
I would say that the overwhelming majority of Muslim women I have met who don ’t cover and who believe in God, believe they should cover, but believe they ’re not ready yet, says Sharifa Alkhateeb, vice-president of the North American Council of Muslim Women, in an interview with Sound Vision. This reality indicates there is a seed of faith that needs to be nurtured and encouraged.
As well, it means these women need all the support they can get. Abdalla Idris Ali is a member of the Islamic Society of North America’s (ISNA) Majlis Shura, which debates Islamic issues and establishes policy for the organization. He says what also has to be remembered is that many Muslim women are coming from cultures where the Hijab is not practiced, for whatever reason.
These sisters should not be condemned. Rather, Islamic concepts like Hijab, should be explained to them. Another possibility is that Muslim women who do not wear Hijab are coming from families which are either not practicing Islam, or are downright hostile to it. In this situation, it’s actually a celebration that a young Muslim woman wants to pray Juma, says Kathy Bullock, who started wearing Hijab two weeks after she converted to Islam. I think that’s where the tolerance comes in.
Another reason some Muslim women may find Hijab difficult is because of the often negative ideas surrounding Hijab. For instance, that wearing Hijab kills marriage and job prospects. Muslim activists must seek to dispel such myths.
”There needs to be a lot more support for the women who decide to cover,” says Bullock, who completed a PhD. about The Politics of the Veil from the University of Toronto in January. Bullock also gives a chilling warning to those who condemn non-Hijabi Muslim women:
“We might be wearing Hijab but we might be doing something incredibly wrong which cancels out the reward [for wearing it].”
One of these things she mentions is arrogance.
WHY ARE SOME MUSLIMS SO SENSITIVE ABOUT THE HIJAB?
Some Muslims seek to condemn non-Hijabis out of their understanding of the Quranic injunction of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil. Yet, they fail to take the right approach in doing it, in accordance with the example of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), which was one of kindness, gentleness and patience.
Interestingly, some Muslim men and women who criticize non- Hijabi Muslim women seem to have different reasons for doing it and varying ways of approaching a sister who does not wear Hijab.
“Unfortunately on the brothers’ side there is a push to make Hijab the marker of Islamic identity,”says Bullock.
She also emphasizes the hypocrisy of many Muslim men criticizing Muslim women who do not wear the Hijab, while they themselves wear tight jeans or pants, or short shorts. These forms of dress are strictly prohibited for men in Islam. Yet, go to any Juma or Jamaah prayer, and these forms of unIslamic dress can be easily seen. I think some of the men put too much emphasis on the women instead of looking at their own selves, she says.
However, Alkhateeb thinks most of the men are less vigilant than the women about Hijab, partly because they figure the women are going to take care of it. She argues that the majority of the Muslim men who are over concerned about with the issue of Hijab because they don’t trust themselves sexually, and fear their own reaction to a woman who is not covered Islamically.
For women, weak self-identity and faith could explain the harshness shown towards non- Hijabis.
……….May Allah guide us to the right path.